Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Crime busting

In his latest book Fear: Trump in the White House, the veteran journalist and author Bob Woodward who, with Carl Bernstein at the Washington Post, exposed the Watergate scandal, which led to the resignation of US President Richard Nixon before he was impeached, reports that his lawyers warned President Trump that he might end up in prison if he testified to the special counsel investigating Russian meddling in the US elections.
Lawyer John Dowd is reported to have told Mr Trump: “Don’t testify. It’s either that or an orange jumpsuit.” Apparently, he told Mr Trump: “You are not a good witness. Mr President, I’m afraid I just can’t help you.”
Woodward then reports Dowd as saying of Trump “He just made something up. That’s his nature.” Unsurprisingly, Mr Dowd resigned from the White House team in March.
Today, Prime Minister Theresa May told us that two Russian men, officers in the GRU – the Russian military intelligence service – were prime suspects in the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal with Novichok in Salisbury, the subsequent death of Dawn Sturgess and the serious illness of her partner Charlie Rowley.
At one level, this story seems quite astounding, a work of fantasy fiction. You couldn’t make it up. But, without reservation, I’m prepared to say that I believe that what Mrs May has told us is true.
However, I am absolutely clear that President Trump is the pre-eminent purveyor of fake facts and that, in accordance with the statement of his lawyer John Dowd, what we perennially hear from President Trump is something that “He just made something up. That’s his nature.” Leaving aside his misogyny, Trump is a walking disaster for truth and democracy.
But, as Theresa May gave her statement to the House of Commons, a number of other things came to mind.
First, she told us that, because the Russian government had never responded positively to a request to extradite Russian nationals to stand trial for serious crimes committed in the UK, there was little point in making a request.
Wrong. If there is the evidence to make an extradition request, it should be made. If President Putin and the Russian government decide to say ‘No’, they should then be held to account for their actions for their decision. What sort of morality is it that puts ‘nationality’ above ‘justice’?
Secondly, Mrs May told us that a European Arrest Warrant had been issued for the arrest if the two suspects. It took years of negotiations before there was agreement on a European Arrest Warrant in 2004.
Since then, more than 8,000 people have been extradited from the UK to face trial or serve a sentence abroad; it has also resulted in many more than 1,000 people being returned to the UK to face justice. This includes Sheffield criminal Craig Allen, who was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment in 2014 for supplying Class A drugs in the UK – bringing death and destruction to many local communities – but orchestrating the criminality from Thailand and Holland. Allen was the first fugitive to be captured abroad after the launch of the National Crime Agency.
But, is there any deal on a European Arrest Warrant post-Brexit? No, of course not. More worryingly, many arch-Brexiteers are so anti-Europe that they don’t see the need for a deal. No wonder that international criminals look happier and rub their hands with glee each time that William Rees-Mogg pontificates on the TV.
The third thing that got me thinking was the report that, in trying to investigate the Novichok poisoning, police officers had viewed more than 11,000 hours of CCTV and taken more than 1,400 statements. It stands in dramatic contrast to other recent reports on policing in the UK.
  • More than 800 police stations closed since 2010.
  • There are 20,000 fewer police officers in England and Wales since 2010.
  • According to the National Audit Office, police funding increased by 31% in real terms between 2000/01 and 2010/11 and has been cut by 18% since then. The cut would have been even bigger if the government hadn’t forced extra increases in council tax.
  • Last year, there was a 22% increase in knife crime and an 11% rise in gun crime, according to the government’s own figures, and the increase hasn’t relented this year.
  • Two-thirds of burglaries are not being properly investigated because of police shortages. Last year, 130,000 burglary investigations across England and Wales were closed by police without identifying any victims. That was a 40% increase on 2014.
I make no complaint about the resources that have been invested in trying to solve the Novichok poisoning case.
But, along with most constituents, and particularly those who have been the victims of serious crimes, I ask
How many more serious crimes would have been solved and criminals brought to book if the Coalition and Conservative governments hadn’t slashed the resources for local policing?”