Paul Flowers, Methodist Minister, as Chairman of the Co-op Bank, brazenly bought Class A drugs on the street; not just cocaine but the horrifyingly destructive crystal meth too.
He also openly bragged on Twitter about the gay orgies these drugs would fuel. Clearly he felt had little to fear from the law. He has been proved right.
Last week, thanks to our liberal Sentencing Council’s ‘drugs decriminalisation’ guidelines, Flowers’s punishment cost him hardly more than the stash of cocaine and crystal meth he was caught on film buying.
Yet the maximum sentence for possession of Class A drug is seven years at her Majesty’s pleasure – something the pro-drugs lobby rarely miss an opportunity to highlight.
Indeed it may sound tough. It would be were it ever applied – and society would be the safer for it. But how many people actually get this sentence? Well, take just one year: in 2010 of 12,175 sentenced just two got the full seven years. Yes, just two. Given that time served is routinely reduced by 50 per cent, this can hardly act as a deterrent.
For most, like lucky Mr Flowers, the reality is a small fine that adds up to no more than 125 per cent of their monthly earnings.
What happens when there are no earnings I leave you to guess. There was nothing on that I could see in the sentencing guidelines I consulted last night.
Yes, these are what you have to study to understand the gap between the letter and the practice of the law.
Reading them is an eye opener.
The Sentencing Council’s new definitive guideline on Drugs published on Jan 24th 2012 certainly helped Mr Flowers. As I thought at the time, their changes looked suspiciously like decriminalisation by the backdoor.
For not only do they allow for a range of ‘softened’ sentences, but they appear to change the letter of the law too. Far from the maximum seven year custodial sentence available to the judge to hand down, it is in the guidance set at 51 weeks (which in practice can mean no more than 6 months banged up).
But District Judge David Kitson seems not even to have considered this reduced custodial tariff for the irresponsible “Grinder App”, drug-loving and office-abusing former bank chairman. Never mind the example he set nor the illegal trade he encouraged.
No, the Judge settled for the Guideline starting point for possession of Class A drugs – a trivial ‘band C’ fine (125 per cent of ‘relevant’ weekly earnings).
And it was for the judge and the court to assess both what Mr Flowers’s means were and what he could afford to pay.
It seems they were happy to be informed on this by Richard Wright, the QC defending Mr Flowers. He told the Court that his client was not working and therefore only bringing in around £510 a month through pensions, poor chap.
So ignoring his previous fat salary (to say nothing of the ongoing enquiry into the ‘lavish’ expenses this corrupt man claimed from the Co-op bank – of which he was chairman and which collapsed due to his ineptitude) Judge Kitson set his fine at a paltry £525.
In mitigation, it was said on Flowers’s behalf that he’d told police he needed drugs to cope with stress and the care of his terminally ill mother. Poor chap again.
Yes, in the Sentencing Council’s guidelines, being the sole or primary carer for a dependent relative, is listed as a mitigating circumstance for breaking the law. Clearly this was good enough for the judge. Did he enquire what time he devoted to this between his depraved lifestyle and his various chairmanships? I wonder what the 315,000 carers in this country make of it – people who unlike Mr Flowers had to give up work to fulfil their caring responsibilities.
This is one of many factors listed reducing the seriousness of a crime, but what of the factors that increase a crime’s seriousness? There is, predictably, nothing as far as abuse of private or public office, lying, cheating, immorality and generally getting away with law-breaking.
None of these are considered as aggravating factors. Perhaps the Sentencing Council will think again in view of this case, but I won’t be holding my breath.
For today it is more of a taboo to pronounce on immoral behaviour and bad example than it is to commit a dangerous drugs offence – never minding that drugs kill, maim and corrupt all at the expense of the law-abiding citizen.
Flower’s £525 fine was a joke in the first place. The latest press reports of his continuing illegal drug habit that he still manages to fund make it doubly risible.