Straw sacks magistrate who criticised police

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Indy Politics

Jack Straw was at the centre of a political row last night after he sacked a magistrate who criticised the police for failing to protect her daughter from being physically assaulted at school.

Mr Straw, the Secretary of State for Justice, has written to the magistrate saying that while he understands a mother's desire to help her daughter, her criticism of the police means she can no longer be trusted to be impartial in court.

"We have concluded that although you acted with the best interests of your daughter, your behaviour has led to your impartiality being brought into question," Mr Straw said in the letter. "It is clear that by mentioning you were a magistrate and then criticising the police, the two issues became linked and therefore there is doubt whether you would be able to consider matters involving the police impartially."

Shay Clipson, 50, a magistrate from Grimsby, Humberside, believed to be the only Romany magistrate on the bench in England and Wales, had asked police to help protect her 13-year-old daughter from a gang that had been bullying her in and out of school.

She claims her daughter had been subjected to beatings, racially abused, spat on, had cigarettes stubbed out in her hair, and had been thrown into the traffic on a very busy road.

The news comes a week after it emerged that the family of 15-year-old Arsema Dawit had complained to the police that she was being harassed shortly before she was stabbed to death in a London council block.

Ms Clipson said: "On 20 September 2007, my daughter had been told by a key member of this gang that she was going to be subject to a beating, possibly during the lunch break, failing that definitely on her way home. Neither the headteacher nor the head of year would make themselves available to speak to me. I told the school that in that case I would have to involve the police."

But, she said, the local police made it clear that they would not intervene. When Ms Clipson complained about the officers' alleged inaction, the police reported her behaviour to the local bench committee and then to Mr Straw, who upheld her dismissal.

Police were later forced to investigate when her daughter was badly assaulted by a family member of the same gang. In a separate incident, recorded on mobile phones and uploaded to YouTube, Ms Clipson's daughter was kicked unconscious on the school playingfield.

But Mr Straw, in a joint ruling with the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips, found that by raising the fact that she was a member of the local magistracy, Ms Clipson cannot be trusted to do her job.

David Howarth, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on justice, said: "Mr Straw's action is shameful and very heavy-handed ... Why can't a magistrate criticise the police? ... The police should not be able to end the career of a magistrate just because they don't like being criticised."

Ms Clipson said she feels let down by the system. "I was acting as a mother who had good reason to be both furious and to question the lack of competence and ethics that were being displayed. Not only was my child terrified for her safety, this campaign of terror was based on racism, mainly her Welsh accent, and possibly her Romany background, yet the police were not doing enough to support her."