Bob Ashford wins legal backing in fight for criminal record reform
A former youth justice leader whose bid to become the first Avon and Somerset Police Crime Commissioner was blocked because of a minor offence at the age of 13 has won legal backing for his fight to change the law.
And 9.2 million Britons with criminal records could benefit. Bob Ashford, of Frome, called for an overhaul of the law on criminal records disclosure and his stance has won support from Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson, who said that the Government should “pull its finger out” to reform the system.
Mr Ashford had to quit as a candidate for the commissioner post because he was convicted of trespass and possession of an offensive weapon 46 years ago after being pressured by peers into joining them on a railway embankment, though he denies touching the weapon, an airgun. He was fined £5.
The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 disqualifies a person from standing for the job if they have been convicted of an imprisonable offence, whether or not they were actually jailed.
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Mr Ashford spent his entire career working with young people in trouble and in need, working as a social worker before becoming one of the first Youth Offending Team managers. He then moved to the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales, leaving after 10 years in March last year. Throughout his career, he has always declared the conviction.
Speaking after he withdrew his candidacy last year, he said: “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,” he said.
Lord Dyson’s comments were made during the Appeal Court hearing of the ‘T’ case, in which Liberty intervened. It concerned a 21-year-old man who received warnings from Manchester Police when he was 11 years old in connection with two stolen bikes. This information was disclosed on two occasions: when he applied for a part-time job at a local football club at the age of 17, and later when he applied for a university course in sports studies.
The Court has found that the current system of disclosing all convictions, cautions, reprimands and warnings, no matter how old, minor or irrelevant, is not compatible with Article 8 of the Human Rights Act – the right to a private and family life. Criminal record checks, provided in England by the Disclosure and Barring Service, are available to employers recruiting for certain roles and are also used by educational establishments. A full judgment is expected this week.
Mr Ashford was one of three Police Crime Commissioner contenders forced to quit over historic offences. He and the other candidate, Falklands War veteran Simon Weston, who stood in South Wales formed the Wipetheslateclean Campaign calling for people who have served their sentences to be allowed to: “fulfil their potential and play a full and productive part in society.”
Further north, Nottinghamshire County Councillor Mike Quigley was forced to withdraw his candidacy over an offence committed aged 21.
Cllr Quigley, who said he did not remember breaking a window, or the circumstances, as he was drunk, was celebrating his birthday in 1968.
In September, he said: “I’ve not got the foggiest idea [what happened]. My brother was with me and we can’t recall having broken any windows.”
Cllr Quigley said he declared the incident when he first submitted his application for the role.
He added: “The stupid thing is the only job that it precludes me from doing is that of the police and crime commissioner. Technically, I could be Home Secretary.”
Yesterday, he said: “The whole system of criminal records checks is unfair, uncoordinated and far too complex. Why should people with criminal convictions receive a life sentence when it comes to being full members of society? This is a positive and major step forward and a step on the way to a true rehabilitation revolution.”