Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has appointed a convicted arsonist to his frontbench, arguing that after rehabilitation, he should be allowed to play a “full part in public life” as part of the shadow government’s education team.
Mike Watson pled guilty to charges of fire-raising before Edinburgh Sheriff Court in September of 2005. Watson admitted to setting fire to a curtain while attending the Scottish Politician of the Year awards at Edinburgh’s 17th-century Prestonfield House Hotel in 2004, which was attended by around 400 guests. The curtain and pole were burnt as flames reached the walls and ceiling before staff members could put the fire out.
Watson was sentenced to prison for 16 months as a result of his “deliberate and dangerous” actions. He had originally denied his actions to the police, but changed his plea to guilty in court after security footage was found showing him crouching down by the curtain only minutes before it went up in flames, writes Jack Sommers for The Huffington Post UK. He was released in 2006 after serving half of his sentence.
While the court discovered he had been drunk at the time, Sheriff Mackie said that this did not excuse his actions. She said: “Someone in public office ought to know how to conduct himself on all occasions.”
“Fire-raising is a most serious crime. By pleading guilty you have acknowledged that you intended to set on fire property at Prestonfield House Hotel, whereby property was damaged and lives endangered.”
As a result of his actions, Watson, who had previously served as minister in the Scottish Executive, was let go from the Labour party and forced to step down from his role in the Scottish Parliament. He was allowed to return to the Labour party in 2012 after Labour peer George Foulkes said he had “served his time.”
Corbyn appointed Watson to be the party’s spokesman on education in the House of Lords, writes Tamara Cohen for The Daily Mail.
An SNP spokesman said: “This is a bizarre appointment; it reflects how Jeremy Corbyn seems to be scrambling around for people to work with, which in turn is further proof of the deep divisions within the Labour Party.”
However, the Labour party is defending the decision, saying that Watson has been fully rehabilitated.
“Lord Watson was readmitted to the Labour Party in 2012 and following his rehabilitation it is right he should be allowed to play a full part in public life,” said a Labour Party spokesman.
Corbyn also appointed MP Ian Lavery a role in the Shadow Cabinet Office. Lavery was previously arrested for “hooliganism” during a football game.