Andy McSmith's Diary: The price of justice? £277,600, to the tax payer


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Indy Politics

One of the most shocking murders to take place on British soil in recent years was the shooting of PC Ian Broadhurst on a street in Leeds on Boxing Day 2003 – not least because of a heart-rending recording in which the badly wounded officer was heard pleading: “No don’t, don’t, please, please no,” before receiving the final bullet in his head.

His killer was David Bieber, an American wanted for murder in Florida who had entered the UK illegally in 1996. He was arrested in Gateshead. Why he was in Gateshead was never explained. One suspicion is that he had gone there to carry out a contract killing.

This man, who had thousands of pounds in cash on him when caught, has made ample use of the legal aid system which the Government is busy cutting, putting justice beyond the means of many people who need it. From inside prison, where he must stay at least until the year 2041, he has launched a series of legal actions against the prison authorities. In July, a furious judge, Mr Justice Mostyn, exclaimed that they were all designed to make his life behind bars easier. He added: “All of the claims he has made have been funded by legal aid.”

What the judge did not have to hand was a global figure for how much Bieber has cost the legal aid system so far, but after a Freedom of Information request, the Ministry of Justice has totted it up. It comes to £1.87 short of £277,600.

Tolerance triumphs

A gratifying statistic from Paris. The publishers Éditions Gallimard reported today that Voltaire’s call for mutual tolerance between religions, “A Treatise on Toleration”, written in 1793, has sold 130,000 copies since Thursday. Voltaire, by the way, never said: “I disapprove of what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it” – but he probably would have done if he had thought of it. The quotation comes from a book written about him in 1906 by an English writer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall.

Unfortunate memory lapse

Seve Gomez-Aspron, a Labour councillor from St Helens, claims that it never crossed his mind that the message he was writing to a 19-year-old woman might be offensive. She contacted him via Facebook about a local problem. He suggested she come to his constituency surgery the following Tuesday, signing off “C U Next Tuesday”.

Called before the council’s standards committee, the councillor pleaded innocence. The Liverpool Echo quotes him telling the panel: “I’m astounded that because I’m 29 it’s assumed I know the meaning of ‘See you next Tuesday’. It’s ageist.”

Seve Gomez-Aspron’s general knowledge never used to be so woeful. At the age of 26, he and a friend competed on the TV show Million Pound Drop, and won a cool £100,000.

The council’s standards committee has ordered him to write a letter of apology.

A barely conscious operator

The new 111 telephone service for those who want to contact the NHS has received mixed reviews. The Health Minister, Norman Lamb, thinks it is generally working well. His fellow Lib Dem MP, Andrew George, who represents St Ives, is less impressed. He told MPs about a constituent who had no end of trouble making a 111 call via Newport, 200 miles away, only to be asked a series of questions, including, “Are you conscious?”.

Why not make home a castle?

Hunting around to get some perspective on today’s property prices, I find that £350,000 could either buy Blenkinsopp Castle, a 13th-century four-bedroom castle with watch tower set in beautiful countryside near Hadrian’s Wall, or a one-bedroom houseboat on the Thames in Putney. The boat would need less upkeep, of course.