Tag Archives: public order

Lucas, Miller and a law that worked so hard not to treat them equally

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Congratulations are due to Green MP Caroline Lucas, who walked free from court today after criminal charges against her were overturned.

She had been charged with obstructing a public highway and a public order offence, during high-profile anti-fracking protests last summer. Neither offence carries a prison sentence – the maximum penalty for either charge would have been a fine of up to £1,000.

District judge Tim Pattinson said the prosecution had failed to satisfy him that Lucas had “the requisite knowledge” about the Section 14 order being in place.

On the obstruction charge, he said he did not hear any evidence that any actual obstruction of a vehicle or person was caused by the protest.

It is good for British justice that Ms Lucas was acquitted – but bad for British justice that she was taken to court in the first place, most particularly because the case contrasts so strongly with that of disgraced former cabinet minister Maria Miller.

Miller claimed tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money under false pretences. You can call that fraud, if you like (maximum penalty: 10 years’ imprisonment).

Did she go to court? No.

Because she is a member of Parliament, the financial irregularity was investigated by a Parliamentary body, the Commons Committee on Standards. Rather than take the advice of the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, who recommended that Miller pay back the full amount, the committee ruled that she should return just £5,800 and apologise to Parliament for obstructive behaviour during the investigation.

Surely everybody can see the double-standard here?

The least we can learn from these two stories is that the law absolutely does not treat everybody equally.

Ms Lucas was arrested, detained at Her Majesty’s convenience and now she has faced trial for the offences alleged against her. This MP, who opposes the government in Parliament, was then acquitted after a fair trial and has the support of the general public in this matter.

Miller was accused of a far more serious crime than Ms Lucas but has not been arrested, has not been detained, and has not been tried for the offences alleged against her. The then-government minister was whitewashed by her colleagues and only resigned because of a public outcry against the decision.

What conclusion can the public draw, other than that government MPs are effectively above the law?

David Cameron’s government can only redeem itself with two actions: It must remove Parliament’s right to investigate claims of financial irregularity by MPs and placing this duty firmly where it belongs – with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

The other action?

Obvious, really…

Maria Miller must face a criminal trial, charged with fraud.

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‘Gate-gate’ whitewash bid should achieve nothing

What on earth does Andrew Mitchell hope to achieve by reviving ‘Gate-gate’, three months after the event?

It seems a police officer who was not on duty, but allegedly witnessed the incident last September when Mitchell verbally abused a colleague at the gate to Downing Street, has been arrested under suspicion of falsifying his report.

And Mitchell himself has appeared on television, telling ITV News the contents of the police log of the event – which would have been written by the man he attacked – were falsified.

It would be very easy to take these two things together, and believe that the police faked the incident. That would be completely wrong. They are separate things.

First, we have the investigation into the officer who was off-duty. There is a suggestion that this person may not have witnessed the incident at all, but still supplied an account of it to his MP.

From there, it seems we are supposed to believe that The Sun was able to get the same person to provide it with a copy of a confidential Metropolitan Police report on the incident. The constable was arrested as part of a wider inquiry into how confidential Met information got into national newspapers.

That doesn’t have anything to do with the first-hand report, written by the policeman who actually received a tongue-lashing from Mitchell.

This states that, when asked to get off his bicycle and refrain from using the vehicle entrance to Downing Street (there’s a pedestrian entrance as well), Mitchell subjected the officer to a string of abuse, told him to “learn your place” and said “You don’t run this government”. The piece de resistance was the allegation that Mitchell described the policeman as a “pleb”.

Mitchell has always disputed the exact words, especially the “pleb” appellation. But he has admitted an incident took place, and admitted saying “I thought you guys were supposed to f*cking help us”. That’s enough for him to be arrested on a charge of abusing a police officer, which is a public order offence. Mitchell is on record as having apologised “profusely” to the officer. That comes from a Downing Street statement.

So why is he saying the police log of the incident is false?

Apparently, on ITV News on Monday, he said: “I’d just like to reiterate once again that it’s the contents of the alleged police log which are false … they are false and I want to make that very clear.”

He’s not just referring to the “pleb” reference here – he’s talking about the log of the entire incident. That’s an incident which he has admitted took place. For which he apologised. “Profusely”.

I do not believe him.

Not only is the first-hand evidence against him, I think we should remember that weight is given to the honesty of the police. It has to be – they deal with contentious situations on a regular basis and it is therefore necessary for us to rely on their integrity in accounts that follow, such as court cases. Even after the revelations about cover-ups such as Hillsborough or (going back a bit) the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six, I don’t think we should be discouraged from believing the average bobby on the beat is actually trying to uphold the law, not undermine it. If you want corruption, look further up the ranks.

It is also very important to see this in the context of other Conservative MPs and their alleged misdeeds. The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards is investigating Maria Miller over her expenses claims (as is well-documented, including in this blog). And George Osborne used taxpayers’ money to make up to £1 million on property including a farmhouse and paddock in Cheshire; he claimed the cash as Parliamentary expenses so we are meant to believe the paddock was a necessary expense incurred by his duties as an MP. What utter nonsense!

Let’s not forget Liam Fox, who became a former Defence Secretary after misbehaviour was alleged against him.

So Conservatives have been giving themselves a bad reputation. It seems to me that they want to tidy up their image. What better place to start than by undermining and rubbishing their worst PR disaster of 2012?

I do not believe them.

My advice is that you should not believe them either.