Friday, 22 May 2015

Double standards

From: Inside edge

Two men with double barrelled names admit their guilt. One gets ridicule and a caution and says sorry to his family. The other?

The other gets 11 months and knows that by the time he gets out his family may have been evicted. No prizes for guessing that the first man is Antony Worrall Thompson and that the second is Daniel Sartain-Clarke. 

Earlier this week, the 60-year-old celebrity chef admitted to shoplifting from Tescos on five separate occasions over Christmas. He accepted a police caution and promised to seek treatment after sneaking out blocks or cheese, onions and bottles of wine without paying. 

Cue viral jokes on the internet plus lots of tweets and blogs highlighting the contrastingly harsh treatment of looters in last summer’s riots (the man who got six months for stealing £3.50 worth of water, for example) and even a Daily Mail web debate about whether the middle classes get off lightly. 

Yesterday 18-year-old Daniel Sartain-Clarke was sentenced to 11 months in a young offender’s institute for his part in last year’s looting. He pleaded guilty to a charge of burglary at his local Curry’s. 

The Daily Mail suggests somewhat confusingly that he both broke into the store and was discovered by police in the stockroom two hours after it was broken into by others. The BBC and others report the comments of the judge following evidence about his background that: ‘You are a committed Christian and an aid worker. I have reams of references attesting to you. You are a helper and a doer. This is as out of character as it’s possible to imagine.’

The contrast between the two cases would be debatable even if it was just confined to the criminal justice system and the difference between theft and burglary - but it’s what will happen next that really distinguishes them.

Worrall Thompson told the Express yesterday that he is back in his rented High Wycombe home crying himself to sleep. ‘I feel very guilty and want to know why I’ve done this,’ he said. ‘This has all been so humiliating but it’s a punishment I have to take on the chin. My wife, Jay, has been fantastic. She picked me up from the police station and we stayed up late into the night talking and trying to work out why I did it.’ His children knew and had been very supportive.

Sartain-Clarke has been at a bail hostel 100 miles away from home for the last few months. And as he begins his sentence, his mother Maite de la Calva and eight-year-old sister are facing eviction from their rented Wandsworth council home. 

As Inside Housing reports, the council appears determined to press ahead with the next stage of the eviction process after issuing a notice seeking possession in August. ‘His actions that night were a clear and unequivocal breach of our tenancy conditions and as a result we will now be moving on to the next stage of the legal process.’ said a spokesman. 

The family are being represented by the human rights group Liberty, which accuses the council of ‘shameless self-promotion’.  As lawyer Emma Norton put it in October: ‘Ms de la Calva has committed no crime and if she lived in a mortgaged house she would not face such bullying.  Whether in a mansion or a flat everyone should be equal before the law.’

However, Liberty also notes: ‘It is one of the standard terms of a Wandsworth tenancy agreement that the tenant, lodgers, friends, relatives, visitors and any other person living at the property refrain from doing anything which interferes with the “convenience” of other people living in Wandsworth. The Housing Act 1985 also suggests a basis for eviction where the tenant or a person living in or visiting her household has been convicted of an indictable offence.’

The Financial Times report of the illegal subletting consultation this morning says the government has admitted that no council has yet taken up its call to evict rioters and that Wandsworth is the only one that has pursued someone publicly. It also quotes Wandsworth as saying it will give the mother a chance to ‘tell her side of the story’ before a final decision is taken.

Hopefully those are signs of a climbdown to come. If not, it will be up to the courts to decide whether the arguments made for an eviction (nuisance in the neighbourhood, setting an example, or just a breach of the tenancy conditions) can justify what will be both a double punishment and a collective punishment. And that will leave the rest of us wondering whether collective punishment can ever teach the sense of individual responsibility we were told was so lacking in the wake of the riots. 

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