Anyone reading the local press in Kent can’t have missed the increasingly hilarious (in every sense of the word) adverts from notorious landlord and relentless self-publicist Fergus Wilson.
Wilson, who recently announced that he and his wife have sold their property empire for £250m, has ambitions to become Kent’s Police and Crime Commissioner. Surprisingly for a man who once announced that he had no English tenants left in Maidstone and had let all his properties there to Eastern Europeans, Wilson has clearly decided that he is going to be carried into the Commissioner’s office on a tide of anti-immigrant feeling. Recent adverts have declared Kent to be on a “war footing,” and announced his intention to deport illegal immigrants within 24 hours “in chains if need be.” Never mind about due legal process or any of that namby-pamby nonsense. Previously he has said he will take command of the Royal Navy in order to close the channel. Plainly he is not a man troubled by self-doubt.
There is one problem, however. In April 2014 Wilson was convicted of assaulting a lettings agent in a dispute about a boiler. The local press have reported that this disqualifies him from standing. However Wilson himself denies this, the press reporting him as saying
I’ve been told the process for election works exactly the same as MPs, it’s if you’ve been convicted of a crime carrying a minimum sentence of a year or more.
People are welcome to complain, but the only people who will complain are those who feel they are front runners for the election and feel they need to get me out of the picture.
So what is the truth? Police and Crime Commissioners were established by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. Section 66 of the Act sets out the grounds on which a candidate is disqualified, and the relevant provision for us is as follows (emphasis added):
(3)A person is disqualified from being elected as, or being, a police and crime commissioner if—
(a)the person is the subject of—
(i)a debt relief restrictions order under paragraph 1 of Schedule 4ZB to the Insolvency Act 1986;
(ii)an interim debt relief restrictions order under paragraph 5 of that Schedule;
(iii)a bankruptcy restrictions order under paragraph 1 of Schedule 4A to that Act;
(iv)a bankruptcy restrictions interim order under paragraph 5 of that Schedule;
(b)a debt relief restrictions undertaking has effect in respect of the person under paragraph 7 of Schedule 4ZB to that Act;
(c)the person has been convicted in the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands, or the Isle of Man, of any imprisonable offence (whether or not sentenced to a term of imprisonment in respect of the offence); or
(d)the person is incapable of being elected as a member of the House of Commons, or is required to vacate a seat in the House of Commons, under Part 3 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (consequences of corrupt or illegal practices).
(4)For the purpose of subsection (3)(c)—
(a)“imprisonable offence” means an offence—
(i)for which a person who has attained the age of 18 years may be sentenced to a term of imprisonment, or
(ii)for which, in the case of such a person, the sentence is fixed by law as life imprisonment;
(b)a person is to be treated as having been convicted—
(i)on the expiry of the ordinary period allowed for an appeal or application in respect of the conviction, or
(ii)if an appeal or application is made in respect of the conviction, when the appeal or application is finally disposed of or abandoned or fails by reason of non-prosecution.
So, a person convicted of a crime for which the maximum penalty is imprisonment is disqualified, regardless of whether he was actually imprisoned or not and, crucially, regardless of the length of the possible jail term. The maximum penalty for common assault is six months imprisonment so it is an imprisonable offence as defined by the Act. Wilson’s appeal against his conviction was dismissed so the law is clear: he is disqualified and cannot stand.
If Wilson tries to stand, he will be required (like every other candidate) so sign a declaration that he is not disqualified. Making a false declaration is a Corrupt Practice – an offence against electoral law. Regardless of whether any other candidate wants him out of the way, anyone could (and certainly will) report him for that offence. His ambition risks getting him into very hot water indeed.
Fergus Wilson needs to face facts: because of his own criminal behaviour, he is not permitted to be Police and Crime Commissioner.