Sunday, July 27, 2008

Serial stalker gets 19k legal aid to defend himself

Further complaints about the way the Scottish Legal Aid Board award funding .. no wonder, given the inconsistencies at SLAB …

From the Sunday Herald :

Victim hits out at serial stalker’s £19,000 legal aid grant

By John Bynorth, Home Affairs Editor

THE VICTIM of a serial stalker has branded the Scottish Legal Aid system "disgusting" after the man who terrorised her was given nearly £20,000 in public funds to defend himself in court.

Victoria Keiro spoke out after the Sunday Herald discovered that the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) has paid £19,423 to the legal team of Robert Basterfield as part of a failed courtroom battle to prevent Tayside Police imposing a ground-breaking Sexual Offences Protection Order on him. Basterfield was banned for five years from having any contact with lone women.

The fees, which do not include the force's own legal costs, will rise past the £20,000 barrier after other outstanding fees are settled by SLAB. Basterfield is expected to spend another £1500 fighting his appeal against the order at the Court of Session later this year.

Keiro, 28, was stalked for weeks after Basterfield verbally abused her in a shop where he worked. The Australian former taxi driver, who now lives in Perth, accosted her at the door of her home in Bridge of Earn, Perthshire. He was put on probation for the 2004 incident, but was later jailed for four months after harassing Spanish waitress Maria Dominguez. He also terrorised a third woman who he followed into a taxi outside a bar.

Keiro, who feared she would be raped or murdered during the incident, criticised the ease with which her victimiser could run up huge legal bills out of public funds after he was given permission to hire an advocate, James MacDonald, rather than have a solicitor fight his case at Perth Sheriff Court last year.

She cited it as an example of how the system is "failing decent people" and added that many victims could be discouraged from reporting stalking offences if they knew how much funding their attackers could claim to fight court decisions.

"It is absolutely shocking and disgusting that he has been given almost £20,000 in legal aid fees. It shows up the whole case as a farce," Keiro said. "It is appalling they considered his application for funding after what he has done to his victims. The entire system of providing funding for people to defend themselves needs looked at.

"He stalked me, did it to girls before, and has done it since. I told the court that he was highly dangerous and would strike again. It's sickening they have effectively handed him £20,000 for his lawyers.

"I've had no compensation, not even an apology and he has effectively received that sum of money for mucking up my life for the last four years. He has been given the best legal team to defend himself on the taxpayer.

"He came over here from Australia and receives £20,000 to defend himself. I don't see why our country has to deal with scum like that and think he should be deported.

"I am also angry this man is appealing because he can't accept that he has done wrong. He thinks this kind of behaviour is perfectly normal. Why should this sum of money have been paid out to stop him receiving the order when there was so much evidence against him? He has affected at least four people and where is the help for us?

"It will discourage other victims of stalkers reporting incidents."

Keiro said she lives in fear of strangers knocking on her door or accosting her in the street. She said: "I've had bad depression since and nobody has ever taken my feelings into consideration.

"Although the police have been very good, from day one I've felt like the person who has done wrong and he has been the victim who needed to be looked after. It affects me every day. I won't open my front door unless I know who is there and I am constantly looking behind me while walking my dog."

Tayside's former chief constable, John Vine, initially sought the order barring Basterfield from contact with any lone women for 30 years, but later reduced the application to 10 years, with the court finally ordering a five-year ban. In court, he described Basterfield as "highly dangerous" and said he "posed a very high risk of serious sexual harm" and would inevitably strike again.

Vine has previously said he was angry when Basterfield hired advocate James MacDonald as well as a solicitor which meant the force had to do the same to pursue the case, ramping up the costs to the public purse. Vine, now chief inspector of the UK Border Agency, was not available to comment yesterday.

Bill Aitken, the Scottish Conservatives' justice spokesman, said: "I am very surprised sanction was given for counsel to be appointed in a case whereby it would seem to have been within the competence of many local solicitors. It highlights the need to look closely at Legal Aid costs."

A SLAB spokesman said Basterfield "met the test" for Legal Aid eligibility.

Basterfield's Perth solicitors, AC Miller & Mackay, did not return calls on Friday. Tayside Police declined to comment.

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