Justice system betrays victims

THE Justice Secretary’s welcome decision to refuse parole to the killer of Mark Webster who was stabbed to death while trying to break up an altercation outside a pub is the first piece of compassion that has been shown to the 23-year-old’s family following his death in April 2002.

It is still unclear whether this is indicative of top Tory Chris Grayling’s draconianism or was a one-off ruling – the Webster family, as has been so often the case in this tortuous and seemingly never-ending fight for justice for their murdered son and brother, still remain in the dark about the legal rationale applied in this instance.

What the Cabinet Minister does need to realise, however, is that the family of the apprentice plumber have been treated appalling by the justice system – despite all of his predecessors pledging to put victims first at all times – and they will face the same anguish if Leroy Griffith applies for parole at some stage in the future.

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They’re not alone. Countless other families face the same anguish and it is time that the scales of justice were tilted in favour of the victims.

After all, they’re not the ones to blame for a sentencing process that lacks clarity and transparency; that is the fault of legislators and Mr Grayling will endear himself to the country if he addresses this issue.

When Griffith, who hails from Barbados, was originally handed a life sentence in December 2002, it was said that he would serve a minimum of 14 years behind bars and be eligible for release at the end of 2016.

Imagine the despair of Mr Webster’s father Tim, mother Valerie and brother Alastair, who all live near Leeds, when they learned their son’s killer was being considered for early release – and then the difficulties they faced making sure their views were heard by the Parole Board.

Even now they are getting conflicting versions of events from the Home Office, Mr Grayling’s Department of Justice and Victim Support – a breakdown that needs to be addressed at the earliest opportunity, and certainly before Griffith’s next parole hearing.

The reason is this: the Prison Service, and others, work tirelessly to ensure the human rights of inmates are not violated, but the authorities seem reluctant to show the same tenacity when it comes to innocent people like the Webster family. In short, it needs to be remembered that they’re the victims here – and not the other way round.

The hot air clouding energy policy

IN some respects, Nick Clegg has shed more light on Britain’s growing energy debate than David Cameron and Ed Miliband who are engaged in a heated war of words over the validity of Labour’s plan to cap household fuel bills.

Contrary to the assertions being made by senior Tories, and also “big six” supplier Scottish & Southern Energy which is defying public opinion by raising prices by 8.2 per cent, the much derided green levies are crucial to guaranteeing future supplies.

Take this region. As use of coal continues to decline, it is already accepted that new sources of power are required and the ports along the Humber estuary, including Hull, have

chosen to put themselves at the vanguard of the country’s offshore wind power revolution.

However the likes of Siemens will not invest in Hull, potentially transforming the city’s economic fortunes, unless there is the guarantee of certain subsidies – and confidence that Britain’s energy policy is going to be driven by pragmatism rather than the changing whims of politicians.

As such, the political desire to curtail fuel prices – it is, frankly, scandalous that so many OAPs will have to choose between warmth and food this winter – must not jeopardise plans for long-term investment and it is ominous that SSE has put one of its key plans on hold until after the election.

Given this, the main parties are right to identify energy as a pivotal issue – the challenge now is devising a convincing plan that balances short and long-term interests.

Road villains are the ‘boy racers’

WILL Yorkshire’s roads be any safer if teenagers have to wait until their 18th birthday at the earliest before they can take their driving test? That is the question that goes to the heart about the debate on young motorists – and whether existing laws need to be tightened.

The statistics suggest that this will be the case – it is now being claimed that there will be 4,000 fewer accident casualties each year across Britain, a number which cannot be dismissed lightly.

The counter-view is that most teenagers drive sensibly and responsibily, and that it is the recklessness of a small minority which is driving this debate.

Such a measure would

also inconvenience those who need a car to continue with their academic studies, start an apprenticeship or begin work.

Can the country afford to deprive these people of the chance to advance their careers, especially as public transport cannot be tailor-made to suit the needs of each individual?

It is probably why any law change needs to focus on improving the driving standards of those teenagers who endanger themselves, and other road users. They’re the villains here.