Shooting conviction councillor will not have to quit

A legal loophole means a Southwark councillor convicted and jailed for firearms offences abroad will not have to stand down from office.

The government is pledging to bring in new rules which would stop people who have been convicted of an offence abroad from becoming local councillors here.

Despite serving three years of a six year sentence in California for assault with a handgun, UK law did not require Councillor Stephen Govier to declare it.

In May 1997 the man he shot, actor and producer Martin DeLuca, went to 611 North Curson Avenue in West Hollywood to buy cocaine.

The man supplying him was a former friend but the transaction went badly wrong.

'Minor miracle'

Shot in the head at point blank range by local cocaine dealer and then addict Stephen Govier, Mr DeLuca claims he was left for dead.

"He shot me with this huge gun. Just pointed it straight at my head and I turned to one side and boom. He just shot me."

The District Attorney at the time, Stephen Barshop, said that within weeks investigators had identified the culprit and he had confessed to the shooting.

Mr Barshop, now retired, said: "This guy was going to the joint. He made all kinds of excuses, like he was sitting in my 'favourite chair' and he had cocked the barrel so he didn't think it would fire.

"But that doesn't wash; you simply don't point a gun at someone's head and shoot."

Hospital records show that Mr DeLuca's survival was a minor miracle.

A cocktail of legal drugs now stop regular seizures and anxiety attacks caused by bullet fragments left in his skull.

He still lives a few blocks away from the scene of the shooting.

"I stayed in hospital for a month, I was blind, paralysed and needed constant help at home for nearly two years.

"Doctors said I would never see again, would not recover my speech and would always suffer from loss of hearing. But I was determined to live."

High on cocaine

Stephen Govier was later charged with attempted murder and convicted of assault with a firearm. He was sent to the Federal Penitentiary in Chino, California.

He was deported to the UK from the United States on 24 June 2002, the day of his release on parole from prison.

Image caption Martin DeLuca will spend the rest of his life on medication as a result of a gunshot to his head

In a previous statement to BBC London in February, Mr Govier claimed he had shot an intruder.

He failed to mention that he pulled the trigger whilst he was high on cocaine and alcohol. So serious was his addiction, Mr Govier could only fund it by dealing.

Mr Barshop said: "He said he shot an intruder. That is not true. He said he admitted to the crime on strict liability. That was not true.

"I think anyone can lie effectively. I've seen a lot of liars in my time."

To date Mr Govier maintains the voting public does not have a right to know about his past and he does not need to resign.

'Horrendous experiences'

Given the opportunity to comment, Mr Govier issued this statement: "After serving a prison sentence in the US, having accepted my own wrongdoing, I returned to the UK and my life and work has been in and for the community.

"Having put behind me the horrendous experiences of some 14 years ago, I remain committed to continuing to serve the community."

Mr Barshop said he was surprised when told that Mr Govier had been elected without needing to reveal his previous conviction.

He said: "If a person chooses to run for public office, the public has an absolute right to know about their criminal past."

Image caption US inmate details released by the Californian authorities show the councillor's firearms conviction

Mr Govier was this week convicted of a drink driving offence and banned from driving 20 months at Camberwell Green court.

English law means that even the most serious crimes of murder or sexual offences, as long as they are committed overseas, do not bar a candidate from seeking office or staying in position if the truth is revealed.

Grant Shapps, Minister in the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), has conceded that the electorate would be rightly concerned if a candidate or councillor has been found guilty of having committed a criminal offence.

A DCLG statement to BBC London said: "The Government wants to see the highest standards of conduct from local politicians.

"The Department for Communities and Local Government is working on clarifying the rules on appointment and disqualification of councillors, including how sentences handed down by foreign courts should be taken into account."

But as the law now stands, the authorities simply cannot know how widespread the problem is or the risk it may pose to the public.

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