Richard Ingrams' Week: Don't compensate victims of crime

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The Independent Online

After all, it could well be that I am partly to blame for walking about late at night on my own with a wallet full of money.

Contrast the case of those many people who have been convicted of a crime they didn't commit and who may have spent months or even years in prison, and who for the rest of their lives may be the targets of those many fellow citizens who believe there's no smoke without fire.

The state in the person of police and judiciary is responsible. But any compensation due to them is now to be cut on the orders of our reforming Home Secretary Charles Clarke so that more money can be paid to the victims of crime.

And it emerges that somebody like Angela Cannings who spent 18 months in prison after being wrongfully convicted of killing her two sons will not be entitled to a penny. That is because, under the present system, if you are sent to prison but win your freedom on appeal you do not get anything. Only those released after a second appeal can expect compensation and even then, under the new rules, they will be expected to reimburse the cost of bed and breakfast to the prison authorities.

Meanwhile, Sir Roy Meadow, the paediatrician whose faulty evidence led to the conviction of Mrs Cannings and others, will not be required to reimburse the state for the thousands of pounds he received for preparing reports and then appearing in court as an expert witness.

Trim all this ridiculous spending on elections

Why does the Labour Party need all that money to finance its election campaign?

A small clue was provided yesterday when it was revealed that the party had spent £7,700 last year on "hair styling for Cherie Blair''. The invoice from M. André Suard of Chelsea shows that he was charging Mr Blair's consort £270 a day just to keep her hair in good shape.

The public will decide whether or not he did a good job. My own feeling is that possibly Cherie, left, did not get her money's worth.

Hairstyling apart, it is difficult not to see the election expenditure as a tremendous waste of money.

It is said that they need the cash to pay for things like posters. Yet these, for which huge sums are paid to advertising agencies, are invariably silly and sometimes, as in the case last year of the Michael Howard/Fagin poster, have to be scrapped following protests.

The public sees very little of politicians during election campaigns what meetings there are stage-managed affairs with carefully selected audiences.

The battle is fought not from town halls or street-corner soap boxes but from TV studios.

And the point about that TV coverage is that it costs the parties nothing at all. Night after night TV channels give politicians a free platform from which to air their views to millions of viewers.

The answer to the current controversy over party financing is not to make the public fork up.

It is simply to cut down on unnecessary spending. And if that forces Cherie to dispense with M. Suard's services, then so be it.

* Just as you will never see a photograph of Martin Amis smiling you will never see a picture of Lord Birt not smiling. He was smiling again when he emerged from the House of Commons last week after appearing before a parliamentary committee. The MPs had been trying to find out what he had been doing for six years as Mr Blair's "blue skies thinker". But after the two-hour session nobody was any the wiser. Hence Lord Birt's wider than usual smile.

"Policy is a subset of strategy" was perhaps the nearest Birt came to explaining what was involved in blue skies thinking. In the light of this week's revelations about the vast sums paid out to various BBC employees, the MPs might have done better to quiz him on this topic rather than his mysterious role in Government.

For it was Birt who as BBC director-general more than anyone set the trend for paying huge salaries to a number of only marginally talented individuals. He himself ended up with a salary of £354,000 along with assorted perks not just for him but for his wife as well.

When all this was revealed, the BBC was said to be indignant - but not about the astronomical sums paid to dim Radio 2 DJs but about the fact that they had been made public. Because, as usually happens, when X discovers how much Y is getting, he demands parity or above. So the wage bill spirals further out of control.

Quite apart from that, large numbers of the public who pay for these multimillionaire nonentities with their licence fee will start to question the merits of the system, even if they do not do so already.