A thoughtful commentary
Ben Butler convicted of the murder of his girlfriend’s daughter Ellie, in the criminal Court.
Ellie had been removed from the care of Ben and Ellie’s mother (who was convicted of child cruelty and perverting the course of justice) in 2007 by the family Courts with findings made that they had caused her a serious injury and placed with Ellie’s grandparents.
In 2012, Mrs Justice Hogg overturned the previous findings and returned Ellie to the care of Ben and Jennie Gray. The Judge had said that fresh medical evidence showed that the previous findings were wrong, and that Ben and Jennie were exonerated and that it had been a miscarriage of justice and that it was a joy to be able to return Ellie to their care.
The case was widely reported as a miscarriage of justice in the family Courts, put right by Mrs Justice Hogg and the unusual step was taken to name the…
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I was born at the end of the Second World War and grew up in its shadow. It was Winston Churchill who first mooted a European Union as a way of ensuring the rest of the century and those centuries to come would not be blighted in the same way. He was right and there have been no major wars on the European Continent since 1945. I believe maintaining that peace is one of the most important things the EU does and we, a European nation, should be part of the institution.
I was exposed to immigrants when I was in my early teens in the fifties, when in a vain attempt to keep the cotton industry alive, mill owners brought mainly young men from the Indian Sub-Continent to work as spinners and weavers, in their factories. The town I was brought up in is now largely populated by the children and grandchildren of those immigrants. At about the same time Afro-Carribeans were invited to come to the UK to drive our buses and trains, and to work in the NHS. Immigration started long before we joined the EU.
Of course, it puts pressure on our public services and this is particularly so when we have a government, and I’m not trying to be party political in this, who have imposed austerity on us. I don’t know about the NHS but I guess as most of the immigrants from the EU are young, it is not them who put pressure on the Health Service, it is us oldies. We are an aging population, we need young people, not just to care for us in our old age, but to pay the taxes that pay our pensions as well.
As far as the shortage of housing goes, again I’m not sure that is caused by immigrants from the EU. In London it started in the 60’s when the wealthy from the Middle East began to buy property in central areas. That has continued with Russians, Chinese and many others buying property as an investment. Properties they hardly ever use, pushing the price up and up. In addition, many of the banks pay very high wages and bonuses to their staff many of whom are from non-EU countries. When the right to buy was introduced by Margaret Thatcher, the amount of social housing was reduced and not replaced. Local Authorities were not allowed to borrow money to build more houses. Nothing to do with the EU rather shooting ourselves in the foot.
For many years now house building has not kept pace with demand. There are many reasons for that, including builders banking land until they can maximise profits and nimbyism. Nothing to do with the EU. In addition, where are the plumbers, the carpenters etc to do the work? In our rush to persuade everyone to go to university, we have neglected the artisanal skills. One only has to try and find a workman to quickly realise that they are either EU nationals or to be polite ‘getting on a bit.’ We have not given our young people the skills we need.
That vexed issue of sovereignty, what ever that is. No individual, organisation or state exists in a vacuum. ‘No man is an island.’ We can only make any progress if we work together, and any treaty restricts our right to free determination. We live in a global village, our problems particularly climate change don’t recognise borders. We are members of the UN, Nato and the Commonwealth and we have many other treaty obligations, each one restricting our right to do as we please. We might be better with getting changes in the EU if our MEP’s worked to get change inside rather than trying to wreck the organisation.
The European Convention on Human Rights has its critics, but the French and the German have more right to complain about it as it was British Lawyers who wrote it. The intention was to have a court where the aggrieved individual could assert his rights against the state. It protects us from arbitrary interference in our liberties.
We seem prepared to allow our public services to be run by foreign companies, e.g. the proposed nuclear power station to be built by the French with money from the Chinese. Just think EDF. Many companies are so large and so powerful that we need to be part of a bigger block to be able to regulate them.
Nor do I believe any of those who promise there will be money for things like the NHS, farmers, fishermen and the Universities. Some of those who advocate this are the very ones who want to cut state involvement. Market forces will take care of everything – I don’t believe that. Those in rural areas need to remember that we are largely an urban nation now and those in the towns and cities have many more representatives in Parliament. e.g there are 73 MP’s representing London constituencies alone. They won’t vote for farmers subsidies.
I haven’t even mentioned the economy, but I can’t believe that changing the terms of for our exports to Europe will lead to a sudden blossoming of new partners. At best it will take quite a long time, if it ever happens. I remember our economy before we joined the EU and we were struggling, even in London. Since we joined we have in the main flourished. So I’m for in.
I only did one other case where the jury were taken for a view of the scene of the crime. The defendants were a couple in their sixties. They were both small, round and grey haired. It would be hard to imagine a more unlikely pair of criminals. They had been charged with handling stolen property – large quantities of cigarettes, hundreds of the sort of packages you can buy duty free. The cigarettes were found in the meat safe of their council flat in north London. They claimed to have no knowledge of them, saying they were hidden there by someone else. They couldn’t say who although the suspicion was that one of their sons was the culprit and he had smuggled them into the country.
At first blush it seems improbable they were not aware such a large quantity of cigarettes in their two bedroomed flat and that made the location of the meat safe an important issue in the trial. One might have expected the pantry to be in the kitchen but at some stage the flats had been reconfigured and the kitchen moved to the rear. This had resulted in this space being next to the front door. There were photographs of the interior of the flat which showed the boxes of cigarettes in the meat safe and its location. They said they didn’t use it and somebody must have placed the packages there when they were in the living room or bedroom. Perhaps if they had been prepared to say the cigarettes had been put there by a member of the family they might have been believed or at least given the benefit of the doubt. Although they would still have been guilty of handling if they agreed to store the goods, but the jury might just have felt sorry for the position they were in and acquitted them.
The trial lasted a couple of days or so and on the Friday I expected the Judge to do his summing up and sent the jury out, leaving me free to start another case on the following Monday. However when I arrived at court the usher told me the Judge had decided the jury should have the opportunity to see the flat and they were making the necessary arrangements. Eventually, we set off in a convoy to the couple’s home, a coach for the jury, a large black limousine for the Judge, the defendants in a prison van, and I was squashed into a car with the police officer and prosecuting counsel. We got there about lunch time and everybody was given the opportunity to look round the flat. There wasn’t room for us all to get into the property at the same time so we inspected the flat in shifts. When we had finished the Judge looked at his watch and said it was too late to go back. He extended my clients’ bail.
As the jury was lead back to the coach, the limousine took off going north. Back at the Old Bailey, prosecuting counsel and I were discussing whether the ‘view’ was really necessary when we were interrupted by a more senior member of the Bar,
‘Which Judge was it?’
We told him, and he then said, ‘Is there racing at Newmarket? If there is, he was on his way to the races.’