Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Four months in a British jail -- on charges that were based on an uncorroborated accusation from one person and later dropped

Otis Ferry on the politically correct British police: 'They put me in jail for my beliefs' Because he supports hunting to hounds

Ferry, 26, who has inherited the good looks and quiet charm that led to his father being labelled the "coolest living Englishman", remains "sickened" that he was locked up for four months in a Category B prison with murderers, rapists and robbers, while awaiting trial on a charge of perverting the course of justice, which was later dropped.

The dismay of Prisoner RB7994 is not, however, directed at his fellow inmates, most of whom he says he liked, but at the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) which he claims targeted him unfairly. "This has been politically motivated. I am a Tory-supporting master of foxhounds, and the current Government is anti everything that someone like me stands for. This is a socialist Government and I am the epitome of everything they detest.

"The police and Crown Prosecution Service were baying to screw me over as hard as they could. The Gloucestershire constabulary are notorious celebrity-hunters – not that I consider myself a 'celebrity'. I hate the word. The pressure from the Crown Prosecution was not normal. They put an enormous amount of effort and money into a bog-standard case."

It is not just Ferry and his supporters who think he was hard done by. Even the judge who had presided over his case after Ferry was accused of perverting the course of justice could not hide his anger at the defendant's treatment when the charge was dropped.

Ferry is no stranger to controversy, and has been arrested at least five times for his pro-countryside and hunting protests. In 2002, he was seized at 4am as he approached Tony Blair's constituency home "armed" with pro-hunting posters. Two years later, he led a famous assault on the House of Commons chamber when he and seven other pro-hunting protesters disrupted the parliamentary debate.

His latest woes began on November 21 2007 when he had been due to ride out with the South Shropshire Hunt, of which he is joint hunt master. Because his hounds were ill, Ferry called off his own hunt and, along with his girlfriend, Francesca Nimmo, and another huntsman drove to nearby Gloucestershire to ride out with the Heythrop Hunt.

However, he arrived late and was struggling to find the main group when he came across an incident in which a pro-hunt supporter clashed with two hunt monitors – widely known as "antis" or saboteurs to the hunting community. What exactly happened next is disputed, but Ferry admits that he instinctively went to the aid of the pro-hunt supporter in his scuffle with two women who were seeking to gather evidence of a breach of the Hunting Act 2004.....

Ferry was taken by police car to Gloucester police station, where he was interviewed and, later, released. In April last year, Ferry was charged with robbery and common assault and a trial date was set for September. Matters then escalated from bad to worse for Ferry, the eldest of four brothers, who was educated at Marlborough College before leaving school after passing 11 GCSEs.

Ferry says he received a mobile message from an anonymous texter just days before the trial, saying that he or she was going to be interviewed by the police. Ferry says he rang the number out of curiosity and found himself speaking to his former groom, David Hodgkiss. He says he was puzzled that Hodgkiss had contacted him, but was unperturbed, especially as the groom had not witnessed the dispute. However, when the police turned up to take the statement, Hodgkiss told them he had been warned by Ferry not to give evidence against him.

Days later, on the first morning of Ferry's robbery and assault trial, Hodgkiss's statement was revealed to the court. The hearing was adjourned until the next day when Ferry was again arrested, this time on suspicion of perverting the course of justice through "witness nobbling". He was interviewed at Stroud police station and, at the insistence of the CPS, refused bail and detained overnight in a police cell. The next day in court, the prosecution lawyer again opposed bail on the grounds that Ferry might re-offend. Judge Martin Picton remanded Ferry in custody, which meant he had to go to Gloucester prison, a Category B institution that houses murders, rapists and violent criminals.

"This really sent a shiver down my spine," says Ferry. "I was handcuffed and booked into this prison with 400 other people. I was absolutely petrified because I had no idea what I might be up against." Initially, he thought he would be in his single cell for just a night. But the jail was to become his home for the next four months. In his 12ft-by-7ft cell, he had a bed, sink, lavatory and colour television. "The first week was a blur. I just could not believe that this was happening to me."

His worst moments were changing from his prison uniform – a grey tracksuit – into his suit to go to court expecting to be released on bail, only to be returned to jail: "Going to court to be denied bail is one of the most crushing experiences anyone will ever experience. It happened to me four times and was completely soul-destroying." ....

Ferry found that most prisoners were pro-hunting. "I hope I did a good PR job for the hunting community – and public schoolboys." He says that fellow prisoners offered him drugs – there was an abundance of cannabis and heroin in the jail. It was an offer he found easy to decline.

In January, after four months in jail, Ferry's lawyers persuaded the judge to released him on bail subject to a £25,000 surety, a pledge to live with his mother in west London, and Ferry reporting to the police twice a week. Two months later, the prosecution indicated in court that it was unhappy with witness "inconsistencies" relating to the perverting the course of justice charge against Ferry. This incensed Judge Martin Picton, who described Ferry's custody as "nonsensical and farcical".

Finally, nine days ago, the Crown accepted Ferry's pleas of not guilty to robbery and common assault charges. He admitted a public order offence and was given a one-year conditional discharge for causing "fear, stress and upset" to one of the hunt monitors. He was also fined £350 with £100 costs. Today, he concedes he was responsible for an "error of judgement" and regrets getting involved in the dispute.

Ferry is unclear about his future but remains committed to country pursuits. "I love animals more than people," he says. "I have always been fascinated by the countryside." He admires foxes but says hunting is important for conservation, as it picks off the weakest, oldest animals, unlike shooting, which can kill a fox in its prime. He says the countryside feels "betrayed, victimised and cheated" by the Government, and, as a Conservative supporter, he is now tempted to pursue a career in politics.

"Hunting is like religion in the countryside. I don't think there is anything I could enjoy more than running my hounds and the hunt. The question I now have to answer is whether I feel I have an obligation to other people to try to safeguard rural traditions."


The chaos of British justice

Largely the fruit of 12 years of Labor party government

Two children a week, on average, die in this country as a result of abuse in the home: sadly, the only remarkable thing about the Baby Peter case was the political and public obsession with it – a consequence of the fact that the death was the second in recent years of a child known by Haringey council to be at risk. Against this background it was always likely that the sentences handed down to those involved in Baby Peter’s death would in turn be the subject of a frenzy of attention – and so it has proved.

The Daily Mail and The Sun have mounted instant campaigns of outrage against what they see as the leniency of the sentences handed down by Judge Stephen Kramer nine days ago. Jack Straw, the justice secretary, initially held the line, stating: “The judge has been clear about the minimum terms they must serve, and such decisions must be for the judiciary.”

Characteristically, the government has now retreated in the face of a further media barrage, and the office of Baroness Scotland, the attorney-general, announced last week that she had “called for the papers in this case since [she ]has the power to refer certain sentences to the Court of Appeal, if after looking at all the facts she thinks the sentence was unduly lenient”.

So here are the facts. It is a recent law, passed in 2004, that obtained a custodial conviction for Baby Peter’s mother. Before it was passed, in fatal child abuse cases where each of two partners denied guilt and blamed the other, and neither could be proved to have caused the fatal injury, there was little the courts could do to hold either (or indeed both) directly responsible for the killing.

Baby Peter’s mother and her boyfriend were convicted under the 2004 act, which introduced a new offence of “causing or allowing death”. Kramer sentenced Baby Peter’s mother to a “minimum” term of five years in prison, which meant little more than three when the almost two years she had already spent in custody were taken into account.

This is what has caused so much outrage. However, the public does not seem to have been made aware of the other aspects of Kramer’s sentencing of Peter’s mother. He, in fact, declared a sentence of 10 years, but under the government’s own rules – which automatically release prisoners by executive order after they have served only half their sentence – that arbitrarily comes down to a custodial “minimum” of five.

Kramer further indicated that he would have passed a higher sentence had not Baby Peter’s mother pleaded guilty to the charge of “allowing” the death of her son and had she not on two occasions sought medical help for Baby Peter unprompted.

Most significant of all, the judge also passed on her an “indeterminate [sentence] of imprisonment for public protection”. What this means is that she will never be released unless, as the judge put it, “the parole board determine . . . you are deemed no longer to be a risk to the public and in particular children”.

The indeterminate sentence for public protection is also a recent form of punishment – it was proposed by David Blunkett as home secretary and became law in 2005. At the time it was suggested that it would apply to only a small number of offenders, but since then judges have handed down almost 11,000 “indeterminate” sentences, and so far fewer than 50 such prisoners have been released. Some indeterminate sentences have been imposed on people whose “minimum” term is less than 12 months: such prisoners are now known as “short-term lifers”.

It is not hard to guess why judges have taken up these sentences with such enthusiasm. Not only are they under perpetual pressure from the Home Office to keep fixed sentences as low as possible because of overcrowded prisons, but they also know that any fixed sentence they pass (itself limited by guidelines) is immediately halved by executive order.

In other words, they are statutorily prevented from ensuring that the punishment fits the crime. No wonder many of them seize on indeterminate sentences as a way of passing the buck to the parole board. Then, if the released prisoner reoffends violently after he has been judged by the parole board to be “no longer a risk to the public”, it is not the judge who will be held responsible.

It is in any case simply a bureaucratic fiction that any parole board knows the likelihood that a released prisoner will reoffend. My wife’s cousin, John Monckton, was murdered by Damien Hanson in 2004, only weeks after Hanson had been released halfway through his sentence for attempted murder, following a parole board recommendation. The board had been impressed by the way that Hanson had attended “anger management classes” in prison: the fact that he would have known such attendance was the sort of visible act that impressed parole boards shows how vulnerable the system is to manipulation.

By contrast, the wrongfully convicted man who refuses to acknowledge his “guilt” can be kept in prison indefinitely. The continued pleas of innocence by Sean Hodgson, released in March after 27 years for a murder he did not commit, had kept him inside long beyond the time served by many dangerous killers – it was only the advent of DNA evidence that showed he had been telling the truth.

One prison psychologist told me, after many years of bitter experience: “We know that a small proportion of prisoners we release on probation will go on to commit rape or even murder; the trouble is, we have no idea which ones they will be.”

He is contemptuous of the fashion for short minimum terms accompanied by an indeterminate sentence, arguing that such custodial packages “don’t take sufficiently seriously what the offender has done, and take too seriously what he might – and therefore might not – do”.

It is very different from the American system, in which indefinite sentences are becoming rare and long fixed sentences without possibility of early release are common. This is at least honest and open: the hallmarks of good justice. Both the public and the criminal know exactly how things stand, which is not the case with the paradoxes and evasions of the English system.

The advocates of our system maintain that it is more humane, since it allows for the prisoner who displays penitence to be released much earlier. Sixty years ago CS Lewis demolished this conceit in his essay The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment. He pointed out that a sentence based solely and inflexibly on the wickedness perpetrated – the concept of just desert, which was increasingly being denounced as “mere retribution” – was the only way of linking punishment and justice.

By contrast, said Lewis, if sentences served were based on a subjective assessment of the rehabilitative process, “grumpy unrepentant prisoners” could be consigned to perpetual incarceration while those cunning enough to “cheat with success” would be freed.

The dystopia foreseen by CS Lewis is now the English system of justice.


Marrying money

A woman with two daughters, a stepson, a large mortgage, a big job and no time was rifling in a tidying — not a nosy — way through some of her new husband’s papers recently and found a wish list he had made. And there, with a star next to it, was the line: “Make enough money so that [she] doesn’t have to do a job she hates.”

“That meant so much to me,” she says. “It’s one of the reasons this relationship works and my last one didn’t.” Her first marriage was to a “creative” type, a fascinating and wild man who rarely met his half of the mortgage; a man who had such an exciting schedule he was never awake for sex when she was, or able to pick up the kids from school when she or the au pair couldn’t. She could be a case study for the book Smart Girls Marry Money: How Women Have Been Duped into the Romantic Dream — and How They’re Paying for It. It was written by two fortysomething professionals who want to tell younger women some home truths about the postfeminist dream. One is a doctor with an MBA, Daniela Drake, the other an Emmy-winning television producer, Elizabeth Ford.

“It is not a how-to guide,” Ford says. “It is simply two educated and well-meaning women who are just going, ‘What the hell did we do?’” The marry-money thesis is the latest in a list of many that have appeared in the past 10 years — the idea that women can’t have it all and need to revert to more traditional female role play with men has been swilling around controversially in the homespun-philosophy section of the self-help genre. A steady flow of modern marital philosophers are urging women to return to prefeminist states of reliance and supplication (The Surrendered Wife, The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands) and manipulative feminine wiles (The Rules, The Princessa, Why Men Marry Bitches). Before that, an awful lot of mothers were saying the same things to their daughters.

Smart Girls Marry Money comes off as a big-sisterly catalogue of things they wish their mother had told them. The title contains their two main arguments. First, that money and the marrying of it is essential for women, because, given the current working culture, women are rarely able to earn as much as men — especially after children. And should their marriage end — as nearly half do — in divorce, it’s a fact that women rarely bounce back, either professionally or financially, as easily as men. The female divorcée, they cruelly add, is unlikely to spring back romantically either, unless she is some kind of a Liz Hurley version of a fortysomething. It’s a satirical book, full of puns and wisecracks. Less gag-laden but similar reading is found in recent research by Professor Stephen Jenkins, director of the Institute for Social & Economic Research, who found that five years after divorce, men were 25% richer, whereas women still had less money than they did pre-split; and that 31% of mothers receive no payment for children. His conclusion is that until true equality exists in the labour market, in the division of labour at home, and in the way people come out of divorce, women remain at a disadvantage.

Ford is a single parent, whose husband, after 13 happy years of marriage, “traded up for a younger model”, as she puts it. She swears she is not bitter, but “being a single mom is really hard. It’s just that if I knew [then] what I know now... There’s a lot of great and essential things you can get from a man — financial things like being able to own a house and pay for great childcare”.

Their second big tub-thump is more singular: that romantic love is a stupid thing to base a marriage on. Drake split from her first husband because she felt the passion (ergo, love) had gone from their relationship, and regrets it. “Things might have been different if I’d known then that love is transient, that it doesn’t exist, that [a lack of it] is not a reason to get out of your marriage.” Gallingly, her first husband “has now gone on to be quite rich”.

“There is a corrective purpose to this work,” Drake says. “In the late 1800s, when parents began allowing their children to marry for romantic love, social commentators guessed, rather presciently, that the divorce rate would rise to 50%. Their reasoning: if being in love is a reason to marry, then being out of love is a reason for divorce.”

The book contains a lot of other advice that the average mother wouldn’t care, or dare, to hand down: that sexual fulfilment is dependent on discovering yourself through masturbation; that it is imperative to marry young, while you have the seductive powers of the sexually attractive and fecund; to be aware that men are prone to trading up, “once you no longer have great skin or look great in jeans”. They even advise sleeping with your boss if you calculate that you can do so without harming your feelings or prospects. They advise that men don’t want high-earning women, and not to be too ambitious, while also lambasting the male-driven era of greed that has brought down the global economy. It’s a far-reaching book, backed up with a lot of research and argument, packaged as bouncy self-help for the chick-lit market. But do we have to look backwards for the answer to our modern woes? Or are there changes we can make to our lives that do not involve falling into regressive roles?


Australia: A bill of rights would do more harm than good

THE battle lines over an Australian bill of rights are being drawn with a polarisation that will disturb the Rudd Government, which made the tactical decision to defer the republic campaign and give priority to the rights debate.

What do former Australian chief of army Peter Cosgrove, former governor-general Ninian Stephen and original chairwoman of the Northern Territory Emergency Task Force Sue Gordon have in common? They are the Australians who launched, wrote the foreword and the afterword to the new book Don't Leave Us with the Bill, the case against the bill of rights.

In his launch speech this week Cosgrove said he believed the issue was "possibly more important" than the republic. He warned that the Australian public was unimpressed with "me-tooism", being lectured that it must have a bill of rights when such laws "have made not a jot of difference to crushing inequities" in other societies.

"Enduring laws ought not to be a fashion statement," Cosgrove said on Monday when he declared: "Don't leave us with the bill."

Pledged opponents in this book are: Queensland Chief Justice Paul de Jersey; former High Court judge Ian Callinan; former solicitor-general David Bennett; former NSW judge and past president of the Australian Bar Association Ken Handley; historians John Hirst and Geoffrey Blainey; former chief of operations in Iraq Jim Molan; West Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter; University of Sydney professor of law Helen Irving; former Keating minister Gary Johns; the leader of the Catholic Church in Australia, George Pell; deputy president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry John Levi; Australian Christian Lobby head Jim Wallace; former PM John Howard; and shadow attorney-general George Brandis, among others.

The message is that Australia's most prominent opponent of the bill of rights, former NSW Labor premier, Bob Carr, has strong support on both his flanks. The new book from the Menzies Research Centre, co-edited by its executive director Julian Lesser and lawyer Ryan Haddrick, penetrates the fog of polemic around this issue, created by a self-interested legal lobby and human rights industry.

The arguments against a bill of rights are powerful, intellectual and populist. The Rudd Government will commit an act of folly by ignoring them. There is a chance that Frank Brennan, chairman of the consultation panel on the rights issue, may offer the Government an exit strategy.

But if Attorney-General Robert McClelland is allowed to proceed Kevin Rudd will find himself engulfed in a culture war over power, rights and values, with unusual dividing lines.

Virtually every group is split internally, yet there will be strong opposition from the Liberal and National parties, the churches, which are frontline targets, indigenous leaders aware that "rights" arguments are the main barrier to reform in Aboriginal communities, law enforcement authorities, sections of the Labor Party hostile to this undemocratic manoeuvre, and citizens who see this is a power transfer from the people and parliaments to judges.

There are three themes in the Menzies Centre book: the bill of rights is not the best way for society to protect rights; it constitutes an unwise shift in Australia's governing institutions; and, most significantly, the campaign is not primarily about rights but is best understood as an ideological movement that recruits the human rights cause to win social and economic policy changes that would never attract majority support from the public.

Hirst is impolite enough to say there is a "widespread belief" in Australia "that the disadvantaged and minorities have been given far too much attention" and a bill of rights will give them even more. He says leaders such as Howard and Mark Latham were wary of this: witness Howard's "For all of us" 1996 slogan and Latham's warning against "subdividing society into a collection of single identities based on race, gender and sexuality".

This goes to a core point: a bill of rights may assist a few individuals but will diminish society.

Bennett argues the defect lies in thetension between the general rule and the exception: witness the Catholic Church's exemption from discrimination on religious grounds because it wants clergy and teachers to be Catholics. This is "justifiable discrimination", but such decisions should rest with politicians, not judges. How does one balance the right to life with the right to self-defence? How does one balance the right to avoid detention without conviction with the view of every Australian government that on rare occasions detention without conviction is essential for public security?

Defying the power grab by the legal profession, Callinan, de Jersey and Handley insist that non-elected judges should not be asked to resolve such social and economic issues.

Claims they do this now are false. The bill of rights envisages a new role for judges that, as Callinan says, departs from Australian practice.

"Under a human rights act, although it may take a while, the court eventually becomes the master," Handley says.

Howard says that in 2004 his government changed the Marriage Act to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. But in Canada, as he explains, the courts purport to make such decisions, and this required override action by Canada's parliament.

The most stunning insight into this entire debate, however, is Brennan's recent and separate attack on Victoria's rights charter, supposedly the model for a national bill. Brennan's conclusion is that Victoria's law has failed its first test: the need to uphold freedom of conscience.

Brennan's concern was clause 8(1)(b) of the Abortion Law Reform Bill that, in defiance of Australian Medical Association ethics, overrode a physician's freedom of conscience and compelled a doctor who had a conscience objection on abortion to find and recommend to the patient a doctor willing to perform the operation. As Brennan said, the law requires "compulsory referral by a conscientious objector" or, in shorthand, leave your morals at the surgery door.

Brennan's conclusion is that Victoria's rights charter "failed spectacularly" to defend a core human right when it conflicted with the progressive-Left political agenda on abortion law and bioethics. He nails the issue: Victoria's law is not primarily about human rights. It is "a device for the delivery of a soft-Left sectarian agenda" and it will be discarded whenever "the rights articulated do not comply with that agenda".

In short, the rights debate is an ideological instrument for causes the Left knows the public may not embrace. Brennan sees it and said it. Presumably, this must influence his report to McClelland.

It goes to the real issue in the national debate: the advocates want certain rights to be advanced and other rights to be cut back.

It is time to ask what this means for society if extra rights are invested in the causes surrounding feminism, asylum seekers, gays, national security suspects, law breakers, secularism and Aboriginal guarantees as anti-intervention devices.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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