Statement –Bob Ashford: Why I am stepping down as PCC Candidate for Avon and Somerset.

I am today standing down as Police and Crime Commissioner Candidate for Avon and Somerset following clarification the Labour Party has received from the Home Office and the Electoral Commission that youth convictions for imprisonable offences will bar people from becoming a police and crime commissioner.

I am setting out in detail my recollection of the offences I committed and which have now barred myself from standing to illustrate the pressures and injustices that children and young people can face in their neighbourhoods. I also would like to draw attention to the continuing damage caused by offences committed by children and young people and their ensuing criminal records, when these are carried into their adult lives. These events occurred 46 years ago and while there has been huge progress in the intervening years, I still hear of similar events and pressures from young people today. This new legislation barring myself and others from standing as a PCC because of offences committed as young people perpetuates the disadvantage inflicted upon all young people convicted of offences.

These are the details of the offence. At the time I was 13 years of age in 1966 and living on a council estate in Bristol. I had no previous involvement with the police and came from a good and caring family. I remember very well the knock on the door from a group of lads I knew from school. They persuaded me to go out with them and I felt I had little choice. I also knew from what they said that if I refused they could make my life difficult at school.

We went to the railway embankment and I felt very uncomfortable about this. One of the lads pulled out an air gun and started shooting at cans. I never touched the air gun and felt unable to leave, as I was frightened at what might happen at school. A goods train passed and presumably the guard reported our presence to the police who arrived a short time later. The lads with the air gun ran away whilst I and two others froze and were arrested.

My next memory is of the police coming to my house and talking to my parents in a separate room. The police never questioned me to my knowledge. I then went to court and was to the best of my knowledge charged with trespass on the railway and possession of an offensive weapon. I was told to plead guilty to the two charges even though I had never touched the air gun. I was fined £2 and 10 shillings on both counts. Both of these offences are to the best of my knowledge “imprisonable” offences.

I carried on at school, attended University and put the offence behind me. I have never been convicted of any other offence.

It was only when I qualified as a social worker and started applying for jobs that I realised I would have to disclose this previous offence. However, I quickly found a job and have been employed on a continual basis ever since. I became a social work manager before moving into youth justice where I became a Youth Offending Team Manager. I then joined the Youth Justice Board in 2002 becoming the Director of Strategy before I left in March of this year. At every stage of my career I have declared the convictions even though I have seen no evidence of it on any record. I have been security vetted by the Home Office, signed the Official Secrets declaration and worked with Ministers and senior officials and organisations including the Association of Chief Constables (ACPO) on a range of security sensitive initiatives.

I saw the post of PCC as a natural opportunity to develop my career and use my knowledge and expertise for the benefit of my local community. I completed the application form in December 2011 and submitted it to the Labour Party HQ. I have declared my previous convictions at every stage of my application. As a part of the interview I was asked whether I had done anything in my past that might embarrass the Party. I outlined in detail the circumstances and outcomes of the offences above even though I did not consider they could embarrass the Party. I was then shortlisted as candidate and eventually selected by members.

I first became concerned at the possibility I could be barred from the post when I read electoral law expert Ros Baston’s 10th July post on her queries on the Simon Weston case. Both the Home Secretary and the Attorney General had earlier stated publicly that offences committed as young people did not bar people from applying. I also have to say that it had never occurred to me that an offence committed 46 years ago and which would now almost certainly be dealt with without going to court would bar me at all. I did however become concerned about the ruling and on 19th July I contacted the Labour Party’s HQ seeking clarification.

The Party’s legal team said that the statements made by government ministers were contradictory, and that the Party would seek clarification from the relevant authorities.

I have to say I find this legislation and requirement absolutely flawed and an infringement of the rights of young people. The arguments put forward in the House of Commons committee on the amendment to include offences committed by young people in the bar on becoming a PCC take no account of the need to differentiate in law between offences committed by young people and adults, and the necessity for a statute of time on offences committed by young people. I understand the arguments in Committee re the recruitment of police, for whom the same bar applies, but police officers are not recruited at the age of 59, 46 years after an offence was committed.

I have spent my life working with young people who have been in the care of the Local Authority or involved in the justice system. The foundation of that work has been the recognition that every individual has worth and the ability to change their lives. It is ironic that after a professional and political career spanning my life I am now going to be brought down by a piece of legislation which absolutely contradicts those tenets.

I have just heard from a CRB check with my local police that no record of my case exists. As a PCC candidate I will have to sign a declaration saying I have no legal bar; however, I know I do even if there is no record of the offence. To sign the declaration, knowing that I had committed an offence, would in itself be a criminal act which of course I am not prepared to countenance. Even though I have seen no evidence of my convictions in my entire life since the court case and I now know that none exist I have registered them at every stage of my career.

At this point many Labour Party members in Avon and Somerset are working on my campaign: leaflets are on the verge of being printed, hustings are being organised. I have therefore taken the decision to resolve the matter by standing down with immediate effect.

Bob Ashford

Bob on BBC iPlayer Radio 4 Today Programme at 2:39:00 (available until 15th August 2012)