Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 24th September 2018

JUSTICE minister Rory Stewart announces a long overdue doubling of maximum sentences for those despicable creatures who attack NHS workers, police, rescuers and other emergency services in the line of duty.

It’s a start. But it’s not enough. I admit to being quite shocked when learning that the present maximum sentence for common assault, itself a misnomer when you consider the mental and physical impact of these attacks on their victims, is just six months.

Stewart is right when he says that these incidents “represent violence against the public as a whole” and public servants should be able to do their jobs without fear of being assaulted.

However, a year means nothing to the sort of person who would attack a nurse or a paramedic, a firefighter or a police officer. We all know that prison sentences are not worth the words of a judge or magistrate. A 12-month sentence will effectively be served in half that time. And Rory Stewart has already told us he thinks sentences of less than a year should be scrapped for all but the most serious offences. Forgive my cynicism, but if the offences are serious six months seems wholly inadequate in any event.

There were 26,000 assaults on police and 17,000 on NHS staff in England and Wales in the past year. Physical assaults remain a fact of life for many healthcare workers from A&E to community services, says the Royal College of Nursing. Attacks on prison officers rose by 70 per cent in the three years to 2017 while there was an 18 per cent rise in attacks on firefighters in the past two years.

It’s thanks to a Labour MP, Chris Bryant, with his Private Member’s Bill, that we’ve finally got to the increase in sentencing. He described the growing tide of attacks on emergency workers as “a national scandal”. All too often attackers get away with a slap on the wrist.

The interesting thing here is that it was a Labour politician who set the ball rolling. Once it was the Tories who were regarded as the party of law and order. They’ve gone a long way, backwards, since Rory Stewart’s predecessor at Penrith and the Border, Willie Whitelaw, introduced his “short, sharp shock” policy.

Of course simply ramming offenders into our flawed prison system is not the answer, but there are some crimes that should be beyond the pale and it’s an affront to victims when the sort of people who attack public service staff get away lightly.

More than 60,000 hardened offenders, each with 10 previous convictions, have avoided prison over a five-year period despite breaking the law yet again. What message does this send out to serial offenders?

We’ve recently had the ludicrous suggestion by the chairman of the Magistrates’ Association, John Bache, that convicted criminals should sit on the Bench in the name of “diversity”. It will help those accused of crime to feel more at home. The reformed JPs will offer greater understanding of the tough life of the serial burglar, car thief and bloke who fancies turning up with his mates at A&E drunk and drugged out of his mind on a Saturday night to punch a nurse.

If Rory Stewart and his boss David Gauke, the Justice Secretary, go along with this barmy notion then heaven help us. Surely they have more sense. Please tell me they have more sense.

Something had gone badly wrong with law and order over a period of several years. The police are charging fewer suspects because they have effectively withdrawn from the streets as a visible force and the public simply don’t report a lot of so-called minor crimes because they believe nothing will be done. Even when they get offenders to court there is a remarkable indulgence of criminals by the judges.

The general public is more concerned about the perception of rising crime, weak sentencing and failure to acknowledge the needs of victims than many of our senior politicians seem able to fully grasp.

Little wonder that crime is increasing when criminals believe they can get away with it or, if they are caught, receive kid glove treatment from the courts.

Rory Stewart, to his credit, is making a start on conditions in some of our worst prisons. The doubling of maximum sentences for attacks on public service personnel is also an improvement — provided the courts don’t go soft again. But, I will repeat, for attacking people doing their duty on our behalf, a year is nothing. This is one case where the deterrent should be tough enough to make these idiot perpetrators think twice and then think again before they swing that fist.

NO LAUGHING MATTER

MURDER on our streets is an extremely serious matter, and yet watching those two Russians being interviewed about the Salisbury nerve agent attack, I could not help thinking of them as the Moscow version of the Chuckle Brothers, only without the laughs.

“To me, to you,” as they handled the Novocheck-filled perfume bottle. The miracle is they ever got to Salisbury when their journey required four trains, and on a Sunday, too. Then to wander in broad daylight under CCTV surveillance, fail to kill the man they were out to kill and instead kill an innocent citizen. It’s hard to imagine how much more they could have done to botch the operation.

The evidence now lays the blame on Two Shady Ruskies, but what does President Putin care. That sinister half smile as he surveys his battalions during war games suggests not a lot. He already took our footie fans for useful idiots at the World Cup. Perhaps this comic duo were more embarrassment to Putin than state heroes. But for all our bluster and outrage, he knows we are impotent when it comes to action.

LESS INFLUENCE

IF the Boundary Commission recommendations get the go ahead the strength of Cumbria’s MPs will be reduced from six to five. It is proposed to merge parts of the Allerdale and Copeland constituencies as part of a redrawing of the electoral map for the county.

Some of our MPs are in favour, but I see cutting our representation in Parliament as a bad thing, a retrograde step when Cumbria needs all the support it can get. Sue Hayman, who represents Labour in Allerdale, will probably have to fight Conservative Copeland MP Trudy Harrison for a single seat while Keswick, which is presently aligned with Copeland, will move into the Penrith and Solway constituency.

It’s all part of a plan to cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600 and standardise the size of constituencies. However, what looks right on a map does not take account of the particular community elements in a lightly populated but geographically far flung county like ours.

To lose an MP means one fewer voice in Parliament and less influence for a county that, even in the often forgotten and forsaken North, is more out on a limb than virtually anywhere else in the country.

ARCHBISHOP’S SPEECH

JUSTIN Welby’s verbal slamming of the tax affairs of internet retailer Amazon might be regarded as a modern-day equivalent of Jesus’s overturning of the money lenders’ tables in the temple — except that Jesus didn’t have millions of pounds’ worth of shares in the financial sharks.

In one way I’ve nothing against Welby speaking out. It’s a darned sight more than several of his predecessors have ever done. However. he does tend to present one side of the argument, a distinctly left-sided view. One MP suggested at the weekend, tongue in cheek but with a sting in his words, that the House of Bishops might soon be taking the Labour whip in the Lords.

I wonder how well the Archbishop was briefed before making his speech at the TUC conference. In morally ethical terms the CofE’s investment portfolio hints at more than a little hypocrisy. Plus, when describing zero-hours contracts as the “reincarnation of an ancient evil,” it emerged that two Anglican cathedrals had advertised for zero-hours jobs.

A spokesman for the Church said it took the view it was more effective to be in the room with companies like Amazon, seeking change as shareholders rather than speaking from the sidelines. It simply doesn’t wash.

The CofE is sitting on investments worth £8.3 billion. Archbishop Welby makes some good points and it has to be said, even by non-churchgoing agnostics like me, that the Church does a lot of good work in communities. However, it’s difficult to give weight to his comments while it is sitting on such riches.