PLOD ON THE BEAT

I read with wry amusement and some disquiet the remarks made by the Chief Plod of West Midlands Police, that because of financial constraints, or so he says, the days of the ‘bobby’ on the beat are numbered. He went on to say that police patrols will disappear from middle class neighbourhoods as Plod becomes a digital-first organisation.  He also cautioned (if you’ll forgive the pun) that the public will have to accept the end of of the “chocolate box image of how policing should be”, whatever that may mean!  He must be joking! Surely somebody in a white coat should lead him gently away.

There is an obvious problem about this approach.  Plod digitally enhanced?  Come off it, they still lick their pencils when taking notes. It’s all pie-in-the-sky, and it won’t work!

Ask any law-abiding person, whether from a middle-class neighbourhood or a rough backstreet slum, and they will tell you to a man that a visible Plod presence is the best possible deterrent to street crime. They don’t have to do anything except the occasional ‘hello, hello, hello’, and strut their stuff.

Time and again over the years when Plod has been conspicuous by his absence, the excuses have been manifold and universally lame.  The most popular one is ‘working on papers’ back at the Station, with heavy boots up and munching on a cream bun. And their response time is a disgrace, second only to the Ambulance Service.

If numbers have to be cut, and I don’t accept that argument for one moment, then cut where it doesn’t matter, the soft underbelly back at the Station, and leave the front-line officers alone.  The lone voice of reason came from the chairman of the West Midlands Police Federation, when he stated that the bedrock of policing is neighbourhood policing. “We must never lose contact with the public we serve.”  Amen to that!

COSTA CUTTING EXERCISE

I suppose it could be called innovative policing, two words that jar when taken together.  I refer to the decision in 2013 to close Muswell Hill Police Station as a cost-cutting exercise, but Plod, egged on by the local Lib Dem MP, at least for the time being, have not been idle.  After much navel-gazing, it has been decided to replace the Station counter as a contact point for Joe Public to complain about this, that and the rest, with an outlet in the local Costa coffee shop, and it’s hard to imagine how excited the management of Costa must have been when first approached. But no matter, it’s now a done deal.

Plod are making themselves available to Joe Public for six hours every week, Wednesday and Thursday evenings, and Saturday afternoons, where Joe can report crime, get crime prevention advice and recover lost property. But by all accounts, it hasn’t been an unqualified success.

The first problem identified is that Plod have no private area set aside to deal with Joe Public in confidence.  They have no desk, and no way of logging onto the police national computer.  They sit with paying customers, peering uneasily into their cafés lattés and fingering their blueberry muffins whilst at the same time keeping their pencils well licked and pocket books opened and at the ready.  So versatile are our boys in blue (berry)!

The Mail on Sunday, with obviously nothing better to do, and that should feature on their masthead, checked out the Costa/Plod shop over two evenings. There were no offences reported to them, although how that could have been determined over the primordial and relentless beat of the all-pervading muzak is hard to tell. One customer thought they were acting suspiciously so phoned Muswell Hill Police Station and got an answering machine.

It is early days yet, and the idea may well take off, but don’t hold your breath.  With a quarter of rapes, or should that be alleged rapes, being reported at police stations, along with other sensitive crimes, there are fears that victims may be less likely to come forward in such public locations, and even the temptation of the chef’s special may not be a sufficient inducement.

Still, as they say, nothing ventured nothing gained.

HONOUR KILLINGS

There is no honour in killing, so these chilling words are self contradictory.  They are the more so when parents kill their own child, and it is difficult to comprehend any culture, even the Stone Age, when such brutality could be condoned.

The conviction of the Ahmeds, originally from the foothills of Pakistan, is little consolation to their daughter Shafilea, who perished at their hands for failing to obey their medieval demands.  At the root of this despicable crime was Shafilea’s wish to live a Western life like her friends, and her refusal to be carted off to Pakistan to marry a complete stranger chosen for her by her ‘loving’ parents.

Arranged marriages are not the sole preserve of Middle Eastern illiterates.  Indeed, in the recent past we have had an example of an arranged marriage between the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer.  It was certainly not a love match, as the Prince’s affections lay elsewhere, and had done so well before he married Diana.  Historically, the Royals chose their matches within their own narrow circle right up to our present Queen.  Her sister, Princess Margaret, entered her life destroying downward spiral when he was forbidden to marry Captain Townsend.  They loved each other, but he was unsuitable, and that was the end of it. The sad irony is that she ended up marrying a photographer, quite a good photographer by all accounts, but a photographer nonetheless, and that union ended in divorce.

Shafilea’s death has an all too familiar ring to it. Those who could have helped, didn’t, and I refer to her school, the police and the social services. All were found wanting when she needed them most.

The problem, in part, lies in our own belief of the sanctity of marriage and family life, where we believe somewhat naively that the first concept is inalienable from the second.  Couples who marry, live together and have children are rarely challenged within the family circle, and there are instances, too many by far, of parents badly abusing their children, and in some cases, killing them. In these cases, as with Shafilea, the police and the ‘caring’ agencies are slow to act, and often too late when they do. But these cases are usually the result of bad parenting, or the arrival of an abusive and manipulative boyfriend where the mother feels helpless to intervene.

We must be careful not to rush to judgment and hold up our own values as the only ones worth following, but equally, to treat ‘honour killing’ as somehow different and therefore excusable because it has its roots in another culture is wholly unacceptable, especially when the crime is committed in the United Kingdom where the Ahmeds had settled and made their home.

Some crimes are so heinous they offend all the precepts of a civilised society, and should never be tolerated.

GIVE A DOG A BAD NAME

A number of commentators, some well enough respected to know better, have turned their attention to the acquittal of PC. Harwood on the charge of manslaughter.  You will remember it well, as it was videoed and broadcast over and over again since the incident back in April 2009.  No satisfactory explanation has been given for the delay of three years between the incident and the trial, and this is to be deplored.

The ‘victim’ was Ian Tomlinson, who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time during a day of violent protests in London, and it was never clearly established why he was there in the first place.  According to the evidence, he was struck on the leg with a baton and pushed over by PC. Harwood, and he subsequently died. He had a diseased liver, which was exaserbated by the fall.

The jury no doubt watched the video of the incident over and over again, and decided against the prosecution’s allegation that PC. Harwood was guilty of the unlawful death of Ian Tomlinson, hence his acquittal. Sad, yes, criminal conduct, no.

The verdict unleashed a torrent of vitriol directed at PC. Harwood in the worst excesses of partial reporting, and in particular, it was disclosed that PC. Harwood had a past record of similar conduct to show that he had a propensity to violence. Why, they ask rhetorically, was the jury not apprised of this?

In 2003, the government of the time decided to move the goalposts in favour of the prosecution in two significant ways. The first, which is relevant to PC. Harwood’s trial, was the admission of previous convictions to show propensity to commit the crime with which the accused was charged.  The second, not relevant to PC. Harwood, was the abolition of the right to silence when questioned. Many of us in the profession objected, on the ground that these changes would deny the accused a fair trial, but our objections fell on deaf ears. No surprises there!

If PC. Harwood’s previous track record is indeed correct, there are questions he will have to answer if he is to remain in the police force, and there is to be an inquiry at the highest level.  But this begs the question.

The issue for the jury to determine was what happened in April 2009. If they had been told of PC. Harwood’s disciplinary record prior to the incident, they might well have convicted him by taking their eye off the ball instead of concentrating, as they did, on the admissible evidence.

The adage “Give a dog a bad name and hang him” is particularly apposite in this unhappy saga, and I doubt if we have heard the end of it.  But above all, we pride ourselves on fairness in the legal process, and fairness dictates that jurors should not convict on past transgressions, but on the alleged transgression based on admissible evidence if proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

I do not usually defend the reputation of the Plod, but in this case, justice was done and seen to be done.  Let it be ever thus!

LOVE IS BLIND

I read a suggestion the other day from the Association of Chief Police Officers (P.L.O.D) concerning men who have a history of violence towards their partners. They support a Register, similar to the Sex Offenders Register, listing the details and current whereabouts of those convicted of domestic violence, and who are, by inference, likely to reoffend.

This proposal has been around for some time. It was last kicked into the long grass back in 2003, when some twerp in the Home Office with nothing better to do, produced a consultation document to this effect. It went down like a lead balloon, and until PLOD breathed new life into it, everybody thought it was dead and buried.

Love is a strange emotion, bringing together the most unlikely partners, and according to statistics, around 60% of partners stick it out through thick and thin, for richer for poorer and all that.

Domestic violence is all too real, not just for battered women, but for PLOD, the prosecuting authorities and the courts. In its extreme form, the violence is almost unimaginable, and often committed in front of children. All too often, the violent man suffers from a pathological disorder, which accounts for unexplained mood swings, and once the dark mood passes, he is full of remorse.

Then again, there are a few, hopelessly inadequate in all walks of life, who take a perverse and sadistic pleasure in inflicting pain on defenceless women, and for whom little or nothing can be said in mitigation.

But the real problem is not the fact that some men are given to violence, it’s the emotion that cannot be stripped from the equation. Time and again, even after severe beatings, the violent man begs his victim to forgive him and take him back, and time and again, she does so, knowing she shouldn’t, but hoping against hope that he will reform, and that this time, he means it.

So what is to be done? A Register is not the way forward. It may help, so I don’t dismiss the idea out of hand, but it’s not the solution. The solution is all about squaring the circle, which is remarkably unhelpful. First, there must be much more support for battered women, and not just a night or two in a Women’s Refuge. A battered woman should be treated from the outset as a victim of crime, with the police being informed as soon as she walks through the door. They, in turn, must give the case the same priority as they should over any allegation of violence, which must rule out a caution or other labour saving and utterly useless device. There already exists a plethora of legal sanctions to keep the offender away from his battered partner, on pain of imprisonment regardless of conviction, and these must be used to full effect.

But above all, the Crown Prosecution Service must be more supportive and proactive. They should know that between arrest and trial, the battered partner is likely to retract her complaint, either because she wants him back, or, more likely, she fears the consequences of giving evidence. After all, he knows where she lives.

The Social Services and the local authority must also put their collective shoulders to the wheel. The battered woman needs emotional as well as physical support to rebuild her life, and not simply expressions of condolence.

The CPS must take the lead in prosecuting the offender, even where the battered woman is a reluctant witness. They too have powers, not just to compel her to attend trial with a witness summons, but screens or a video link to allow her to give her evidence in the least stressful circumstances.

All this costs money, and it’s easy to throw in the towel with a reluctant witness. After all, if the battered woman can’t be bothered to turn up for trial, or having turned up, departs from the script, why bother?

We should bother because it’s our duty to protect the vulnerable, the more so where children are involved. After all, Pontius Pilate washed his hands, and look where it got him.