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A Tribute to Harry Fletcher

The funeral of former Napo Assistant General Secretary Harry Fletcher who died in January after a heart attack at Christmas, took place at Golders Green on 24th January. The service drew a large number of attendees from the world of politics, the media, and of course many of Harry’s colleagues who had worked with him across a multitude of campaigns spanning the three decades of Harry’s service with Napo. I and staff members Kath Falcon and Annoesjka Valent represented Napo HQ.

There were notable and very poignant tributes laced with occasional humour (especially involving his love of Arsenal FC), from a number of Harry’s colleagues. These testified to the value of his work for Napo and his knowledge of the criminal justice system which provided a rich seam of information for the media and very often became an embarrassment to Governments of all colours.

His campaigning efforts on behalf of the issues impacting on Napo members and wider society included: highlighting the plight of veterans from the army who found themselves in the justice system. This leading to major changes in the monitoring and support systems which existed at that time. Just before his retirement from Napo, Harry played a major role in the foundation of Napo’s campaign against Transforming Rehabilitation (TR). This included exposing the MoJ ‘Risk Register’ which confirmed that the predictions of our members about the impending and highly controversial part-privatisation of Probation were well founded, but were subsequently to be ignored by then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling and senior MoJ leaders.

On a personal level, Harry welcomed me into Napo on my arrival in 2008, and often took time out to help me during my familiarisation with the world of Probation and Cafcass for which I will always be grateful. His work over many years ensured that Napo would always appear in any decent Journalists contact list and his legacy has helped us to continue and build the campaign on TR from its early setbacks to one which has ultimately led to a major U-turn by Government. I do not think we will see his like again’.

After leaving Napo, Harry continued to involve himself in a wide variety of campaigns, including those which highlighted the cause and effect of Violence against Women and the scourge of ‘Stalking’ which helped to influence Politicians to actually do something by way of subsequent legislation. Harry was still a familiar face on TV screens right up to his untimely death as he especially focussed on the rights of Victims and their need for greater support from Government.

Napo has expressed its condolences to Harry’s family and were pleased to present Harry’s partner Kate with a book of tributes sent in by Napo members as well as senior Probation leaders, some of which are printed below.

Ian Lawrence, Napo General Secretary

I was introduced to Harry for the first time in 1991. A year later I was elected to Parliament for the first time and I received advice and assistance from Harry on matters of Home Affairs and Justice on a regular basis. It was typical of Harry that he was entirely comfortable working with me as a Plaid Cymru MP despite his being a long -standing Labour man. He was a believer in cross-party working to achieve excellent outcomes.

Eventually, after his retirement from NAPO he undertook a lot of outstanding research for myself and he was instrumental in our campaign to improve the lot of ex Service veterans and it was largely due to his campaigning that the subject moved from relative obscurity to being a core manifesto commitment for every political party at the elections.

It is, however, for his work protecting women that he will best be remembered.
He was the driving force together with Delyth Jewell AM behind the remarkable and successful campaigns to create the offence of Stalking and a separate campaign to criminalise Coercive Control. In both instances the successes came despite vehement opposition by the civil servants in Westminster.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that these two pieces of legislation have saved countless lives. If that is not a glowing testament to him then I do not know what is.

His enthusiasm was infectious and his sincerity clear for all to see. That is why he was respected across the political spectrum and trusted by journalists.
I am proud of my association with him and privileged to call him a good friend who will be sorely missed by all who knew him.

Elfyn Llwyd, former MP Meirionnydd Nant Conwy and honorary life member of Napo

Harry was an exceptional man in so many ways, and he was instrumental in giving Napo a high and positive profile. His work not only benefitted Napo, but also the services where Napo members worked, notably the Probation Service and CAFCASS. His ability to get press coverage, to work with politicians, to organise successful campaigns, to produce Napo News, to organise conferences, was second to none.

Napo, the Probation Service and CAFCASS, all owe Harry a big debt. Thanks to his tireless work it was often said that “Napo punched above its weight”.

Judy McKnight, Napo General Secretary 1993 to 2008

We knew Harry from his first entrance into the world of Napo the Professional Association and burgeoning, tiny, but influential Trade Union. Napo took Harry on to establish, update and promote the public face of Napo. He took over the work of Napo’s Press and Public Relations Committee and carved out a role that suited his personality and skills and as we two Probation Officers moved through local Napo posts to National Officers in the Union/Association we watched, and attempted sometimes to manage that distinctive style that Harry displayed.

From the 80s and through that difficult period of political strife and attacks on the very existence of collective action, social welfare values, the liberal ideology of a Probation Service as a social service as well as an agent of control, to the development of repressive and punitive legislation and dismantling of the Probation Service Harry made the voice of Napo heard.

The beginning of 2000 also saw the first fragmentation of the Probation Service as the Family Court side of the work was separated off to form CAFCASS. This was a very turbulent, chaotic and shambolic time with numerous changes in senior management, little consultation and policies changing overnight.

Harry enabled the voice of practitioners to be heard, often anonymously, and he enabled Napo to champion good service delivery. Harry’s style, his energy, and ability to get himself an audience served him and Napo well. He developed enduring relationships with journalists, individual MPs and the Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as campaigners across other organisations. He managed to initiate Private Members’ Bills and led campaigns locally and nationally which helped Napo expose the deep inadequacies in the Family Court system as well as slow down and sometimes stop some of the most serious attacks on penal policy and ‘justice’ within the Criminal Justice system.

Harry made a difference in the years he worked with Napo, and for that we are truly grateful.

Jo Thompson and John Hague, Napo Co-chairs 1994-1997

I saw Harry for lunch just before Christmas, in the Italian café in Camden where we would always have such interesting meetings, get things done, sorted and then gossip and have a laugh. I will miss those lunches so much.

Once I was going up to do a police station in Coventry that was to take all day. I spoke to him on the train in the morning going up, about the problems we were experiencing with tags. He was asking me because he saw some problems and felt something was wrong having heard of a few cases. He rang me at the end of the day when I was on my way back. He had already put together a briefing with 40 cases he had obtained from probation officers and others of misuse or serious problems with the tags. It formed the basis of a very impressive evidence based challenge to the private companies making millions whilst the tags were causing injustice.

I got to know Harry really well through our campaign around ASBOs, ASBO Concern. Again he put together a dossier with 100 powerful cases to show the excessive and abusive use of asbos in our call for a review. The campaign took off. We would take it in turns to do media interviews. Our message got a real hearing and I’m pleased to say that campaign won and the excessive use of asbos was ended. We received money from the Runnymede Trust for that campaign which we failed to spend as were too busy getting on with stuff. I remember how much we laughed about the idea of sneaking off to Antigua.

I will miss having a drink with him, his wonderful laughter, how he would refer to some people’s positions as “bonkers”, which were bonkers. We didn’t agree on everything politically but we trusted each other 100% and I so admired his ability as a brilliant organiser to get things done. There is so much hot air on the left but Harry’s work was always connected with helping people and making change.

Matt Foot, solicitor and founder of ASBO Concern

Harry could be exasperating, Harry could be frustrating, Harry was many different things to a wide variety of different people. There is one thing you can be sure of, however: No one who met him has ever forgotten Harry.

“It’s Harry Fletcher for you.” A frisson of excitement ran through the receptionist’s voice as she put the call through. This was the man who was on the front page of today’s paper, who was interviewed on Channel 4 last night. What did he want from our suburban office?

Well, it might be a variety of things. I knew Harry largely through committee or branch work and not nearly as well as those who saw him every day. From someone like me he might want details of a dispute, facts to back up a story or simply a piece of gossip. While talking on the phone you could imagine his shoulders going up and down in that subterranean chuckle, half way between a wheeze and a sneeze. Harry loved a bit of fun.

And he loved a statistic. “How many left handed ex-infantry between the ages of 26 and 28 have you got on your caseload? Two? Multiply that by the number of POS…”. Next day the paper would announce: “TEN THOUSAND DISABLED EX-SQUADDIES FAILED BY MILITARY SYSTEM NEED HELP.”

Harry was always available, contacted day and night by journalists. It would be hard to overstate how good he was at representing NAPO or simply at explaining a situation. Speed of reaction, however, meant that he was not always fully conversant with NAPO policy on a subject – or cared. “ Was that really NAPO policy?” you might think while listening to Radio 4 over breakfast. Well, no, it probably wasn’t the but it probably made more sense.

In passing, he probably formulated more policy than AGM did.

Harry was not always fully enthusiastic about doing things that he didn’t want to do. This could, frankly, be rather annoying. At times like these you just had to remember: he’s bloody good at the things he does want to do.

Most of the public thought Harry was General Secretary. So did a startling number of NAPO members. He was not (as far as I know). However, his impact was enormous and he helped to make NAPO far more influential than its size would indicate. We are all indebted to him professionally and politically. He also gave us a lot of fun. We will miss him.

Jeremy Cameron, Retired Member of Napo

My first real professional contact with Harry was at the York AGM (1998) when I made my maiden speech moving the National Campaigning Committee (NNC) motion on private prisons. Although Harry drafted the text I tweaked it and he winked later suggesting that the additions seemed to work. It merited a headline on the BBC ceefax page!

Thereafter with subsequent AGMs and NCC meetings Harry would be the indomitable presence and guiding influence in shaping Napo’s approach to campaigning and with his hard won and ever present media savvy public profile was the go to official fronting for the union. I did however succeed (he was perhaps a touch too possessive at times of sharing his much cherished parliamentary and media sources!) in making it onto a Channel 4 news item with Harry on the perennial topic of resources and front line morale.

To his lasting credit, he did arrange for NCC members to attend a media training day and I was often a call away from some of the bigger media stories to beset the probation service over this period.

In particular, I recall the frantic behind the scenes information gathering that was needed to respond to harshly critical governmental and media pressures to the Hanson and White SFO furore in London that resulted in the eventual resignation of the CPO David Scott.

He had a fund of well garnered anecdotes on the foibles and failings of political and departmental officials, more moles it appeared in the corridors of power than George Smiley! and his fearlessly obdurate manner did send a proverbial shiver down the spine of many a Home Office/ Justice Department mandarin (particularly when Private Eye ran the story).

I admired his challenging mien, his dogged commitment, hard work and easy fluency when in front of the camera. His parliamentary briefings and well-rehearsed PQs were unfailingly comprehensive and direct to the point at issue.

He told a story from the New Labour years that I recall with relish, speaking to a diehard old socialist MP who admired Napo’s well briefed arguments at the time of the OMA 2007 it captures well the continuing potency of a market driven privatising ideology over policy driven evidence. The MP gruffly stated ‘ Harry you have all the arguments, you have all the evidence, you have all the friends you need in the party.. but you are ****** because they refuse to listen and that’s why you need to continue campaigning! A doughty campaigner and committed Napo member who will be sorely missed.

Mike Guilfoyle, Retired Member of Napo

On behalf of the POA I would like to pay the following tribute to Harry Fletcher.
Harry was a great Trade Unionist and Campaigner and I am sure his family, friends and NAPO are extremely saddened as we are in the POA about his untimely passing. Quite rightly Harry will be remembered for all the good that he done over many decades but he was more than just a Trade Unionist and Campaigner he was a man of great integrity who had time for everyone and he cared deeply about people. I considered Harry as a friend not just a colleague and he will be sorely missed.

Steve Gillan, General Secretary POA

It is unbearably sad to hear that Harry has died.  A criminal justice world without him is hard to contemplate. He had so much energy, he always seemed indefatigable, he looked fit, and I just assumed he’d go on forever, and wanted him to. Harry was an inspiring one-off, no man’s copy. He towered, modestly. Probation owes him a vast amount, but beyond that he gave socialist activism itself a very good name.  

Mike Nellis, emeritus professor University of Strathclyde

When I was first attending NEC and conferences, I always looked forward to hearing what Harry had to report – a voice of sense and reason with a true and honest understanding of what Probation work means to those that work within it. To me, he was always the heart of what NAPO stands for and undoubtedly a tough but well respected ‘cookie’ within the halls of power. A truly sad loss for all of us he chose to support and represent over many years, including his post NAPO years. Condolences to all those who knew and loved him. Thank you Harry.

Ian Kinsey, The Four Shires Branch

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