Dust or Magic, Friday, August 10 2007
On the night of Saturday, 4th August, 26 men took advantage of a fire-scare to break out of Campsfield Immigrant Prison. At the time of writing 9 of them are still free but despite the massive police response and sensational media coverage (including a feature on BBC's Newsnight) we still know very little about those escaped - except that they were "convicted criminals".
THIS WEEK, perhaps for the first time ever, we have seen a full-blown national manhunt launched AFTER the criminals have been arrested, tried, and completed their sentences! And nobody seems to find this in any way odd or surprising!
This government has often been accused of creating criminals (over 1,000 new crimes created since 1997). This week, we have been shown just how effective the label "criminal" is, at turning people into indefensible pariahs.
Below is a letter I sent to the Oxford Mail on Wednesday, correcting an error in Tuesday's report:
... and commenting on Wednesday's revelation that 4 of the escapees had served sentences for drug offences:
TO THE EDITOR, Oxford Mail.
Can I correct a mistake in Matt Wilkinson's otherwise very informative article about the Campsfield breakout? ("Three down but 11 to go", 8/8/07)
I am quoted as saying "As far as we are aware about 50 per cent of the people in Campsfield are there for smaller crimes like passport offences rather than being axe murderers."
That is not quite right. As far as we know about 50 per cent of the people in Campsfield are not criminals at all, but asylum seekers and "overstayers" (who have nonethless been increasingly criminalised by our government just for being here).
For the rest, the new influx of "foreign national prisoners" (FNPs in Home Office jargon), we still lack full official information on who was guilty of what. Today, after 4 days, we learn that 4 of those who escaped had previously been punished for dealing in drugs (incidentally: the first time in British history that criminals have been the subjects of full-blown manhunts *after* emerging from prison). What of the rest? As far as we know, the vast majority of Campsfield's FNPs have been imprisoned for very minor and sometimes very new offences - including one that, under international law, should not be an offence at all: arriving in this country with false travel documents (in nearly all of the countries from which people flee it is impossible for refugees to get the correct travel documents). Detainee-support groups like Asylum Welcome and Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) have met a great many people who have been turned into "criminals" in this way and been jailed for it.
Another big category seems to be people imprisoned for relatively minor (e.g. motoring) offences, which would not normally carry a custodial sentence - let alone the extreme and unusual added punishment of deportation.
There is a double problem here - and not just for foreign-born residents: first a Government policy of creating new crimes (over 1,000 new ones since 1997); second, assumption by the Government of powers to inflict extra punishments on selected groups of people, ostensibly "by popular demand", over and above the punishments handed out by the courts, which are more and more marginalised. And this is happening without any challenge worthy of the name.
The Government has assumed the power to criminalise, and then to punish, selectively, at will. Today, it is people born overseas; tomorrow it could be any other vulnerable or unpopular group, or any group that becomes unpopular.
Posted by Bob Hughes on Friday, August 10 2007