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Page last updated at 16:27 GMT, Monday, 19 April 2010 17:27 UK

Labour's 'votes for paedophiles' leaflet sparks row

Roger Godsiff
Mr Godsiff defended the tactic, saying his opponents were not being honest

A Labour candidate is embroiled in a row with the Liberal Democrats after suggesting they would give convicted murderers and paedophiles the vote.

Roger Godsiff, who is standing in Birmingham Hall Green, issued leaflets showing nursery worker Vanessa George, who was jailed for abusing children.

He defended the move, saying his opponents were evading scrutiny, but Labour have now scrapped the leaflet.

The Lib Dems said they would not give those currently in prison the vote.

However, they stressed the issue needed to be looked at following a 2005 ruling by the European Court of Rights that found the UK's ban on extending the vote to convicted prisoners was unlawful

Ministers have been consulting on how to respond to the ruling since then with critics accusing them of kicking the issue into the long grass.

High-profile cases

Leaflets distributed under Mr Godsiff's name asked: "Do you want convicted murderers, rapists and paedophiles to be given the vote? The Lib Dems do".

The leaflets contained pictures of a number of high-profile criminals including Vanessa George and Steven Wright, convicted in 2008 for the murder of five women in the Ipswich area.

As soon as it came to my attention I immediately ensured that no more of these would be distributed
Ray Collins, general secretary of the Labour Party

Mr Godsiff defended the campaign tactic, saying the Lib Dems' policy on the issue was "black and white" but they were not making that clear to voters.

"I agree that the imagery is strong but I do not accept that it is any stronger than anything that has been put out by my opponents," Mr Godsiff told the BBC.

"The leaflet has been distributed in certain areas but it does not contain anything that is factually incorrect. I have put out some negative campaigning when my opponents do not tell the electorate what their position is.

"It is right and proper to ask whether they support or do not support whether people convicted of serious crimes can vote. I have invited other candidates to make their position clear....I have made my position clear."

'Legal minefield'

Asked whether he had personally sanctioned the leaflets, he said he would not discuss the "mechanics" of his campaign but accused the Lib Dems of lying about his policies and voting record.

However, Labour have acted to defuse the row, saying the leaflet was not approved at a national level.

"This was a locally produced leaflet," Ray Collins, the party's general secretary, said. "As soon as it came to my attention I immediately ensured that no more of these would be distributed."

The Lib Dems said they were "unhappy" with the claims and did not favour any attempt to give already convicted prisoners the vote, describing such a step as a "legal minefield".

But, in future, they said judges should be given discretion to decide, upon sentencing, whether to strip someone of the vote, depending on the length of sentence and the nature of the crime.

Once a new system was in place, they said existing prisoners should be given the right to launch an appeal to try and secure the vote.

However, they insisted that those guilty of the most serious crime should never be able to do this.

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