Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

I'm A Criminal... Get Me Out Of Here!

THAT the law is an ass we already know.

But the one factor in its favour is that it is an ass to everyone, regardless of who they are, how much they earn, or what they believe.

That the law is applied equally to everyone is the over-riding reason why we put up with its occasional iniquities, the Justin Lee Collinses who are let off with community service, the John Leslies who end up being tried in the court of public opinion after the real courts bottle it, the Barry Georges who are nicked by desperate police and later found innocent.

It is a sign of a rotten society when the law treats some people better than others simply because of their wealth or social status. A fraudster is a fraudster, whether it's billions from a bank or hundreds from the benefit office.

Yesterday two different courts heard about two different women who had done slightly different things to steal money from the far-from-full public purse.

In the dock at Gloucester Crown Court there was Emma La Garde, a mother of five with a personality disorder, depression, and a series of medications.

She conned £85,898 by doing something quite spectacularly awful, which was to pretend her son had first an immune disease and later lymphoma.

She told her son he had cancer, shaved his head and eyebrows, made him use a wheelchair, told his school he couldn't take part in PE, told his siblings not to play roughly with him, told her estranged husband his son was sick, and using forged GP letters claimed a carer's allowance, motability car, tax exemptions and other benefits.

When she used the money to take the family to Disneyworld, she made her perfectly-healthy son sit in a wheelchair so they could jump the queue for all the rides. She later made false claims that her daughter was also ill.

It all took place over three and a half years, from the time her son was aged six. Yesterday in court she was almost asleep in the dock, clutching a bag of medication. In all she was charged with one count of child cruelty, eight of fraud and one of forging a doctor's letter, a total of 10 crimes, and she admitted each of them.

Meanwhile not in the dock at Southwark Crown Court was Margaret Moran, the former MP for Luton. Because she was depressed she was not expected to be present at a trial into how she acquired more than £53,000 with 21 counts of fraud.

The crimes took place during four years and included 15 charges of false accounting and six of using false information. She produced bogus invoices for £22,000 of goods and services which simply didn't exist at three different properties, one of them 100 miles from her constituency.

She invented firms which did not exist, produced invoices, submitted them and received thousands of pounds for a few minutes' work on desktop publishing programme. She had her curtains cleaned, Christmas cards printed, dry rot repaired, new carpet fitted and what's more paid for twice.

She was paid more than £2,000 for using a telephone line which never existed. When she had already claimed the maximum for one year, she forged invoices to claim it the year after.

When the expenses scandal first broke she spoke at length about how she was being made to look dodgy when she was entirely innocent of wrongdoing. "I make absolutely clear that I have done nothing wrong or dishonest in relation to my claim for expenses," she said, announcing her intention to resign because of the "bruising effect" the media storm had on her family and friends.

She went on to be caught on camera offering her services to a lobbying company on the same day she claimed to be too ill to work for her constituents.

She did not admit her guilt in court, because the court ruled she was too mentally fragile to go through a trial. After a three day hearing in which the claims were found true, she was not convicted and will not get a criminal record.

The judge ruled he could not "punish her as such" and will order either that she goes to hospital, is supervised, or absolved.

The cases of these two women are different, of course. One has been cruel to a child, which rightly carries with it a stronger sentence, and claimed a greater amount of money.

But the fact remains the MP committed twice as many crimes over a longer period, and they cannot all be attributed to mental ill health in quite the same way as the mother's can.

Margaret Moran stole less, but she stole more professionally and from avarice rather than illness. She was not as cruel, but she did not admit her guilt which according to the rules should reduce your sentence.

And if both women are so ill, why weren't they both excused the trauma of a trial? Was it because one was a nobody on benefits and other an ex-MP with three houses?

In the same week, a man who has never been convicted of any crimes in this country has been released after seven years spent, on and off, under lock and key.

Abu Qatada preaches hate against the West, Jews, gays and anyone else he can find. He is, apparently, a spiritual leader to terrorists, and as such we'd all quite like him not to be in our country or our prisons as in either place he costs us an absolute fortune to keep.

But the accusations against him come firstly from Jordan, which isn't the nicest place, and secondly from our own security services for whom it has been reported Abu Qatada used to work. Once he reportedly helped to negotiate the release of a BBC journalist held hostage in Gaza.

Just because he has not been convicted does not make him a nice man or someone we'd like living next door. But, according to the rules, it does mean he cannot be locked up or deported.

Because if we lock him up for seven years without charge on the whim of security services who do not show us the evidence for their claims, who else will we do it to?

If Abu Qatada is guilty, find the evidence, put him on trial, and if convicted deport the horrid little man. If the evidence cannot be found then we have no choice but to let him out until we get it because that is the law we apply to everyone else in this country.

Are we denying him the right of Habeas Corpus, something first outlined in the Magna Carta in 1215 to ensure no-one was held without charge, simply because we can't work out what else to do?

If the law allows crooked politicians to be treated more gently than they should be, hauls damaged mothers to court for crimes which should put them in hospital, and denies fundamental rights to people on the basis they are unlikeable then it is more than an ass.

It is a fractured, rotten, corrupt, hypocritical, braying, one-eyed ass which needs to be taken outside and shot for all our sakes and replaced with something which does the job not just to suit a few of our leaders but as it needs to be done.

Phone lines might be worth a try.