Carl Beech Verdict: A savage blow that does not mean we ignore all future child sex abuse investigations

Carl Beech: !8 year prison sentence for perverting the course of justice and fraud Pic credit:BBC

The Carl Beech verdict is a blow to child sex abuse investigations. After the trial and thorough investigation by Northumbria Police Beech he emerged as a prolific, manipulative and malicious paedophile who made false allegations against powerful people and sparked off a huge investigation by the Met Police.

 Both myself and the reporter, Mark Conrad, who investigated Beech, part company with Exaro’s former editor in chief, Mark Watts, in deciding that the verdict was “unsafe” or that he didn’t get a fair trial. Beech chose not to call a single witness in his defence and when the net was closing he fled the country.

Now the question is asked should journalists have ignored him from day one and reported nothing taking the line that no one in “the great and good” has ever sexually molested a child and anybody alleging that is a fantasist.

 Or should we try diligently to get to the truth of the matter given the limited tools journalists have compared to a police force or the powers and scope an inquiry can have to investigate a case?

The simple solution is to say allegations, particularly historic, of child sex abuse, are so problematic, so difficult to prove, that anybody coming to a journalist suggesting they are a survivor of sexual abuse should be turned away. That would a devastating to the many thousands of survivors themselves who would have no other recourse other than going to an overworked police force. It wouldn’t be just a case of not being believed but being ignored.

 It was also play into the hands of any paedophile to do what he or she liked – knowing their victims would never be listened to and they could hide behind the new populism that most child sex abuse in the UK is just a string of false allegations.

The latter fact is wrong. If you look at recent convictions hardly a week goes by -without either individuals or paedophile gangs being convicted in the courts- and that includes historic cases.

While Operation Midland was going on the National Crime Agency successfully prosecuted people in North Wales – including a police superintendent – the late Gordon Angelsea- who had denied child sex abuse crimes for years and successfully sued Private Eye and the Observer. He was one of 11 people so far successfully prosecuted through Operation Pallial including John Allen, an owner of children’s home and gang of five paedophiles led by a former professional wrestler.

Gangs have been convicted in Rotherham, Hull, Stoke on Trent, Rochdale, Lichfield and Newcastle upon Tyne to name a few.

And the idea that there isn’t a single prominent person who indulges in child sex abuse has been proved untrue with the conviction of the late Bishop Peter Ball, Bishop of Lewes and Gloucester, who convinced people at the very top, including Prince Charles, for years that accusations against him were a pack of lies. And Sir Cyril Smith MP whose escaped crimes in Rochdale were exposed in a report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

The only way you can investigate child sex abuse is to look for any outside facts that might stand up the likelihood of the case, test the person’s knowledge of the places where it is alleged to have happened and do a thorough test to see if the “ victim” can identify his perpetrator. You also rely on other people – not sexually abused themselves – to act as whistleblowers or people in authority at the time who can stand up the circumstances of a story.

The problem with the Carl Beech investigation was the way he undermined any diligent reporting by meticulously researching details about his victims and their premises so the” right” answers would come out.

The other was the odd way Exaro was run. Unlike nearly all news organisations there were no internal news conferences where ideas could be swapped and challenged. Reporters were forbidden from discussing the individual child sex abuse case they were investigating with any other reporter.

 As a result I did not know the true identity of Carl Beech until it was made public. I have never met him, never exchanged any emails or talked to him.

 Perhaps he would have been exposed if a tech savvy reporter had seized his computer – but I doubt the public would support journalists seizing other people’s computers while they were conducting investigations.

 There has been criticism of my colleague Mark Conrad for conducting a picture identity test after Beech had alleged 12 people had sexually abused him.  He tells me that consisted of inserting the 12 into 42 different people and took place before the police started their investigation.

 The reason why it was done was because of the disastrous episode on BBC Newsnight where the survivor Steve Messham was never shown a picture of the late Lord McAlpine who was wrongly alleged to have abused him – which would have prevented a false allegation circulating on social media..

Investigating historic child sex abuse is one of the most difficult areas to do in journalism.  Carl Beech has made it even more so. One lesson is that people who say they were sexually abused will in future have to face more scrutiny by both the police and journalists investigating their claims.   The law about anonymity for people being investigated for child sex abuse might have to be tightened up – though I would be careful in advocating this.

 But what must not happen is that the default position should move from believing a survivor to taking the view that the accusation is false. That way would provide paedophiles – who are the most cunning and manipulative of all people – with a free market to abuse whoever they wish and get away scot free.

An Establishment cover up: The sordid and sad saga of sex abuser Bishop Peter Ball

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Bishop Peter Ball at his trial . Pic Credit: BBC

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The Church of England has finally fully acknowledged the impact of the predatory sexual abuse committed by one of its most charismatic former bishops Peter Ball.

A forensic report by Dame Moira Gibb into both his activities and the cover up by the church  of his behaviour which reached the then Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, (now Lord Carey) to protect the Church’s reputation.

It is a grim story only coming light after the former Bishop of Gloucester was successfully prosecuted and jailed in 2015 after  a career  of physically and sexually abusing and exploiting  boys and young men, including some who were particularly vulnerable.

The report says : “He had used his position within the Church to identify those whom he then abused. and admitted two offences of indecent assault and a further offence of misconduct in public office.”

Tragically a young man, Neil Todd, who had first accused him in 1993  of abusing him in when he was 17 killed himself in 2012 when  Sussex Police re-opened an investigation when he was Bishop of Lewes.

Equally culpable, though not an abuser, is Michael Ball, his twin brother and former Bishop of Truro, who ran a campaign after his brother had been given a caution for abusing Todd in 1993 to rehabilitate him using every type of pressure he could find.

None of the authorities, with the exception of Sussex police, come out of this well, Neither the Church, Lambeth Palace, Gloucestershire Police and the Crown Prosecution Service. It is litany of failed responsibility among those in power and also the misuse of power and reputation to protect the powerful.

Peter Ball comes out of this report as a manipulative, sadomasochistic  predator who appears to have used every trick to entice young men from public schoolboys to priests and damaged and vulnerable youths coming to the Church  for his own sexual  gratification. It is not clear  even now at 85 whether he shows any remorse as he refused to co-operate with Dame Moira’s inquiry.

While on the surface being a charismatic leader he and his brother appear to have conned  the Establishment to cover up his  activity and the Establishment appear to have been prepared to do so.

The report reveals how he wanted to whip Neil Todd who was only saved by worried staff at the Bishop’s house who sent him away. He also got youths to strip off in the chapel so they could pray together in the nude and even used a ceremony to anoint a youth’s penis in some bizarre religious rite.

But  as bad is the 20 year cover up . This included dragging Prince Charles into Ball’s defence – by using his privileged access to Highgrove House – to claim, falsely, as an examination of letters between Ball  and the Prince show, that he supported his cause. According to the report even a commercial arrangement that allows Ball and his brother to rent a house off the Duchy of Cornwall was twisted to say this was a Royal favour.

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Lord Carey: Former archbishop of Canterbury Pic credit: BBC

Lord Carey emerges as a very weak character in this sorry saga. On the one level he is aware of Ball’s transgressions and tries to investigate, on another level he intervenes with the aim, whatever he says in a letter to Gloucestershire’s chief constable, to prevent a public trial of a Bishop by just issuing a caution. In the end this is done in return for his resignation as bishop. It is here that Gloucestershire Police and the Crown Prosecution Service, which now admits its mistake, are totally at fault. Lord Carey also failed to pass on information to the police on people Ball abused and defended his reputation to the police.

Then after this ” escape from justice” he and his brother pursue a ruthless campaign to rehabilitate him  as a priest – which is successful. They demand  money from the archbishop to fund their expenses, insist on his reinstatement as  a priest in his brother’s parish  ( at one stage his brother actually threatens to do this without Lambeth Palace’s permission) and he even gets an honorary retired bishop’s post from the  Bishop of Chichester.

The report recommends a strengthening of safeguarding in the Church of England and will be considered by the independent child sex abuse inquiry. But what it doesn’t address – and it is outside its terms of reference – is the glaring issue of homosexuality in the Church.

To put it in its historic context these events take place when people who were homosexuals in public life often lived  a double life for fear of exposure in the press. This was the time when  David Atkinson, the Tory MP for Bournemouth East was publicly a happily married man with a wife and children while secretly leading a double gay life in the House of Commons.

It was also the time when Britain’s first successful black footballer, Justin Fashanu, led a troubled double life attracted to young men, which led to his suicide when the US law caught up with him.

One wonders whether if as now – when to be openly gay no longer is a problem  and gay marriage is acceptable  ( except to the Democratic Unionist party)  Ball could have had a stable relationship instead.  Or was he a predatory abuser anyway? This is not to excuse the Ball twins from the appalling sexual abuse and cover up that followed. But it suggests the Church has got to address a wider problem than just the abuse.

The full report is here.

 

 

A damning indictment on the dangerous failure of privatisation in the criminal justice system by a former Tory MP

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Jerry Hayes, practising criminal barrister and former Tory MP for Harlow Pic Credit:Goldsmith Chambers

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I am reblogging this from the site of Jerry Hayes, a former Tory MP and practising criminal barrister. He is highlighting the dangers of miscarriages of justice since the Forensic Science Service was privatised by David Cameron because private companies are cutting corners and not doing a proper job. The person here could have been imprisoned for seven years as a result of their negligence.

THE SCANDAL THAT UNDERMINES OUR ONCE GREAT SYSTEM OF JUSTICE

10 May 2017 at 07:09

I never blog on cases, but today I must break my rule. Yesterday I discovered a scandalous state of affairs which could have led to an innocent man going to jail for a substantial period of time. I will not name the defendant nor the court for obvious reasons. In forty years of practice at the bar this shook my faith in what was once the finest and fairest justice system in the world. Read this and weep. And mourn for British justice.

Yesterday I was sent to the Crown Court to offer no evidence in a firearms case. I had been instructed some weeks ago as Prosecution counsel. Let me give you a thumbnail sketch. Last year the police searched a van. In this van was a tool box and in this tool box were founds guns and ammunition. This comprised of an 8mm blank firing pistol converted to be a lethal weapon. An empty magazine belonging to that hand gun. A Glock self loading hand gun. The magazine from this handgun contained two live rounds. And three further live rounds were found in a knotted bag. It goes without saying that the possession of these items is a very serious offence and carries a minimum sentence of five years for the guns and a consecutive sentence for the ammunition. Anyone convicted potentially faces a sentence of imprisonment of seven years upwards.

The guns and ammunition were forensically examined. The laboratory gave the police what is called a Streamlined Forensic Report (SFR). It came to this conclusion, ‘a match exists between the defendant and the sample’. In other words the defendant’s DNA was found on one of the magazines.

This was served on the CPS and duly uploaded onto the digital case system, effectively serving this on the court and the defence. An SFR is precisely that, and both prosecution and defence are entitled to see the full report. But very often it is taken at face value. As there was no other evidence the CPS reviewing lawyer wanted further information. He asked for more information. Was there a mixed profile? How strong was the DNA? He received obfuscation from the lab. ‘The SFR provided indicated that a number of results were subject to progress.’ But the lawyer was dogged in his determination and finally received this bombshell. ‘The lab confirms due to confusion they have never compared mixed profiles against the defendant.’ They also stated that ‘progress means there are no additional findings’. Then came this chilling line. ‘The lab refused to elaborate any further……’

The reviewing lawyer reported the following,‘I am concerned that the language used in the SFR appears to assert positive and ongoing actions when they are clearly negative. I have requested the OIC to obtain an email from the forensic officer confirming the phone communication and what is implied in the SFR…..he confirmed that the report was misleading.’

The CPS, underfunded, overworked and creaking at the seams comes in for a lot of criticism. In this case the reviewing lawyer deserves a herogram.

Yesterday when I offered no evidence I explained to the judge in detail what had happened. I will never forget the look of horror on his face. There will be a thorough judicial investigation.

And yesterday SKY NEWS reported that a private forensic laboratory had ‘manipulated data.’ What the hell is happening? I will tell you. In 2010 the government announced that the national forensic service (the FSS) was to be closed down and forensic analysis would be privatised. Let me be clear that the FSS has had its fair share of cock ups. But the government announcement prompted horror from professionals. The National Audit Office warned, ‘this could spark a crisis within the justice system.’ They were right. Soon the court of appeal will be swamped. Will someone, somewhere listen? I won’t hold my breath.

How Romania’s inhumane prison system led to the tragic death of a campaigning newspaper owner

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Dan Adamescu who dies this week after falling seriously ill in an inhumane Romanian prison system.

 

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Earlier this month this blog covered the plight of Alexander Adamescu, the joint owner of Romania’s oldest newspaper, who is facing extradition from the UK on what are seen as trumped up charges of bribery using the European Arrest Warrant.

His father, Dan, who was the co-owner of Romania Libera, Romania’s oldest newspaper was in prison serving a four year sentence on similar charges and his family were planning to fight the state over the way they are trying to close down his companies.

Now tragically his father has died – after a short period in hospital – one of a large number of people who die every year because of the notorious nature of the Romanian prison regime.

 

His son Alexander states :“On January 24, right after midnight, Dan Adamescu, aged 68, died in a hospital in Bucharest, without having his family close to him. Sentenced on June 5, 2014 following a trial that relied on false testimonies, he was consecutively imprisoned in 3 penitentiaries, where his health status became increasingly serious. Hospitalized in his last months of his life – which he spent being intubated and in semi-inducted coma – the 15 diseases he had made his body become more and more weak, and the deadly blow was given by the pathogenic bacterium called Staphylococcus aureus, with which he was contaminated in the inhuman conditions from the prison”

He mentions that his father went through difficult moments in the penitentiaries where he was imprisoned, given his health status.

“Jailed in unspeakable conditions in the Remand Center – 6 to 8 detainees in a cell of a few sq. m. at the basement, without closets, without room to move, with Turkish toilet – and not once, because of the atrophied muscles and of his ill knee, he felt I his own excrements – jailed for 23 of 24 hours – because he was allowed to go out for 1 hour, in the 30 sq. m. called “outdoor” (actually, a closed room of approx. 30 sq. m., having grids instead of the ceiling, extremely dirty) – he was moved later to the Rahova Penitentiary, where he shared a cell with 6 detainees, but because of his sharpened health status and of his inability to move, he remained permanently blocked in the cell.

Besides, for some bureaucratic reason, the treatment that he needed desperately wasn’t administered for 37 days, although medicines have been brought by my aunt, and his life was in real danger. Moving him to the Jilava Penitentiary was a new ordeal for my father… so he went from here to the Floreasca Emergency Clinical Hospital, directly in syncope; only after 10 days of medical care his vital functions have been restored, following a serious infection spread throughout his body” .

The issue of prison conditions in Romania- where nearly 500 people have died over the last five years often due to the lack of medical treatment –  has already been challenged in the High Court in London by the international human rights lawyer, Ben Emmerson ( who also represented Alexander Livenenko’s widow in the recent public inquiry into his poisoning by plutonium). He has taken up the cases of other people being extradited by the Romanians and the prison.

Romania’s cramped and unsanitary prison conditions mean that pre-trial detention has also become a kind of punishment. Prison standards are so bad that between 1998 and 2015, the European Court of Human Rights found Romania guilty of 178 violations of Article 3 of the ECHR prohibiting inhuman or degrading treatment. The court recorded 27 violations in 2015.

This sad end  to his father’s life strongly adds to the need for some action to stop the extradition of his son who blames the Romanian authorities for his early death.

 

” Darth Vader” mandarin’s unstellar performance on crime mustn’t pay

home affairs committee christmas-cards

Mark Sedwill as Darth Vader centre right next to Theresa May

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Earlier this month I railed about the extraordinary findings of a report by the National Audit Office which showed Whitehall’s abject failure to confiscate the stolen assets of  criminals.

Theresa May’s claims that crime musn’t pay were torn into tatters by a report which showed  what a woeful record the present government has in confiscating them.

You would think that her top Home Office civil servant – permanent secretary Mark Sedwill – would do everything to make amends for this poor performance.

But think again. When he came to account for missing almost every target set by Parliament a few years before his complacent response so angered MPs on Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee that he was sent packing by the chair Labour Mp, Meg Hillier.

I have written about this in Tribune magazine.

Now Mark Sedwill has a stellar nickname – thanks to a jokey reference in a  recent Christmas card put out by the Commons Home affairs Committee, which monitors the home office.

He is proud to be depicted as” Darth Vader ” the evil figure in the Star Wars movie – to Theresa May’s Princess Leia as part of cast of characters on their Christmas card ( see picture above.)

As he told Civil Service World  ” It’s always better to be one of the stars, even if you’re the dark lord, than to be disregarded. I think he’s the coolest character in the pantheon – so I’m not that bothered.”.

His performance before the committee was anything but stellar. And the criminals would be delighted that the man representing the Dark Side was happy to pretend he had recovered their loot.

He obfuscated, denied reality and pretended that he had never agreed with the report’s findings in the first place. He even started quoting government propaganda that  ministers were delighted with his efforts – which left at least £203m worth of assets uncollected.

So angry was one Tory MP, Stephen Phillips, a QC and member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, that he accused him of turning the hearing into ” a farce”and said his performance was ” an exercise in Sir Humphreyism.”.

And the committee abruptly halted the hearing – an almost unprecedented event- when Meg Hillier told him:” I do not think we have any option but to adjourn this. This is something I never wanted to do in this Committee. As Mr Phillips said, we want to get answers. This is a hugely important area and I am really disappointed that we are going to have to take this form of action. I do not think we are going to get very much further today.”

He has a chance to redeem himself next Tuesday when he will have to come up with some real answers at a resumed hearing.  We have to hope  this time the  MPs will turn into Jedi knights to get some explanations.

You can watch the hearing here..

 

 

Child Sex Abuse Justice: Premier League or Eton Mess?

Adfam Johnson pic credit BBC

Sunderland player Adam Johnson; Pic Credit: BBC

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Andrew ” Picard ” using his father’s surname in an US swimming competition. Picture by I & M Galleries. Photographer: Nicole Harnishfeger

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Two very high profile cases  involving child sexual abuse have recently hit the headlines. One involved the Premier League footballer Adam Johnson, capped 12 times for England. The other involved Andrew Picard ( who used his mother’s name rather than his father’s surname), an Old Etonian from a wealthy , well connected family.

Adam Johnson was given a six year prison sentence for grooming  and sexually assaulting a 15 year old girl, a Sunderland fan besotted with him.

As the BBC reported Judge Jonathan Rose told him he had abused a position of trust and caused his victim “severe psychological harm”. He told Johnson, 28, he had engaged in sexual activity with her knowing she was under 16. Police  also found extreme pornography involving animals on Johnson’s laptop.

Andrew Picard, 18, was spared jail and given a 10 month sentence suspended for 18 months after the police found  over 1155 indecent  children images on his computer in his Eton College dormitory. Like Johnson some of the images involved animals. The judge described some of the videos – which included abuse of babies and toddlers – as “so appalling, frankly I can’t bring myself to talk about it.”

One of his videos showed a girl as young as three being raped, while others showed young children being forced to have sex with dogs. He also shared these videos and images on a chat room where he was unmasked by undercover police.

Now I am not going to defend Adam Johnson or  challenge the sentence he received. He is a Premier League football player who used his  position in society  to take advantage of an under age girl who obviously had a crush on him, and  he took an unhealthy interest in  extreme sex.

But I do think there is an element of rough justice when you compare the sentence handed out to him and the one given to Andrew Picard.  Adam Johnson is a Northern  working  class lad educated at Easington Community College who suddenly became rich through his footballing skills.

Andrew Picard is  the son of a very wealthy American lawyer living in Westminster and has yet to prove himself in any career. Johnson is splashed all over the tabloids, Picard was initially covered by  the tabloids  but already  reports about his case have been taken down by one newspaper and he is starting to  disappear off the internet.

The Mirror reported in a now withdrawn article: ” Sallie Bennett-Jenkins, QC referred to her client’s remorse and pointed to the good work he had been doing with doctors in the past year, undergoing constant treatment with numerous doctors and psychiatrists.

“This is a young and very able man who has hopes for the future,” she added.

“He was able to have this opportunity [to seek help] and this was something Andrew sought for himself, by himself.”

Sparing Picard jail, Judge Ross said a term of custody would undo the good work he had done in the past year undergoing extensive counselling.

He said: “This defendant Andrew Picard was a privileged young man. His family are clearly wealthy enough to send him to school in Eton.

“Quite how you found your way into this unpleasant world Mr Picard, the world of chat rooms and exchanging this material, is not clear to me.”

Now there could be some  mitigating circumstances.which are highlighted by Matthew Scott’s barrister blog.  He points out that but for the delay in bringing the case to court Andrew committed the offences at the age of 17 when he would have been granted anonymity and the press could only say he was a public schoolboy. As it is his father was spared embarrassment by him being charged in his mother’s name – even though this failed when the press found  his surname. I am curious that the Crown Prosecution Service allowed him to be charged under a different name.

More interestingly he points out that the judge imposed an order that could still land him in prison. As he writes : ” Those who think the judge was going soft on Mr Picard need to ask themselves why, if that was the case, did he impose a Sexual Harm Prevention Order (breach of which carries a prison sentence of up to 5 years)? The law did not require him to impose it, he chose to do so. ”

But my view is that this sentencing reflects the present divide in society. The full force of the law comes down on a working class footballer but the law is generous to the crimes of an Old Etonian. I only hope the psychiatrists,doctors and counsellors treating Andrew Picard can get him to change his ways.He is lucky his family can afford them, unlike many child sex victims.

 

 

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Helping crime pay with Theresa May

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Theresa May, home secretary, ensuring crime can pay. Pic Credit: conservatives.com

Politicians love simple slogans especially bashing criminals. Tony Blair was famous for his ” Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” mantra. Theresa May, the home secretary  told the Police  Federation  last November that she was getting tough on criminals to ensure ” crime doesn’t pay”  when it comes to forcing them to hand back their swag.

But a forensic inquiry across Whitehall by Parliament’s spending watchdog the National Audit Office tells a different story. Read it here. It exposes politicians like May speaking warm words on the subject and doing the opposite. Indeed it could be said she is creating circumstances so it is even easier for criminals to get away with it.

No doubt Teflon Theresa will deny this -pointing out new laws saying hardened criminals will stay longer in prison if they don’t cough up where they have hidden their ill gotten gains.

But Parliament can pass as many laws as it likes. If there are fewer resources to tackle the problem and  no determination to do anything about it nothing will happen. So May’s words will  remain just a meaningless political slogan.

Her ” crime doesn’t  pay” mantra contrasts with the fact that uncollected debt from crimes is at record £1.156 billion – up £158m in two years.

True an extra £22m has been confiscated in the past two years but it hasn’t kept pace with crimes. And confiscation orders from the courts are DOWN 7 per cent.

The report says:“The total value of orders imposed also fell by £31.5 million to £247.3 million between 2012-13 and 2014-15 (an 11% reduction) after adjusting for inflation.”

It ominously warns : “We estimate that the reduction in the number and value of orders imposed is likely to continue in 2015.”

But  even more seriously the NAO  reveals the number of as ‘confiscators’, employed to find the stolen goods and money  has fallen from 1,440 in September 2013 to 1,358 in September 2015, down 6%.

The report says: “The fall has mostly been seen across police forces. Reasons for the fall include budget cuts and greater demand for the skills of experienced financial investigators in the private sector.”

So Theresa May’s support for austerity is ensuring crime will still pay. In other words public officials who have had pay restraint  and face spending cuts have been lured to join the private sector. Indeed even wealthy criminals could offer them better paid jobs.

The government has done some eye catching little initiatives to redress like giving a paltry £10m a year to police forces to boost their efforts. But as the NAO reveals this compares with £800m over five years to try and tackle tax evasion. Small potatoes.

And as for Theresa May’s claim that longer sentences will force criminals to disclose where they have hidden the money – the NAO say not proven.

New arrangements with foreign government to try and find out where assets have been hidden abroad have so far had little success. Only £6.5m of the estimated £300m of criminal assets held overseas have been recovered, though for the first time the United Arab Emirates has returned £300,000 to the Crown Prosecution Service.

The arrangement seems to have benefited foreign governments more with £28m being returned to Macau from criminals working in Britain.

Probably the most damaging fact is that the Commons public accounts committee told the government all this two years ago – and precious little has happened.

Obviously  Teflon Theresa has to be seen stopping  criminals living a luxury lifestyle on stolen goods But she is not prepared to do much about it.

I have also written about this in this week’s Tribune Magazine.