“Killer in our midst” – why the case of C raises even more awkward issues than it seems


The case of a man, known only as C, who has been released on parole from a secure mental hospital has grabbed headlines. “Killer in our midst” cried The Sun. References to the double murder for which C was initially convicted, were frequently occurring.

And this isn’t really surprising because what was distinctive and unusual about this case is that C, who was indeed convicted of two murders in the 1990s, has won a legal battle to remain anonymous. This was viewed as central to him rebuilding his life. And this is what has infuriated many commentators.

But the issue is not so straight-forward. The crimes were, truly, horrific. Victims must be entitled to justice. But a number of other factors come into play.

C had completed his sentence at a secure mental hospital, not a prison. His treatment and incarceration was carried out under the Mental Health Act and as such the courts ultimately accepted that treatment carried with it a right for the patient to remain anonymous.

Lady Hale, who chaired the Supreme Court hearing, said that in each case there needed to be a balance between the public’s right and desire to know the details, and the damage that disclosure would do to – not just to the patient, but to those involved in providing treatment and care to him. (In coming to this ruling, the Supreme Court overturned previous rulings from lower courts that said C could be named).

But a heart-rending letter from one of C’s victim’s sisters, published in The Sun, showed just why this is such a controversial matter. The key legal point seems to be the provisions of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004.

The Guardian” quoted Lady Hale as saying that “These rights, though limited, should enable the providers (of probation services) to reassure the victims’ families in this case that the arrangements made for the discharge of the patient will not put them at risk in any way.”

C was somewhere where the objective was rehabilitation (or recovery). He has passed a number of milestones which indicated the progress he was making. The court no doubt relied on expert opinion. So we can see that this particular case, judged on its own merits and taking all the circumstances into account, left the Supreme Court believing that justice required them to grant the appeal for anonymity.

And herein lies a challenging problem that has wider application than this exceptional case. What if despite the legal arguments, and the imperative that the Supreme Court felt compelled to act on –there are not the services available to ensure that the court’s full writ is run: that someone is released back in to the community but the conditions on which he is released cannot be met. I am not suggesting that this is the case with C – but you can see the problem that can arise.

Simple, some might say. In that case the person has to stay incarcerated: They cannot be released. But this would mean justice is denied because of an administrative issue. And that surely cannot be right.

It cannot be right because there is a vital public interest in the rule of law – for people being detained, in the process of being released, and the society they are being released into. Like it our not, the issues of justice and resources allocated to social care, probation and related court services cannot be disentangled.

If we look at the question of people being locked up as opposed to let out, we can see how sentencing policy has fed through into other areas – rehabilitation in prison, the prison population, staffing and so on.

So for the purely managerially minded, not taking a sufficiently rounded view of these issues is simply counter-productive – it clogs up the already-stretched system and leads to outcomes that cost more than they save. A lot like medically-fit hospital patients blocking beds because there are not enough doctors to discharge them, or inadequate (or absent) social care in the place they are being discharged to.

But this is not and can never be a purely managerial issue. Whether viewed through the prism of detention or release, how justice works in practice affects us all. But we all always need to remember that whatever ends you what to see, you have to will the means too!

Hartley, Haskell and the death (or rebirth) of English rugby?

Rugby’s worst keep secret was revealed this week when new England coach Eddie Jones confirmed that Dylan Hartley  will captain the team for the annual 6 nations tournament which begins on6 February.

Even if you don’t know the first thing about rugby, this is news. Hartley is undoubtedly a player of great talent, but arguably even greater ill-discipline which has seen him suspended for long periods. But does this matter?  No, clearly not to another player who would be hard-to-resist in any national first 15, James Haskell.  Quoted in  the  ‘papers at the weekend, Haskell endorsed Hartley for the job I don’t care what he’s done in the past,  Haskell says – we need his  no-holds-barred commitment on the field.

Well hang on, I mean really let’s just hang on a moment. Stuff the ethics. Misconduct doesn’t matter so much. It’s what happens on the field, in competition that matters. And in the mix of what matters, winning trumps everything.

Sorry Eddie, and absolutely no disrespect intended to Messrs Hartley and Haskell…but I disagree. Profoundly. I want my team to win as much as anyone. But I want my leaders to be people my kids can look up to, that I can look up to.

I don’t doubt for one moment the commitment of my new national captain, but having  so much passion that you commit fouls that  get you suspended is  at best a questionable strategy.

Because that approach leads us inevitably to an “it doesn’t matter as long as we win” state of affairs. Win ugly or win clean, it doesn’t matter. But I beg to differ.

If winning ugly is synonymous with breaking the rules on an “as needs” basis, then I believe it is not winning at all. And here’s why: Players get injured by foul moves. People get hurt. And people get suspended (As would-be returning international Chris Ashton, presently is very much aware.) Teams are weakened. The sport loses out.

And like it or not – and this is where the lack of any rugby knowledge doesn’t matter – if you are the leader of national team playing a national sport, your conduct matters. Whether you like it or not, what you do counts – and is used as a reference point by others.

The 11 and 12 year olds I coach have fair play drilled into them. They complain vehemently when code violations by their opponents go unpunished by the referee. At this level, the values of the game are of utmost importance. So what does having a persistent rule breaker appointed as England captain say to them?

If you’ve got this far you may well be thinking I am naive at best, failure-prone at worst. And maybe that is true. Maybe the game has always been more Hartley than (for example) Wilkinson or Robshaw.  But if that is the case what does to say about the sport?

It leaves the door open to saying, do you know what, the rules don’t really matter. Conduct doesn’t really matter. It encourages elements that I think everyone connected with rugby knows are there but which actually don’t help any of us. On yes, the working class may bait and abuse each other at the football, but the rugby way is for the rest of us get tanked up and chuck beer all over ourselves and each other while the 30 guys on the pitch demonstrate the acceptable face of hooliganism.

But maybe I am unkind. Maybe Eddie Jones and the RFU have been inspired. Maybe this is just the fresh start that a to-be world cup winning England rugby captain needs.

But it’s a helluva gamble with more than just rugby at stake.

This piece was also published by The Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/simon-sapper/dylan-hartley_b_9075296.html

Why #likealadydoc has undone Tory social policy

Dominic Lawson really has only got himself to blame. Even The Sunday Times’ infernal paywall couldn’t protect him from the consequences of his  “The One Sex change on the NHS that No-one Has Been Talking About” piece.

In a worryingly perfect validation of the Everyday Sexism project, Lawson appeared to blame the NHS’s medical staff shortfall on women not working longer hours.  Armed with the #likealadydoc hashtag, his remarks were ridiculed, parodied, put in context and utterly demeaned on social media.

He’s wrong by the way – the attack on  women in the NHS  has  been  ongoing for some time – in the  Telegraph in 2013, the Mail in 2014 and on Conservative Home last year .

But has Dominic Lawson actually done us all a service? For he has highlighted an irresolvable contradiction in Tory policy.

Under the Conservatives, the family has been championed as a crucial keystone in keeping society safe, well, happy and productive. As provider and protector, it is moving  quickly  from backstop  to  first port of  call, given  changes  and cuts in  state provision. So it is understandable as well as necessary  that there is an impact on  the workforce and the workplace.  People cannot, to return to Allison Pearson’s 14 year old argument,  have it all.

Or to be more straightforward – people cannot be in two places at the same time.

So this is not just about the junior doctors’ dispute.  Nor is it about the alleged preoccupation of the last Labour Government with target setting.  And it is not even about catching the Conservatives trying to play both ends against the middle.  It also exposes the wasteful and avoidable imbalance in caring in the UK, and why the debate on this needs to be taken to a higher level than ever before. Groups like WorkCareShare are making significant and welcome running here.

Why is the institutionalised default in terms of caring to expect, demand even, that women fulfil this role? It makes no sense – not only in terms of junior doctors’ work-life balance, but also in terms of quit rates of women in key or well-paid jobs, in which both they and the state have invested heavily.

The government will point to changes in legislation that have enhanced provision – but there are yawning, chasm-sized gaps between take up and demand. Access and affordability issues are not bringing addressed  The TUC report that UK Statutory Paternity  Pay is 25% of full time male median  wage and 50% of fathers do not take their 2 week entitlement –  rising to 75% for those on lower income.

And it isn’t only women who bear the brunt of that. Universal and highly flexible childcare   is great in theory – but perhaps not always so good for the kids, or the family unit.  And the absence of propper provision can deny choices as much to dads as well as mums.

I’m not saying that inadequate  arrangements for   childcare or caring in general  is  to blame  for  the junior doctors’  dispute  or is at the root  of Dominic Lawson’s  pitiful analysis.  But it is part of a toxic mix – part of a mismatch between economic and social policy announcements and objectives. The message to the government, surely and clearly,  is  that  to have progressive  public  policies –  such as  better resourcing  in the NHS at weekends – you need  progressive economic and social policies too.

#likealadydoc has undone more than just Dominic Lawson.

Employment rights and human rights are two sides of the same coin

With the news of Shami Chakrabarti standing down as  director of Liberty,  the organisation and the cause it fights for  are much in the news.  The following post sets out the link  between employment rights and human rights.  It seems appropriate to give it a fresh airing now.

My starting point is that to separate out employment rights and human rights is to make a spurious distinction. Is there anyone who would disagree with that proposition? We do not take our human rights off like a coat and hang them on a peg when we walk through the door of the workplace.

So it is something of a mystery to me why there is only modest engagement with organisations like Liberty given that they are by far and away the most effective champion and protector of things like the Human Rights Act which is the umbrella over so many of the freedoms we believe are essential.

This week saw the annual Human Rights Awards ceremony, sponsored by Liberty and the Southbank Centre in London. And I was delighted to see presenting one of the awards Paul Kenny from the GMB (and of course the immediate past president of Congress plus vice-chair of TULO.)

But it was not the sprinkling of trade union representatives in the audience and on the platform that reinforced the two-sides-of-the-same-coin argument on Human Rights. No, I thought it was more those who were shortlisted and those who received the awards.

Take Baroness Jane Campbell of Surbiton for example. She received a lifetime achievement award and no one can say she didn’t deserve it.

She has spent her life so far campaigning to change attitudes towards disabled people and focusing on support rather than charity. She has been an EHRC Commissioner and is an active member of the House of Lords. In a fantastic acceptance speech she made the telling point that campaigning on an equality agenda is too limiting. Instead, she argued, the campaign should be based on a human rights agenda – that all people, whatever their attributes, have a right to certain standards of behaviour and standing in society. She ended her contribution with the rallying call of “all for one, one for all!”. We all would recognise that!

The Human Rights Campaigner of the Year award was shared between the Open Rights Group and Change.org. Both organisations are online campaigners, illustrating the power of social media and new technology to create and sustain social movements which have changed the political landscape. Runner-up in this category was the Blacklist Support Group  who have supported blacklisted construction workers. The relevance of these campaigning skills to our movement is inescapable, in my view.

The Human Rights “Close to Home” award went to Aaron Sonson, Satwant Singh Kenth and Gregory Poczkowski for the marvellous idea of developing a mobile app entitled “Stop and Search”. This gives information on the rights of people who are stopped and searched and allows people to report their experiences. Absolutely brilliant stuff in empowering young people about their rights.

And the Human Rights “Long March” award went to Hillsborough campaigners  who turned over 23 years of obstruction and deceit to achieve the possibility for justice for the victims of the tragedy-and in so doing open up the possibility of justice for others cheated of their rights by deliberate conspiracy and collusion between agencies of the state, such as at Orgreave.

If you think this was a shoo-in, then think again: Runners-up in this category were the Mau Mau Litigants , determined to see justice for the estimated 90,000 Kenyans killed or injured, and a further 160,000 detained by British officials during an uprising in the 1950s.

As a member of Liberty’s National Policy Council I attended the event and felt privileged humbled and inspired by these brave, courageous, tenacious not-to-be-put-off men and women. None of them sought fame, celebrity or notoriety. All of them had ample excuse to say “I’ve done enough.” Yet without them our world would be a poorer place, a more dangerous place. It would make it much harder for us to do our jobs as trade unionists, it would be much harder to be a trade unionist.

Because these people have done “the right thing” in terms of our values, that alone makes them deserving of support. But in practical terms, supporting these standard-bearers and supporting the human rights movement, means we are doing nothing more than supporting ourselves.

I think those are two very powerful reasons for joining Liberty. I hope you agree.

This piece was originally posted on the Unions 21 website “Union Home” in November 2012 http://www.unionhome.org.uk/?p=1625

TV risks killing the goose laying football’s golden egg

Defender Per Mertesacker celebrates after victory in the 2015 FA Cup final. Arsenal’s chances of a third straight win shouldn’t be so at the mercy of TV schedules. Credit: AFP PHOTO ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)


Footie fans are used to roller–coasters of emotion, but this January is a particularly breathless experience for many. After the FA Cup action over the weekend, there are busy programmes both midweek and next weekend – and cup replays for some the midweek following.

It’s not surprising that many, including recently Sam Allardyce and Jurgen Klopp have each in their own way expressed surprise, disappointment and frustration at this intensity.

But it doesn’t have to be like this, and many –like those two managers – sound like they would support a change. There is a problem of course and that is fixture pile-ups are partly a legacy from when the timetable wasn’t so packed, and partly the symbiotic relationship between the game and big TV money – the latter dependant on filling schedules with games. For every poorly viewed filler (apologies – no offence intended to anyone) there will be tastier ties to tempt paying audiences.

But are we at a stage that the TV money that is so much a part of our game is actually in danger of killing the goose laying football’s golden eggs?

Let’s consider the following four arguments:

Injury – more games means more chance of players crocked. This means protecting players by fielding weakened teams or risking jeopardising your longer term success. Both surely diminish the value of a game to spectators (and have an impact at the turnstile too)

I don’t have much sympathy with the “poor player” argument – these are well-trained and very well-paid athletes, but there are limits! And you can be as fit as you like, but unable to control the late, clumsy or (heaven forbid) deliberate challenge from an opponent.

The cost to fans – That it’s an expensive time of year to support your team was widely acknowledged in managers’ and chairmen’s programme notes this weekend. Perhaps this drives fans from stadia to armchair – but poor attendances do nothing to make the game more exciting.

Boredom –   Just how many times are Spurs playing Leicester over a 10 day period? Or Everton and Man City? They are high profile repeat fixtures, certainly, but variety is surely also important to keep fans engaged.

And finally, an impact on the chances of success for national teams. I don’t just mean allegedly  tired  players,  but the opportunity to  gather and nurture a squad that will be  both  bonded and fresh  come  an end of season  international tournament.

This last point is possibly the most significant but least investigated. TV contracts for the World Cup or Euro 2016 are small in comparison to the Premier League (are commercially constrained by free-to-air protocols).  But success in these tournaments must be the biggest stimulus of all for the domestic game. The largest “golden egg” of all, I would argue.

So let’s take the inescapable route that the comments of Klopp, Allardyce, and my own team’s Dean Smith point to.  No cup replays. Extra time and penalties on the day/night of the first tie. Maybe no second leg for semi-finals in domestic cup competitions.

This won’t kill the romance, thrills or upsets. Annan Athletic, Oxford United, and (admittedly on a smaller scale) Walsall all needed only  90 minutes to overcome more illustrious opposition  at the weekend.

It looks like – in line with my earlier post! – next year’s FA Cup may pick up the idea of some form of rugby’s TMO or cricket’s DRS. And not before time.  So why not just a half-step further.

What have we to lose? Windswept, rain-soaked, poorly-attended injury-strewn midweek replays. But the benefit of daring to change could be – seriously – the best chance of bringing home the World Cup in 2018. It’s got to be worth a go.