I was pleased to be interviewed by the Western Daily Press on my thoughts on the recent changes to Anti-Social Behaviour legislation.
In August 2012 Bob Ashford resigned as the Police and Crime Commissioner candidate for Avon and Somerset, when he realised that a childhood offence barred him from standing.
In November 2012 he launched the campaign to Wipetheslateclean.
9.2 million people in the UK have criminal records.
Should every a criminal record be a sentence for life?
It’s time for an informed debate about the long-term impact of criminal records on people’s lives.
Young people and adults who have committed offences should not be damaged throughout their lives by a criminal record.
Wipetheslateclean is a non-political campaign that works collaboratively with organisations and people to shape practice and challenge the law in this area.
Go to Wipetheslateclean to find out more about this groundbreaking campaign.
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 on BBC iPlayer Radio 4 Today Programme at 2:39:00 (available until 15th August 2012)
There are concerns about public awareness regarding the role of Police and Crime Commissioners. Many of those who are familiar with the new posts still understand them as largely about policing, ignoring the role they must play in wider crime prevention initiatives. One such role and existing and future funding stream will be that of youth crime prevention.
Since the establishment of the Coalition Government, Home Office and Ministry of Justice grants to local Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) have dropped by 20% last year and around 4% this year with potentially more to come. Much of this money had been successfully invested by YOTs in schemes run by them and the voluntary and community sector.
The schemes are designed to target and intervene with young people at risk of or on the cusp of offending and anti-social behaviour. When I worked at the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales (the public body which disseminates and monitors these grants to YOTs) I was responsible for the delivery of new Labour government grants in excess of £40M per year to start these schemes I worked with some of the most alienated and challenging groups of young people in some of the most deprived areas of England and Wales.
Youth crime doesn’t come from nowhere – it has causes. We looked at the evidence-base- education, family, personal, neighbourhood – and worked out the required intervention and which agencies needed to work closely together. Working with both criminal justice and child welfare organisations we put together effective partnerships on a national and local level which identified research proven programmes, evaluated their on-going implementation and established a network of effective practice in local neighbourhoods- at the very heart of local communities.
These programmes worked, not just in keeping young people out of the criminal justice system . Since 2007/08 there are:
• 55% feweryoung people entering the youth justice system
• 30% fewer young people in custody
• 29% fewer re-offences committed by young people
Alongside this of course are the huge reductions in the number of personal and community victims and significant savings in the net cost to the taxpayer.
All this is now at risk. The cuts in the budgets to the YOTs have already seen many of these programmes close. From April next year the budgets for these programmes will be in the hands of the new Police and Crime Commissioners who may or may not understand or recognise the importance of youth crime prevention. If elected I will ensure that I work closely with those agencies – Police, Schools, Probation and Youth Offending Teams, Children’s Services, the new Health and Wellbeing Boards and others to establish a firm and practical strategy to continue what is an essential part of the fight to drive down offending and anti-social behaviour.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) independently assesses police forces and policing across activity from neighbourhood teams to serious crime and the fight against terrorism – in the public interest. Its latest report – Policing in Austerity – provides grim reading for residents of Avon and Somerset as officer numbers will be reduced by 141.
Bob Ashford, Labour’s Police and Crime Commissioner candidate for Avon and Somerset responded quickly: “The Chief Constable, the police, police support services and the Police authority have done a tremendous job in the face of these 20% cuts to the policing budget and this is outlined in the HMIC report.
However, we are still looking at a significant reduction in frontline policing and support staff and a heavy reliance on financial reserves to reduce the impact of these draconian cuts. The Tory-led Government is cutting our local police, making it harder not easier to fight crime. The Tory Police and Crime Commissioner candidate in Avon and Somerset will no doubt defend these cuts to policing his government is introducing– at Somerset County Council he was renowned for cutting services. He is failing to stand up for the police and for our communities.”
Kerry McCarthy, Labour MP for Bristol East whose constituency is in Avon and Somerset said, “David Cameron said frontline policing would not be hit by his huge 20% cuts to our force, but the truth is that 141 frontline officers are being cut in Avon and Somerset alone. Neighbourhood officers, 999 response and traffic police are being cut right across the country.
The blame for these cuts lies squarely with the Tory-led Government. Our Chief Constable has been put in an impossible decision by this Government’s decision to cut police funding by 20%. “We recognise savings need to be made, but the Government has doubled Labour’s cuts to police funding, and made the steepest cuts in the first two years. That’s not an attack on waste, that’s an attack on the police.”
Yvette Cooper MP, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, gave the national picture: “This report shows frontline policing is being badly hit – breaking the promises the Prime Minister made and taking unfair risks with community safety. Thousands of officers being lost from emergency response and neighbourhood teams. And HMIC are clear it is likely to get even worse. The Metropolitan Police have a funding gap of £233m, meaning more officers are set to be lost.
This Government has been trying to spin its way out of the damning evidence on police cuts for far too long. It is clear the Tory-led Government is cutting too far and too fast into policing – cutting the very police officers that people want to see out on the streets protecting the public. “They need to change course and accept Labour’s argument and the expert evidence that a 12% reduction in police spending would be manageable, but 20% is hitting frontline services.
The Tory-led Government has no strategy to cut crime, only to cut police officers. Chaotic changes to national policing, undermining police morale and reductions in police powers alongside the scale of cuts are doing serious damage to policing. Today’s report into last year’s riots shows the number of police on the streets really mattered. Yet instead of working with the police to prevent any repetition of last year’s riots, the Government has made it harder by cutting the officers they need.” Policing in austerity: One year on,
The Conservative led Coalition Government is supporting and indeed encouraging police forces across the country to privatise many aspects of their work. We have already seen the downside of earlier privatisation of many parts of the public sector. Privatising policing not only poses a major threat to jobs and services but will also serve to undermine public confidence , the very foundation of an effective police force and policing. The police need this trust and confidence, as an engaged and involved community is an extension of the criminal justice system. The public expect to be served by police officers not private security firms when they become victims of, or wish to report crime.
Evidence for this potentially catastrophic breach of trust comes in a poll, commissioned by the union Unite, which says that some 61 per cent of the public would be less likely to report a crime if they knew their personal information was being accessed by a third party. The poll comes as plans to privatise parts of the police force unravel, with the announcement that the pilot forces in the West Midlands and Surrey are to bow to pressure for greater public consultation on the plans.
The policing budget is already facing cuts of 20% over the next few years as a result of coalition policy.We therefore need to oppose privatisation now.
I recently attended a street stall on the issue and was heartened at the cross party support for a petition to stop privatisation. Bath Labour Party have organised an online petition. If you wish to support it go to Bath Labour Party petition against the privatisation of policing
We know that this election can not be won on Bristol votes alone and I am especially pleased by the wide number of people who have expressed their support from across the whole of Avon and Somerset. The people of Bath, Somerset and other areas are crucial in the selection, in the election and in doing the job. I have lived and worked in rural and urban areas. Born in Southmead in Bristol and now living in Somerset which I have represented I understand the very diverse needs of these communities. If selected as the Labour candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner I will serve everyone in Avon and in Somerset.
Watch my video on ‘The wider importance of the campaign for Labour’