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factual
FACE THE FACTS
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Face the Facts
Transcript : Face the Facts - 02 January 2009
THIS TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.

FACE THE FACTS

New Year special 2009

Presenter: John Waite

TRANSMISSION: Friday 2nd January 2009 1230-1300 BBC RADIO 4


Waite
Over the 20 years I've presented Face the Facts for Radio 4 producers and researchers have come and gone but one feature of the programme endures. Many of our investigations have a habit of taking on a life of their own. Maybe they're discussed in parliament where, eventually, sometimes, new legislation is passed. Lawbreakers we expose are arrested, charged and prosecuted. Government departments and quangos change their policies. Public inquiries which were once deemed unnecessary are suddenly agreed to. Often the impact of a Face the Facts is still being felt years after the original broadcast. So today we're revisiting a number of recent investigations to see what progress has been made for those seeking redress, support, apology and often no more and no less than justice itself.

Hearing for example about the jail sentences for arsonists who tried to torch residents out of their homes…

Clip
I happened to wake up and the sky looked all like red. So I got out of bed and looked through the curtain and I saw the blaze.

Waite
The south London preacher involved in the "miracle babies" case who's evaded trial so far but for whom time is now fast running out.

Clip
Do you believe that Jesus is able to make you pregnant?

Yes.

Do you believe?

Yes.

Are you ready to receive?

Yes.

Waite
And how at last changes in the law might come about after nine people were killed in one the worst ever industrial accidents in recent Scottish history.

Clip
The present system is not working, people are still being left disabled, they're still being killed, they're still suffering serious injuries, injury in the name of profit is not acceptable.

Waite
But first, developments on a story we covered this summer. And how two important institutions of British law stand in apparent contradiction of one another. The first is the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act of 1974 - which says that after a reasonable and defined period of time, and providing no further offence has been committed, minor offenders can regard their convictions as spent. In other words they can legally disregard their criminal record when applying for jobs or credit and in other aspects of day-to-day life in which trustworthiness is an issue. The law was designed to prevent ex offenders becoming prisoners of their previous criminality. As QC and former chair of the bar Anthony Scrivener explained to us back in August.

Scrivener
The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act said that a person who has made a sincere and successful attempt to live down a conviction and go straight, in that sort of case common justice demands that his efforts should not be prejudiced by the unwarranted disclosure of the earlier conviction.

Waite
The second institution of British law is a newer beast. The Criminal Records Bureau, which opened in 2002, and is designed to ensure that the past of certain types of criminal is never forgotten. By compiling the criminal record of every British citizen, its job is to make sure that offenders such as paedophiles don't get jobs which involve contact with children. As the CRB's website makes clear.

CRB website description
Our aim is to help organisations in the public, private and voluntary sectors by identifying candidates who may be unsuitable to work with children or other vulnerable members of society.

It was last June that the offender rehabilitation charity, NACRO, told us that people were losing their jobs, or being turned down for new ones, because employers were unfairly using information against them that had been revealed in CRB checks. And what concerned NACRO was that the offences the checks turned up, were usually minor, irrelevant to the jobs involved, and, in almost every case, they were long "spent" under the terms of the 1974 Act.

Well, it took some time to persuade someone to come on to national radio to talk about their past misdeeds, and the effect a minor, long-forgotten and embarrassing indiscretion was having on their working life today. Eventually, though, Jeff, not his real name, agreed to tell us his experience.

Jeff
It was gut wrenching. I was sick to the stomach. It was more or less as though they was accusing me that I was a sex offender, a paedophile, a pervert and you can imagine I, a married man, two grown up children, grandchildren and I've worked with children and the public most of my working life.

Waite
Jeff, now in his late 50s, was suspended from his job for three months after his employers carried out a CRB search on his criminal record, which they were perfectly entitled to do, as he drives a bus which is used to transport senior citizens and autistic children. But the checks on Jeff turned up a £10 fine for a minor theft when he was 13 and a conviction for indecent exposure and threatening behaviour in 1974 - which turns out to be an altercation Jeff had with a woman after he was caught short on a boozy night out, and she saw him urinating down a drain. Not Jeff's finest hour perhaps, but enough to disqualify him from driving autistic children around, 34 years later?

Jeff
I fully understand that they've got to be more than careful. They went too far. It was against all procedures laid down by the Criminal Records Bureau.

Waite
After three months under suspension and dismissal a real possibility, Jeff was eventually re-instated.

As I said earlier, the law forbids employers from asking for criminal record checks unless the job in question is officially regarded as a sensitive one - and the onus is on the employer to make that distinction.

Three weeks after we broadcast the case of Jeff and others like him, it was felt necessary to drive home this point to employers via the September edition of the Criminal Records Bureau newsletter - Disclosure News,

Disclosure News
It is your responsibility to ensure applications comply with the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. Not all posts are legally entitled to be CRB checked. Just because you want a check does not mean you legally can. If a post is not listed you are not entitled to submit an application as it would be unlawful.

The newsletter also emphasises, and lists, certain jobs that should not ordinarily be subject to CRB checks. One specifically being "gardener". Which will come as news to Derek Howman - who also featured in our summer investigation. He, like Jeff, was suspended and threatened with dismissal from his job as a gardener at a residential estate in Cheshire. Having awarded him the post and allowed him to start, his employers took action after a CRB check threw up a drink-driving offence from 1996 and a conviction for stealing a lawnmower a year later. Both spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. A factor which his employers initially refused to take any account of until the Information Commissioner warned them that they had acted unlawfully. Having been fully re-instated, Mr Howman continues his gardening with no complaint from him, his employers or the residents whose communal gardens he tends.

Plenty of time to sweep up the leaves then these days?

Doman
Yes now I've got the time to sweep up the leaves, I didn't have so much time before. My wife's quite pleased to see me at home more often.

Waite
Stephen Doman is a keen gardener, and now he has plenty of time to tend the flower beds and leaves at his home in Cirencester. We found out about his case since our initial investigation in August. Stephen has impeccable security credentials, having done spells of work at MI5, GCHQ and at homes of the Royal Family. He lost his job, though, not because a criminal records search found out about his past - but because he had grave concerns about releasing his personal data to the company he worked for.

For four years, Mr Doman worked for Pearson Vue, part of the Pearson Group which includes the Financial Times. This arm of the company specializes in testing for professions like nursing and teaching. And Stephen's section carried out the theory part of people's driving test for the Driving Standards Agency.

Doman
The job entails checking people's documents. Checking, if they were going for a driving test, that they actually have a licence that's valid for that type of test. And then they go into a separate room, which is video and audio recorded, with a number of other candidates and then they come out and we check all their documentation again and that's it.

Waite
Early last year Pearson Vue announced it wanted to run checks on the criminal records on most of its 1,200 employees. But many of them, Stephen included, had severe reservations about handing over any confidential information to the company as they weren't at all sure that they could trust their employers to keep that data safe.
Because in spring 2007, the company had been involved in such a vast loss of private data that it eventually required an explanation from the then Transport Secretary, Ruth Kelly, in the House of Commons.

Ruth Kelly statement
Madam Deputy Speaker, in May this year Pearson Driving Assessments Limited, a private contractor, to the Driving Standards Agency, informed the agency that a hard disk drive had gone missing for its secure facility in Iowa City, Iowa. The hard disk drive contained the records of just over three million candidates for the driving theory test.

Doman
When they first raised the question of CRB checks one of the reasons I was concerned about the security of my information was they'd already lost millions of records in the United States and I was unhappy that my data may go to the United States where their data protection laws are far weaker than ours. So they didn't have a very good track record to start off with.

Waite
Pearson Vue employees were threatened with disciplinary action - which was generally taken to mean dismissal - if they refused to be subjected to two checks. One by Verifile, a private company which would check things like their CVs, and another by Disclosure Scotland - a Glasgow-based government agency that provides basic criminal record checks, which reveal unspent convictions and which are also subject to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.

While most employees reluctantly complied. Stephen Doman refused. Instead, he paid for his own criminal record check from Disclosure Scotland, allowing Pearson Vue the chance to see his private data but removing the need for them to store it. It confirms he has no criminal past. Yet Stephen Doman was sacked.

We asked the Driving Standards Agency, which contracts Pearson Vue to run the theory driving test, why employees were forced to undergo criminal record checks. This is what they said.

DSA statement
The DSA stipulates security checks for contractors on an individual basis, dependent on the nature of the service they provide. In the interests of protecting public data contractors who handle sensitive information would be required to undertake security checks.

Actuality - NACRO
Good afternoon NACRO helpline. Okay.

Waite
At the offices of NACRO - the crime reduction charity which originally alerted us to concerns about criminal records checks - they run a special helpline, available to employers and employees, advising for which jobs a criminal record check is likely to be legal, and for which it's not and we put Stephen Doman's case to NACRO's Ruth Jones.

Jones
We would argue that that is a case where it's not sensible to do a check. It's arguably a job that just involves working with the general public, rather than specifically working with children.

Waite
But the employers in this case, Pearson Vue, they say that the checks are necessary because those employees are handling sensitive data.

Jones
That is hardly ever a justification for a CRB check, the only instance is where an individual has access to a database about children that is specifically used by social services.

Waite
So just remind us - who can and who cannot be CRB checked?

Jones
There's something called the Exceptions Order to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, that's usually going to be if you're working with children or vulnerable adults but it does include some other jobs such as solicitors and accountants.

Waite
If you're not on that list then not only is it not appropriate it's against the law.

Jones
It is against the law and it's arguable that it's a breach of various different pieces of legislation.

Waite
Which means Stephen Doman was in effect sacked for failing to comply with a request from his employers to carry out a criminal record check which could well have been illegal. It's not a comforting thought as he shows me the check he himself obtained which confirms he has no criminal past whatsoever.

Doman
They refused to have this check from me, they said they wanted to run the process and the information. So they just ruled it out absolutely.

Waite
There will be people listening to this, though Stephen, who think you were just being awkward.

Doman
Yes I am being awkward and I'm being awkward because this affects me, it's about my personal information, it's an invasion of my privacy. As I said I started off at the beginning not objecting in principle to a CRB check and in fact doing one myself. Now I think about it more and more I think the companies should have the emphasis put on them that they have to prove why they need a CRB check, rather than me having to prove why I don't need a CRB check. And I felt so strongly about it eventually it led to my dismissal.

Waite
But is this really so important a subject to you that it's worth losing your job over?

Doman
The answer is yes because I have lost my job over it. Nobody can argue with wanting to protect children and vulnerable adults but now to see how that's crept out and is now affecting people who have no connection really with vulnerable adults or children who are doing an every day job and now they're being subjected to this sort of pressure, the threat of livelihood in some cases, I think it's just appalling in a country that's supposed to be democratic.

Jones
The system works in a sense that we are able to do checks on those people who have significant access to children and vulnerable adults and could harm them. And the main offenders, if you like, in terms of doing illegal checks, tends to be public bodies - local authorities or the National Health Service - who are very concerned about their public accountability. We had a case recently which was for a large bus company who were doing checks on all of the bus drivers, even if they only drive the public bus routes.

Waite
You would do a CRB check on somebody doing a school run wouldn't you with children?

Jones
That's correct, specifically a school run yes. And this individual had actually been told not to fill in his job title on the CRB check because I felt that if he had written bus driver that's something that CRB really should pick up on. When his CRB check came back it turns out the employer had filled it in for him and written bus driver (school). So they were clearly trying to get hold of an illegal CRB check by making it sound as if this person was a school bus driver, which he actually completely isn't. And we were actually very shocked by that because not only is an illegal check going ahead but it seems to be done through deceptive means and it makes it more difficult then for the CRB to pick up that that check is illegal.

Waite
NACRO's Ruth Jones.

Well Stephen's former employer, Pearson Vue told us:

Pearson Vue Statement
We carry out high stake examinations on a range of professions where security is paramount. We have to ensure that no candidate receives an unfair advantage through any prior knowledge of test questions and we handle sensitive data relating to candidates including personal and financial details. Pearson Vue has very robust security measures in place, including those relating to our employees and we are confident that they are appropriate.

Waite
We also put our evidence to Disclosure Scotland which carried out Stephen Doman's basic criminal records check. It said:

Disclosure Scotland Statement
Disclosure Scotland has a quality assurance process in place. On receipt of applications organisations are required to show that they are able, in law, to ask for the check that they are applying for. These organisations are also audited to ensure compliance.

Waite
And we spoke to the Criminal Records Bureau which carries out more detailed checks and they said that they regularly advise their staff and employers who is and isn't eligible for a check into their criminal history. Both agencies say they always go back to employers if they think a check is unwarranted. But no-one was able to tell us if this happened in Stephen's case.

Church Actuality - singing

Actuality - Gilbert Deya preaching

Waite
In August 2004 we reported on one of the most remarkable stories we've ever encountered on Face The Facts. The self-styled, self-proclaimed archbishop, Kenyan, Gilbert Deya in his church in south London, bringing through prayer and the Miracle of the Lord, he said, children to the childless.

After our report, the Kenyan authorities, agreed with the suspicions that we reported, namely that his service was far from miraculous - more of a racket really - a child abduction racket. And while Archbishop Deya's wife, Mary - along with other participants - have appeared in court in Kenya now and been found guilty, Mr Deya has managed to avoid facing similar charges by resisting extradition to his home country. But that legal process may be coming to an end soon - as I'll explain in a moment.

But first let's remember my visit that year to the Deya Ministries in Peckam, South London.

There must be now 20, 25 people on stage. They're holding their hands up in supplication, their eyes are mostly closed.

Actuality - Gilbert Deya
Do you believe that Jesus is able to make you pregnant?

Yes.

Do you believe?

Yes.

Are you ready to receive?

Yes.

[Indistinct words]

Waite
The archbishop has pointed to a tall girl, she's collapsed on the floor with the thought within 12 months she will have delivered a baby, a miracle baby boy.

Impressive stuff, though we had our suspicions because women delivered of these miracle babies always did so during trips to Kenya, arranged by Gilbert Deya. Where babies were always "born" away from prying eyes, in a back street clinic in a Nairobi slum. And where poor local mothers were often willing to give up a child they simply cannot afford to feed.

Well, after our investigation, a judge ruled that a child trafficking operation had indeed been going on and the archbishop's wife, Mary Deya, was given a two-year jail sentence for child abduction which she's recently finished serving. But in October last year Archbishop Deya, himself, lost his High Court appeal and was refused permission to take his case to the House of Lords too. So he will be escorted by Kenya Police to face charges there of child abduction and could face up to four years in prison. Whatever the outcome, we'll let you know.

Clip - BBC Radio Scotland
BBC Radio Scotland.

A huge rescue operation is underway at a chemical factory in the west end of Glasgow following an explosion ...

Waite
On the 11th May 2004, one of the worst factory accidents in recent British industrial history happened in Glasgow when an explosion in a plastics factory killed nine people, injured more than 30, and buried alive virtually the whole workforce. However, there are now clear signs that lessons are being learned from the tragedy and that action is being taken to prevent anything like it happening again.

When we first investigated the explosion in 2005 there seemed little prospect of the public inquiry that many wanted. That inquiry has now taken place - though as we'll hear later - many believe its scope was too narrow. That includes families who were caught up in the tragedy like Rosemary Doyle.

Doyle
During the night they'd be saying they thought they'd heard mobiles going, they thought they might be in some sort of pockets where there was air. Only when it came to the Wednesday and all of a sudden they were saying they were hearing nothing. So I personally, when we were called in to be told, I think I already knew.

Waite
Joe and Rosemary Doyle's daughter, Annette, was killed in the explosion at the Stockline factory in Maryhill. During our investigations, we heard from a worker at the plant who'd raised concerns about safety there for almost two years, reporting his fears to the Health and Safety Executive. He told us the concerns were not acted upon and he quit his job in exasperation. A few weeks later, the Stockline plant blew up.

By August 2007, the owners and operators of the Stockline factory had pleaded guilty to four breaches of the Health and Safety Act, and were fined £400,000 pounds. The cause of the explosion was established - a 40 year old gas pipe that had gone un-inspected, and had corroded, leaking petroleum gas into the cellar. Pipework, the court heard, that would have cost a few hundred pounds to repair. But, because of the guilty plea, more general information about the historic lack of a safety culture at the plant didn't emerge. Hence the demand for a full public inquiry.

Doyle
We're going to fight for a public inquiry. I'll find out exactly what happened in that factory with everything done to prevent accidents and I think that's very, very important.

Waite
It wasn't just grieving relatives like Rosemary Doyle who wanted a public inquiry. Professor Andrew Watterson of Stirling University's occupational research group and other academic experts carried out their own independent research into the safety culture at Stockline. And in their weighty report, they were strongly critical of the HSE. Criticisms the executive rejected. Professor Watterson hoped that an inquiry would finally uncover evidence that, because of the guilty plea, had been omitted from the trial.

Watterson
It didn't look in depth at a number of agencies; it didn't look at local authority role in terms of building and planning controls and inspections; it didn't look at fire inspections; it didn't look at some of the regulatory agencies like the Health and Safety Executive; it didn't hear from the workers or the ex-workers.

Waite
And so at the beginning of last year preliminary hearings began. The inquiry was held in the community hall in Maryhill - just a stone's throw from the site of the explosion and the very place where relatives were huddled that day back in 2004 waiting for news of their loved ones.

Government ministers decided that the inquiry should look into circumstances leading up to the blast, regulation and health and safety issues - and should make recommendations about lessons learned.

Over six weeks in July and October a succession of witnesses was called by the Lord Justice Clerk of Scotland, Lord Gill, including representatives of Calor Gas and the petroleum gas industries, the head of the Health and Safety Executive and directors of ICL.

The findings are due to be delivered in early spring but already some feel the scope was too limited. Andrew Watterson again:

Watterson
It explored what had led up to the explosion and the first phase of the inquiry was quite broad and looked at the role of the employer, the agencies and so on. The second phase, though, was much narrower and although the terms of reference are to investigate what led up to the explosion this seems to have been interpreted by Lord Gill as relating only to the gas explosion. And I think that's a cause for some concern because clearly the explosion related to systems and approaches and decisions that were quite broad and if you want to address these issues in the future you need to look at those factors, not just simply why does Calor gas explode and why do pipes corrode. And in fact what the inquiry has shown is that some of these problems were identified 30 years ago.

Waite
I mean do you feel if the conclusions aren't broad, if lessons across the board can't be learned, then this will be a missed opportunity?

Watterson
Yes, and I mean I think there's a worry that there have been other public inquiries that have again failed to lead to effective action and hence then further disasters have occurred and so the cycle goes on.

Waite
But information did emerge didn't it, for example it was critical of the HSE, I mean at one point it looked as though the HSE was being critical of itself and its history with this particular company?

Watterson
Yes that's true. I think it was shocking to me to see that there was this long history of problems, that often HSE inspectors had identified difficulties but that they hadn't been resolved. I think this raises questions about the number of staff one has, the powers they have, the time they have to follow things up. If there were better mechanisms to listen in to workers, as well as supporting inspectors to enforce the law effectively I think that this catastrophe would have been avoided.

Waite
During the inquiry, the personal testimonies of factory workers were only heard in statement form, as was the crucial submission of the whistle blower, who'd tried so hard and for so long to warn the Health and Safety Executive of what was going on at Stockline. Neither were any of the families of the deceased called to give evidence. All of which has rather soured the hopes of the academics, unions and family members involved. As I discovered when I went back to Glasgow a couple of weeks ago to attend a meeting that had been arranged for people to share their thoughts.

Actuality - Meeting
Okay, just like to welcome everybody along to the meeting tonight. Obviously it's a few weeks now since the ....

Waite
Certainly for Joe and Rosemary Doyle, the inquiry's narrow scope had not delivered justice for their daughter.

Doyle
It was our daughter's birthday on the 1st December and the only way we could celebrate it is by putting flowers down at the memorial garden and flowers up at the graveyard. I mean these people are paid a fine and they can get on with their lives and celebrate Christmas and for us there'll always be that missed person.

Joe Doyle
What we go through you don't want anybody else to go through, so that's why you fight for these things. And yet okay it may not be relevant in the sense that we could add evidence to it but you could give them what it is in real cost. It seems like the gas and all the different things, everything like that is replaceable, human beings aren't.

Rosemary Doyle
It's just, you know, it's just not fair. Accidents happen but what happened there wasn't an accident and they paid their full price of a company not heeding health and safety.

Waite
One development that is due to start shortly, is the setting up of a new unit of specialist lawyers, within the Crown Office in Scotland, who in future will concentrate exclusively on working with the Health and Safety executive to pursue companies - like ICL Stockline - who fail to discharge their responsibilities under the health and safety law and bring them to justice.

Elaine Taylor who led the successful prosecution team at the ICL Stockline trial, will be the new unit's head.

Taylor
The inquiry into the disaster in Maryhill had a significant impact on me as an individual. Following my work on that I was delighted that there was a specialist unit being set up to prosecute health and safety offences.

Waite
I mean this is a specialist unit now that you're heading, a new one, it joins specialist units being planned for terrorism, a specialist unit up and running for rape, so this does show how important health and safety is to the Crown Office in Scotland?

Taylor
Absolutely. The highest standard of prosecution in these cases is what we wish to achieve. People need to go to their work and feel that they're safe and if effective prosecution of cases results in that that must be surely the only thing that we're aiming for.

Waite
Another area of concern, that was raised by the Stockline case, is the relatively small fine meted out to the owners of the factory. This was the Doyle's reaction to the £400,000.

Rosemary Doyle
I'm bitterly disappointed and I think our daughter's life is worth a lot more than that. And so I didn't think the fine justified what had happened.

Joe Doyle
When we heard how much it would cost to reinstate the gas piping and things like that it was petty cash money and yet, as you say the fine was £400,000 but I think the repair would have been £400 and nine lives were lost and many others were seriously injured through - for the sake of £400.

Waite
The law requires that any fine in such cases should take into account the financial health of the company that the penalty is levied against. Because if it's too onerous, it might sink the company and put people out of work. Lord Brodie, the judge in the Stockline court case, bore this in mind when setting the £400,000 fine.

But MSP Bill Wilson says that currently, judges have no choice but to rely on companies' own estimates of their finances. Which, he believes, all too often are under estimates. So, at his office in the Scottish Parliament, he's working on a new way to ensure that negligent businesses pay for their crimes.

Wilson
First of all we don't have the power - the courts don't have the power to order independent inquiries into companies' finances, that means therefore they rely on the company and this is a bit like a judge saying to a burglar - you really are a terribly naughty boy, now how much of a fine can you pay? There's a second problem - it was acknowledged by the judge - but there's a genuine concern that the company would be put out of business and judges are often worried that they put the company out of business and now the people who have just suffered this terrible effect have a second terrible effect - they're all out of a job.

Waite
So what would your solution be then - how to make it fairer all round so the company pays something it can afford to but something that reflects its worth but that it doesn't imperil the workers losing their jobs?

Wilson
I've brought forward a members bill which is two proposals. One is to allow courts to order independent inquiries into a convicted company's finances and the cost of that would be met by the convicted company. So that means the courts have a very, very clear idea of how much the company's going to do and more importantly would give the courts some idea of what was coming on line, I mean a large coal company was recently fined what seemed like a reasonable sum of money until you consider the fact that for the next 10 years were going to make something like 700 million, from a new deal they'd just signed and I'm not sure that deal was included in part of the final judgement decision. So that kind of thing I think would be covered by an independent inquiry.

Waite
So you'd have forensic accountants really going over the books to make sure that people aren't covering up just what they're worth?

Wilson
Nicely summaried. My second proposal is to introduce the principle of equity fines. The idea of an equity fine is that the company has to issue equity and that will push the share price down and that means that people actually profit from these crimes, which are ultimately shareholders, are the people that pay the price. Now it wouldn't apply in the case of Stockline because the equity fine only applies to public reported companies, so it's just one more weapon in the armoury of fairer penalties.

Waite
Was this inspired really by Stockline?

Wilson
The Stockline report, the first report, actually mentions equity fines as part of the report and I put forward a motion saying I thought this was a good idea. One of the authors of the report then contacted me and it developed from there. We've been waiting a long time for anything to happen, we're not seeing a decline in industrial offences, we're not seeing a decline in industrial deaths and we cannot let this slip off the agenda. Injury in the name of profit is not acceptable.

Waite
Well Dr Wilson has yet to get his bill through, but the Special Prosecution Unit starts work next month. And we'll keep you posted as to how it gets on.

You're listening to a special New Year edition of Face the Facts on BBC Radio 4 with me John Waite, where we're updating some of the stories we've covered in recent years.

And we continue with some good news. Around 150 Iraqis have been allowed
the chance to build a new life here in the UK after being subjected to violence and death threats by fellow countrymen who regard them as traitors. And 350 more have accepted financial help made available by the British government. These were people who, in the months following the Western invasion in March 2003, acted as interpreters for British forces in Iraq as they, along with the Americans, set about toppling Saddam Hussein. Alan Wheatley is general secretary of the Institute of Interpreters, which represents interpreters around the world.

Wheatley
The interpreter is on the front line, it's actually the interpreter who is standing talking to Iraqis in the street or maybe even the insurgents.

Waite
So they're literally the voice of the British forces?

Wheatley
They are the voice of the British forces. No one else in the British forces is able to communicate with these people, so they have to use Iraqi native speakers.

Waite
The support now being offered to these vital players in the military engagement in Iraq, by the British authorities, stands in stark contrast to the indifference with which they were being regarded, when we first broadcast their plight in July 2007. Then Iraqi civilian staff were being told they could only be offered protection while at the British army garrison or that the priority was the safety of British forces. Indeed, when we tried to raise the issue with the government, no-one from the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office or the Foreign Office was willing to appear on the programme.

An attitude to their former employees somewhat at odds with other governments - like the American and Danish - who were providing the right to asylum to those Iraqis who had become targets as a result of their involvement on the side of the West.

Loay Mohammed Al-Tahar began working as an interpreter for the British in July 2003, just a couple of months after Saddam's statue was toppled. He was on the front-line and his duties included helping to detain dangerous enemies of the coalition occupation.

Loay
Two of my interpreters have been assassinated and I got a threat text message saying that if I'm not going to stop working with British I will be killed. The first one they kidnapped him and tortured him and then he got bullet in the head.

Waite
A bullet in the head?

Loay
Yeah a bullet in the head. On the second one they just beheaded him.

Waite
And did you think that you were next?

Loay
Yeah, that's why I left Iraq.

Waite
For some civilians, like Loay, who worked for Western forces - the threats of violence became a bloody and grisly reality. Alan Wheatley has been shown video footage of what are in effect executions.

Wheatley
An Iraqi interpreter had been filmed being dragged out of his house into the middle of the street, his throat was cut with a blunt knife and he was stabbed in the chest a number of times and then died in the street. They film their death squads and then they circulate the movie and this is to warn others not to work for the coalition forces.


Waite
Believing that he, too, might be murdered, as personal friends and colleagues already had been, in March, 2007, Loay fled to a neighbouring country. We've been asked by the Home Office not to say which one. But anyway Loay found the British authorities there were no more sympathetic.

Loay
The guard said we are not allowed to let you in because you are an Iraqi and we've got informed from British staff not to let any Iraqi in, they just didn't let us in.

Waite
Another interpreter Yatsi - not his real name - went into hiding in Iraq with his wife, three children and an elderly father after he and his brother were threatened by the militia. We therefore had to speak to him on a very variable mobile phone line. Yatsi's skills as a senior interpreter were welcomed by a series of British army units for three years. But when he turned to a former colleague for help to get out it was a different story.

Yatsi
He said, what can we do for you. I told him. He said he can do nothing for me just to help me to leave the country. He said I will talk to my superiors. Then we arranged a date to meet but he wasn't able to meet me and also when I tried to phone him each time he doesn't answer me. I used my wife's phone to call him then he answered because he didn't know the number. And even I phoned another military base and so now I'm trying to call them but no answer and no help.

Waite
Well the first sign that this official British indifference looked like changing - two months after our first investigation - was in September 2007 when Gordon Brown made this statement in the House of Commons.

Gordon Brown statement
And I'm pleased therefore to announce today a new policy which more fully recognises the contribution made by our local Iraqi staff who work for our armed forces and civilian missions in what we know are uniquely difficult circumstances. So existing staff, who have been employed by us for more than 12 months and have completed their work, will be able to apply for a package of financial payments to aid resettlement in Iraq or elsewhere in the region or in agreed circumstances for admission to the UK.

Six weeks ago Yatsi flew, with his wife and young children, across the border to Amman in Jordan - in order to start the asylum process with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, applicants have to be in a "third" country. He's now had two interviews so far, outlining to officials the dangers he faces in Iraq. I spoke to him on the line in Amman to ask how much longer the process could take.

Yatsi
Between three, four, till five months. Some interpreters have been interviewed for four or five times, so we don't know how long we are going to stay here in Jordan.

Waite
And what are you living on?

Yatsi
We have pocket money paid to us by the British Embassy. I have my wife and three kids but now they are doing nothing because we got here in the beginning of the study season. So we have to wait for the next year.

Waite
But I mean everything is on hold for you - your children are out of education, you don't have very much money, just pocket money, you're not even certain how long this process will take or whether you'll be successful at the end. The strains must be very considerable.

Yatsi
Yes, to be honest, everything is unclear. I don't know what's waiting for me and what I expect to be done.

Waite
Well life, at least, is a little more certain for Loay. He is now entitled to live in Britain and he's enrolled on an English course here at Bolton Community College as part of his resettlement package.

Loay
The accommodation is okay, it's two bedroom house but we don't have a washing machine and no TV.

Waite
It's a council house?

Loay
Yeah it is.

This is my house. Please come in.

Waite
Thank you. Cold out there.

Loay
And this is the living room. [Indistinct words]

Waite
Two chairs and that's it.

Loay
That's it yeah. The kitchen is here. Cooker and fridge.

Waite
Oh, well yes, um. Not the newest cooker in the world but the fridge is nice isn't it. Shall we go upstairs?

What did you do for all that time waiting for your application?

Loay
Actually it was very hard, it was - even the taxi drivers call people who work for the occupation forces collaborators, traitors and they've got many names for us.

Waite
So all this time you're hoping to apply to come here to Britain and tell me about the application process, what was that like?

Loay
It was like turtle steps because it was very slow and it was almost two years.

Waite
You call them turtle steps.

Loay
Yeah turtle steps.

Waite
As slow as a tortoise or a turtle. What do you miss the most now you're here?

Loay
I miss my family so much because I haven't seen them for almost two years. My mother, two sisters and four brothers. My youngest sister is married and all the others are in school. My father is dead, he died eight years ago, so my mum is working now.

Waite
So a lot of bills for your mum to pay.

Loay
Every time I phone my mum she starts crying. I wish I was there to help her.

Waite
So now you're here, what are your plans? What did you - what was your profession Loay in Iraq?

Loay
I graduated from veterinary medicine college.

Waite
So you're a vet?

Loay
Yeah. But unfortunately I didn't do the practise because I fled before doing so.

Waite
Are you going to retrain then as a vet over here if you can?

Loay
Yeah actually they told me I have to study more two years to get British qualifications here. I studied five years in Iraq and I have to study more two years here. At least I feel safe here and no one is looking for me.

Waite
By the way, the Home Office was keen to tell us that a significant number of Iraqis who worked as civilian staff for British Forces, have opted to stay in Iraq to continue helping rebuild their country. They believe, and I quote the Home Office statement, that "the security situation is improving and they can see themselves having a positive future there".

Finally we return to a story that we first investigated in the summer of 2007. We revealed that people who live on mobile home parks have fewer rights with regard to their homes than almost any other group of citizens in Britain. Most buy those familiar narrow trailer caravans but they don't own the land beneath. And if they decide to sell up, the owner of the mobile home site has to approve who they can sell to. Unscrupulous owners can reject all buyers, knowing that a desperate seller may then eventually let their trailer go at a bargain price - to them. It's an imbalance of power, which is exacerbated by the fact that many mobile home residents are either poor, elderly or in bad health or even sometimes all three. Lord Graham of Edmonton is secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Group that campaigns on behalf of mobile home park residents.

Graham
They decide that their home is worth 50,000, they go to an estate agent and the estate agent says it's a fair price and he finds a buyer. According to the law the owner of that place must advice the owner of the site that he has sold the place and give them 28 days notice. The owner doesn't reply until the last minute when he sends for the prospective purchaser and says I don't know why you're buying this place it's falling down, I intend to move it, it's a bad buy and he puts the buyer off. So the estate agent says well look this is the third time this has happened, I'll try once more and he does the same. And then the owner says: "Well look I realise your problem I'll give you £7,000." And the chap says: "Well I paid £22,000 three years ago, it's now worth 50, you offer me seven and say take it or leave it." And I've got my files, I've got a number of cases where the people have settled simply in order to get away.

Waite
That tactic that Lord Graham mentioned there - of condemning the condition of existing trailer homes - works to the advantage of a disreputable mobile home park owner. They can earn huge profits from selling brand new mobile homes rather than just collecting ground rents from old ones.

Gladys - not her real name - lived in a mobile home park in the West Midlands. Despite her ill-health, she was very happy there and envisaged spending the rest of her days on the Bromsgrove site. But that changed early in 2007 after three mobile homes were set on fire in the dead of night. Gladys, along with other residents, became increasingly desperate to leave. Sixteen out of 38 on the park asked the council to rehouse them because they were so frightened.

Gladys
I happened to wake up and the sky looked all like red, so I got out of bed and looked through my curtain and I saw the blaze.

Waite
And the owners of the site Simey and John Doherty were only to happy to buy their homes from them - but for nowhere near what they were worth.

Gladys
He said I want you to copy what's there - I so and so and so will sell my home to Mr John Doherty for £1! And I looked and I said: "I haven't had no £1 off you." He said: "No but I'm going to give you a £1." And he give it me in change and he said: "Have a go on the lottery and if you win remember me."

Waite
Now however neither John nor Simey Doherty will be making any more derisory offers for the homes in which elderly people like Gladys have invested their life savings, at least they won't be for the foreseeable future.

Graham
Now, as it happens, the local police - and I pay credit to them - they took this very seriously and they finally brought the owner and his cohorts to court. And they were found guilty.

Waite
Lord Graham. Well the two brothers along with five other men were convicted in connection with the three arson attacks and blackmail. Detectives called it a campaign of terror to force elderly residents from their homes.

Judge Alistair McCreath, who heard the case at Worcester Crown Court, accused the men of "ruthless arrogance" and he said the residents were so afraid that no one would dare do anything to stop them. The maximum jail sentence for blackmail is 14 years - we'll find out what exactly they receive when they are sentenced next month.

Not all mobile park owners are anything like the Dohertys of course. Nevertheless, there are still a number of bad apples. Take Christopher Nedic, he owned the mobile home park where Dorothy Pritchard lived. She's in her 80s and had been trying to sell her two bedroom home on Oxley Court Mobile Home Park in Wolverhampton for the past two years.

And when she put it on the market for £90,000 in May 2005, she had a cash buyer within a week.

Dorothy
I thought lovely. My luck to think ooh thank goodness for that like.

Waite
Dorothy hadn't been too well, and so was preparing to move out of her home of 19 years and into sheltered accommodation. But, like others, Mr Nedic exercised his legal right to vet all potential purchasers. And after Dorothy's buyer met Mr Nedic he pulled out.

Well, posing as someone interested in buying Dorothy Pritchard's home, I rang Mr Nedic up. Much wiser, he told me, would be to buy a brand new home from him, rather than Dorothy's old one.

Nedic
We got a report in from a structural engineer and he says the roof - the ceiling is all gone. To be honest with you they've been [indistinct word] for two years nearly.

Waite
If it's falling apart will it last, will it stay on the site?

Nedic
I don't think so, between me and you, no. The one particular by the canal?

Waite
That's the one.

Nedic
Yeah, well that one's a pretty - in a bad way.

Waite
So it's going to go is it?

Nedic
It's going to go yeah, yeah. The windows have been put in, it's been bodged up to death and - bodged up, shall I say. It's rotten. You're better off paying the extra and have a brand new one.

Waite
We later received a statement from Mr Nedic, in which he strenuously denied blocking sales and added that most of the residents on his park are content. Nor, h e said, does he advise potential buyers that older homes are going to be scrapped. Thankfully for residents like Gladys and Dorothy a re-think of the law covering mobile home parks is now underway. With the Department for Communities and Local Government launching a consultation this month. And Lord Graham told me how he believes the law will change in favour of residents.

Graham
It's a scandal that they don't get the protection. Now I believe it's coming. If you have a dispute instead of the owner saying get off my land, you can do what you like, you can now use tribunals which exist now for rents will also be available for them. And you can go there and you can plead your case and the great thing is they're cheap, they do not mean that you've got to employ a barrister and spend thousands of pounds and once they get the facts and the decision is made the county court has the right to insist that the arbitration ruling will be effective. The problem is that many of the residents are ignorant of their rights and the department, to its credit, have worked and consulted and they've produced factsheets which I understand are going out this year. Now whether in actual fact the timid widow or the disabled man with a wife who's not well is willing to take on - because there are bully boys, I make no bones about it - but I've got names of people who literally are bullies and my blood boils when I hear how they treat people who have served this country well.

Waite
Lord Graham

And the British Holiday and Home Parks Association - which represents site owners says it can't see the law changed soon enough either. Ros Pritchard, its Director General, says the behaviour of an unscrupulous few has tarnished the reputation of the caring and conscientious majority of mobile park owners.

Pritchard
There will be a consultation to be launched in the new year, as we understand it, to introduce a fit and proper person regime into the licensing of park owners and managers. One test of fit and proper would be that you had no convictions for breach of mobile homes law, no convictions for harassment and that therefore you were shown to be a good park owner who worked within the law. My hope is that the fit and proper test will actually drive those who want to harass people, rogues, away from the industry because this will become an industry where they cannot derive their living.

Waite
Indeed Ros Pritchard points out that the association has been pressing for a "fit and proper person" test for all mobile park owners, for many years.

So on that relatively happy note we come to the end of this special edition of Face the Facts. There'll be another series in July, and another one at this time next year, so as we get many of our best stories from listeners, if you think you've come across a subject that deserves investigation, do please get in touch. You can call us on 0800 044 044 or e-mail us via the Face the Facts website - follow the links from bbc.co.uk and from Radio 4.

Thank you for listening and a happy New Year. On Monday at four minutes past twelve You and Yours returns.
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