Drug dealers' release sparks row
The surprise appearance of John Haase, 46, and Paul Bennett, 32, on the streets of Liverpool last week has angered members of the law enforcement agencies after their jailing in 1995 for their part in a pounds 15m "Turkish connection" heroin smuggling ring. The pair, who pleaded guilty, were among eight defendants sentenced by Judge David Lynch in 1995. But the judge later wrote to the Home Secretary requesting a reduction to five years.
The Home Office said that the men had provided information to Customs during the investigation which was seen as a major breakthrough in the war against drugs. It was not clear yesterday, however, whether the information related wholly to the specific facts of their case.
Mr Howard defended his actions despite his proposals to get tough on drug crime. Interviewed on BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend, he said the judge had told him that were it not for the special circumstances that existed in this case - in terms of the lives of the men and safeguarding future operations - he would have passed a sentence of five years instead of 18.
"Under the existing law I was specifically requested by the judge to put right what he had not been able to do ... Is it seriously suggested that I should have ignored that request from the judge?" he demanded.
The affair none the less resurrects the spectre of the discredited "supergrass tariff" under which criminals used to be given lighter sentences in return for turning Queen's evidence, and the subsequent practice of dropping charges in return for information. The difference appears to have been that these two men were never identified as informants, hence the heavy initial sentence.
The two men were released after just over a year because of the impact of parole and the two years they had spent on remand. Mr Howard challenged one of his critics, John Prescott, Labour's deputy leader, to say whether he would have ignored advice from the trial judge that the proper sentence was five years.
However, the deal is open to the criticism that it was done behind closed doors, against a background of the sale of huge quantities of heroin and fear of gangland violence. Haase has a conviction for armed robbery and concern over security at the committal proceedings at Liverpool magistrates' court was such that armed officers in bullet-proof vests were on guard.
George Howarth, a Merseyside MP and a Labour home affairs spokesman, said: "Given the recent history on Merseyside of armed violence, which is closely associated with drug barons, I find the decision surprising ... Understandably, local people are dismayed. I will be writing to Mr Howard seeking an explanation and an assurance that he has taken steps to safeguard the public from these potentially dangerous criminals."
- 1 Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
- 2 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 3 US? China? India? The 10 biggest economies in 2030 will be...
- 4 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
General Election 2015: David Cameron catching up in polls – but he badly needs a clear lead
Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
South Africa xenophobic attacks: Shops looted and violence on streets of Johannesburg as foreigners are forced to hide in police stations
18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...
£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...
£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...
£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...