The Observer Online is reporting that ‘outreach workers’ for homelessness charities in London have unwittingly gathered information which has been used to deport some of the people whom they aspired to help. Charity workers were told to collect sensitive data on rough sleepers – including their nationality, gender and factors concerning their mental health – which was then stored on a database by the GLA (Greater London Authority). An FoI request has now confirmed that the GLA passed the data to senior immigration officials in the Home Office who used it to track down rough sleepers from the EU and central eastern Europe and then deported them under guidelines introduced by the Home Office in May 2016. The charity St Mungos has said that they were told that the database was established to ‘identify emerging needs’.
This whole saga reminds me of the conversations that I used to have with a friend of mine at Bangor University who is a Jewish scholar. As the University HR Dept sent around increasingly intrusive ‘monitoring forms’ for no good reason requesting info about people’s gender, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion and disabilities, I expressed concern to my friend that such information was being collected, particularly as the then Director of HR, Lyn Meadows, was a poisonous cow who was known to be accessing personal data relating to staff to use against them. (Meadows was also breaking confidentiality and sharing information with third parties.) My friend observed that people of Jewish heritage are always very sensitive about providing data relating to their religion/ethnicity because of course this sort of data had been used by the Nazis to target Jewish people. I tried to refuse to provide such data at one point and a senior colleague told me that if I did refuse to provide it, Meadows would undoubtedly then try to target me for refusing to adhere to University policies. So that is how Lyn Meadows was able to ask staff if they were gay or transgender or had sensitive health problems and they were forced to co-operate with this gross invasion of privacy!
So now The Observer has told a cautionary tale with regard to ‘monitoring’. The Director of Liberty, Martha Spurrier, has commented that the Home Office’s conduct is reflective of a ‘crisis of compassion’ within the UK political system and a consequence of the hostile environment for illegal immigrants created by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary. Martha asks ‘who knows where else the Home Office’s poisonous tentacles have reached’?
This is all very timely because I’ve been reading about the workings of the Home Office recently. I’ve been working my way through Ken Clarke’s autobiography – it’s a real treasure trove and I’ll be blogging about it in detail soon – and he details his time as Minister of Justice in the Coalition Gov’t. Ken describes his battles with what he felt was a very illiberal culture in the Home Office, a culture which was obsessed with being seen to be tough on immigration and on crime, even if the policies didn’t work or backfired. He of course had previously been Home Secretary under John Major and had been replaced by Michael Howard, who was rather more on message where law n order was concerned. However it was when Ken was Justice Minister that he described a battle with the machinery of the Home Office which seemed to try to obstruct him on matters if he was too liberal. The Permanent Secretary whilst Ken Clarke was Minister for Justice was a Sir Suma Chakrabarti and he was responsible for running the Crown Office under the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (that’s a dual role). During Suma’s tenure that was Lord Charlie Falconer, then Jack Straw and then Ken Clarke. Sir Suma left the Home Office in 2012 to become President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, but he’d been Permanent Secretary at the Ministry for Justice since Nov 2007. So one presumes that Sir Suma was substantially contributing to that illiberal culture, if not leading it. Theresa May was Home Secretary between May 2010-July 2016. Suma overlapped with Theresa then – and Theresa’s one preoccupation when she entered the Home Office was immigration. In terms of timescales, it may be assumed that the wheeze to collect nationality data on rough sleepers and then use it to deport them after changing the rules in order to allow this must have been dreamt up some time ago – no doubt on Theresa’s watch. Perhaps Suma had something to do with it as well.
Readers will have noticed Suma’s surname – Chakrabarti. There is of course another Chakrabarti who used to work for the Home Office – Shami! Between 2003-2016 Shami was Director of Liberty. During her time there Shami campaigned against ‘excessive’ anti-terrorist legislation. Shami started her career as a lawyer though – and after graduating, in 1996 she secured a position as a barrister in the Home Office. That was the Home Office under the Tories – when Michael ‘prison works’ Howard was Home Secretary! Now he won’t have been at all liberal – so I don’t think that young Shami will have been working on some very fine causes whilst she was a barrister in the Home Office. The Tories were voted out in 1997 and Jack Straw became Home Secretary. Jack was no liberal once he got into office either which is why so many people who had voted Labour were so disappointed. Shami didn’t begin working for Liberty until 2001, when she joined them as in house counsel. Has anyone spotted what I have? What major public inquiry took place between 1996 and 2000 which concerned the Welsh Office – and the Home Office? The Waterhouse Inquiry! The high level cover-up into the abuse of children in north Wales and the associated paedophile ring. Shami will have known all about it. The Home Office were very much involved because of the collusion of the North Wales Police with the abuse – and of course some of the kids in care had ended up in prison or in Risley Remand Centre, institutions which were the responsibility of the Home Office. Bryn Estyn, the home where some of the most serious abuse occurred, was formerly run directly by the Home Office. Of the staff from Bryn Estyn who went to prison for child sexual abuse, a number had been employed there when it was still run by the Home Office. I always wondered why Liberty didn’t take up the cause of patients in the mental health system who had been abused whilst they were kids in care. Although poor old Liberty’s track record on child abuse isn’t too hot – in the days when it called itself NCCL it was affiliated to PIE. When that hit the media a few years ago Shami lost no time in telling everyone what a shameful part of the NCCL’s history that was and that the organisation had been ‘infiltrated’ by paedophiles. They didn’t need to ‘infiltrate’ Shami – Harriet Harman, Jack Dromey, Patricia Hewitt, Henry Hodge et al were so dim that they let them in. They’ve got the excuse that they were fools playing identity politics – what’s your excuse for your stint in the Home Office whilst the Waterhouse whitewash was happening? We keep being told what a fine legal mind you’ve got and how committed to justice you are – you didn’t consider offering your services to the victims of the North Wales Child Abuse Scandal free of charge then? Not that anyone else did either – although loads of radical lawyers provided such a service to the NUM during the Miners’ Strike…
I do keep wondering – Suma and Shami. Are they by any chance related? Suma was born in 1959 in Bengal but he went to school in London. Shami was born in 1969 ‘to Bengali parents’ and grew up and went to school in London. Could Suma possibly be Big Brother?
Suma joined the Civil Service in 1984. He initially worked for the Dept that was the predecessor to DfID (Dept of International Development). Then he was seconded to the World Bank. He was then Private Secretary to Lynda Chalker (Cons), Minister of State for Overseas Development (Foreign Office). Suma was head of AID Policy and Resources. In 1996 – when Shami joined the Home Office! – Suma worked in the Treasury. It was the Treasury who, in 1995, paid Mary Wynch a pittance and told her to piss off and not bother them again. Mary had been ruined as a result of misconduct by the Home Office, among others. (See post ‘The Mary Wynch Case – Details’). After that, Suma held a Cabinet Office post with responsibility for creating the new Performance and Innovation Unit to support Blair. He then headed the Economic and Domestic Affairs Secretariat and had a foot in the Dept of Transport, Local Gov’t and Regions. In 2001 it was back to DfID again, where Suma was Director-General for the Regional Development Programmes. He oversaw 1200 staff in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America. Readers may be aware that there have been long standing allegations of corruption at DfID. In Dec 2009 Suma gave evidence at the Iraq Inquiry.
What about Shami’s progress after she joined Liberty? She certainly hit the big time and was feted by the liberal media and the BBC who really loved her. She entertained the nation with accounts of her existence as a diligent schoolgirl from an ethnic minority who had a burning ambition to become a lawyer to seek justice on behalf of the oppressed. She does not explain how a few years working in a corrupt Home Office which had spent years concealing a paedophile gang who murdered some of the witnesses to their activities fitted in to that plan.
Shami’s mask has slipped on occasions though. She is an Alumnus of the LSE and they were so proud of her that they gave her a place on their governing body. She was on there when the LSE received a donation of £1.5 million from Colonel Gaddafi’s son Saef. Shami’s excuse was that she didn’t attend the Council meeting in 2009 when the donation was approved. I did not ever hear her make any public comment about the PhD that the LSE awarded to Saef though – it was alleged to have been written by someone else, I think a member of staff at LSE. Shami was a keen supporter of the lawyer Phil Shiner who was struck off in 2016 for misconduct after he made false allegations of abuse against British troops. After the publication of her book ‘On Liberty’, Shami was sued for libel by Martin Hemming, the former legal advisor to the Ministry of Defence. Shami also famously headed the Inquiry that Jeremy Corbyn set up to investigate the allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. Shami joined the Labour Party herself at about the same time! Her report concluded that anti-Semitism or Islamophobia weren’t issues in her party. Two months after her report was produced, Jeremy Corbyn put her name forward for a peerage! The Vice-President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews described the situation as a ‘whitewash for peerages scandal’. But Lady Chakrabarti knew all about whitewashes by then – she’d learned at the knee of the best, the Home Office. In Oct 2016 Lady C was appointed Shadow Attorney-General.
As someone with principles, Shami has always made it clear that she opposes grammar schools because she believes that they result in social division and segregation. Shami of course didn’t think of sending her own son to a grammar school. He attends Dulwich College, one of the most exclusive public schools in the UK. I understand that he’s slumming it at Dulwich College after he failed to get into Eton.
Shami lives in Lambeth. Of course.