The naked contempt for victims of crime disgraces Holyrood
By Graham Grant
IT was a voice from the distant past that for a fleeting, poignant moment reunited Michael Hamilton with his dead daughter.
In 2012, he was handed a tape recording Vicky had made when she was revising for her biology exam, reeling off facts to be memorised.
That tape was among belongings police had removed from her bedroom as they searched for the teenager, who disappeared in 1991 aged 15, while waiting for a bus.
Sixteen years passed before her remains were found – in the garden of the former home of Scots serial killer Peter Tobin, who was eventually convicted of her murder.
‘I didn’t have any other recordings of her voice,’ Mr Hamilton said, describing the content of that precious tape. ‘All I ever had of her was school photos and a lock of her hair.’
It is that story of a father’s brief glimpse of a life cruelly snatched away that encapsulates the dreadful purgatory most victims’ relatives are condemned to inhabit.
We revisited the story last week after revealing that an influential Holyrood committee was set to recommend the removal of the ban on prisoner voting, which it considered was a breach of their human rights.
A source close to its deliberations was astonished that the proposals would lead to some of society’s most reviled criminals, including Tobin, being allowed to play a part in determining the outcome of Holyrood and council elections.
Astonishingly, the equalities and human rights committee hadn’t bothered to seek the views of victims as they researched the proposal – a fact it candidly admitted in the course of its report, published yesterday.
Last week, I spoke to Vicky’s sister, Sharon Crozier, who said: ‘Tobin destroyed my family – Vicky no longer has the right to vote, or any other rights. Why should someone like that be allowed to vote?’
If the MSPs on the committee, convened by Nationalist Christina McKelvie, had contacted Mrs Crozier, they would have heard the palpable shock and revulsion at their ‘outrageous’ and ‘stupid’ plan.
Instead, as we reported yesterday, they spoke to Jan Anderson, of the Access to Industry charity, who told them that election hustings in prisons would be ‘really positive’ and help with ‘rehabilitation’.
At an earlier stage in the committee’s study of the issue, which began in September last year, MSPs had mulled over a plan for prisoners to be escorted to polling booths; now they suggest setting them up in prison grounds.
John Muir, whose son Damian was stabbed to death in a senseless and unprovoked attack, has fought with great bravery and dignity for victims’ rights – often in the face of cold official indifference.
For him, the plan to let prisoners vote, regardless of their crime, is an ‘obscenity’ – but he wasn’t asked what he thought by those who compiled the report.
It’s all too clear that MSPs or their officials didn’t bother calling victims because they knew all too well the response would not be favourable – if this is so, it would be nothing less than a cowardly abdication of responsibility.
Then, at the weekend, we learned of the secretive transfer of Slovakian Marek Harcar – who abducted, raped and killed 40-year-old sales adviser Moira Jones in Glasgow, in 2008 – back to his homeland.
Harcar came to Britain with 13 previous convictions – four of which involved violence – but wanted to return to his own country to be closer to his own family, and in the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) he found a willing audience.
Reciprocal agreements allowing the transfer of prisoners are relatively commonplace and even save the Scottish taxpayer money, we are told, because another jurisdiction will now pick up the bill for Harcar’s incarceration.
Nothing to see here, then, it seems – a fuss over nothing… Except that Miss Jones’ brother Grant says he knew nothing about the move (the SPS insists the family were told), and he’s concerned Harcar could be freed without him, or Miss Jones’s other relatives, finding out about it.
‘I try to console myself with the thoughts that Slovakia has tough prisons without the leisure facilities that our jails offer,’ Mr Jones says. ‘A facility dedicated to punishment. In truth, I just do not know…’
Indeed, in a letter to a female friend back in 2010, describing prison life, Harcar enthused about ‘all the Sky TV channels, pool and snooker tables’, and described Miss Jones as ‘a stupid girl in the wrong place at the wrong time’.
Referring to Miss Jones’s parents, Harcar said: ‘I couldn’t care what they think or how they feel. I’m the one who has to do 25 years.’
Understandably, Mr Jones is also passionately opposed to giving prisoners the right to vote.
‘Just reading the words “prisoners’ human rights” in the media really affects me and turns my stomach,’ he says. ‘When you murder a person, you should surely lose your rights; my sister lost hers.’
So, the perpetrator of a crime that shocked Scotland is quietly moved back home, to be closer to the bosom of his family, while his victim’s relatives worry that, one day, he may be freed without their knowledge, and may even strike again.
In the meantime, they can watch our parliamentarians agonise over the logistics of enfranchising murderers and rapists.
Last year, Beatrice Jones, Miss Jones’s mother, said the families of murder victims were being treated as ‘poor relations’ in Scotland, and accused ministers of not doing enough to help the bereaved.
Mrs Jones, chairman of the Moira Fund, set up in her daughter’s memory to help victims of crime and their relatives, wrote to Holyrood’s justice committee saying her charity has had to ‘prop up Government funds’ to help those affected by homicide, and that victims’ families are not getting the support they need.
She highlighted the work of the Homicide Support Service in England and Wales, which gives one-to-one support and a dedicated case worker to victims’ families, and pointed out that ‘families in Scotland are still not getting the help and support that English families do’.
The abandonment of victims by a system that treats them with such naked contempt shouldn’t be surprising, and yet such is the relentless affront to basic human decency, it continues to shock when we hear of the appalling treatment they have to endure.
Green MSP Patrick Harvie has called for Scotland to become a ‘beacon of fairness’ – though even he stopped short of recommending that all prisoners be given the vote, favouring a more nuanced approach.
But ultimately there was no scope for nuance; and one has to wonder where ‘fairness’ featured in a process which has utterly dehumanised victims – inflicting on them fresh suffering of a kind our MSPs were simply too busy to investigate.
*This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail.