Operation Conifer Report into Sir Edward Heath: an empty exercise in self-justification

The heavily “redacted” Operation Conifer Report into Sir Edward Heath consists of 109 pages of self-justification and virtually no evidence of any kind. It is a document that is as empty as it is verbose. Its central conclusion, that were he still alive he would be interviewed under caution, tells us almost nothing.

It fails to make any sort of case against the former Prime Minister, but equally fails to lift the miasma of suspicion that will probably now surround him for all time. Speaking last December Wiltshire Chief Constable Mike Veale said he hoped that the inquiry would “contribute to the wider picture of truth seeking and reconciliation.” If that was indeed the purpose, it will certainly not succeed. Those who already believed that Heath was a villain will claim that the Report lends them support. Those who were sceptical will point to the fact that the vast majority of allegations have been judged so weak that they could be dismissed without even troubling to ask Heath about them, had he still been alive. The idea that the truth can be divined from the report, or that its publication will do anything to reconcile anybody to anything is risible. Continue reading “Operation Conifer Report into Sir Edward Heath: an empty exercise in self-justification”

Are 75% of rape complainants cross-examined about their sexual history?

There was a striking headline in today’s Times:

Sexual history of rape victims still being put on trial

Many people will not have a Times Subscription, so if they saw the story at all online they would have seen only the headline, a picture of Ched Evans, and the first sentence of the story which asserted:

Victims of alleged rape or sexual assault are questioned about their sexual history at trial in nearly three out of four cases, a survey shows.

Those able to read the full story would have read that:

Only one in four alleged victims did not have to face such examination.” Continue reading “Are 75% of rape complainants cross-examined about their sexual history?”

How much is the CPS to blame for not prosecuting perpetrators of FGM?

The assertion that thousands of British Muslim girls are getting mutilated with the passive acquiescence of the police and CPS seems to have settled  into public consciousness as a matter of established fact. Last month the Crown Prosecution Service proudly tweeted that it was:

“Prosecuting more people than ever for hate crime and ensuring they receive tougher sentences.”

The response to the tweet was instructive. I haven’t read through all 671 replies. One or two questioned whether it was actually proper or desirable for the CPS to be “ensuring heavier sentences,” but the tone of a huge proportion was the same: why are you bragging about prosecuting hate crime when you haven’t prosecuted anyone successfully for FGM? Continue reading “How much is the CPS to blame for not prosecuting perpetrators of FGM?”

Ian Watkins and Jemma Beale: both cases should make us uncomfortable about our justice system

There were two disturbing pieces of news last week.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission produced a report on the handling by South Wales Police of complaints against the Lost Prophets singer Ian Watkins. In a nutshell, the IPCC found that over the course of several years the police failed to take complaints and intelligence about Mr Watkins’s seriously. As a result this most unpleasant and dangerous of paedophiles was able to continue his practice of filming, drugging and raping very young children when he could and should have been stopped.

The other news was about a woman called Jemma Beale who was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for perjury and perverting the course of justice. Ms Beale had falsely claimed to have been raped by a man called Mahad Cassim. He was duly prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to 7 years imprisonment, while Ms Beale collected £11,000 from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. She then went on to make false accusations about 14 other men, one of whom fled the country after being charged with participation in a gang rape that never happened. Continue reading “Ian Watkins and Jemma Beale: both cases should make us uncomfortable about our justice system”

Julia Hartley-Brewer: My Day

Up early to get into TalkRadio by black cab. Driver asked me what I did for a living. I cleverly told him it was none of his business. That shut him up for the rest of the journey.

Bought cappuccino to take into work. Idiot trainee barrista asked if I wanted to try the new Columbian blend. “I really don’t care,” I told him, “your coffee is always awful. Why should it be any better just because it comes from Colombia.” Rather pleased with this response. Continue reading “Julia Hartley-Brewer: My Day”

The unfortunate silencing of Alex Cavendish

What obligation does a convicted sex offender have to reveal his true identity? A storm over the issue has arisen in the world of prison blogging.

One of the best criminal justice blogs on the internet is Prison UK. Over the last 3 years it has described the life of prisoners in British prisons with a remarkable and unprecedented vividness. Anyone wanting to know about the realities of prison life should read it. I have even recommended it as preparation for clients expecting to receive a prison sentence: one of the most widely read posts (because it was eventually published in Metro) was about what to pack for somebody who is expecting to go to prison (flip-flops for the showers, earplugs and headphones being top of the list). If you want to know about food in prison, illness in prison, sex in prison, old men in prison, drugs in prison, suicide in prison and death in prison the blog has covered all those subjects superbly. Continue reading “The unfortunate silencing of Alex Cavendish”

The dress code for Long Lartin visitors makes dressing for Royal Ascot seem easy

Visitors to Long Lartin Prison, home to a number of tough cookies, has introduced a strict dress code for visitors. Relatives of Ben Geen, the nurse who was very possibly wrongly convicted on the basis of misunderstood statistical evidence, have reported visitors being turned away for wearing open-toed sandals.

In fact, the Category A establishment bans any footwear which is not “enclosed at the heel and toe.” It turns out that the prison, which houses some of Britain’s worst murderers, enforces a sartorial code for visitors, updated at the end of last month, which makes dressing for the Royal Enclosure at Ascot seem straightforward by comparison.

Indeed, Long Lartin and the Royal Enclosure share a number of similarities, although the Ascot rules have little to say about shoes, except that gentlemen’s shoes must be black. Unlike Long Lartin, Ascot imposes no specific ban on “slippers” possibly because racegoers, unlike prison visitors, simply aren’t tempted to wear them.

HMP Long Lartin

Continue reading “The dress code for Long Lartin visitors makes dressing for Royal Ascot seem easy”

It’s time for a Churchillian approach to our disgraceful prisons

In 1910 the Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, told the House of Commons:

The first real principle which should guide anyone trying to establish a good system of prisons should be to prevent as many people as possible getting there at all. There is an injury to the individual, there is a loss to the State whenever a person is committed to prison for the first time, and every care, consistent with the maintenance of law and order, must be taken constantly to minimise the number of persons who are committed to gaol.”

Churchill was as good as his word. He did his best to reduce prison numbers and his immediate successors agreed with him. Prison numbers fell until 1915. They then remained roughly stable until the 1940s, since when, with the exception of a blip here and there, they have continued to rise. Continue reading “It’s time for a Churchillian approach to our disgraceful prisons”

An open letter about Charlie Gard to House Speaker Paul Ryan

Dear Speaker Ryan

Like many of your fellow countrymen and women, you have been following the heart-breaking case of Charlie Gard, the little baby who is desperately ill with mitochondrial disease in London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital. Despite a ruling from our highest courts that doctors would be acting lawfully if they turned off the ventilator which is keeping him alive, a tiny flame of hope continues to flicker. Charlie’s remarkable parents refused to concede that his condition was hopeless and – despite having had the legal authority to stop treating him – his doctors have in fact continued to keep him alive.

The Family Court has now agreed to re-examine the case in the light of possible fresh evidence. The latest development is that Dr Michio Hirano, a neurologist and specialist in mitochondrial disease from Columbia University, will examine Charlie at Great Ormond Street tomorrow. Dr Hirano has been very cautious. At best he gives about a 10% chance of his treatment being effective, and even if it does work to some extent it may not produce much improvement. Charlie has suffered brain damage and even Dr Hirano is not optimistic that that can be reversed. The odds are still against him surviving and even more against him improving but we all hope, and those who share your strong religious faith will pray.

You have tweeted about the case. As Speaker of the House of Representatives your tweets are seen by millions. There is no problem with that. It is a good thing to contribute to the discussion about our healthcare and legal systems. No doubt there is a great deal that we can learn from each other about our respective medical and legal systems. We are some way off perfection in both, as (if you will forgive me for saying) are you. But I am just a little concerned that in your rush to support Charlie’s parents you may have inadvertently overlooked some of the complicated issues that the case has highlighted.

You tweeted this:

I stand with #CharlieGard & his parents. Health care should be between patients & doctors—govt has no place in the life or death business.” Continue reading “An open letter about Charlie Gard to House Speaker Paul Ryan”

The sad story of Simon Spence and Max Hill

Simon Spence QC

Many, many years ago I shared a flat in a high rise block somewhere East of Richmond and West of Sheen. My only flatmate was a then rising star of the bar, Simon Spence. I can’t even remember how we were thrown together. Probably I rang a telephone number on the Inner Temple noticeboard, Simon interviewed me, satisfied himself that I didn’t have untreatable halitosis and offered me his spare room. We didn’t see much of each other after that: he was a silver-tongued advocate, already greatly sought after by bling-flashing Essex armed robbers, whilst I was trying to eke out a living from the less glamorous but at least endlessly renewable resource of Swindon alcoholics.

Sadly, and through no fault of his, Simon’s flat was not for me. After 6 weeks or so of a rather lonely life I decided – I am sure it was by mutual agreement – that my experiment in high rise living was over and I moved out. Since then I don’t think I have come across my former flat-mate at all, although I have followed his steady rise to the ranks of Queen’s Counsel with interest and just a little of that envy that all ordinary barristers have when their student contemporaries take silk or become grand judges.

Continue reading “The sad story of Simon Spence and Max Hill”