Statement –Bob Ashford: Why I am stepping down as PCC Candidate for Avon and Somerset.

I am today standing down as Police and Crime Commissioner Candidate for Avon and Somerset following clarification the Labour Party has received from the Home Office and the Electoral Commission that youth convictions for imprisonable offences will bar people from becoming a police and crime commissioner.

I am setting out in detail my recollection of the offences I committed and which have now barred myself from standing to illustrate the pressures and injustices that children and young people can face in their neighbourhoods. I also would like to draw attention to the continuing damage caused by offences committed by children and young people and their ensuing criminal records, when these are carried into their adult lives. These events occurred 46 years ago and while there has been huge progress in the intervening years, I still hear of similar events and pressures from young people today. This new legislation barring myself and others from standing as a PCC because of offences committed as young people perpetuates the disadvantage inflicted upon all young people convicted of offences.

These are the details of the offence. At the time I was 13 years of age in 1966 and living on a council estate in Bristol. I had no previous involvement with the police and came from a good and caring family. I remember very well the knock on the door from a group of lads I knew from school. They persuaded me to go out with them and I felt I had little choice. I also knew from what they said that if I refused they could make my life difficult at school.

We went to the railway embankment and I felt very uncomfortable about this. One of the lads pulled out an air gun and started shooting at cans. I never touched the air gun and felt unable to leave, as I was frightened at what might happen at school. A goods train passed and presumably the guard reported our presence to the police who arrived a short time later. The lads with the air gun ran away whilst I and two others froze and were arrested.

My next memory is of the police coming to my house and talking to my parents in a separate room. The police never questioned me to my knowledge. I then went to court and was to the best of my knowledge charged with trespass on the railway and possession of an offensive weapon. I was told to plead guilty to the two charges even though I had never touched the air gun. I was fined £2 and 10 shillings on both counts. Both of these offences are to the best of my knowledge “imprisonable” offences.

I carried on at school, attended University and put the offence behind me. I have never been convicted of any other offence.

It was only when I qualified as a social worker and started applying for jobs that I realised I would have to disclose this previous offence. However, I quickly found a job and have been employed on a continual basis ever since. I became a social work manager before moving into youth justice where I became a Youth Offending Team Manager. I then joined the Youth Justice Board in 2002 becoming the Director of Strategy before I left in March of this year. At every stage of my career I have declared the convictions even though I have seen no evidence of it on any record. I have been security vetted by the Home Office, signed the Official Secrets declaration and worked with Ministers and senior officials and organisations including the Association of Chief Constables (ACPO) on a range of security sensitive initiatives.

I saw the post of PCC as a natural opportunity to develop my career and use my knowledge and expertise for the benefit of my local community. I completed the application form in December 2011 and submitted it to the Labour Party HQ. I have declared my previous convictions at every stage of my application. As a part of the interview I was asked whether I had done anything in my past that might embarrass the Party. I outlined in detail the circumstances and outcomes of the offences above even though I did not consider they could embarrass the Party. I was then shortlisted as candidate and eventually selected by members.

I first became concerned at the possibility I could be barred from the post when I read electoral law expert Ros Baston’s 10th July post on her queries on the Simon Weston case. Both the Home Secretary and the Attorney General had earlier stated publicly that offences committed as young people did not bar people from applying. I also have to say that it had never occurred to me that an offence committed 46 years ago and which would now almost certainly be dealt with without going to court would bar me at all. I did however become concerned about the ruling and on 19th July I contacted the Labour Party’s HQ seeking clarification.

The Party’s legal team said that the statements made by government ministers were contradictory, and that the Party would seek clarification from the relevant authorities.

I have to say I find this legislation and requirement absolutely flawed and an infringement of the rights of young people. The arguments put forward in the House of Commons committee on the amendment to include offences committed by young people in the bar on becoming a PCC take no account of the need to differentiate in law between offences committed by young people and adults, and the necessity for a statute of time on offences committed by young people. I understand the arguments in Committee re the recruitment of police, for whom the same bar applies, but police officers are not recruited at the age of 59, 46 years after an offence was committed.

I have spent my life working with young people who have been in the care of the Local Authority or involved in the justice system. The foundation of that work has been the recognition that every individual has worth and the ability to change their lives. It is ironic that after a professional and political career spanning my life I am now going to be brought down by a piece of legislation which absolutely contradicts those tenets.

I have just heard from a CRB check with my local police that no record of my case exists. As a PCC candidate I will have to sign a declaration saying I have no legal bar; however, I know I do even if there is no record of the offence. To sign the declaration, knowing that I had committed an offence, would in itself be a criminal act which of course I am not prepared to countenance. Even though I have seen no evidence of my convictions in my entire life since the court case and I now know that none exist I have registered them at every stage of my career.

At this point many Labour Party members in Avon and Somerset are working on my campaign: leaflets are on the verge of being printed, hustings are being organised. I have therefore taken the decision to resolve the matter by standing down with immediate effect.

Bob Ashford

Bob on BBC iPlayer Radio 4 Today Programme at 2:39:00 (available until 15th August 2012)

30 comments on “Statement –Bob Ashford: Why I am stepping down as PCC Candidate for Avon and Somerset.

  1. Utterly mad legislation, so sorry to hear you’re having to step down as a candidate.

  2. Absolutely ridiculous. You are clearly a very honourable man, and you have no reason to stand down. This is madness, and makes me very angry.

  3. Jim Mason says:

    Stand as an Independant, let the voters decide…that’s if we are allowed to vote.

    • Chris Terry says:

      He can’t stand at all due to his youth offences. The Labour Party hasn’t forced him into anything, if he could stand he’d be doing so under a Labour Party banner.

  4. Andy Dowland says:

    I’m gutted for you Bob. It’s typical for this government that even Ministers don’t know what their legislation is. I’m sure you would have been an excellent PCC.

  5. pageandrew says:

    Very sorry that you have needed to step down as a candidate. As you say the legislation runs contradictory to the notion that every person has the ability to change their life. It is utterly self-defeating. That the rules as they stand have debarred someone of your obvious interest and experience from putting themselves forward shows a serious flaw in the system and, in my view, they are discriminatory and unnecessary.

  6. adam says:

    This is insane and disenfranchises people who can understand why people might commit crime.

  7. Malcolm Parker says:

    This is absolutely monstrous and self-defeating. I do hope it doesn’t dissuade you from continuing the great work you have done up till now with young people. Very sad.

  8. Stephen Daly says:

    Absolutely typical of this country. Someone who has contributed so much, and clearly comes from a position where he can understand the issues that face many young people today is barred from giving what would undoubtedly been valuable input. The law is an ass. Whilst we cannot even find a law to prosecute bankers who have inflicted countless suffering on millions and robbed this country blind we have this blatantly stupid law which would no doubt be enforced to the hilt without any reasonable view taken of the circumstances. I despair of this nation – gold medals or not.

  9. James Binns says:

    This is nonsensical, as an ex RUC police officer I have no issue with ex-members of a terrorist organisation being in political post if it is for the better of the community. For Cameron’s big society to work it has to be inclusive and forgiving where the best interest of his big society are served. Once again a piece of poor legislation written in haste.

    Best wishes Mr Ashford, keep up the good work.

  10. Gill says:

    It is absolutely ridiculous that you are in this situation .. The legislation Is very contradictory ,leading to discrimination .
    There is a serious flaw In the system that is totally outdated .

  11. Mark Rowland says:

    What a ridiculous decision and rule. I was looking forward to meeting up and listening to your vision for the future. Will the Labour party be putting up another candidate? If so, can you please get them to contact me. Many thanks. Mark.

  12. WendyT says:

    This is abhorrent, you were 13 years of age for goodness sake. I too have a criminal conviction that is 31 years old. This means I have to apply for a visa to enter the USA (at great expense). It is absurd that there isn’t a time limit where everything is wiped clean if you have been an upright citizen for 25/30 years – or something like that. My heart goes out to you…

  13. Robert says:

    Mr Ashford, I noticed on the BBC website that the reason for you being ineligable was that the offence was an imprisonable one. I think you ‘ll find that as you were a juvenile that the option of prison wasn’t applicable to you. Therefore I would reason that you weren’t excluded from office as a PCC. Another example would be that a juvenile/youth could be arrested to prevent a breach of the peace, but couldn’t be put before the court for this. This would be because if they refused to be bound over the only option is “imprisonment” and not detention. They’re different legal terms. Look at the difference in age between going to prison and detention.

  14. Corinna Smart says:

    Oh boy – people are able to clear themselves from certain”crimes” and need not to declare it any more what madness is this-is there no reasoning-I am gutted for you.Athletes who knowingly take drugs and are not sorry can compete in the Olympics and get medals – how cock eyed is this?

  15. Adam Morris says:

    Hello Bob. I’ve just come across this and wanted to make contact to express my support for you. I think this is a dreadful state of affairs – and, as a consequence, Avon and Somerset has lost the opportunity to have the service of a fantastic police commissioner. You’ve handled the entire issue as I’d expect, with integrity, sensitivity and constructive candour; qualities, I’d posit, which are essential in a police commissioner. Take care and best wishes, Adam

  16. david angelinetta says:

    Bob I have just heard your interview on radio 4 and wanted to register my 100 per cent support for you and your campaign. I have had first hand experience personally of the unfairness of the system which cost me 2 jobs. My big learning was that life can be unfair. I have always respected your honesty and integrity and wish you every success and happiness for the future. Regards David angelinetta

  17. David Duff says:

    I read your story in (hold your nose) The Daily Mail which, I can tell you, is not too bad as a newspaper but in my opinion is a bit soft on law and order! Anyway, it will tell you that politically I am somewhat to the right of Genghis Khan.

    Even so, your story is yet another example of the rule by Pecksniffs & Jobsworths which blight this country – and for which, I might add, your party is more than responsible! Even so, politics apart (the result of another youthful error, I suppose!) you are obviously well-suited to this job and it is a nonsense for you to be forced to stand down. I, as a Somerset voter, will be writing to my MP (an il-Lib-non-Dem so I do not expect too much) and I have also blogged upon the subject. Good luck!

  18. Colin Gray says:

    Heard you on the Today programme this morning. Very sorry to hear what has happened to you. Utter madness.

  19. Dave Aukett says:

    Hi Bob, I have followed your candidacy with great interest and yesterday I was so disappointed with the news. Utter madness!
    I would have loved to see you in this role. I don’t necessarily believe the role is necessary but I really feel you could have made a significant difference in Avon and Somerset. Good luck with everything you do in the future and your withdrawal is Avon and Somerset’s loss. Dave

  20. Stuart Johnson says:

    I stopped for a few moments to consider what is gained by such Govenmental policy, what benefit to policing,to our legal system, to public safety and to the credibility of our democracy.

    Effectively Bob, you went out to play that day and as boys do you crossed an invisible line and were culpable through joint enterprise of going onto someone else’s land (Nationalised) and victimised a few tin cans, no-one hurt, no-one lost anything until now, when we all lose – as someone of your talent, experience and (dare I say) good character is barred from standing for public office.

    Shame on the system, this prejudicial and damaging rule should be wiped away, I wonder who has the power? are they listening to all our voices?

  21. g.smith says:

    Many people are being effected by our pre historic laws in this country , this is a law which needs to be seriously looked at and changed .When such a high proportion of crimes are not even investigated these days or politicians are given an opportunity to pay back there expenses to avoid prosecution it makes my blood boil .GOOD LUCK BOB ASHFORD

  22. Jill Miller says:

    There are so many unsavoury factors to this case. Bob Ashford would have been brilliant in this post. I can’t see anyone measuring up to his commitment to young people, his integrity and his honesty. I think what is most disheartening about this unjust and stupid law, is that if young people are given the message that they can’t put their lives together and change having committed a crime in their youth, there will be another surge of hopelessness in the world that will leave young people even more disaffected than they already are. And in particular working class kids who already feel hopeless about their lives and their work prospects.

    I worked in various prisons from 1992 – 2000. A lot of the re-offending by young people is a direct result of nobody being truly on their side and employers not separating the person from the past offence and giving them the encouragement they need to turn they lives around.

    This law needs to be amended If our young offenders can dare to dream of a hopeful future…..

    Keep your chin up Bob…. “They can’t keep a good man down.”

  23. [...] and Falklands hero Simon Weston, although he withdrew for other reasons, and today it has claimed Labour candidates in Avon & Somerset and in [...]

  24. Michael Rhodes says:

    I am very sorry to hear this Bob. I think you were an excellent candidate and it is just crazy that a minor offence you committed as a child 46 years ago should have this impact (or in fact, any impact). Words can not say how ridiculous I think this is. I wish you well for your future.

  25. robert english says:

    Now let’s take Lord Ken Macdonald QC. He was the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) from 2003 to 2008, is a Visiting Professor of Law at the London School of Economics and a member of the Advisory Board of the Centre for Criminology at the University of Oxford, in July 2010 he became a Liberal Democrat Peer and a member of the House of Lords, with the title Lord Macdonald of River Glaven QC. At the invitation of the Theresa May, the Home Secretary, he is currently overseeing a government review of counter terrorism legislation. In November 2011, he was elected an Honorary Fellow of St Edmund Hall, Oxford. He is Warden-elect of Wadham College, Oxford. He was appointed a Recorder of the Crown Court in 2001 (a part-time judge), and a Deputy High Court Judge in 2010. He was elected Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association of England and Wales in 2003, and became a Bencher of the Inner Temple in 2004 … Oh, and while a student at Oxford in the early 1970s, acquired a conviction for supplying cannabis. He was fined £75 by a magistrate.

  26. Lucy Holmes says:

    You’ll know all this already, but I simply had to comment on this post.

    I volunteer in a Youth Offending Team, sitting as a volunteer panel member with young people who have been given Referral Orders. These are community based orders, given to young people who have pleaded guilty to a huge range of offences. It’s a very flexible order and is based on Restorative Justice principles.

    Only yesterday I had a final panel with a young person convicted of a reasonably serious offence, and given a mid-length order. As always, we explained that the completed Referral Order is a Spent Conviction. We also emphasised the importance of being honest and disclosing it when asked, but that this shouldn’t be an automatic bar for most jobs.

    It’s vital that young people who have admitted their culpability, and served whatever sentence is handed down, are then given a true and achievable opportunity to live the rest of their life well. I think it’s great that they have the chance to make good the harm they caused, and then to move on – to leave their youthful mistake behind and go on to be a respected member of society.

    Your treatment has gone against the principles I work to and are supported by the youth justice system and the YJB. My very best wishes with whatever you decide to do next – please don’t give up fighting for effective rehabilitation of offenders and fair treatment for everyone by the criminal justice system.

    Lucy

  27. Matthew says:

    It’s in situations like this when the law is ass-backwards (excuse my french). Obviously for serious crimes, young offenders generally should, and sometimes are treated as adults in criminal cases, for minor offenses that gain a record should have a time of stature on the criminal record. Your case is of a young teen in the wrong place at the wrong time, with the wrong people doing stupid things (and with a very different police service than today’s, i might add, today’s police might have listened to your side of the story before slapping the cuffs on and charging you, but i digress). This should not have barred you from serving, as it was so long ago and the lack of severity of the offense has no bearing on your life, nor what you could offer to the community.

    Trespassing on the railway is probability the most serious of the two offenses, but both are just a case of stupidity not criminality, but kids sometimes do stupid things, that’s kids for you. I’ve done some stupid things, as i no doubt most of the people who have posted here have done when they were 13.

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