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28 Nov 2006 : Column 61WH—continued

In addition, my hon. Friend will want to know some of the local figures. He should be aware that police
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officer numbers have increased by more in north Wales than in England and Wales over the 10-year period between 1996-97 and 2005-06—the respective figures are 18 per cent. and 11 per cent. In 1997, there were 1,369 police officers in north Wales, which compares with 1,617 in 2006. Support staff numbers in north Wales rose from 476 in 1997 to 882 in 2006. Alongside all that, total Government funding for policing in north Wales increased by 44.5 per cent. between 1997-98 and 2006-07.

It is worth reporting that such things have had a dramatic impact on crime. The overall level of recorded crime in north Wales decreased by 6 per cent. between 2004-05 and 2005-06. Let us consider my hon. Friend’s constituency. I think that he made the point that the overall level of crime in Wrexham fell by 8 per cent. during the same period, which is again a big decrease. I go through those figures because, as he says, it is important to set out the context of increased investment in north Wales and Wrexham, and the consequent reduction in overall crime.

My hon. Friend spoke eloquently and passionately about the need for local authorities to be fully engaged with community policing. I could not agree with him more strongly. Neighbourhood policing is the bedrock of modern policing; a fundamental rewiring is being led enthusiastically by police officers, police community support officers and staff across England and Wales to make the police service more responsive, locally accountable and citizen-focused. The approach is transforming policing at a local level to meet the needs of communities. Neighbourhood policing is here to stay because we know that it works.

The evaluation findings of the national reassurance policing programme demonstrated that in the wards with neighbourhood policing activity the reduction in crime was twice as high as in wards without it, and the increase in public confidence in the police was five times greater. The public also thought that antisocial behaviour reduced. In one such ward, the number of people who thought that having teenagers hanging around was a problem fell from 70 to 54 per cent., while in the comparison ward without neighbourhood policing the number of people perceiving a problem with young people increased from 52 to 57 per cent.

In my hon. Friend’s constituency the same sort of statistic could doubtless be used to demonstrate that where neighbourhood policing is effectively used with everybody contributing—the police, PCSOs, the local authority and neighbourhood wardens—there is a reduction not only in crime but in the fear of crime. I know that he would agree with that.

We know that neighbourhood policing teams can make a difference, but we also know only too well that many of the problems facing our communities are not in the police’s gift to solve. We all know that local government controls many of the levers that can reduce crime, from street lighting to youth services. As my hon. Friend mentioned, local authorities are crucial to reducing crime. Wrexham council will be no different to any other in that regard. It needs to be seen, and it must act, in a way that demonstrates that it is playing its full part in the improvement of community safety and respect.

We are optimistic about local authority engagement in neighbourhood policing, although such involvement
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can be varied. The recent local government White Paper “Strong and Prosperous Communities” creates a stronger role for local authorities as local leaders. It will help that by ensuring that local authorities provide more visible leadership on community safety, with an expectation that the portfolio holder plays an important role on the crime and disorder reduction partnership.

Ian Lucas: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is possible for local authorities, within the budgets that they have, to contribute to the employment of PCSOs and to employ neighbourhood wardens themselves, given the importance of community policing to our constituents?

Mr. Coaker: It is certainly possible for that to happen. Although it is for local authorities to determine how they spend their money, it is possible for them to contribute towards PCSOs and to have neighbourhood wardens should they choose to do so. Indeed, my own local authority does just that: it has a neighbourhood warden service for reassurance purposes and it contributes money towards six PCSOs to enhance neighbourhood policing in Gedling in Nottinghamshire. I thank my hon. Friend for the opportunity to make that point.

Another key aim of the White Paper is ensuring that local authorities and the police have a coherent set of priorities and targets to work towards, rather than pulling in different directions, with a shared set of targets on community safety that partners will be held jointly accountable for meeting. Strengthening the commitment of other key partners to community safety is also crucial. There is a proposal for a new duty to have regard to the targets agreed in local area agreements.

Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): I commend my local council, West Lancashire district council, on its commitment, on partnership working in tackling crime and on working with the police on more practical solutions than merely “hug a hoodie”. As a result of that joint working, we are getting another seven and a half PCSO posts in April next year, six of which will be in an area where antisocial behaviour is very bad. Without such partnership working, we would not be able to do that, and I commend that kind of activity.

Mr. Coaker: I thank my hon. Friend for mentioning that example of neighbourhood policing. The involvement of the local authority in neighbourhood policing is crucial. That is the point that I am making to my hon. Friends today. Neighbourhood policing means neighbourhood management: the involvement of the local authority, the police and other partners. I know that such an approach is being taken in many areas. We want it to happen in all areas.

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I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham has a particular interest in neighbourhood wardens. As he knows, the responsibility for them rests with the Department for Communities and Local Government generally, although in Wales it lies with the Welsh Assembly. I have also said to him that the responsibility for community safety is a shared one. We all know that different communities will have different needs. Having said that, it is up to a local authority to take decisions in its own area. It is clear that neighbourhood wardens can play an important part in neighbourhood policing—they do so in many areas—notwithstanding the increase in the role of the PCSOs and the increase in the number of police officers.

My hon. Friend might be interested to know that evaluation research commissioned in 2003 by the DCLG found that neighbourhood wardens had a number of key impacts, including reducing both the fear of crime and actual crime, and increasing communities’ satisfaction that low-level antisocial behaviour is being tackled. There is clearly a direct correlation between the work of a neighbourhood warden and that of a PCSO, although there are key differences between those two roles.

My hon. Friend made a point about the difference that had been seen in Wrexham as a result of the use of neighbourhood wardens alongside the police and PCSOs. Neighbourhood wardens can enjoy a close relationship with some members of their community for the simple reason that they are not always seen to be part of the police service itself and their role is different. That can make a huge difference.

Neighbourhood wardens have a role to play, and we are working with the DCLG to see how we can develop the links between them and neighbourhood policing teams without destroying the important independence of the wardens. The points that my hon. Friend raised are clearly a matter of concern and I hope that discussions will continue at a local level about how best they can be resolved. He made that point clear. We hope that there will be discussion between all the various partners to try to overcome the difficulties that he mentions.

I am delighted to be here today to talk about PCSOs, because my hon. Friends will remember that when we introduced them they were regarded as policing on the cheap and as something that would not be successful. In fact, they have made a radical contribution to the whole community safety agenda. I want to see them rolled out further. Neighbourhood policing is being rolled out, and all the various partners—wardens, PCSOs, neighbourhood police, local authorities and others—have a key role to play in introducing not only a model of neighbourhood policing but an entire model of neighbourhood management. Such a model will bring about not only a reduction in crime but a belief on the part of the ordinary people that the fear of crime can also be reduced.

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International Arrest Warrants

1.30 pm

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): During the past two years, two men from Cowes have been unjustly imprisoned abroad. Months have been taken out of their lives and a huge amount of time and expense have been devoted to securing their release. Both were eventually released without a stain on their character, but they and two others in my constituency are now prevented from plying their lawful trade of delivering boats to foreign countries or travelling abroad. In short, all four are prisoners in their own country. One of them told me recently how helpful the Foreign Office had been to him in 1979 when it funded his health care when he had been robbed and was ill and destitute in Togo. He said:

He would not say that of this story.

In 1997, the former Royal Navy vessel, HMS Cygnet, was sold by Her Majesty’s Government. The buyer, who renamed her Duanas, wanted her delivered to Morocco and recruited a crew through a reputable international agency, Crewseekers Ltd. Its website describes it as

It continues:

Among them are John Packwood, Henry Stableford, Oliver Bennett and Colin Bocquillon from Cowes on the Isle of Wight. They were paid £40 a day to deliver the Duanas to its new owner in Morocco. In short, they did what thousands of Britons, some professional and some amateur, do every day.

On arrival in port at Agadir on 11 April 1997, the Duanas and her crew were thoroughly searched, and were given the all-clear by Moroccan customs officials. The job was done and the crew flew home to England on 13 April. However, unbeknown to my four constituents, the Duanas’s new owners were members of a Colombian drug cartel. Ten weeks after she was delivered and the Cowes crew had returned home, the Colombians used the boat to smuggle 6 tonnes of cocaine in Moroccan waters. They were caught on 25 June and having given full and detailed confessions they were convicted. The miscreants consistently stated that they had no connection with any of the Cowes crew and that the drugs were brought aboard the Duanas only on the day that she sailed. The Cowes crew’s association with the Duanas was thoroughly explored by Interpol after the event and was dismissed as being wholly innocent.

Seven years passed and in October 2004, John Packwood was holidaying in Spain. He was arrested under an international arrest warrant that had been issued in Morocco in 1997. Spain’s extradition treaty with Morocco, in the fashion of the European arrest warrant, does not require the applicant to demonstrate a prima facie case against the accused. I call this a no-fault treaty. Having languished in Spanish jails for
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11 months, attempting unsuccessfully to challenge extradition, Mr. Packwood was finally deported to Morocco in September 2005. Once there, he spent another month on remand. Having presented a comprehensive dossier of evidence illustrating his innocence to the Moroccan authorities and with support from many public figures including Mariella Frostrup, Damien Hirst, Hugh Grant, George Clooney and, on a more mundane level, myself, he was graciously pardoned before trial by His Majesty the King of Morocco. Put thus, it sounds easy. I know that the Minister knows that it was not and I thank him for the consular support, with visits and advice, that he and his office gave at that time. However, for Mr. Packwood, as for his friends and his lawyers, uncertainty reigned. He was incarcerated for more than a year, his legal bill exceeded £80,000, and he cannot work outside the UK. Mr. Packwood’s lawyer, Jason McCue of H2O Law, feared that that needless and protracted detention might be repeated. We petitioned the Moroccan authorities, Interpol and the Minister’s Department for the outstanding international arrest warrants against all four crew to be rescinded, but our requests were unproductive.

In consequence, on 16 October this year another wholly innocent Cowes resident, Henry Stableford, was arrested. Mr. Stableford had been employed at a boatyard in Fano in Italy. Following Mr. Packwood’s release last year, he assumed that the warrant was no longer active. None the less, before travelling to Italy, he took the precaution of checking with the Italian authorities and was assured that there was no barrier to travel. However, when he arrived in Fano and applied for the Italian equivalent of a national insurance number, alarm bells rang, the Moroccan warrant was activated and he was arrested and kept in solitary confinement. Again, he was subject to no-fault extradition proceedings. Mr. McCue sought a diplomatic solution with Morocco and suggested that the deadline set for filing the extradition request might have passed, which would result in his client’s release on procedural grounds. Morocco’s reasons for taking this course are not known, but that is what happened.

On 15 November, Mr. Stableford was finally freed by the Italians, having spent more than 30 fraught days needlessly incarcerated. That was not and still is not the end of Mr. Stableford’s ordeal. First, despite wishing to return home as soon as possible, he knew that if his passport was properly processed on leaving Italy he could be arrested again. He chose to fly via the provincial Bologna Forli airport, which has less rigorous security procedures, but even there he could have been re-arrested. Members of his family, his friends, his lawyers and I were therefore enormously relieved when he touched down at Stansted airport on 16 November. Secondly, we all agreed that neither he nor any other member of the crew could with confidence travel overseas again until the matter of the arrest warrants was cleared up.

The issues on which I seek the Minister’s help are as follows. First, how does someone find out whether a warrant or an extradition treaty exists? Outstanding international arrest warrants prevent my four constituents from travelling abroad. How can any other ordinary visitor check before travelling whether such a warrant exists? How can they find out whether an
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extradition treaty exists between the country that they are bound for and a country that may have issued such a warrant? How can they find out whether it is a no-fault treaty?

These points are not academic. Eight Britons await trial in Morocco at the moment. My constituents left their boat 10 weeks before it was used for criminal activities, yet still a warrant was issued. Anyone who hires a car or rents a hotel room could find themselves arrested in a third country in circumstances similar to those of John Packwood and Henry Stableford. In a world in which huge numbers of people each year visit countries—10 years ago that would have been impossible—this is wholly unacceptable. Neither Interpol nor the Serious Organised Crime Agency is required even to confirm that such warrants exist and Interpol seems immune to representations from hon. Members. What course of action does the Foreign Office recommend for such people, other than to stay at home?

Secondly, how can a warrant be discharged? When warrants are in place, how can we prevent them from impeding people’s free movement? Neither Interpol nor Morocco responded to requests after Mr. Stableford’s arrest to find out whether it was merely administrative oversight that had left the warrants in place. What action could the Foreign Office take? They told Mr. McCue:

Mr. Stableford’s legal team, led by Mr. McCue, was assiduous, and on a previous occasion it was not paid for the work that it did. They were doing their best, but surely an intervention in that matter is not interference, when Foreign Office-recommended local lawyers stated that the issue of the arrest warrant was in no way solvable by judicial channels but was, instead, a “political matter”.

Each traveller’s dilemma is circular. If one does not know that a warrant exists, one cannot take steps to have it set aside. One is unlikely to know that a warrant exists until one is arrested under it, in which case one will almost certainly have been arrested in a third country and not enjoy easy access to British lawyers, let alone lawyers who have rights of audience in the extraditing country. To cap it all, Moroccan lawyers advised that a warrant could be rescinded only if the subject of the warrant were exonerated at full trial.

Thirdly, will the Foreign Office facilitate interviews with my constituents on British soil? Apart from brief contact with Interpol in 1997, neither it, the Moroccan authorities nor the Serious Organised Crime Agency has interviewed any of my constituents anywhere about the allegations on which the warrants are based.

Fourthly, will the Foreign Office defend a British citizen’s right to due process? Mr. Packwood’s rights were violated in Spain, where he was remanded despite a complete absence of prima facie evidence, but the Foreign Office failed to intervene. Failing to rescind a redundant international arrest warrant, despite repeated requests, is an equally serious abuse. The question is:
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when would the Foreign Office intervene? There must come a point when a judicial process is so fatally flawed that it is no longer entitled to that description and the Foreign Office has no option but to abandon its policy of non-interference.

Fifthly, will the Foreign Office intervene when extradition treaties appear to be contrary to European Union law? The treaties under which my constituents were apprehended permit the extradition of Britons, but not of Spaniards or, as the case may be, of Italians. That appears to break EU law, which requires equal treatment of all EU citizens before the legal processes of individual EU countries.

My friend Dan Hannan MEP, with Caroline Lucas MEP, is pursuing the matter through the European institutions to ensure that Britons are not discriminated against. Will the Minister support them and also raise those cases directly with Spain and Italy? It must be made clear to other EU countries that if it is unacceptable to extradite their citizens, it is unacceptable to extradite ours.

Finally, what can be done about the conflicting roles of the Foreign Office? It has consular and diplomatic roles to fulfil. Our country has global interests and the Foreign Office has to operate at a geopolitical level, but the impression is that its duty to the many overrides its duty to the individual. I understand the need to balance them, but it is of little solace to the friends and families of people in prison.

As Mariella Frostrup asked in a headline in The Observer on 19 November,

The article began:

She said:

She suggested either attaching a non-governmental organisation to an embassy, or that European Union countries work together to attach any incarcerated citizen

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