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Holding public figures to account must lead to prison in worst cases

Once again it is instructive how they do things in the US, the citadel of capitalism, which is so very different from the secretive British State which protects its elites even from their worst wrongdoings. The Bank of America has just been fined $16.7bn for misleading investors in its mortgage-backed securities, a colossal sum which vastly exceeds any penalties imposed on UK banks which were paltry by comparison, even though they were guilty of exactly the same malfeasance.

But there were two other codicils attached to the Bank of America settlement which have been singularly absent from the UK. One is that the bank is now required to pay $7bn in consumer relief to communities still struggling to recover from the housing crisis the bank caused. It is required to reduce the mortgages of homeowners in negative equity and to reimburse some who incure higher tax bills as a result. Why is the same not being imposed on the Big 4 UK banks – HSBC, Barclays, RBS and Lloyds?

The other crucial point about the Bank of America judgement was that it specifically “did not preclude any criminal charges against the bank or its employees”. Indeed Angelo Mozilo, chief executive of Countrywide Financial taken over by Bank of America, is currently subject to a new investigation by prosecutors.

By comparison, in Britain no banker has been sacked and disqualified from financial office, let alone prosecuted and, if convicted, sent to prison. At the same time in Britain any unemployed individual on benefit who is 5 minutes late for a work programme or who misses a job interview because he was in hospital, has all his benefits stopped for 4 weeks and is left penniless, or for 3 months for a second ‘offence’.

Destitution for a relatively petty ‘offence’ in the latter case, and impunity for helping to tank the UK economy in the former case. The class disparity is as stark as it is outrageous. I am writing to the UK Financial Conduct Authority to seek similar penalties for bankers in this country as is now being required in the US.

The same should apply to business and media executives and all senior professionals like doctors, police and judges, MPs, civil servants, lawyers and accountants. A doctor who misses a diagnosis that as a result leads to death, where it is found subsequently that the evidence for a true diagnosis was clearly available but ignored, should in the absence of mitigating conditions be liable to dismissal on the grounds that such a person cannot be trusted in future in such a sensitive position.

The same should apply to hospital staff who fail to abide by agreed medical procedures and it subsequently leads to death. Business and media executives who grossly abuse their role to the severe detriment of the public interest should be prosecuted and, if convicted, made to lose their jobs and in the worst cases jailed. In the case of police, MPs, civil servants, lawyers and accountants, a set of public standards needs to be laid down, and where these standards are grossly abused, the same procedure of prosecution, disqualification, and where justified a custodial penalty should be imposed.

Accountability in Britain has virtually collapsed and it urgently needs to be robustly restored.

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