Saturday, November 11, 2006 

Scum-watch: Reverse ferret on Connaught Barracks.

You might recall that earlier this summer the Sun came up with the solution to all the government's prison overcrowding problems. In one of their typically short-sighted campaigns, designed to motivate their readership into an orgy of anger while also bashing our "politically correct" politicians, they suggested that disused Ministry of Defence bases and land could quickly be converted into open prisons. Amazingly, John Reid agreed, and set about looking into how the Connaught Barracks in Dover could quickly come on stream as an open prison.

The Sun was ecstatic. PRISON CAMP WIN FOR SUN, the headline screamed on the 20th of September:

The scheme to convert Connaught Barracks in Dover is a victory for a campaign by The Sun to use old MoD sites to ease Britain’s jails overcrowding crisis.

We highlighted 16 disused sites, some covering vast areas of land, which could be turned into prisons.

The Home Secretary is determined to push through the change, though he may face stiff opposition from local residents trying to block planning permission.
That day's leader was also rejoicing:
WHILE we’re at it, let’s offer a couple of unreserved cheers for John Reid’s plan to use an old army barracks to provide desperately needed jail space.

Officials raised hell when The Sun first suggested this idea a few weeks ago. Today it is seen as plain common sense.

It’s only a start. But at least inmates will be locked up — instead of being freed early from overcrowded prisons, a threat to all law-abiding citizens.

Alas! While to the Sun the idea seemed plain common sense, as a commenter on one of this blog's original posts on the subject said:
As a resident of Dover I am appalled at the proposal to turn the barracks into a Cat D (open) prison. The site is close to 7 schools including the MoD open school (King of Yorks), a housing estate, MoD housing for 100 Gurkhas and their families and Dover Castle. The site also contains a listed historical building - Fort Burgoyne, which the prison service will struggle to maintain.
The lack of consultation and the total disregard for local people and the planning process beggar belief.

Those in the area quickly launched their campaign in opposition to the Home Office's hastily established plans. There was a well-attended march against the Sun's scheme, in Dover's Market Square, and the local Labour MP, Gwyn Prosser, asked those sending letters to the Home Office to give them to him instead so he could take them directly to John Reid.

Mauled, Reid was left with coming up with an excuse that would appease the Sun. He decided to go with the Sun-friendly reason that there are the Gurkhas living locally, with their children being taught at a nearby school. Hence today's mournful Sun leader:
IT’S a disappointment that John Reid has scrapped plans for an open prison at a disused barracks in Dover. But The Sun understands why.

The Home Secretary has heeded local fears about prisoners being housed so close to the families of servicemen away fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He’s right. Those squaddies go through enough without worrying about the safety of their wives and kids back home.

Mr Reid is as keen as we are that new jail space be found — in other old barracks or on prison ships.

Back to the drawing board, John.

What happened to plain common sense?! What about the bad lags that may now go free as a result?! Rather, as William Higham of the Prison Reform Trust says:

It seems the home secretary is discovering that concreting over the country with jails is not going to be as popular with local residents as it is in the national tabloid press.
Quite. For a newspaper that always claims to have the interests of its readers at its heart, the Sun's desire to build prisons just about anywhere shows a casual arrogance and disdain both for those readers and for the local working people it seeks to represent.

P.S. For those uncertain of what a reverse ferret is, here's a decent definition:
"Kelvin McKenzie, probably the world's greatest tabloid editor (certainly the most obnoxious), used to stalk the newsroom [of Murdoch's British paper, The Sun] urging his reporters generally to annoy the powers that be, to 'put a ferret up their trousers.' He would do this until the moment it became clear that in the course of making up stories, inventing quotes, invading people's privacy, and stepping on toes, The Sun had committed some truly hideous solecism — like running the wrong lottery numbers — when he would rush back to the newsroom shouting, 'reverse ferret!' This is the survival moment, when a tabloid changes course in a blink without any reduction in speed, volume, or moral outrage."

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