” 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


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..



Smart riots need smart solutions

Rioter in London: Pic courtesy: Daily Mail

Are we going to fall into a simplistic trap over the riots that gripped London and England this week? So far much debate on the causes, much discussion on bringing the people who did this to book, and a sort of numbness over the horrific and frightening scale of it. But what is the long-term solution and how should we deal with the smart phone savvy generation that perpetuated it?

Up to now the debate has concentrated on making sure the people are punished – from ludicrous calls from one Tory MEP to shoot the rioters on the spot to making sure we fill our overfull prisons and detention centres with every single person who was on the streets. As David Cameron said today: “We will track you down, we will find you, we will charge you, we will punish you. You will pay for what you have done. ”

What of the cost to us the taxpayer of all this. Higher insurance premiums (a £200m pay out is on the way) or taxes running to hundreds of millions to pay for the damage to buildings is now to be followed by a huge bill  for legal costs, extra policing, and jailing the offenders. Remember the cost of  jailing each offender will be more expensive than the daily bill for educating David Cameron and Boris Johnson at Eton. And given the depressing picture of conditions at Wandsworth prison published this week by the Chief Inspector of Prisons,(see http://bit.ly/oEcESH ) much good may it do us.

It is likely that when the rioters emerge from these detention centres and prisons they be more savvy in avoiding detection, have lucrative drug dealing contracts, and learnt from hardened crims new ways to commit burglaries.

Looters in action in London. Pic courtesy ibtimes.com

So what is to be done? I have one suggestion – when people are convicted of damaging a police vehicle, fire engine, a shop and a home, or stealing goods they  should be presented with the bill and ordered to make a contribution to compensate the victim or the service.

Instead of going to prison they will bound over  by the courts to pay back money to victim or store – and  this will be enforced by either direct deductions from their wages or benefits or even from their credit cards if they have any, over a five, and in bad cases, a ten-year period. This would not apply if they had killed or seriously injured anyone where they would go to jail.

In case anyone thinks this is a ” bleeding heart ” soft option I would propose  very tough enforcement to back this up. If they fail to do this they will face – like a suspended sentence – going to jail for the full period of their repayment term, which would be much longer than a normal jail sentence for burglary or criminal damage. This would act as a strong deterrent but fewer people might want to risk going to jail.

Second there is a need to reconnect the alienated rioter with mainstream society. I suggest this is done by making him or her meet the victim, whether a small shopkeeper, the local fire or police station, or the local manager of  the wrecked Tesco’s, Carphone Warehouse or Barclays Bank. Then they might see this is not a victimless crime and that the people who work and live there are human beings with human feelings and their lives are blighted by such actions. The rioters may also want to see where the money is going and could mitigate the bill if they returned some of the stolen goods.

There needs to be a conversation between the community and the rioters not  separate anger among communities and young people themselves about what has happened.

How this can be organised  at a  time of huge spending cuts I do not know particularly when even some of the magistrates courts handling the emergency – such as Westminster – are about to be closed down, but organised it must be.

 Political leaders at Westminster and in town halls across England need to take the lead. Organisations like Victim Support and the probation service, must be able to play a role. There should be a simple way to set up an organisation that could pull this together. Any ideas?