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Tuesday, July 11, 2006 

Sun-watch: Kids betrayed by their own outrage.

Rebekah Wade, a danger not only to husbands, but children too.
There is little more satisfying than watching the Sun squirm. As could have been predicted, the average Sun-reader is today subjected to a suitably outraged editoral over the attorney general Lord Goldsmith's decision not to refer the sentence given to the paedophile Craig Sweeney to the court of appeal for being "unduly lenient".

Kids betrayed
THE distraught mother of paedophile Craig Sweeney’s toddler victim tells how he was “literally found with her blood on his hands”.

Yet Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith rejects any appeal against his grotesquely inadequate sentence.

Sweeney was given “life”, with a starter of 18 years.

Under a chaotic formula, this was cut to 12 because he pleaded guilty — even though caught in the act.

The term was then automatically halved, minus his time in custody.

This crazy process could see Sweeney free while his violated victim is still at primary school.

His Lordship ignores public fury and claims the judge was simply following the rules.

But it is the government that sets these ludicrous rules.

The same government that refuses to build new prisons and puts judges under pressure to set prisoners free as fast as possible.

As long as this continues, ministers are betraying their first responsibility — to protect us . . .

And our children.

Now, the Sun is being just slightly coy about all this. Apparently it's now all the government's fault, even though just a month ago it was, err, all the judges fault! Their naming and shaming campaign has been such a huge success that it's seemingly been forgotten about within a month.

The Sun editoral also ignores their own hand in the decision by the Attorney General not to refer the sentence as "unduly lenient". On the morning of the sentence being handed down to Sweeney, the Sun started its campaign against "soft" judges. Within hours, "Dr" John Reid, had made public his reservations about the sentence, and set about sending his concerns to Lord Goldsmith. Goldsmith was not amused. Can anyone claim that the Sun's campaign didn't influence Reid? Of course not.

The arguments made by Lord Goldsmith for why he didn't refer the case to the court of the appeal are similarly disengenous, aimed at protecting Reid from further criticism. He claims it was because the judge followed the formula set down by the sentencing council properly - which is entirely true, but that didn't stop him from referring the other case that has been mixed in with the coverage over Sweeney - that of Alan Webster, who was given a life sentence with a minimum of six years for raping a 12-week-old baby. That judge also followed the sentencing formula, but Goldsmith argued that the sentence was too short for a crime which had "shocked and outraged public opinion." The court of appeal agreed, and his minimum sentence was extended to 8 years. The only difference is that the outrage in Webster's case only came from the media - not from a government minister who should have kept his mouth shut. Reid and the Sun should not be blaming anyone else; they are the ones who are responsible for Sweeney's sentence not being extended.

The Sun however is right in its claims that some of the discounts given for pleading guilty when guilt is obvious are ludicrous, and Goldsmith has said so himself, with a review currently taking place. Yet it is unwilling to recognise that in both cases Sweeney and Webster were given life sentences. It is highly unlikely that either will be granted parole at the end of their minimum sentences, as the judge in the Sweeney case himself said. Procedures are also now in place that rightly put public safety above all other concerns. The Sun just can't help itself though, and continues to parrot its line over the lack of prison building and pressure on judges to release prisoners early. It has been the pressure on the government, a lot of it coming directly from the Murdoch press that has resulted in prisons now being horrendously overcrowded, full of the mentally ill and those with drug problems who would be better treated outside the penal system. Last Tuesday the prison population was 78,107. The maximum prisons across the land can hold is is 81,149.

Just build new prisons then, that'll sort it out, right? As Obsolete has said in the past, the Sun doesn't seem to want to discuss where these prisons will be built, how much they will cost or who they'll be run by, it just wants them to suddenly appear out of thin air. As the Guardian leader today points out:

In the past 18 months, Labour has repeatedly been shortsighted and inconsistent over terrorism and law and order when it should have been farsighted and consistent. The result has been both a policy and a political shambles that has brought the government nearly to its knees.

New Labour just cannot see how the tabloids are helping to destroy it from within. Hazel Blears froths at the mouth over David Cameron's hoodie-hugging speech (nowhere near tough enough for someone who wanted community offenders to wear Guantanamo style orange jumpsuits), mainly because even though as usual he's devoid of an actual policy behind the soundbites, he's got the balance right (although whether farming out paperwork to the private sector is a good idea or not remains to be seen). Blair's whole reign has been an example of how selling your soul right at the start to Murdoch will in the end result in you being hoisted by your own petard. Mirroring that, John Reid's start in the job of Home Secretary would be almost comical if it wasn't for how dangerous his giving in to the tabloids potentially could be, especially over "Megan's law". Sadly, there's no doubting that the tabloids will continue to scream, and the government of the day will continue to jerk their knees in response, either Conservative or Labour. Rationality was kicked out of bed long ago.

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I agree completely.

Not sure if you're noticed this typo though "...given a life sentence with a minimum of sex years for raping a 12-week-old baby."

Think you amend this before the Sun goes off on one again! ;-)

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Thanks for pointing that out - Freud would have a field day.

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