Released: This Man Is One of Britain's Most Dangerous Drug Lords. Why Did Michael Howard Let Him out of Jail after Ten Months? Labour Is Accused of "Digging Dirt" on the Tory Leader. but, Argues Nick Cohen, the Case of John Haase Is Very Much a Live Scandal
Cohen, Nick, New Statesman (1996)
The Radio 4 Today programme of 7 February ran with what had been the lead political story in the Mail stable for days. Alastair Campbell was back and up to his old tricks. He was trying to smear a Tory statesman. He was ordering new Labour MPs to use the Freedom of Information Act to dig out embarrassing information about Michael Howard.
Peter Mandelson and the Labour MP Fraser Kemp were interrogated, but at no point did listeners learn exactly what the fuss was about. Labour was throwing dirt at the Tories, they were told. But what exactly was this dirt?
Perhaps Today's editors thought it would be tasteless--anti-Semitic, even--to mention John Haase, Simon Bakerman and the London Metropolitan Police inquiry into a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. They weren't alone. You could twiddle the dial for the rest of the day without finding a news broadcast that discussed Haase and Bakerman. Instead, you would have heard Howard's announcement that a Conservative government would scrap the early release of prisoners. "Nothing," he declared, "does more to undermine confidence in our criminal justice system than victims seeing offenders walk free from prison having served as little as half their sentence."
You could have switched off the radio and turned to that morning's Mail and found it in a state of slobbering apoplexy. Tony Blair was responsible for "lies, spin and ruthless chicanery", it cried. But again, beyond a clunking reference by the columnist Melanie Phillips to dredging up "ancient information to discredit Michael Howard relating to family matters", there was no clue to what the fuss was about.
If Britain were half as Americanised as people claim, Haase and Bakerman would be household names. Their faces would stare from Labour Party posters. Journalists would shout questions about them at Howard every time he claimed to be tough on crime. But this is a polite country and there is a near-total silence.
Let's break the silence. Bakerman is Michael Howard's cousin. He is a small-time crook who went to prison for running an amphetamine factory in Liverpool. He told journalists in 1997 that "I see Michael's mother all the time. I last saw Michael when he came to my mum and dad's house for tea after Chelsea played Liverpool last season." Freda Bakerman, his mother, said that she phoned Howard's mother three or four times a week. "We're a very close family," she said. Bakerman used to carry a photograph of Howard in his wallet.
Bakerman hung around John Haase's gang, and Haase was in a much bigger league. He was certainly the most dangerous gangster in Liverpool and possibly the most dangerous in Britain. Graham Johnson of the Sunday Mirror--who, along with the Observer's Martin Bright, has refused to let this subject drop--has a book out about him called Powder Wars. It is a portrait of a true sadist for whom inflicting pain on those who crossed him was not only business, but a personal pleasure.
If serious crime in Liverpool is now out of control, it is Haase's fault. He made guns commonplace on the streets. His criminal career began with armed robberies in the 1970s. He moved on when he realised there was much more money to be made in heroin. He took control of the British end of the southern route for heroin smugglers, which runs from Afghanistan to Britain via Turkey and the Balkans. Customs officers put Haase's gang under surveillance and stared in amazement as bundles of cash the size of bricks were handed over in Liverpool pubs.
Every year, it becomes harder to convict the big fish. The disastrous prohibition of drugs gives gangsters more and more money to bribe witnesses or hire goons to intimidate them. Detectives need to get lucky, and in 1993 Customs hit the jackpot. Officers arrested Haase after seizing heroin with a street value of [pounds sterling]18m in the bedroom of a safe house just round the corner from the constituency office of Peter Kilfoyle, Labour MP for Liverpool Walton. …