Friday, 15 December 2017

‘Life sentence’ for mistakes of youth

I HAVE been reflecting on the recent stories of Bob Ashford and Simon Weston.

I HAVE been reflecting on the recent stories of Bob Ashford and Simon Weston.

Simon Weston OBE is the well known Falklands War veteran who survived the fire on Sir Galahad in 1982 and whose courageous story has inspired many. He is now an accomplished speaker, author and charity fund-raiser.

Bob Ashford is less well known — until now that is.

He has had a distinguished career in local and national youth justice strategy, criminal justice and social work in addition to holding public office as a councillor and mayor of Frome.

He and Weston share two facts. Both stood as prospective police and crime commissioner candidates last year and both were required to withdraw their candidatures because they each had juvenile criminal records.

In Weston’s case, he was a passenger in a stolen car aged 14.

In Ashford’s, he was an unwilling 13-year-old who was cajoled into trespassing on a railway line with older boys, one of whom had an air rifle. He was advised to plead guilty to the charge of trespassing with an offensive weapon and was fined £2 10 shillings (it was 1964). The older boy ran away and was not charged.

It seems that the true punishment for the youthful indiscretions of both Weston and Ashford was a “life sentence”. Despite the intervening years of impeccable national and public service, they were declared ineligible as police and crime commissioners, despite the intervention of Home Secretary Theresa May.

Now I accept we need to make sure these important public roles don’t fall to people who have a history of serious crime, but I can’t help feeling a deep sense of injustice at these stories.

We all make mistakes, especially as young people. I wonder how many people reading this paper today would have been disqualified if, like Weston and Ashford, they had stood as a candidate?

Ashford has channelled his energies into a non-political campaign to change the law, Wipe the Slate Clean (www.wipetheslateclean.org). His campaign values forgiveness, redemption, restoration and a second chance, all of which for me find their fullest and best expression in the life of Jesus Christ.

I wish him well. I hope you do too.

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