In December 2007 the two McBrides appeared in Liverpool Crown Court, having pleaded guilty earlier in the year to misidentifying catches of fish for which they had no quota under EU rules. But instead of just asking for fines to be imposed on fishermen who break quota rules, the Marine Fisheries Agency (MFA) now has a new tactic. It calls in the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) to use the Proceeds of Crime Act, designed to recover money from international drugs traffickers, money launderers and other major criminals.
Needless to say, this law was not intended for use against fishermen—but, then, this is not the first time that it has been invoked in these circumstances.
So delighted is the MFA at discovering the Proceeds of Crime Act that it has used this sledgehammer tactic twice more in the past year. Three Thames fishermen were fined £317,000 for catching sole for which they had no quota. (Most of the UK sole quota had been given to foreign fishermen.)
I reported on this incident whilst talking about the divide et impera tactic so beloved of NuLabour.
In January the owners and skippers of six Newlyn boats were fined £188,000 for catching hake for which they had no quota (though hake were abundant). Among those fined were an 83-year-old widow, Doreen Hicks, and 82-year-old Donald Turtle and his wife Joan. They were found guilty by Judge Wassell because they were part owners of boats skippered by their sons.
But I'll let Booker elaborate on the consequences for the MacBrides.
Soca—which last year replaced the Assets Recovery Agency, after it had spent £65 million to recover £23 million—assumes that if someone has benefited from the proceeds of crime for more than six months, he is living "a criminal lifestyle". Everything he owns can then be deemed to have derived from criminal activity.
In the case of Charlie and Charles McBride, all their assets were thus valued at more than £1 million, including their boat and homes (valued at the height of the property boom). On this basis Judge Nigel Gilmour not only imposed on them fines of £385,000—infinitely more than the value of the fish they had wrongly declared—but ruled that all their assets should be frozen as "proceeds of crime", even though the home and boat had been bought before the offences were committed. He also told the men that, unless they paid the fines within six months, they would go to prison for up to three years.
At their wits' end as to how to raise the money, the two McBrides negotiated a second mortgage on their homes. Charlie McBride presented Soca with £120,000, asking that it should be taken as a down-payment on the fine until he had somehow found the rest. The agency asked how he had come by the money and, when told that it came from remortgaging his house, told him that he would be charged with contempt of court because the house was a "frozen asset".
Two weeks ago the two men were accordingly jailed for contempt, and having been allowed one telephone call to tell his wife Karen what had happened, Charlie is now serving out his sentence as a prison refuse collector.
This is absolutely disgusting. I find myself near-speechless at the utter evil that this represents, so I'll let Timmy spell out just exactly what all of this means.
Leave aside the whole point about what they are accused of. Think about the actual logic of the fines.
You must pay us lots of money. But you cannot use your own money to pay us because we’ve already frozen it.
We used to, however mistakenly, be proud of the essence of fairness at the centre of our legal system.
No longer, eh?
No longer, indeed.
And certainly not now that those who rule us are enabled and prepared to use such utterly evil measures against our citizens—and all to uphold an EU law that has been, by any measure, immensely destructive both to fishermen and fish-stocks, and gut-wrenchingly expensive in terms both of money and environmental damage.
Let me remind you all that every one of us has this sword of Damocles poised over our heads—and we have worse. We have the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, and the only guarantee that it will not be invoked is that our government would never dare to do so (in which case, why did they pass it thorugh?).
When our rulers are prepared to use such utterly evil methods to enforce their will on us, that guarantee doesn't look so fucking secure now, does it?