Convicted MP gets state-funded post

Nick Cohen
Saturday 07 August 1993 23:02

KEITH BEST, the former Tory MP who resigned after being convicted of dishonestly trying to buy shares in British Telecom, has been given a pounds 35,000-a-year job funded by the Home Office.

Mr Best will start work as director of the new Immigrants Appeals Advisory Service in November. The service will receive at least 95 per cent of its funds from the Government.

He was chosen by a Home Office-nominated committee chaired by Humphrey Malins, himself a former Tory MP, who lost his Croydon seat in the last election.

Mr Best's appointment comes amid increasing concern about the politicisation of government jobs. Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, recently rejected a shortlist for the new post of Prison Service Ombudsman because he considered the three widely respected candidates to be 'too left-wing'.

Mr Best made multiple share applications when BT was privatised in 1984. He pleaded guilty in September 1987 and was given a four-month prison sentence. This was reduced to a fine of pounds 4,500 on appeal. Mr Best resigned his Ynys Mon (Anglesey) seat before his conviction.

Since then, he has become director of the charity Prisoners Abroad, which helps Britons in foreign jails.

Mr Best said last week that he did not regard the job as a political appointment. The organisation was both a charity and a limited company and Alf Dubs, a former Labour MP, was on the selection panel which appointed him, he said.

The Home Office was forced to establish the new agency after the UK Immigrants Advisory Service (Ukias), which used to provide state-funded legal advice to immigrants, was broken up. There were accusations that internal feuds had left it in a state of chaos and managers were found guilty by an industrial tribunal of racially discriminating against a black member of staff.

Staff in the new service said last week they were frightened that Mr Best's appointment would lead to yet more controversy.

Meanwhile the post of Prisons Ombudsman remains unfilled. Lord Justice Woolf, in his report on the 1990 Strangeways prison riot, said it was essential for inmates to be able to go to an independent adjudicator if confidence in the prison system was to be restored.

Seven weeks ago, an interview panel of serving and former senior civil servants put forward the names of Professor Rod Morgan, a member of the Woolf inquiry, Stephen Shaw, director of the Prison Reform Trust, and Professor Sean McConville, a British criminologist who has been working in the United States.

For five weeks Mr Howard refused to see the candidates because they 'were too left- wing', a senior source said. Under pressure from civil servants, he has subsequently interviewed Prof McConville.

But a Home Office spokesman said last week that no decision had been taken on whether to appoint the professor or readvertise the job.

(Photograph omitted)

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