Bill Carmichael: Ins and outs of unfair system

Sheffield student Richard O’Dwyer has never visited the United States, but today he faces extradition to America and a possible 10-year prison sentence for copyright infringement.

In 2007, the 23-year-old computer sciences student set up a website – TVShack – from his university bedroom that directed users to other websites where they could download pirated TV shows and movies. His lawyers argue that because his website did not actually store the pirated material, Mr O’Dwyer did not commit any offence under British law.

This argument cut little ice with British judges who ruled he should face trial in the US, and this week Home Secretary Theresa May signed an order authorising his extradition. His is the latest in a string of cases under the controversial US-UK extradition treaty signed in 2003. Asperger’s Syndrome sufferer Gary McKinnon also faces extradition after he allegedly hacked into US Defence Department computers in search of evidence of UFOs. And 65-year-old British businessman Christopher Tappin was flown to the US last month to answer charges – which he denies – that he sold missile batteries to Iran.

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I’ve no way of knowing whether any of these men are innocent or not. If they are accused of wrong doing and found guilty – preferably by a British jury – they should face the consequences. But here’s what puzzles me; whenever we attempt to deport foreign-born terrorists, killers and rapists, we are told we can’t do it because it would infringe their human rights.

For example, in 2010 the European Court of Human Rights indefinitely blocked the extradition of hook-handed jihadist Abu Hamza to the US to face terror charges because it judged the American prison system too harsh. Yet the same judges are happy to see Mr Tappin shipped to a Texas jail where he now spends 23 hours a day in solitary confinement.

In many cases foreign criminals cite Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights – the right to a family life – in order to stay in Britain. In one notorious case, quoted recently by Mrs May, a Bolivian shoplifter here illegally was allowed to stay partly because he had joint ownership of a pet cat.

But Mr O’Dwyer, Mr McKinnon and Mr Tappin are British born and have lived all their lives here. Don’t they have a right to a family life too? It seems perverse – not to say absolutely bonkers – that they would be treated more fairly by the British justice system if they were here illegally, living on benefits and threatening to blow up tube trains and buses.

And perhaps if Mr O’Dwyer and Mr McKinnon want to convince British judges of their right to remain in the UK they should pop out and buy a cat.

Home service

The Government launched its NewBuy guarantee scheme this week to help people buy a new-build home with a fraction of the normal deposit.

It means as many as 100,000 people will be able to buy property worth up to £500,000 with a deposit of five or 10 per cent instead of the 20 per cent typically demanded by lenders. I’m all for helping young people on to the housing ladder and boosting the sluggish property market, but the best way of doing that is by reducing taxes and keeping interest rates low, not by artificially stimulating demand by introducing risky guarantee schemes.

The entire financial crisis that has brought the West to its knees was triggered in the US when government-backed agencies were persuaded – by Left wing politicians – to make loans to people who couldn’t afford the repayments.

In other words, it is precisely this type of financial jiggery pokery that got us into this mess in the first place.