‘Hard to accept’ big payments for offenders

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VICTIMS of crime will find it “difficult to accept” that offenders are regularly walking away with thousands of pounds of public money after being detained unlawfully by the UK Border Agency, a leading charity has warned.

Victim Support, the world’s largest charity for victims and witnesses of crime, called for all Government payouts to criminals to be made public in the future, so that victims are made aware that offenders may now be in a financial position to pay them damages for the crimes they committed.

The Yorkshire Post has uncovered 121 cases during 2010/11 where foreign criminals unlawfully detained by the UKBA received payouts totalling £1.161m, and at least six where British criminals received compensation after the UKBA mistakenly thought they were overseas nationals.

The payouts to foreign criminals averaged nearly £10,000 per head, with several individuals receiving significantly higher sums.

Victims of crime frequently do not undertake civil proceedings against offenders because they are told they do not have money to offer in compensation.

Mervyn Bishop, divisional manager for Victim Support across North Yorkshire and Humber, said: “Many victims will find it difficult to accept that offenders like these are getting compensation – but in many cases they have a legal right to it.

“We think payouts like these should be made public, because it lets victims know that offenders who were previously penniless might now be in a position to pay their victims compensation through the courts.”

One of Yorkshire’s highest-profile victims of a foreign offender was PC Sharon Beshenivsky, who was the first female police officer to be shot and killed on duty since Yvonne Fletcher was gunned down outside the Libyan embassy in 1984.

Somalian national Mustaf Jama was one of the gang of men who murdered Pc Beshenivksy during a botched robbery in Bradford in November 2005. He had been released from prison only months before, after Home Office staff had deemed it too dangerous in his home country for him to be deported.

That revelation formed a key part of the foreign prisoners scandal which enveloped then-Home Secretary Charles Clarke in 2006, eventually forcing him from office. It emerged that more than 1,000 foreign prisoners had been released into the community by the Home Office, including 49 of the most serious category of offenders.

Jama, who is now serving a 35-year sentence for his part in the murder of PC Beshenivsky, was not even considered for deportation for his earlier crimes due to the violent situation in Somalia at that time.

The torrent of criticism heaped upon the Home Office saw Mr Clarke’s successor, John Reid, declare the department “not fit for purpose”.

The UK Border Agency was set up as a result in 2008, to try to get a grip on both immigration and deportation issues. Tough measures were introduced to try to ensure there would be no repeat of foreign prisoner previous scandals.

But the figures released to the Yorkshire Post show following that clampdown, by 2009 and 2010 British criminals were being mistakenly detained for deportation at a rate of nearly one a fortnight.

And of those 42 British detainees, at least six have successfully sued the Government for compensation, receiving thousands of pounds in costs and damages.

The Government was unable to provide comparative data from before the launch of the agency.

Shipley Tory MP Philip Davies said he “totally agreed” with calls for all such payments to be made public, but added that he would “much prefer it” if no compensation was paid in the first place.

“I think it’s an absolute scandal that these foreign criminals are being given any compensation at all,” he said. “I think they’ve got a damned cheek.

“I’ve got a bit of sympathy for the UK Border Agency in this situation, to be honest.

“I would much prefer these people were locked up than out running around on the streets.

“The only possible consequence of these payments is that they will have a chilling effect on the UKBA, and they will feel they have to start letting these people out rather than keeping them under lock and key.”

The UKBA said it detained a total of 6,710 prisoners whom it believed to be foreign following the completion of their sentences in 2009 and 2010, and that only 42 were found to be British.

It added that challenges to unlawful detention “can take months, if not years, to process and conclude”, and consequently many of the cases disclosed to the Yorkshire Post related to before 2010, when Labour was in power.