I am just coming to the end of my month-long writing retreat, working on the sequel to last year’s historical financial crime novel “Fatal Forgery” – first draft completed, so big hurrah! (BTW, I’m still dithering about the title for the new novel – I’m running a little poll on my writing blog, so if you’ve a mind to, please take a look and cast your vote.) I don’t want to give anything away about the plot, but one element of it is the forfeiture of criminal assets – or rather, the lack of it – in 1825. And, like hot water and triple packs of Jaffa Cakes, I think we today are so used to forfeiture (both criminal and its younger cousin civil) that we overlook quite how fantastic it is.
Imagine, if you will, life without forfeiture *swirly dissolving of background*. After years of painstaking investigation, the police finally arrest a big-time criminal, Mr Smug. He has spent years involved in all sorts of criminality, from drug trafficking to pimping, from extortion to murder. During this time he has amassed quite a fortune – and quite a reputation for ruthlessness. Despite the best efforts of the police, they cannot find a single person who will testify against Mr Smug, who has put out the word that any such testimony would be seriously detrimental to one’s health. However, the evidence is strong, and Mr Smug is eventually convicted on a couple of charges and sentenced to five years. While inside, his connections and his ability to bribe people ensure that life is bearable (think Grouty in “Porridge”). Two years later Mr Smug is out – and there’s his money, sitting waiting for him. Like, bummer. So *unswirl* thank heavens for forfeiture. As I say, they didn’t have it in 1825, so I have had to think of something else (fiendish cackle), but it is wonderfully gratifying to know that in 2014, Curtis Warren is spending a decade in prison because he refused to hand over his ill-gotten gains and (even more fiendish cackle – I’m getting good at this) he still owes the court £198 million.