Friday, January 16, 2009

West Country Woes

Just as HMG tax flights in the name of the environment, before approving another Heathrow runway, the same contradictions apply in the lower tiers of government.

Swindon Borough Council are a bit strapped for cash. Diversity consultants and anti-racist outreach 5-a-day smoking cessation co-ordinators don't come cheap, you know.

So how can they save money ? Believe it or not, one of the proposals is to scrap the Groundwell Park and Ride - a boon to those of us who approach the Celestial City from the north and don't fancy the Magic roundabout plus the hefty town centre parking fees.

At the other end of the A419 another of the notorious Johnson clan once again finds himself in front of a beak. But it was this little-noted report from last year that struck me :

SIX members of the notorious Johnson family that stole metals worth more than £300,000 were today ordered to repay just one pound each after police found they had no assets to their names. Ten of the Johnson gang, from Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, were jailed for 38 years last year for a string of raids on business premises. A financial investigation hearing today was told that one of the conspirators, Charlie Lee, 39, profited by over £137,000.

But Bristol Crown Court heard that Lee, of Cleeve Prior, Evesham, who is in custody, had no cash or property, so a judge was forced to make an order for the nominal seizure of one pound. He will have to serve one day's imprisonment, on top of his original sentence of five-and-a-half-years, if he fails to come up with the coin.Click here!

The crew were jailed last year after pleading guilty to conspiracy to burgle or steal from businesses in Thames Valley, Warwickshire, the Midlands and Gloucestershire.

Another member Danny O'Loughlin, 32, was ruled to have made over £126,000 from the enterprise, where valuable metals like titanium were exported to China and India for recycling. O'Loughlin, also of Cleeve Prior, also had no 'realisable assets' - such as a house or car - and was also told to pay back a pound. Chad Johnson, of St Pauls Road, Cheltenham was deemed to have made £25,000 from his part metals thefts, but was also told to come up with his pound.

Francis Laird, defending, said: "There are members of his family in court who have agreed to meet the sum."

Sonny Johnson, 24, of Welwyn Court, Gloucester, sentenced to two years for conspiracy to steal, will again have to find a pound to satisfy the court, despite owning £8,400. Lee Johnson, 21, who made £38,000 from the raids which garnered the gang more than £365,000 over a three-month period, will also repay just one pound. Prosecutor Simon Burns said the money could simply be handed over after the hearing 'to save enormous red tape'. Christopher Keylock, 39, of Green Meadow, Bamfurlong, Cheltenham, benefited to the tune of £33,000 and also handed over his pound. Stephen Ford, 39, who owes £8,400 actually had some assets worth £3,000 and has been given 56 days to pay that sum, or serve 2.5 months in default. Ford, of Withington, Cheltenham was sentenced to two years and six months after admitting conspiracy to steal. Stephen Davis, 27, and Sean Lillis, 28, who only joined the scheme at the very end of its life in June 2006, where not deemed to have made any profit at all and owe nothing. A final conspirator Jamie Lake, 22, sentenced to two years, had his case adjourned until later this month.

The law really is a charade in such a case. I would be amazed if there was a single person in court who truly believed that Sonny Johnson, or people like Danny O'Loughlin (who not only pulled off the metals thefts, but was involved in robberies to the value of £80 million) had no assets.

Ten years or more back a family from the Cleeve Prior travellers site (I forget the name) earned a living knocking on old ladies doors, pointing out the broken slate or the chimney in need of repointing, and then ripping them off for tens of thousands of pounds. When the police and courts caught up with them one of the ringleaders had over £400,000 in building society accounts - which by the time the Asset Recovery boys caught up had diminished to about £100,000. Still a lot of money to lose, though.

It would appear from the poverty of these guys that the relevant 'lessons have been learned'. If only our Criminal 'Justice' system could say the same !