I read the Court of Appeal judgment this morning in the case of Smith v Chief Constable of Sussex Police, proof, if proof be needed, that I do occasionally read The Times Law Reports. For the uninitiated, they can be found after “Obituaries” and before “Court Circular.”
This was the appalling case of the claimant who had alerted the police to a man who was making threats to kill him. The police did nothing, and as a result, the claimant was seriously assaulted and nearly died. The Court of Appeal ruled that there should be some point at which police officers, once alerted, could not escape responsibility. Unlike the ordinary passer-by, their police status would require them to do something.
It’s breathtaking that the Chief Constable thought otherwise, not to mention the quality of the legal advice he received, which puts me in mind of two recent events highlighting the inability of the police to “prioritise” their responsibilities.
The first concerned a neighbour of mine, who was constantly pestered by a group of antisocial yobs outside his house late at night, drinking, shouting, swearing, and throwing rolls of lavatory paper at his windows. Guess what! He contacted the police, and was firmly advised not to confront the group on pain of injury or arrest! So he waited for the police to attend, which, in the fullness of time, they did, in the form of a community support officer, also known as a “hobby bobby.”
When the yobs reassembled the following night, he again contacted the police for a progress report, and was told they had been spoken to, but no further action had been taken for fear of upsetting them! So his ordeal continued, unabated.
Then there was the case of a man who returned home late at night, had a violent argument with his drunken wife, and left in her car to give her time to sober up and calm down. She phoned the police to complain that her husband had taken her car, and wanted advice on how to get it back. Within fifteen minutes, six, yes, six police officers turned up at her house, and when her husband returned a few minutes later, he was promptly arrested for breach of the peace, and when he protested, further arrested for obstruction. Happily, the case against him was dismissed.
As the song goes: “A policeman’s lot is not an ‘appy one,” but it shouldn’t take rocket science to “prioritise” complaints and act on them promptly and responsibly. Confidence in the police is the cornerstone of a civilised society, and if the judgment of the Court of Appeal is anything to go on, they still have a lot to learn.