Blair has encouraged criminality, says bishop

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair will be accused by a senior bishop today of encouraging criminality in Britain by backing an illegal war in Iraq. The Right Rev Dr John Sentamu, Bishop of Birmingham, will mount a scathing attack on what he will call the Prime Minister's disregard for international law and denounce David Blunkett's tough approach to sentencing.

He will also court controversy by linking the deaths of two young Birmingham women in a gang shooting at a New Year party on 2 January with the 11 September terrorist attacks, saying both were caused by a sense of isolation. Dr Sentamu, who fled to Britain in 1974 from Uganda, will say it would be "disastrous" if standards of conduct applied by Western governments on the world were copied locally.

He will say: "The recent conflict in Iraq saw a situation where the US and UK governments flouted the will of the UN Security Council and invaded Iraq. Upon achieving a military victory, they then went back to the UN Security Council and secured a resolution which gave them power over the spoils of a war which they conducted without approval. How would this global action work locally? It is like a group of men from across the street, having been refused permission by the courts to do so, coming to your home and kicking the door down. Once they have found your credit cards they then go to court where they get approval to spend your money for an indefinite period while they promise to look after your best interests."

In his Longford Lecture, sponsored by The Independent, Dr Sentamu will point to other parallels between apparently unconnected domestic and international events. He will take as an example the deaths of Charlene Ellis and Letisha Shakespeare when a gang opened fire on a party at a hairdressing salon in Birmingham.

In an interview with The Tablet, to coincide with the lecture, he said: "The reasons why those two girls got shot in Birmingham can take on the same underlying analysis as the reason for two planes crashing into the twin towers, a sense of isolation and marginalisation borne out of a misguided, but genuine, sense of the outcast."

Dr Sentamu, 53, sat on the judicial inquiry into the handling of the investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence and chaired the Damilola Taylor murder review. He was born in Uganda and became a barrister and later a judge in the country's High Court, once jailing a cousin of the dictator, Idi Amin, for rape.

In 1973 he was arrested, severely beaten and accused of treason after helping a student leader to escape the regime. He left to study theology at Cambridge, intending to return and work in the justice system. But he vowed to become a priest after the murder of a friend, Archbishop Janani Luwum of Uganda, and was ordained in 1979.

In his lecture today, the bishop will condemn the short-termism behind the present over-reliance on longer prison sentences. He will say politicians dehumanise criminals as a result, and fill jails to bursting point. The bishop will call for greater efforts to bring victims and offenders together to promote greater understanding under the restorative justice principles practised by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.

"The criminal today is treated with such inhumane words, attitudes and behaviour," he said. "Tabloids carry a message of viciousness and vindictiveness. When we [say] someone is beyond being brought back to a civilised society, beyond rehabilitation, we have to fall back more and more on longer sentences. But ... all law-breakers must be given the chance to change. We all have inside us the potential to change."