I wear two hats when I write this blog of mine. First and foremost, I manage a small charity in a small Scottish town called Dumfries. Ours is a front door that opens onto the darker corners of the crumbling world that is Britain 2015. We hand out 5000 emergency food parcels a year in a town that is home to 50,000 souls. Then, as you can see from all of the book covers above, I am also a thriller writer. If you enjoy the blog, you might just enjoy the books. The link below takes you to the whole library in the Kindle store. They can be had for a couple of quid each.

Saturday, November 16, 2013



It’s an American saying and it is hard not to agree with it. After 10 years of First Base, I have spent time with an awful lot of men and women who have been locked up for their crimes against society. In theory this makes them some of the worst criminals. It is pretty common knowledge that these days you have to be a pretty bad lad to get sent down. Prison doesn’t come cheap - £5000 a month or thereabouts. In times of austerity, it is hardly surprising that the government is looking to re-write the rule book to save a few bob. These days most punishment is served up in the form of tagging or community payback, whilst prison is reserved for the more serious offenders.

Well it would be very nice if it was the case. But it isn’t of course. Anyone with any dealings with those who have their liberty taken away will tell you that they invariably fall into three categories: mad, bad or sad.

The mad ones are those who really should be getting treated by the mental health system but the mental health system is all full up and under resourced so they get sent to jail instead.

They sad ones are almost all addicted to something or another, mostly heroin. 70% of male prisoners who arrive at a Scottish Prison test positive for opiates. It is over 90% for female prisoners. As a rule of thumb, their crimes involve a litany of micro offenses. Nicking stuff. Nickel and dime. They have worked their way up the ladder until the Sheriff or Magistrate has no choice left other than to lock them up. They have been fined and failed to pay up. They have been given community service and failed to turn up. They have been tagged and simply ignored the tag and gone out once the craving has become too severe. They tend to get sent down for three or four months and are almost always out in less than half that time.

Serving the time is no big deal. They know the system. They know the screws. They know most of the fellow cons. All the stuff about getting shivved in the showers by tattooed up Nazi skinheads is for Holywood. Most jail time is mundane and boring. Three bland meals a day and twenty hours in front of Sky TV.

So does jail time put the sad ones off their lives of petty crime? Does it hell. All it does is make them more sad. Jail time on your record basically means that you are unemployable forever and ever. You stare down the barrel of thirty or forty years of eking out an existence on £60 a week with no prospect of anything changing and you think ‘what’s the point?’ What indeed? The only thing to look forward to is the next tenner bag of smack.

And then of course there are the bad ones. The dangerous ones. The violent ones. The paedophiles and the armed robbers and the rapists and the murderers. Few would argue that these guys need taking off the streets and locking up. I most certainly wouldn’t. However once you scratch the surface, you find that many of the bad ones are also mad and sad ones. Cross over.

The idea is that if you give these bad guys extra long stretches in the hardest, roughest, toughest prisons you can build, then it will act as a deterrent to other wannabe bad guys. In those last seconds leading up to rape or murder, these nutters will draw back and think again. Actually, I best not do this. The last thing I want is thirty years in a rough tough jail.

In theory it sounds great. In practice it doesn’t work out that way. I saw a report a few months ago which checked out if the places with the most hardcore justice systems had the lowest levels of ultra violent crime. Not surprisingly it proved to be the opposite. If you want to get raped or murdered in America, the best place to go is Texas, the very place where they execute the most bad guys and lock up others for 200 years and more. If you want to avoid getting raped or murdered in Europe, then it is statistically advisable to head for Scandinavia where sentences are limp wristed and goody, goody two shoes.

How can this be? Maybe those flaxen haired Nordic types are just genetically engineered to be lovely, cuddly people who are intrinsically incapable of raping or murdering anyone. Well it didn’t seem that way a few hundred years ago when those very same flaxen haired lads sported hats with horns and turned up at the East Coast of Britain in their longboats. I seem to recall that the Vikings were pretty good at the whole rape and pillage thing.

Are the good folk of the Lone Star State born to kill and rape? I don’t think so. A hundred years ago they were the oppressed of Europe who fled persecution to take their wagon trains to the plains of the Wild West.

The report dug out something that when you think about it is pretty damned obvious. Any places where they basically don’t do social services tend to breed a high number of ultra violent offenders, and no matter how many you execute or lock up, it never makes a difference. Why? Simple. A huge majority of society’s most violent people are brutalised in the first years of their lives. They witness their mums being beaten to a pulp. Or they are beaten to a pulp themselves. Or they are raped from the age of eight. By the time they hit their teens, they are often mad, bad and sad. They fail in school and fall into the company of their fellows and find rough and ready comfort in Class A drugs. Like many severely abused ands traumatised people, they can very quickly see red. And that is the moment that they kill and rape.

There are plenty of signs to look for when these killers and rapists are eight years old. Are they becoming withdrawn? What are those bruises? Why are they using that kind of language? Why are they so aggressive in the playground? Why are they not in school today? In Scandinavia they spend their tax money on lots of well trained social workers who are on hand to spot this kind of thing and get it nipped in the bud. They don’t spend much at all on prisons. They don’t have to. In Texas they splash the cash on massive jails and death row. They don’t do social work. Social work is for wimps and communists and Washington types. And so they get more than their fair share of mad, sad and bad maniacs to lock up and execute.

There is a tried and trusted text book to follow if you want a child to mature into a stone cold killer as an adult. The book has been written, revised and refined over many years by a variety of African warlords. They abduct kids at the age of 10 or so and abuse and brutalise them. Give it a few years and these kids will grow into young men who will kill without batting an eyelid. Hitler understood this and institutionalised the system with the Hitler Youth. This huge operation duly served him up 8 million soldiers which he fed into the mincing machine of the Eastern Front where they murdered and raped their way to the gates of Moscow and all the way back again.

It is hard not to conclude that we seem to lock up way too many of the wrong people and in doing so we do nothing to persuade them to join the law abiding majority. Why? Is it merely constant ineptitude and incompetence? I don’t see that. Recently Ken Clarke was the Justice Minister and very few would ever accuse Ken of being either inept or incompetent and if they did, they would have been wrong. Instead, thanks to the media, it has become politically impossible to take any kind of sensible view about how to deal with crime. If any British politician tried to adopt a Scandinavian approach to crime, the press would take him apart piece by piece and he would not stand a snowball in Hell’s chance of getting elected.

So we go on and on with the tried and failed ‘lock ‘em up and throw away the key’ routine. We might as well make a bonfire with billions of pounds worth of £10 notes and set it alight. That would do much less harm than the idiocy of what we do now.

The reality is what is considered to be a crime is a movable feast.

It all depends on how you look at it. Peter Sutcliffe killed thirteen women and is rightly locked away for ever and a day and then some. But what of the people who sign off on a cocked up drone strike that wipes out a school full of kids in Waziristan? No jail for them. Barely a slap on the wrist. It is seldom about the numbers of who get killed. It is always about who are the killed and who does the killing. Justice is never blind. Justice has 20/20 vision.

Drugs are a classic in this regard. If you are a two bit dealer living in a sink estate punting enough heroin to feed your own £50 a day habit, you will get sent down for a year or two when you get caught. And it is definitely a case of ‘when’ you get caught, not ‘if’ you get caught. Why? Because we have deemed heroin and crack cocaine to be utterly evil and anyone involved in the supply of either will be hunted down remorselessly. It is for the sake of society. The good of society.

OK. Fair enough. But it doesn’t play out that way. Because if it played out that way we would focus our resources on those at the very top of the chain who are in the engine rooms of the world’s narcotics trade. Here is where things get confusing. Who are the biggest heroin suppliers on planet Earth? It is a bunch of hyper violent warlords in the badlands of the Afghan/Uzbekistan border. They are a rough and ready trade organisation. They call themselves the Northern Alliance. Sound familiar? Yup, they are our best pals from 2001 when we joined forces with them to kick out the Taliban who at the time had deemed growing poppies to be against the Koran.

At the peak of the banking crisis in 2008 on the day that RBS ran out of cash, there were a number of banks around the world who faced a similar fate. These banks were based in countries where there were not enough taxpayers to be shaken down for billions of pounds and dollars to cover losses. These banks were in small countries. Offshore countries.

Someone, somewhere simply had to deposit hundreds of billions of dollars in these banks that very day or the whole world financial system would melt down. But nobody had any ready cash. So what to do? How can you rustle up several hundred billion dollars at a couple of hours notice? Easy. You pick up the phone to the guys in charge of the big drug cartels. Here’s a deal guys. It’s a one off. Any money you stick in these banks before close of business today is as clean as a whistle. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to wash every last dollar and dime with no strings attached. It was a laundry day to end all laundry days. Hundreds of billions got washed clean that day. The UN unearthed the secret and every man and his dog denied it. Nobody went to jail. Surprise, surprise. No banks folded that day and all those off shore deposits were kept nice and safe.

But who had the phone numbers for the guys in the boardrooms of the drug cartels? Well we know that now. We know it because HSBC has been fined for laundering endless billions of Mexican drug cash. They had every number they needed. And still nobody went to jail.

A few years ago I remember standing at the counter of the bank paying in a cheque to First Base. The cheque was for £25. Next to me was one of the town’s more successful dealers who was pushing great wads of cash through the window. It was all laughs and smiles as he talked about his recent holiday in the West Indies. At the time he was holding onto the child benefit books of several of our female clients who would meet him outside the post office each week. He would hand them their book. They would go in and draw the cash. Then they would come out and hand over the cash and the book until next week. If they failed to turn up, he would arrange to have them beaten up. Nice guy. I can still picture him that day as he paid thousands of pounds over the counter, all tanned and designer clad. The staff at the bank were all clearly pleased to have him as a customer. Did anyone really believe that all those tenners really came from a garage? Or did they prefer to look the other way and pursue their bonus targets?

If you take a drive through the blighted high streets of any of the poorest places in Britain you will find an unusually high number of bookies have opened up. Where do the punters get the cash? Surely these doomed areas don’t have enough people with enough disposable income to justify so many bookies. They don’t. That is why there are no more greengrocers and bakers. Things unsurprisingly are not what they seem. Most of these bookies now have roulette machines. These are fixed odds machines where the bookie takes 10% of whatever is put in. This of course means that if you stick £1000 into one of these machines, you will get £900 back and the bookie will take £100.

Unless you get lucky of course.

A report last week exposed the fact that these machines are actually nothing more than glorified washing machines and the bookies are glorified launderettes.

A smart drug dealer can take a trip down a high street and visit five bookies. He spends half an hour on the roulette machine in each. £20 on red. £20 on black. £2 on something else. In a couple of hours he can put in £5000 and get £4500 back, all washed and clean as a whistle. The big bookmakers claim that this is all news to them. Oh really? Or is this 10% money laundering service the real reason for opening up so many shops in the parts of town where the police have to go in mob handed?

Which brings us to good old Andy Hornby. As Chief Exec of HBOS he was one of the ones who cost as all billions in his pursuit of seven figure bonuses. We caught a glimpse of him in front of the Treasury Select Committee looking contrite. He said sorry. How nice. On his watch, HBOS lost £10.8 billion and it was left to all of us to pick up the tab. 16000 HBOS employees were tossed onto the dole when the bank was rescued by Lloyds.

You would think that when you have presided over a cock up of such proportions you might find it hard to get another job. In fact, it is logical to assume that someone who has cost the country £10 billion as a result of blind greed might even wind up serving time in jail. But Andy is neither on the dole nor banged up. First up, he made sure he got a hold of his £2.5 million pension from HBOS. Next, he got a job at Boots where he was once again a pretty major flop. They decided they needed rid of him and offered him £2 million to take a hike. Andy demanded an extra £450,000 in return for signing a piece of paper to guarantee he wouldn’t take any trade secrets to the competion. He got his £450,000. Employee of the month!

Now Andy is Chief Executive at Corals the bookies. 1700 shops and 20% of the British market. I guess just about every one of those 1700 shops will have a shiny money laundering roulette machine complete with flashing lights. And every day of the week these machines will deliver their 10% laundry fee to Andy’s bottom line. And Andy will get more millions in bonuses and the drug train will role along merrily whilst the nickel and dime dealers are sent down.

Like they say over the pond.

You’re guilty until proven rich.  


1 comment:

  1. GREAT informative read thank you Mark.
    I'll look in on your Blog again for further education in future. I hope you don't mind that I posted a link to my facebook page :-)