Leading article: Don't give in to tabloid thugs

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Leading article: Don't give in to tabloid thugs

DECIDING GOVERNMENT policy by tabloid headline was never a good idea, and the Prime Minister's call for employers to sack football hooligans is one of the worst examples. It got him the headline his press secretary wanted: "Blair: Sack Soccer Thugs." But it was a foolish response to the difficult problem of what to do about the sickness which afflicts one of the very few expressions of Englishness - as distinct from the national identity of the United Kingdom as a whole.

Employment lawyers immediately pointed out that it was "questionable" whether employers generally would be able to sack someone convicted of a football-related offence abroad. In other words, it would be illegal, and quite right too. If someone has been convicted and punished for a crime it is a basic principle of the law that they cannot be penalised twice for the same offence. One of our disowned ambassadors in Marseilles is an RAF military police officer: clearly there is a special obligation on those charged in their jobs with upholding the law. Equally, if a member of the diplomatic service was caught hurling a beer bottle at a Romanian they should be sacked summarily. But some of the hooligans locked up by the French work for the Post Office. Tony Blair said he hoped "strong action" would be taken against convicted football hooligans who are employed by the public services. But that cannot be justified. Nor does it make any sense in the light of the Government's approach to social exclusion. Criminals need jobs if there is to be any hope of rehabilitating them as responsible members of society.

The behaviour of English hooligans in France has been sickening, embarrassing and a stain on England's national pride. But it demands a considered response, rather than a cheap, knee-jerk appeal to the vindictive prejudices of tabloid readers.