Thursday's decision by the no-justice secretary I'm-Alright Jack Straw not to grant a pardon to Michael Shields looks even more perverse & indefensible with the news that a confidential Merseyside Police report, prepared for Straw, "says if the case had happened in the UK, Shields may have been given an appeal." (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/merseyside/8134555.stm ).
Meanwhile, the question of class is raised by Eric Allison, the Guardian's prisons correspondent in a Guardian Comment is Free piece (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jul/03/jack-straw-ronnie-biggs ).
It should be said that Allison muddies the waters somewhat by drawing Ronnie Biggs' case into the equation (Biggs may well be another victim of Straw's penchant for fake machismo, but his is still a far less deserving case than Michael's).
That said, Allison notes that "as so often with this government, it is not so much the decisions they take as the shabby manner in which they conduct their business. In parliament, some weeks ago, Gordon Brown told a Labour MP that Straw's decision on Shields's pardon would be relayed to his solicitors. Instead, yesterday, the 22-year-old was called up to the governor's office in his prison and handed a 50-page document 'explaining' the reasons for the refusal to grant a pardon. According to his solicitor, John Wheate, the language in the document is so technical that 'after 37 years of working in the law, it will take me three days to decipher it.' As with most prisoners in open conditions, Shields is eligible for day release and home leaves. He was due to take a four-day leave this Tuesday, but it was cancelled because of potential media interest. So, a lad who had hoped to be pardoned this week is knocked back, in language difficult for a layman to decipher and then told that a leave-earned by good behaviour is cancelled through no fault of his own."
Allison ends his piece by posing (& answering) an obvious question:
"Michael Shields's father asks if Straw would treat his own children in this way? Of course he wouldn't. But then, there's one law for them -- and the Pinochets of this world -- and another for the working class."
Some observers may point to Straw's reaction when his then teenage son Will was caught in a Daily Mirror sting in 1998. Straw's son was dealing mild amounts of dope at his university. After playing to the cameras in claiming that he'd immediately offered his resignation to Tony Blair (an offer Blair turned down, conveniently), Straw ensured that the media soon dropped the story. Will Straw now works for one of the Washington-based thinktanks.
The Pinochet tale is also instructive; Straw ensured that the ex-dictator, feigning severe illness in an English semi, of all places, escaped justice on such bogus grounds. Once Pinochet's plane touched the ground at Santiago airport the US-backed general demonstrated to all his rude health.
Straw's record shouldn't really be seen as shocking when you consider his toadying (some would use a much more revealing & salacious adjective) approach to war criminal Condoleeza Rice. My sources tell me that when Straw & Rice visited LIPA in the city a few years ago the no-justice secretary was, well, how best to put it, overly attentive to the then US Secretary of State.