Day 1 – Swaffham to Houghton

The sun is like a bishop’s bottom: large, shiny and hot, the first continual sun we have seen for months. Lunch in Castle Acre, a gem of a town with a priory, a castle and a grand house lurking somewhere.

I see the news is dull, which is good when you think of the miseries we have endured these past years. Perhaps our politicians might be persuaded to go on holiday more often! Give me dull at any time! I am reminded of the newspaper competition for the dullest headline ever. The winner was “earthquake in Chile, only a few dead!” ( Sorry to Chilean donors, but I thought it was funny! it shows how tasteless I can be!)

At the start…

An Unholy Mess

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy,” recalled Nick Carraway in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. “They smashed up things… and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

Readers of my last commentary will recall the case of the great Post Office mess whereby this old British institution prosecuted around 900 sub-postmasters for theft, false accounting and fraud. After a lengthy court case, it was found that 99 per cent of them were wholly innocent and that many had been maliciously prosecuted. Many lives were destroyed. 

Oh yes, I nearly forgot to remind you – the Post Office CEO at the time, the Rev Paula Vennells, is a former Anglican priest. At first, she said she was misled by computer experts – but when she was told the full extent of her mess, she said she was “sorry”. That’s nice, isn’t it? Bound to reassure those whose lives have been wholly destroyed. Pity about those who took their own lives before she issued her apology.

You think the Post Office scandal was a one-off? Think again.

Dirty Money

If any ZANE donor was found to have assisted drug smuggling by laundering money, he or she could rightly expect up to 20 years in the slammer. But not so if you’re too big to jail. The world’s biggest bank is HSBC. During its recent drug-running days, the CEO of HSBC UK was the Rev Stephen Green – yes, these Anglican priests pop up everywhere.

Between 2006 and 2009, the bank – under Green’s watch – allowed a breakdown in money laundering controls in its Mexican subsidiary with the result that at least $881 million of drug trafficking cash flowed through its US accounts. The bank was so blatant in its enthusiasm to assist the drug cartels and enhance profits that bank cashiers’ windows were specially adapted to allow large bungs of dirty drug money to be posted easily. When HSBC was warned – several times – that the practice was illegal, it turned a blind eye. There can be no argument about guilt. There is even a recording of a Mexican drug lord saying that HSBC Mexico is “the place to launder money”.

When finally confronted with HSBC’s crime of profiting from drug running on an industrial scale, Green expressed his “regret”. That’s it. No explanation as to how the bank landed a fine of $91m, the largest penalty ever recorded. Amazingly, when the US authorities decided to prosecute HSBC, it was the UK’s chancellor, George Osborne, who defended the bank’s executives and pleaded that the economic fallout would be so great that prosecution had to be avoided.

Of course, Osborne was right. To bring criminal charges against nice, non-violent people like us, who hail from similar backgrounds and circles, and send us to jail and thereby ruin us and our families is quite another.

I bet you’ll never guess the next bit. Partly thanks to Osborne’s intervention, HSBC survived. And once Osborne had moved on from his chancellor role, he made two speeches for HSBC, one in Davos for which he was paid £51,000, and another for which he received £68,000 (he was obliged to register these fees in the Commons file of financial interests).     

A Blooming Shame

This all makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? You see, the authorities view non-violent criminals differently from violent criminals. They don’t regard them as, well, quite so criminal. Remember the old song “It’s the Same the Whole World Over”?

“It’s the same the whole world over,
It’s the poor what get the blame,
It’s the rich what get the pleasure,
Isn’t it a blooming shame?”

So, what happened next? The key drug runner in Mexico, “El Chapo”, is incarcerated for life in one of America’s most secure prisons, the US Penitentiary Florence Administrative Maximum in Colorado (its nickname is “The Alcatraz of the Rockies”). He’s locked up for 23 hours each day. A former warden claims, “The jail is not fit for humanity… I think being there day by day is worse than death.” 

Meanwhile, Rev Green (Cameron elevated him to Lord Green) “regrets” what happened. So, that’s all right then.  

Just like Rev Paula Vennells, today the Rev Lord Green is rich, retired and free – he’s a member of the House of Lords and he continues his ministry as an Anglican priest.

Careless people these vicars. Smashing things up… and then retreating back into their money or their vast carelessness and letting other people clean up the mess they’ve made.

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