The BBC R4 Today programme and The Times have highlighted a sad injustice in the legislation establishing the Conservative flagship policy on Police & Crime Commissioners.
The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 provides for most convictions to become spent, enabling an ex-offender not to have to disclose them when, for example, applying for a job. There are some exceptions – prison sentences of over 30 months and in particularly sensitive areas such as work with children and vulnerable adults, work in law enforcement and the legal system and high level financial positions.
All of this has been swept aside by the legislation providing for the election of Police & Crime Commissioners. This states that no-one who has been found guilty of a criminal offence capable of a prison sentence at any time in their life can stand as a Police & Crime Commissioner. There is no such thing as a spent conviction.
At least three good public servants have fallen foul of this ruling. They are Bob Ashford, an ex-Labour PCC candidate in Bristol; Simon Weston, an ex-independent PCC candidate in South Wales; Cllr Kieron Mallon, an ex-Conservative PCC candidate in Thames Valley.
Bob Ashford was 13 years old in 1966 when he and some of his mates went out one evening to a local railway embankment. One of Bob’s mates pulled out an air gun and set about taking pot-shots at tin cans. Bob never touched the air gun. Someone reported the lads; the police arrive; most of the lads ran off but Bob and another lad froze and were taken to the police station. They were taken to court, charged and fined for trespass on the railway and possession of an offensive weapon. All of this was 46 years ago. It is the only stain, if a stain it is, on the character of a man with a huge public service record. He has worked as a social worker before moving into youth justice. He served as a director of the Youth Justice Board in 2002 becoming the Director of Strategy before he left in March 2012. At every stage of his career he declared the conviction even though there is no evidence of it being on any public record. He has been security vetted by the Home Office, signed the Official Secrets Act and worked with Ministers and senior officials and organisations including the Association of Chief Constables on a range of security sensitive initiatives. Despite this he has stood down as the Labour PCC candidate for Bristol. Here is a link to Bob Ashford’s web site.
Simon Weston is well known as a Falklands hero and his scarred face has made him a national icon. In 1975, when Simon was 14 years old, he was caught and convicted of being a passenger in a stolen car. While a Welsh guardsman and aged 22, he was badly burned on board the Sir Galahad supply ship when it was bombed at Bluff Cove in the Falklands war in 1982. When he announced his candidature, Simon said “I’m an ordinary guy who is well known and I would make it my business to hear what the public would say about policing. Crime is a very important issue and I think there’s a need for someone to go to when there is a problem. People want to know what is being done about cars being stolen, about areas where young people are taking drugs or hanging around and about burglaries.” Despite assurances from Home Secretary Theresa May that childhood convictions would not count, this view appears to be wrong in law and Simon has stood down. Here is a link to Simon Weston’s web site.
Cllr Kieron Mallon is a Conservative County, District and Town Councillor. He is an ex-Irish Guardsman and a community activist. A County Council Cabinet Member, leader of Banbury Town Council and a past Banbury Town Mayor, he is “Mr Banbury”. In 2001, when Kieron and his wife were living in the Bretch Hill area of Banbury, he accosted two youths who were causing a nuisance outside his home and not for the first time. In the ensuing fracas, blows were exchanged. As a result, Kieron was charged with common assault on the 12- and 15-year olds, found guilty, fined £500 and ordered to pay compensation of £100 to each of the two yobs. The court did not hear evidence from a local businessman that one of the yobs had assaulted him, breaking his teeth, six months earlier while trespassing on his golf course.
Kieron disclosed his offence on his application form as a Conservative PCC candidate. He was vetted by the Conservative Party and his candidature accepted – by the same Party although not the same part of it that had written legislation barring him from standing. There were six Conservative candidates who came forward and Kieron was one of three selected in the first round. Having worked hard and long in suport of his candidature, Kieron himself identified the potential bar to his candidacy, sought legal and political advice and subsequently withdrew to avoid any embarassment to the Party. I think he stood a very good chance of being selected as the Conservative candidate in the Thames Valley with the near certainty of winning the election on 15 November. We shall never know but I am clear that the Conservative Party has debarred someone who would have made a first class Police & Crime Commissioner and it owes him for his courage in standing, his incredible hard work in preparing for the role and his integrity in standing down and pledging his support for the successful candidate after his own disappointment.