Sunday 29 May 2011

Burglar Wayne Bishop and the benefits system

One of the first acts of the Conservative government was to curtail the child benefit to certain parents who could be described as middle class on the basis of their "family income", a term which should be meaningless since taxation is personal. Child benefit was intended to be a universal benefit which attached not to families or any class, but to the child themselves, usually via the mother but can be via the father or other carer.

If you are a middle-class (approximately; the term is not about money but a set of values) parent you are unlikely to be swayed by the level of benefit available to have more than two children, although some of them do where family income permits the levels of care to be maintained. Where family income is low the package of benefits including housing and free school meals creates an incentive to continue to have children since each child represents an increase in family income which is proportionately larger than it would be in the better-off household.

Thus it makes sense for Wayne Bishop, petty thief of Southchurch Drive, Clifton, Nottingham, to have as many children as he can and hand the bill to the taxpayer. His children represent a form of wealth to him in a way they do not to better-off families where there are economic penalties for increasing the number of children. Or it could be that Wayne Bishop is an irresistible stud-muffin, but in light of the photos of him, I'm betting that the benefits are a better explanation for his inability to master a condom.

Wayne Bishop is the Nottingham burglar who has just cost us the legal aid and the cost of hearing the case to have a short prison sentence overturned on the pretext that he is the sole carer for his five children. Another example of how useful children are.

Bishop's QC, Ian Wise, head of the public law team at Doughty Street Chambers assured members of the judiciary that the issue of the length of the sentence and its effect on the children mattered on the basis that Bishop was the children's sole or main carer. Was he? Did they check? One commenter says :

"there mother picks them up everyday the only time ive ever seen this bloke at school was once. its common knowledge to asll the parents and teachers in the school were these kids liv"
The court was given to understand that care was being split between Bishop's sister, who already has care of seven children, and his ex-partner who is the only one said to have a full-time relationship with paid work. If she does, let's subsidize her with a proper nanny - two if that's what it takes as her work is said to be on shifts and at night - because she's the only one setting any kind of example. It will cost the same as paying Wayne but the children will have a reliable carer.

Perhaps the police or local authority or benefits agencies will use their powers to investigate whether statements made in court were mistaken or unchecked.

However, the question is would the welfare of the children have mattered less in law if he'd had only, say, two children? Should a middle-class fraudster who normally lives with his wife be obliged to stay in chokey as he doesn't have the same childcare duties? Indeed, should the number of children be taken in to consideration before the CPS bring charges? Apparently, under this interpretation of the Human Rights Act, it does. Some commenters have pointed out that when women are sentenced, the effect on their children is automatically considered.

In case anyone thinks this is unfair to a hard-working single parent, Wayne doesn't do the single parent thing of trying to juggle a job and childcare as he already explained that he took to burglary because he couldn't manage on benefits. He can't drive a getaway van either and ended up trapping himself in a dead-end street. A metaphor for his life: the benefits trap means that he's unlikely to be able to work his way out of dependency, especially now his criminal record probably makes him unemployable.

Let's have a look at the 33 year-old's career in crime, which This Is Nottingham has helpfully indexed.

In November 2008 Wayne Bishop, then living at Stotfield Road, Bilborough, threatened the headmistress Dora Wood of the Portland School. Bishop had sent his infant child to school wearing a gold bracelet, which as any parent will know is not permitted and is always clearly stated in the school rules of which all parents are aware. There are two simple reasons for that; there is a chance the bracelet will get caught on something while playing with the result that the child is injured and everyone gets in to a world of legal trouble, and valuable items have a habit of getting lost which leads to teachers having to control distraught children who shouldn't have been bringing jewellery in the first place.

The Headmistress, Mrs Dora Wood, confiscated the bracelet and called the parent in to explain the situation and hand it back.

Most parents have nothing but sympathy for a head teacher who is only trying to get on with teaching but this is undermined by our laws on religious and cultural expression which leads the likes of Wayne Bishop to wonder why we have double standards which permit some children to wear bracelets but not others.

However, rather than making a robust political point and risk being threatened with racially-aggravated something or other, Wayne threatened to do the Headmistress over, yelling:

"I'm not sticking to the rules. My son's not sticking to the rules."
This is a howling with which I have nothing but sympathy because schools have indulged in rule-making and propaganda about things, particularly in sex education and religion, which are properly the business of the parent, not the state. However, in this case Ms Wood was right and Bishop was wrong. Comments below the original story suggest that other parents were not happy with Ms Wood's headship either, but the majority agree that Bishop was wrong to threaten her and the property of everyone else in the car park.

The police were called and after pleading guilty to using threatening words and behaviour (up to 1/3 discount on sentence) District Judge Morris Cooper gave Bishop a community sentence of one year with supervision by the probation service and 100 hours of unpaid work plus he was to pay £50 in compensation to Ms Wood. As Bishop's income is from benefits it is difficult to see how he could pay the compensation without directly depriving the children and if he's looking after five of them plus four step children - who live separately with his current wife - it is similarly difficult to see how he would complete 100 hours of labour. I wonder if either of them ever happened?

The story goes quiet until September 2010, when Bishop - by now living in Brooksby Lane - attempted to rob a local club and made a pig's ear of it, ending up in a car chase which was dangerous as it clipped a police car and ran a red light. He faced charges of burglary and dangerous driving, pleaded guilty and admitted dangerous driving, thereby going for his usual strategy of getting a discounted sentence which would, presumably have been halved in practice if he behaved himself inside. So he would have faced a sentence of between four and eight months, which sounds about right, provided, of course, you aren't the victim of the burglary. He was locked up on April 11 and leave to appeal was granted by Mrs Justice Gloster on 24 May, six weeks later. The appeal itself followed within days.

However, one report states that by then Bishop already had previous convictions for offences of theft and driving while disqualified.

To summarize, the offences which are known about are: threatening behaviour, theft, driving while disqualified, dangerous driving, burglary. Another commenter claims but does not substantiate:

"not worth it mate, his "family life" is much better with out him in it im tellin ya n plus hes bin prison more than 5 times so a waste of bein a dad to him cos he'l end up inside agen"
Tracey York, the mother of the children and Bishop's ex-partner says that he has three previous jail terms, but doesn't state what they were for. That would make four in total, not five, but the point is he is not reliably available for childcare.

Richard Posner, a partner at Nottingham law firm Bhatia Best, was on Wayne Bishop's legal team and insisted
"This is not about a criminal's human rights – the children are the primary focus"
In which case it should not have been in the Court of Appeal on a criminal challenge. It should have been in the family courts deciding if Bishop is capable of meeting the needs of the children under normal conditions, since he keeps committing crimes and getting locked up. However, Nottingham has a great many problems and Wayne Bishop is only one of them.

In June 2010 the head of social services had to ask other agencies to deal with issues relating to cleanliness or nutrition, but if there was a concern about child protection, his staff would respond. So if children are being bashed-up or sexually assaulted, the department will act but if the problem is neglect, the casual indifference to squalor, discipline, education or diet, then those old devils will be left to do their awful work until children are old enough to get pregnant and demand council flats of their own, which won't be long.

It's time to ask mature questions, to refuse to be cowed by shouts of "nasty party", to see if the benefits system is helping families or creating perverse incentives which disadvantage the very children it was supposed to help.



Offender: Wayne Bishop
Solicitor: Richard Posner, Bhatia Best
Barrister: Ian Wise QC, Doughty Street Chambers
Court of Appeal judges: Mr Justice Maddison and Mr Justice Sweeney

Monday 9 May 2011

Liberation Day

Today is Liberation Day on Jersey. Thousands will attend an outdoor service in Liberation Square, commemorating the release of the Channel Islands from the Occupation in 1945.

The subject of the Occupation is still a raw one because the Channel Islands are a mirror for Britain. They are what would have happened to us. To get an idea of the scale of the invasion there is a trail which is best visited but the download gives an idea of the magnitude of the event.

The most important site is the complex known as The Jersey War Tunnels - the underground hospital Hohlgangsanlage 8. It is one of the most important war museums in Europe, although it is comparatively small. Allow a full day to walk through the long corridors which are set up to chronologically document how the war affected a small island.

The Channel Islands were also a laboratory for Goebbels who took keen personal interest in how the invasion was handled as it formed part of his PR strategy for his German audience. He arranged for photos to be taken which allowed the folks back home to imagine that this was the Isle of Wight - something even the invading soldiers were sometimes confused about - and suggested that far from resisting, the inhabitants had all but welcomed them with open arms. The sore point being, that some - a very few it should be grimly noted - did welcome them with open arms and legs. The Germans were good-looking and appeared to have cash.

Anyone stranded on the Island at that point would have thought the Reich had triumphed and there was nothing for sensible people to do but knuckle under and be enfolded in to the new empire, inch by inch. There was nothing left but a thread of hope and small acts of resistance, such as hiding"V" lapel pins made out of Victorian sixpences. Each act was met with increasing ferocity and repression. Albert Bedane decided to hide a Jewish woman and a number of other people; his thinking was that if he was to die, he might as well make it for a large risk.

The Islanders hung on despite the risks, the deaths, the deportations. On May 8 1945 the starving fag-end of the Reich finally accepted they had run out of arms, men and money. On May 9 the formal surrender locally was done on HMS Bulldog in St Peter Port, Guernsey.

Happy Liberation Day, Channel Islands.

Sunday 1 May 2011

St George's Day parade (delayed date)

"This is no thaw" muttered the dwarf "This is Spring"

"Hold your tongue" growled the witch.

"George died centuries ago. He has no power today."