Corruption in the Lords!

Our reporters posed as lobbyists acting for a foreign client who was setting up a chain of shops in the UK and wanted to secure an exemption from the Business Rates Supplements Bill. We selected 10 Lords who already had a number of paid consultancies. The three Conservative peers did not return our calls and a Liberal Democrat and an Ulster Unionist both declined to help after meeting the undercover reporters.

However, four of the five Labour peers were willing to help to amend the bill in return for retainers. Some were more forthright than others.

A very nice little investigation indeed.

Poor bastards

The government is planning a radio station exclusively for the entertainment of Britain\’s prisoners, which will cost taxpayers £2million, according to reports.

We\’ve already relieved them of their liberty for their crimes. Now we\’re going to pump Nicey and Smashey at them 12 hours a day? Surely that breaches something or other…the Hague Conventions? Geneva?


The artists are squatting in the mews house of a property in Clarges Mews which sold for £22.5m in April 2007. The owners, Timekeeper Ltd, discovered the occupation in mid-December when they spotted a Christmas tree.

Timekeeper has instructed solicitors to apply for an eviction order. A hearing is due today at Central London county court and Timekeeper hopes the judge will issue an "order forthwith", which means the squatters will be forced to leave the property immediately.

Timekeeper\’s representatives claim the building was empty only while architects waited for planning permission for renovations to the Grade II*-listed house.

The artists do not seem worried by the prospect of eviction. They have been holding open days where anyone can go to workshops and learn skills from welding to "laughter" and tree-house building.

If tree houses are such lovely things why aren\’t they living in one rather than stealing someone else\’s property?

Umm, unlikely I think

Michael Howard was last night at the centre of extraordinary claims by a drugs baron who alleges that he paid a £400,000 \’bribe\’ to the former Home Secretary.

Career criminal John Haase told a Labour MP that he was released from prison early after making the payment via one of Mr Howard\’s relatives.

No, that\’s just one I\’d dismiss out of hand. Howard isn\’t exactly my favourite politician but I\’d never accuse him of being that insanely stupid.

So, now we know

"There is no method of execution without pain," said presiding Judge Mohammad Mahfud, outlining the decision.

The defendant\’s suffering is a logical consequence of the death penalty under Indonesian law and "cannot be categorized as torturing the convict", the nine-judge panel concluded.

Not that it\’s going to change anyone\’s mind about the death penalty of course….

Couple call 999 to get rid of salesman

Can be pushy these buggers:

But one couple became so frustrated at a salesman\’s refusal to leave their house after two hours that they called the police.

The trader was demanding a deposit for the £31,000 he quoted to replace their windows.

The couple, who have two young children, repeatedly asked him to leave before calling the police and handing him the phone so that a police officer could tell him to go.

Now all we need is a line to call to deal with the Jehovah\’s Witnesseses and the Mormon missionaries.

Can I suggest 666?

Polly Dear?

Have you ever been taught the point about correlation and causation?

Without blinking at the contradiction, the prime minister could boast that crime is down by a third, violent crime by 40%. And yet he boasted of the steep rise in prison numbers, up from 60,000 in softie Tory times to more than 80,000 now, and 96,000 soon – presumably regardless of future crime rates.

Correlation is when we note that two things are moving in tandem. However, we don\’t know whether in fact they are linked. It could be that they are not (global warming coinciding with there being fewer priates is one example), it could be that they are both the symptom of some other matter taking place or it could be that the movement in one of the things being studied is the cause of the other thing. We might point to the correlation between electricty blackouts and a boom in births 9 months later as an example of cause and effect….our causation if you wish.

Now, I don\’t insist that there is indeed causation in those crime numbers. It could indeed be simple correlation. But it\’s difficult to call it a "contradiction" unless we explore whether there is in fact some causation going on here.

More people are going to jail, crime is falling. You know, there is in fact an argument that could be made there to show some causation.


Of course, no truly wonderful Polly column could be complete without a mangling of statistics to add to a failure of logic:

In London, he says, murder has declined slightly – from 2.6% per 100,000 people in 2000 to 2.2% in 2007.

There\’s a disturbing sense there that Polly doesn\’t in fact understand percentages. 2.6% means 2.6 per hundred…..that\’s what percentage means. Murder statistics (in order to get away from using 0.026 %) are expressed as a number per hundred thousand. The way she\’s presented them there we\’ve actually got a murder rate of 2,600 people per hundred thousand people….something like the level of deaths in frontline troops in a bloody war (erm, roughly 100,000 in the British Army, some 100 deaths so far in Afghanistan and Iraq……yes, a bloody war).

Well done Polly!


The independent Sentencing Advisory Panel also said that there should be a presumption that thieves, burglars and anyone convicted of dishonesty should not receive a jail term.

Crimes against property don\’t matter any more then? Sounds like that soixante huitard phrase "All property is theft" has infiltrated the Establishment a little, doesn\’t it?

Neil Challis


A primary school teacher who raped a girl from the age of five and took indecent photographs of his pupils has been jailed indefinitely.

Caught, tried and punished for foul crimes.

And yet, yet….what\’s this about "indefinite sentences"? You stay in jail until you\’ve sucked up to hte Governor enough to be released? Until you tick off some boxes on the parole officer\’s list?

I agree that an indefinite sentence isn\’t the same as indefinite detention without trial, but it still all sounds highly illiberal. What\’s the justification for it\’

George Again

My word, he\’s doing a Polly. At least he understand the concept that there\’s a difference between correlation and causality.

This doesn\’t demonstrate a causal relationship.

The only snag is that he doesn\’t apply it to his central argument.

And why, in the United Kingdom, is imprisonment still rising? It\’s not because of rising crime. Last year crimes recorded by the police fell by 2%, while the most serious violent offences fell by 9%.

No, I don\’t insist that this is true, I only put it forward as one of those ideas that does need to be discussed in this context.

Maybe prison works? Maybe banging up criminals reduces the number of people willing to become criminals and risk being banged up?

Child Abuse

Libby Brooks has a decent piece on a method of stopping child sex offenders from, well, reoffending. There\’s an earlier Guardian piece about it here and something I wrote on it here.

Started by the Mennonite Church in Canada and taken up by the Quakers here, at its simplest volunteers become the social support group for those offenders released from prison. My impression is that it works almost by social shame, or the desire not to let down those in that new social circle.

However is does work in detail, on the larger scale it works incredibly well. Reoffending rates are usually something like 70%. Of the 49 who have joined those Quaker run programmes in this country, not one has reoffended.

It works, which is really something rather wonderful.

But I have to admit to a certain sadness at this news:

Now, with further Government funding, Circles is expanding across the UK, with the Quakers taking a back seat. This is no longer a faith-based initiative, with volunteers presenting from all strands of society.

Yes, I\’m afraid that I\’m a terrible cynic. I just worry that something which moves from being embedded in a local community (and works precisely because of that) will turn completely to shit when run nationally by the State.

Turning to other matters:

According to the most recent study, between 16% and 20% of all children in this country experience some form of sexual assault before they reach the age of 16.

No, sorry, I don\’t believe that at all. Not unless we\’re using so wide a definition of "sexual assault" as to be meaningless.

Theft, Addiction and Prison

The guidelines say: "Many offenders convicted of acquisitive crimes are motivated by an addiction, often to drugs or gambling. This does not mitigate the seriousness of the offence but an offender\’s dependency may properly influence the type of sentence."

They suggest that rather than a prison term, "it may sometimes be appropriate to impose a drug rehabilitation requirement or an alcohol treatment requirement as part of a community order or a suspended sentence order in an attempt to break the cycle of addiction and offending, even if an immediate custodial sentence would otherwise be warranted".

Seems sensible enough, if the aim is to stop a recurrence of the theft then dealing with the addiction seems logical enough.

Patrick Mercer, a Tory member of the Commons home affairs committee, said: "Rehabilitation can go on in prison. I don\’t see why these are mitigating factors."

This is also true, it can…..but does it?

The little I\’ve heard on the subject implies that addictions get worse inside, not better, specifically, that heroin is easier to get and to use inside than cannabis is. So prison really isn\’t the place where rehabilitation does in fact happen.

Anyway, these are only changes to the sentencing guidelines: judges and magistrates still get to deal with each individual case on its own merits, as of course they should.

Do You Know This Man?


If you do, then Interpol would like to hear from you.

He is a white man with grey, thinning hair who appears to be in his late 40s or early 50s.

He was shown sexually abusing young boys from south-east Asia.

Interpol said that despite two years of investigations it has so far been unable to determine his identity, nationality or whereabouts.

Those Enhanced CRB Checks

This is highly amusing:

Mr Yeomans, who has an otherwise impeccable record in 38 years as a teacher, was prosecuted after he went fishing at his favourite spot on the River Dove in Derbyshire last summer.

Asked by a water bailiff to produce his rod licence, he discovered to his horror that he had forgotten to renew it.

Fishing in a freshwater course without an Environment Agency rod licence is a criminal offence under the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975.

Mr Yeomans immediately pleaded guilty, was fined £50 and £70 costs by magistrates, and promptly forgot about the matter.

But officialdom had not finished with the popular head, whose 355-pupil school was rated "good with some outstanding features" in its latest Ofsted report last year.

Nearly a year after his illicit fishing trip he was confronted by a rather embarrassed chairman of governors who had been notified that his name had cropped up in an enhanced CRB check.

Although principally used to identify potential paedophiles, the checks pick up every contact a person has with the police. Mr Yeomans, who has been head of the school for 26 years, recalled: "The chair of governors was notified that there could be an issue with a CRB check in the school and rang to tell me. I said, \’Is it a member of staff?\’ and he said, \’No, it\’s you.\’

"I was shocked. He had to visit me and, in effect, he was being asked if I was fit to work with children for forgetting to renew my rod licence."

If you create thousands of new criminal offences, then you\’re going to catch and tag all sorts of people as criminals: people that we wouldn\’t normally really think of as a danger to children, for example. If you then go on to insist that everyone in just about any position of trust whatsoever must have their records checked, then you\’ll end up with situations like this.

A spokesman for the Home Office, which is responsible for the CRB, defended the system.

"It is better and safer for any contact the person has had with the police to be mentioned. Otherwise, where do we know to draw the line?" he asked.

Umm, how about drawing the line with the original offence? That such and such is indeed a criminal offence, and thus must be logged into the system? And that such and such other is a trivial breaking of the rules, something for which a fine might be approporaite, but it isn\’t a criminal offence. Like, for example, fishing without a rod licence?

A line might be that GBH is a criminal offence, yes, one to be recorded. Calling a policeman\’s horse gay might not be.

You know, applying the same basic common sense to the definition of "criminal act" that we did for some centuries before the current lot of control freaks came to power?

Gail Sheridan

Oh dear Gail:

The wife of Tommy Sheridan has been charged with lying under oath during the socialist politician\’s high-profile libel trial against the News of the World.

Gail Sheridan, 44, whose testimony formed a central part of her husband\’s case during a 23-day trial in 2006, was charged with perjury after six hours\’ questioning by detectives. Her father, Gus Healy, 71, who also testified at the trial, was also charged.

The move comes two months after officers charged Mr Sheridan with perjury.


Within the past 10 days three more of Mr Sheridan\’s colleagues – including a former MSP – have also been charged. Rosemary Byrne, 59, who lost her seat in the Scottish Parliament last year, Graeme McIver, 39, and Jock Penman, 58, were charged with perjury after voluntarily reporting to police for questioning.

All three testified on Mr Sheridan\’s behalf and are now members of his newly formed Solidarity party.


In a statement today, the party repeated its claim that Mr Sheridan and his colleagues were the victims of a "political witch-hunt". A spokesman said: "The only crime that Tommy Sheridan is guilty of is the crime of speaking truth to power."

I think the wheels are coming off that argument, don\’t you think so too?

Rapists Spared Jail!

I wonder if this is the reason:

Officials could give no clear explanation for the rise in rapists spared jail, but one theory is that an increase in the number of cases brought to court has led to more convictions for non-violent rapes, particularly of men having sex with girls under the age of 16.

Someone would actually have to go through every single case to work it out: somthing which no one is going to bother to do. No doubt therefore we\’ll get screams fo a change in the law without ever actually knowing what is going on.

No, no, You\’re Safe

From us, that is:

Sinn Féin claimed that McShane, who is thought to be in the protective custody of a branch of the intelligence services, had nothing to fear if he came home.

"He is under no threat from republicans. If he wishes to return, it is up to him to make peace with his community and in particular his family," a Sinn Féin spokesman said.

But "the community", now, that\’s another matter.

Glorious, Glorious!

A corrupt civil servant behind one of the biggest frauds in Whitehall history has managed to avoid paying anything towards a £1.5m confiscation order because the Crown Prosecution Service delayed enforcing it for 11 years, the Guardian has learned.

Gordon Foxley, who was head of defence procurement at the Ministry of Defence from 1981 to 1984, was given a four-year jail sentence in 1994 for taking bribes from foreign arms manufacturers. The trial judge ordered him to hand back £1.5m that had been used to buy his family eight properties. But the high court has now struck out a legal attempt by the CPS to enforce the order because the judge ruled a fair trial of the issues was impossible after such a long delay.

So someone actually convicted of a crime does not pay the money back, while those who have never been convicted of a crime can be forced to pay under new laws.

How excellent a system they\’ve built for us.

Rape is not Rape

One of the more pernicious ideas of modern times is that all rape is rape, that all and any sex (although rape is more properly thought of as a crime of violence, of power over someone, but that\’s another matter) against the will of a woman is the same and must be treated and punished equally. Finally, even The Guardian is getting the point that this isn\’t actually the way to deal with it:

A more fruitful approach might be a two-tier offence, with the highest penalties reserved for "aggravated" rapes, allowing juries to convict in more typical cases without fearing that this would lead to the maximum life term.

Currently, when tried, the possible sentence for a drunken misunderstanding over consent is the same as that for a violent stranger rape. No wonder juries are hesitant to convict. A gradation of offences will do much to remedy at least that part of the problem.

That is, an acknowledgement that not all rapes are equal.