A recent decision of the High Court has blown a gaping new hole in our criminal justice system. If government officials wrongfully arrest you for a crime you didn’t commit, then imprison you in hellish conditions for two years, you no longer have any right of redress.
If you are found guilty of a crime but the verdict is then reversed, you can still claim compensation. But, thanks to a ministerial diktat just upheld by the courts, if you are wholly innocent and eventually acquitted you now have no legal remedy, even if you have spent years in jail with your livelihood destroyed into the bargain.
Few stories in this column over the years have been more shocking than that which I reported in April 2005 about Ian Thornhill, a former senior policeman who ran an import-export business in South Wales. In 2003 Mr Thornhill became the victim of an astonishing series of blunders by HM Customs and Excise, when they were tipped off that a container-load of assorted goods being imported into Southampton included a large quantity of cocaine. Also in the container was a consignment of nuts being imported by Mr Thornhill, whose brother Stuart had been acting quite independently as a forwarding agent for the container.
When Customs officials arrested a lorry driver who had been sent to pick up the cocaine, worth £60 million, their largest-ever haul, they also arrested the two brothers, although there was no shred of evidence to indicate that they had been involved. (The cocaine had been smuggled into the container en route.)
This led to a scarcely believable nightmare for the two men which was to last for nearly two years. They were held as Class A prisoners in a succession of top-security prisons, next to mass-murderers and terrorists. Stuart’s health collapsed. Three times they were put on trial, in different cities, at one point being driven 100 miles a day to the court and back for several weeks, strapped down and deprived of food in freezing prison vans.
Twice a retrial had to be ordered because the Crown made such a hash of the prosecution (Customs and Excise in effect had no case), until eventually in March 2005, when the two men had been put through this hell for 22 months, a jury unanimously found them not guilty.
When Ian Thornhill returned home to his wife, whose personal bank account had also been frozen, his business was gone. He had nothing to sell but his premises.
As advised by lawyers, he did, however, have one hope. In such a case of flagrant injustice, the home secretary had a discretionary power to order an ex gratia sum in compensation. But in April 2006, when Mr Thornhill was preparing to apply for such a payment, the then home secretary, Charles Clarke, decided to scrap the scheme.
A group action to have his edict declared unlawful was brought by a number of leading London law firms, but last month two judges, May and Gray, found that Clarke was acting within his powers. When their judgment was reported last week, it came as a body blow to Mr Thornhill.
Under the 1988 Criminal Justice Act, anyone found guilty and then acquitted can still claim compensation. But Ian and Stuart Thornhill no longer have any right to redress, for what must be as glaring an act of injustice as any ever perpetrated by the officials of our increasingly all-powerful state.
It is some years since my old friend Antony Jay, a co-author of Yes, Minister, called the European Union “an empire without an emperor”. Last week Jose Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, acknowledged the fact, when he boasted that the EU is now an “empire”, of which 27 countries, including Malta, Latvia and Britain, are just satrapies. Mr Barroso was joining in the chorus of rejoicing from political leaders all over the EU, now that nothing can stop them imposing their “constitution by any other name”, to make the handover of national power to their new government all but complete.
Whether the people of Britain (or any other country) are happy to think that they are about to live in a colony of Mr Barroso’s empire is not of course something which those leaders want to see put to a popular vote. In this, no one is more determined than our own Prime Minister who, in true Orwellian fashion, proclaims his wish to see more powers given to “Parliament and the people” just when he is surreptitiously planning to hand those powers to someone else. He even glories in the support of those longtime EU fifth-columnists, Kenneth Clarke and Lords Hurd and Heseltine.
No one should feel more ashamed of such dishonesty than Mr Brown’s fellow Labour MPs, every one of whom was elected in 2005 on that solemn promise of a referendum he is now hell-bent on breaking (based on a claim that the new “Not the Constitution” is not the same as the old Constitution – to which almost every other EU leader is giving the lie).
We have just three months to make Mr Brown honest. As a start, I suggest that every reader who believes in democracy signs the petition on the Downing Street website asking for a binding referendum on any and all attempts to resurrect the “constitution”.
In light of the extraordinary deception now being practised on us, it would be sad if Mr Brown, Lord Heseltine and their friends could point to only a pitiful number of signatures as evidence that, having once freed an empire, the British people were now quite happy to live in someone else’s.
In the wake of the BBC’s 15-hour marathon promoting Al Gore’s propaganda fest for the “consensus” view of global warming (interspersed with rock music), a concerted effort was made last week to discredit the rival thesis which has recently been gaining widespread support: that the key to warming lies in the activity not of man but of the sun.
A rash of stories, typified by the BBC’s ” No Sun link to climate change”, promoted a paper published by the Royal Society which accuses the scientists behind the “solar warming” thesis of “distorting” the data. The paper’s authors admit that solar activity was higher in the 20th century than at any time in 6,000 years, and that until recently this could have been significant in raising temperatures on earth. But then everything changed. Since 1985, they claim, solar influence has weakened, while global temperatures have soared. “This debate is now settled,” they say. The culprit is CO2 after all.
This may satisfy the BBC – but the latest surface and satellite data show that, since their peak in 1998, global temperatures have in fact dropped back. Last month, according to Nasa, they were as low as in 1983. Tellingly, the Royal Society paper ends its surface temperature graph in 2000 and omits the even more inconvenient satellite data altogether. However, if temperatures fall while CO2 levels rise, how can it be maintained that CO2 is the main driver of global warming?
Far from being settled, this debate is just beginning to get really interesting.