I think I’m starting to watch the news on a worryingly meta level, because while I think the government is wholly in the wrong in failing to consider deportation for convicted murderers and rapists from overseas, I still get bothered by the sensationalist and misleading way in which the story is reported. For example this BBC story entirely fails to mention that the prisoners had served their sentences in full, thereby giving the impression that convicted murderers and rapists had somehow been let out onto the streets without punishment. I assume this is because it sounds cooler and more exciting. I do worry that this kind of reporting, with the buzz-words “foreign criminals” all over the place, can only fuel the general anti-immigrant sentiments that seem to be on the rise. This close to a local election it’s potentially incendiary, and can only further the BNP’s ’cause’.
The BBC do redeem themselves with this Q&A, which is a great deal clearer. For example, while all 1023 prisoners should have been considered for deportation, ‘only’ 160 were specifically ordered to be deported. Still a large number, but far from clear on the TV news.
As for the meat of the story, it clearly merits headline reporting, and is clearly a monumental cock-up on the part of the government – or at least an administrative and managerial cock-up on the part of the various departments. As to how serious it is beyond the political ramifications, it depends where you stand on criminals who have served their sentence. If a murderer has served their time, is it jeopardising the public safety to let them out onto the streets? In some cases yes, in some no, and it doesn’t really matter if they are a UK national or not. Someone who is not a citizen of the UK and abuses the country’s laws should probably be sent home on the principle of abuse of trust and hospitality, but they’re still no more or less of a threat than any other ex-offender.
I feel more strongly about cases where reoffending is more likely such as rape or paedophilia. Thankfully this is one of the factors considered as part of deportations. While I don’t feel that deportation is an automatic answer (otherwise: Hey! Let’s deport all criminals!), it’s common sense that any measures should be at least as stringent as those which would apply to a UK national. Releasing a sex offender without any attempt to monitor them is therefore rather stupid by any standards. (Although I’m unclear whether this is, in fact, what happened. Which is another problem with the reporting.)
There are of course other factors. Some of the criminals had not committed serious crimes (41 were burglars). Some may have family here. Some may face a threat to life and limb if returned to their home country. All this must be weighed against their having committed a crime in the UK, and deportation is not automatic for very sensible reasons.
Ultimately this is a serious issue which deserves serious, informed reporting – reporting which studiously avoids the implication that these dirty forriners just want to murder us in our beds. And they could be living among you right now.