Mark Thomas sees Foxtons taking over prisons

Blunkett is trying to deduct the cost of B&B from compensation for wrongfully convicted prisoners. S

When it comes to creative writing, you'd be hard pushed to find better exponents than the British police. Since the Birmingham Six and numerous other miscarriages of justice, where people were framed for crimes they didn't commit, it is sometimes difficult to know if a "confession" made to the police is testimony for the courts or a bid for the Booker Prize.

With such a pool of talent, it is only a matter of time before the new Terry Pratchett emerges from the thin blue line. But personally, I am hoping the Home Office will produce a new Franz Kafka and publish the story of how a normal young beetle wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a giant David Blunkett.

Now, before the new Labour acolytes and ideological catamites have time to bleat "This is just so 1990s!", let me just point out that this is all far from over. For victims of miscarriages of justice the ordeal is still very much alive and, come 16 March, it will be back in the courts.

When the Birmingham Six were compensated for wrongful imprisonment, the details of their awards were worked out by the government-appointed independent assessor, Sir David Calcutt, now replaced by Lord Brennan. Calcutt insisted on two significant factors for the calculation. First, that a sliding scale of compensation should be introduced as, according to Calcutt, the first year in prison was the worst and the subsequent time spent inside became easier to bear.

Strangely enough, none of the victims of miscarriages of justice has ever said, "Once I knew where the showers were, life inside was a piece of piss." Neither has anyone said, "The 18th year of my wrongful imprisonment was such a breeze, I'll settle for a couple of book tokens and some bonus points on the Nectar card."

The second part of Calcutt's calculations was that the innocent men should have deducted from their compensation the costs incurred by the government for their food, clothes and lodgings, under the catchy title of "Saved Living Expenses". To bill these men with these charges is spiteful, ridiculous, unjust and entirely in keeping with the behaviour of Blunkett, who, in an uncharacteristic bout of liberalness, has waived the huge cost of police time, deliberately wasted by the men's intransigent and wilful innocence.

Vincent Hickey and his cousin Michael Hickey served 18 years after being wrongfully convicted of the murder of Carl Bridgewater, a newspaper delivery boy. The Home Office sent each man a bill for £60,000 for food and lodgings, which would have taken about a quarter of their compensation.

Vincent Hickey went on hunger strike before his release. He says, "I should have gone on hunger strike for longer than 44 days - then the bill would have been less." The Hickey cousins and Michael O'Brien, who served 11 years, also for a murder he did not commit - and was billed £37,000 for his B&B - successfully challenged the Home Office.

In March last year, the Hickeys won a ruling that stated the Home Office was wrong to try to deduct this money from their compensation.

The Home Office, however, ever mindful of the cost to the public purse, has decided to waste even more money by appealing the decision. The case arrives at the high court in London on Tuesday. If successful, the Home Office will have the right to charge wrongfully convicted people for their incarceration. It must therefore either make a concerted effort to jail the guilty, or start arresting people on their ability to pay. If it takes the latter option, it could start by locking up Dame Shirley Porter.

Once this policy is adopted, David Blunkett can move swiftly to modernise prisons by introducing the right for prisoners to buy their own cells, something that would cheer up Dame Shirley, who would no doubt be eagerly campaigning for prisoners' rights to vote.

In a short time, Pentonville Prison would be awash with Foxtons Minis, as estate agents eagerly advertise "Bijou studio cell, sleeps six, panoramic views of exercise yard and close to the table tennis area". Ford Open Prison would become an "up-and-coming area", with white-collar criminals proclaiming: "You won't believe what the cell is worth now. We were very lucky and bought just before the prisons reached capacity."

Blunkett has a problem with people being "innocent", so he has introduced internment, prison without trial and seeks to lower the burden of proof to get a conviction in terrorist cases (a practice that the Birmingham Six and others would argue has been in operation for some time). It is depressingly predictable that in 18 years' time we will be reading of Muslims wrongfully held under anti-terrorism legislation. I wonder what the government will attempt to bill them for?