Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Thursday, 11 August 2011
- Restoring the right of a Custody Officer to authorise charges - saving thousands in CPS lawyers' wages and ensuring that many more of the guilty actually face a court
- Strict guidelines on when a criminal can be cautioned - and how often
- Repeal or wholesale modification of the our Human Rights Act - not, as promised by the Government, trying to get it changed at source by amending the ECHR - to prevent some of its perverse effects
- Removing all targets for detections, which skew activity away from what might be needed
- Exempting Police Forces from the provisions of the Health & Safety legislation, reversing the dreadfully paralysing effects of the Met's corporate conviction
Monday, 8 August 2011
Wednesday, 20 July 2011
'More resources' for the hacking enquiry were recommmended by the Select Committee, has this translated into 15 more detectives? Probably not, it is much more likely this is a Met decision in light of the increased number of enquiries being made of the Weeting team, and would probably have happened whatever the committee report had said. So can we expect to see more?
To investigate the whole hacking business properly is an immense task; and properly is how it must now be done. That means exploring lines of enquiry which would not normally be followed. The difficulty is that, in normal circumstances, large investigations will often be constrained by what is practicable. Where many offences are disclosed a management decision will regularly be taken to restrict the enquiries (and hence the resources needed) to just enough necessary to prove the scope of offending, and to attract a suitable punishment. There is no other way, normally, to manage the investigation and also the ensuing trial. An indictment can become simply too large and complicated for a jury to consider. Were it not for such sensible decisions serial offenders like Levi Bellfield and Delroy Grant would be on trial for most of the next ten years - assuming the investigations were completed in their lifetimes.
You notice, though, that I keep using the word 'normally'. Very exceptionally the context of an investigation changes, and it becomes desirable not only to convict the guilty but also to prove publicly that enquiries have been thoroughly and completely carried out. While the original hacking enquiry might have started out as 'normal', the ever-increasing storm of the last two weeks means that Operation Weeting is now very firmly in the 'exceptional' category. It simply will not do for any stone to remain unturned, no possible offence to be missed. So every one of the 4000-odd names will be looked at to see if any attempt was made to hack their voicemail, and if so, each one will be investigated as a separate offence - undoubtedly many victims will have been hacked several times, each one a new offence. So the total number of crimes to investigate might well be into four figures, and it is hardly any wonder that 45 officers have so far managed only to speak to 170 or so victims. Franky that is quite good going . Never mind 8 hours, it will be amazing if this is wrapped up in 8 months.
So how might more resources be found? The Government could throw some money the Met's way, and as welcome as it might be in these straitened times, it won't be the complete answer. There is a limit to how much overtime officers can perform before becoming tired, stale and less effective. The answer must be more officers, but not just any old (or more accurately, young) cop will do. The expectation ought to be that experienced detectives are used, and the only two areas of the Met with those officers with numbers sufficient to be able to stand significant abstractions are the Murder Squads and Counter-terrorism. Of course the Murder squads already have an entire team struck off for the Madeline McCann review, and who knows what work is ongoing within Counter- terrorism? While both Commands may be relatively under-stretched at the moment, as we know all too well that situation can change virtually overnight. I am sure there is no greater priority in the Met at the moment than hacking - nor should there be, as a complete, transparent and successful resolution of that investigation is crucial to the process of rebuilding trust and confidence in the Met; essential if that wonderful but all too-often flawed organisation is to recover from what must be its lowest point for 40 years.
But in amongst all this, I wonder how fair it is on Londoners. The Met has traditionally taken on some national functions, notably protection of the Royal Family, as well as getting involved in other ad hoc issues in which it has no geographical interest - the McCann review, for example. Is the hacking investigation really a matter just for the Capital? Leaving aside the slightly esoteric and ultimately irrelevant debate as to where online or other telecoms-based offences actually take place, aren't the victims spread across the country and therefore several police boundaries? Isn't the whole thing anyway now one of national interest and importance? Perhaps the pain ought to be shared more widely, perhaps the additional resources the Select Committee called for should be drawn from other forces, so that other commitments in London are affected less and any that arise in future can be met without affecting the Weeting team.
It is perhaps an attractive solution, but one which the Met I knew and loved would resist on the basis it wanted to sort out its own mess. That attitude might be laudable, were it based upon a genuine desire to make amends rather than a degree of arrogance. But I think the current state of its reputation demands a new, more open and more humble, approach.
Tuesday, 12 July 2011
I know John Yates well enough to consider him shrewd, decent and honest. I would have thought him the last person to be unconvincing before a Select Committee, but for the first and quite probably last time in find myself in complete agreement with Keith Vaz. (Incidentally, do you agree that having Mr. Vaz in charge of an investigation into corruption is at the same time astounding and brilliant?)
I had expected AC Yates to have been firm, eloquent and impressive. What we saw and heard was none of these things, so I have tried to work out why. The alternatives posed by most as this incredible tale has unfolded have been the traditional choice of 'cock-up or conspiracy'. But finding the former out of the question and the latter very difficult to believe of him, I have looked for a third way, and it just might be - and I sincerely hope I am correct - that it is a combination of the man's decency and the current Met culture of apology without blame, to which I have alluded in past blog posts.
To understand this possibility one must take a realistic view of how these investigations, even the most high-profile ones, are conducted. Very few of the operational decisions are made by the figurehead ACPO officer, even 'Yates of the Yard'. Instead they are reported to by junior officers on all but the highest-level strategic issues. They must trust their officers, of course, and will question and probe to ensure they are happy with progress, but they cannot and do not look at every document, every statement, themselves. If they did, why have the junior officers anyway? Given the back-covering environment in which police officers are forced these days to operate it is inconceivable that the decisions and their supporting reasons are not documented. Every investigation has a policy log, and when the officers who surely advised John Yates that there was no further mileage in the hacking inquiry did so, their reasoning would have been there in black and white, or at least an email or several.
So when he said in his weekend interview that he shouldn't, as an Assistant Commissioner, be expected to sift through two binbags of evidence himself, he was quite correct. But somebody should have, and I suspect somebody else decided not to, or at least not to ask a few Detective Constables to do so.He or she then took a punt, and assured the Boss that there was nothing in there. If John Yates is to appear convincing - for his own sake and that of the Met he must – he will have to bite the bullet and explain, in detail, naming names and producing documents. However distasteful this may be to a man of integrity and who treats his juniors with the utmost respect, it is the only way forward; in such dirty fashion lies the only way properly to come clean.
Because the blame cannot be pushed to News International, no matter how obstructive or uncooperative they might have been. John Yates is good enough a copper to know that, surprise surprise, criminals tend not to cooperate, not to confess and not to hand over evidence on a plate. And never two binbags full. They lie, cheat, hide and destroy their tracks and it is up to the investigators, despite all this, to find the proof and make sure justice is served. The notion that somehow News International ought to be above that, particularly in the context of this whole affair, is, I am afraid, as naïve as it is unconvincing.
Wednesday, 6 July 2011
Since I retired I have been paid by a number of media organisations; in every case it has been in return for my commentary, my opinion or technical assistance. I have maintained a rigid stance that I will be paid only for what I create in my mind post-retirement, and that nothing else is on offer.
I sincerely hope that both the serving officers who sold information and the journalists who sanctioned payment will be properly dealt with for the corruption in which they have been complicit. That is necessary if the reputations of these two sometimes competing, sometimes symbiotic, often infuriating but ultimately always essential institutions are to be in any way preserved.
The baby and bath-water interface must be managed carefully. The release of information by officers, as I always did, could and should be encouraged for the sole purpose of furthering the interests of the Police - either to garner public support and confidence in investigations, or to protect, quite properly, the reputation of the service. Any other motivation, especially personal enrichment, must be jumped upon. But do not restrict the very necessary and very useful relationship which most journalists and most police officers employ to such good effect for the public good.
Thursday, 19 May 2011
Thursday, 5 May 2011
Sean O'Neill of The Times has written an interesting piece today (which you can read HERE if you are a Times subscriber; if you are not then it is worth a Pound), having had exclusive access to a copy of the IPCC report into the Met failures in the Night Stalker case. Or, to be absolutely accurate, the IPCC's report into one failing which occurred in 1999 in the Night Stalker case.
Thursday, 31 March 2011
Outside Woolwich Crown Court last week Commander Simon Foy rightly apologised for the Met failing to catch Delroy Grant earlier, and promised the lessons from the case would be learnt. My knowledge of the case leads me to believe a new and independent inquiry into the failings over seventeen years must be launched.
As soon as Delroy Grant was arrested in November 2009 the bosses in SCD1, the Met’s Homicide and Serious Crime Command, which had been responsible for the investigation for the past eleven years, wanted to know if he could have been captured earlier. They acted quickly, and appointed a Detective Superintendent to oversee what they described as ‘a search for learning’.
This review began in November 2009 and very quickly uncovered what we are now calling the 1999 mistake – where false assumptions and slack work by a couple of junior officers led to the name Delroy Grant being shown as eliminated on the investigation’s database. The error was reported quickly, officers were spoken to and the matter promptly referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The IPCC mounted an investigation, and as a result recommended ‘Words of Advice’ as the appropriate disciplinary punishment for the officers. This sorry episode featured highly in Commander Foy’s apology and the media coverage of the case after Grant’s conviction.
“This action remains outside the current priority lines of enquiry as deemed by the SIO of (1) Motor-cyclists SE London, (2) Motor-cyclists Brighton, (3) Single Suggestions from media appeals and Crimewatch , and (4) Refusals.”
So rather than look at 20 or so men who were all working at the same place the team continued to try to get DNA swabs from a list of thousands. And the suggestion of a victim who had actually seen and touched the suspect was not acted upon, while the word of one - possibly unknown - person who had phoned the Crimewatch studio or the incident room would have been.
Delroy Grant of course has now been convicted, and there is still time for this and other errors to be reported and acted upon. We can be happy of course that a Detective Superintendent in the Metropolitan Police will be a man of integrity, and will do his duty diligently. But I maintain - as I did back in Novemeber 2009 - that it is daft that the Detective Superintendent in question is Simon Morgan. He is responsible for reporting the learning from the whole SCD1 investigation, for which he alone was responsible for eight of its eleven years. How difficult must it be for a person objectively and critically to review his own decisions, and for such a public and important purpose? It is not fair to him personally, and neither in the interests of the Met nor the Police Service generally, for any ‘learning’ report to have even a suggestion of bias or lack of openness. Irrespective of the thoroughness of his work, it probably means any report will always be so tainted, and it really is crucial for the Met to get it done properly – independently - if they are to start to rebuild the public trust and confidence that the Night Stalker case has so badly damaged.
Thursday, 24 March 2011
The two presumably deluded jurors who thought Delroy Grant had a point have made their stand; fortunately they served just to delay his conviction by 24 hours.
Tomorrow one hopes he will be weighed off with more porridge than even a City wholefood eaterie can sell in one breakfast, and we will never see him again. Which is, obviously, a good thing.
It meant though that, once more we have a Met Commander apologising live on all news channels, repeated in case you missed it at 6, 6.30 and 10. At least Simon Foy ventured away from the revolving sign and down to Woolwich to meet real people, real victims, and say sorry in person. But I imagine I am not alone in asking, in these circumstances - "What for? What went wrong? Who messed up?"
For possibly the last time, I am on this occasion in an excellent position to answer those questions for you, to expand on the Commander's words and explain what I think the Met, absolutely correctly in my view, might have apologised for.
The second Minstead offence, in 1998, was linked to one six years earlier by DNA left at both scenes by the suspect. The investigation was then given to what was probably then called the Area Crime OCU and is now known as the Homicide & Serious Crime Command, but which for simplicity we will call HSCC. HSCC deals almost exclusively in murder; the occasional serial rape or similar might be taken on but murders are their staple diet. And very good at investigating murder they are too - detection rates are invariably above 90%, often higher. Having led a murder team in London for 8 years, I think I know why this is. I had a skilled, experienced team of around 30 people to throw at each new offence, backed up by as much expert and scientific help as I wanted. Since most murders were unplanned, even spontaneous, the killer had given no thought to DNA, to fingerprints, to fibres and trace evidence, to CCTV or to telecoms data. So, in most cases it was simply a matter of turning up, doing our usual stuff and arresting the murderer a few days or weeks later. This was the principle which was applied to Minstead, for 11 years from 1998 to 2009. We had a DNA profile, and although we didn't know who it belonged to if we threw enough experience, enough detective savvy and enough science at it we would catch him.
Well we didn't did we. And in May 2009 when I first went across to Lewisham to 'have a look, see if there is a way of solving it' (as was my brief) it was pretty obvious that we never would. As I later learned from the decision logs, virtually everything for the past 11 years had been based on DNA. Even when on occasion some creativity or lateral-thinking was employed, it was getting scientists to try to discern ancestry or physical characteristics from the DNA profile. It was all about the DNA.
Essentially, the theory was that we knew some things about our man - gender, race, approximate age - and some other facts might be assumed from witness testimony - rides a motor bike (which Grant didn't), has a connection with Brighton (which Grant did), had his mother die in 2000 (which Grant didn't). Add to that detective nous - he must be able to be 'unseen' in the street, must do reconnaissance during the day, and a little behavioural psychologist profiling - will have previous convictions for burglary (Grant didn't), won't be married (he was, 3 times), will be a loner with few friends (he certainly wasn't) and it would be easy. From the overall pool of suspects, all the black men in south-east London born between 1945 and 1976, apply the above criteria and then you'll have a list of people you need to get DNA from, one of whom will be your suspect.
But the practice was very different. First, the unfiltered pool was populated by many whose experience of contact with the Met Police was less than satisfactory. That is just a fact of history - they were not treated very well by the Police in the 60s, 70s & early 80s. [Perhaps the Met shpould apologise for that?] Which meant that many refused as a matter of principle, or out of mistrust. Every time this happened a decision had to be made - arrest or not? On the basis the real suspect might well also have declined, this was a tricky choice which had to be justified in every case, but also one which sapped the energy and time of the team.
The task of getting a DNA sample from each of more than 20,000 men was made more difficult, more hopeless, by two other crucial factors. First, the prioritisation of who to swab first was, it seemed, ever-changing. Imagine a deck of cards, dealt out one by one until the King of Hearts was turned up. Only this deck had 21,000 cards, and the King of Hearts was missing, I don't know, perhaps lost down the back of the sofa. Every few months whoever was in charge at that time would see a new possibility - perhaps from a recent offence, perhaps from some other wise old Detective's suggestion - and call all the cards back, shuffle them again and begin once more to deal. In my first week 'looking at' Minstead all the supervisors on the team were again led through this by the Senior Investigating Officer. Except all the time Delroy Grant wasn't just hiding down the back of the sofa, he was burgling, raping, assaulting and robbing the elderly.
The second thing which appalled me in May 2009 was the size of the team. Or, more precisely, the lack of size of the team. MInstead had been culled in 2004 when officers had to be plundered from HSCC to bolster Safer Neighbourhood Teams. Having already cut 3 murder teams, when Sir Ian came calling again Minstead felt the knife and was halved in size. Effectively in May 2009 there were 8 people trying to get all these DNA swabs. In my first week they returned with one solitary swab. As we then had 5,200 men on the priority list the arithmetic was striking - at that rate it was 100 years of work.
Added to this, every time there was a new offence the same handful of officers had to respond, to do the initial enquiries, the house to house, the CCTV retrieval - everything that a murder team would do, with not even a third of the staff. And a murder team would usually take one investigation at a time and then not be given another for 6 weeks or so; Minstead sometimes had 3 a night, often 2 and once even 5. They simply could not cope, and thus a fiction had evolved, whereby offences which were plainly part of the series were discounted on pernickety and often spurious grounds, left to be investigated by the Borough. Which also meant they were not part of the official Minstead statistics, not part of the crime pattern analysis and most crucially not available to be cited as a reason for increasing resources. So the circle continued.
I reported these things upwards pretty quickly; why it took so long for them to be changed is another question and one I cannot answer. It was not, though, through lack of trying on my part. (The same goes for some individual instances of malpractice and inappropriate behaviour I found and reported - that is a related but different story.) What is undeniable though is that once we acted less like a murder squad and more like a burglary squad, once we forgot DNA and remembered observations, once we were looking for the Nightstalker on the streets at night and not in a database during the day time, we got him. The tragedy is that it took so long.
I haven't yet mentioned the missed opportunities being spoken of all over the media, so I must do briefly. The 1999 event is headlining because it was referred to the IPCC, and it is shocking because not only did a Minstead officer fail to do his job correctly but so did the Borough. Minstead or not there was a burglary with a registration number and a therefore a named suspect which was never properly investigated. Am I alone in thinking that a mistake which has the wholly unforeseen but wholly unacceptable consequences of letting Delroy Grant escape and offend for a further decade is deserving of a sanction more serious than 'Words of advice'? Unless those words advise the location of the local Jobcentre perhaps.
The 2001 opportunity is discounted by some, but for the wrong reasons. It may well be that the suspect suggested by a member of the public in 2001 was not the Nightstalker Delroy Grant, nor the 'wrong' one concerned in the 1999 error, but a third man of that name. It really doesn't matter. The point is that the research on that occasion was conducted by the ever-reliable PC Tony Briggs, whom I name because he did the right thing, as usual. He reported that he could not be certain that the Delroy Grant named in the phone call was the same man as the one in the 1999 incident. I should have thought that sufficient to alert the decision-makers to the need for a review of the 1999 action, and that is the missed opportunity.
In 2003, quite simply, a victim of Delroy Grant told officers that she thought her assailant might be a mini-cab driver from the local office she used. At that time Delroy Grant did indeed work at that firm. This was written up for action, to research the drivers at the firm, but a decision made not to proceed with the line of enquiry because officers were, and I paraphrase, too busy trying to get DNA swabs from black men with licences to ride motor cycles. This is not 20:20 hindsight, but a simple matter of investigative acumen. What was more likely to return a result, and quickly - looking to swab many hundreds if not thousands of men, one of which may or may not be the suspect, or looking at 20 or 30 men who work at a firm, where a victim who has actually seen the suspect at close quarters, thinks he might work? I believe it was a missed opportunity every bit as shameful as the 1999 episode.
Where do we go from here? What is important is that this is all never to happen again. For me, top of the list is that those who are the decision-makers in major investigations realise that an unknown DNA profile is conclusive evidence of presence, and so often of guilt, but that it is a very blunt, unsophisticated and ultimately unsuccessful means of identifying a suspect from a large population. Mass screenings seldom work, often deflect focus and always cost the earth.
I hope the Met learns other lessons, there are many, many things within Operation Minstead to consider, and which would make this already lengthy blog post intolerably hard work for all of us. However, I worry that the credibility of their internal search for enlightenment will be hard-won. Unless they have changed things since I left in November 2010, the officer in charge of reporting on the learning from Minstead is the officer who was its Senior Investigating officer from 2001 until I took over in October 2009. I don't think that is healthy either for him or the Met, but my observations fell on deaf ears. I really don't want to see them apologising again.
Monday, 7 March 2011
Every now and then a member of the Bar or a solicitor does me the favour of reminding me how that decision was so correct. The latest, according to the Guardian website, is Ruth Hamann of Hodge,Jones & Allen - a firm which evidently specialises in the law of protest. Essentially, the firm are claiming that the Metropolitan Police are criminalising students by issuing an 'excessive number' of cautions for aggravated trespass, arising from the recent tuition fee protests. It has always been my perhaps simplistic view that Police don't criminalise people, people do (with apologies to Goldie Lookin Chain). The law is there, you choose to break it, you're a criminal. The police just clear up the mess - or at least a percentage of the mess, I suppose.
But more than this, I am shocked and a little disappointed that Ms. Hamann is quoted thus:
"This may dissuade some young people from attending subsequent protests for fear that they might be charged with an offence and required to attend court".
Now, if we start on the premise that cautions can only be administered where the cautionee admits the offence, then we must presume mustn't we that each caution results from a committed offence. In which case the excessive number of cautions might be two or more per offence, but just the one would seem to me to be about right - and certainly not excessive.
Adult cautions for offences were introduced in the 1980s not only to take cases out of the over-burdened courts system, but also to give first-time offenders the chance to appreciate the advantages of mending their ways without going to court and getting a proper conviction. If, as Ms. Hamann observes, students who find themselves cautioned then refrain from committing further offences, or indeed find themselves dissuaded from attending events such as these marches where the likelihood of offending seems to be increased, then is this a Bad Thing? Or is it just the cautioning system working as it was designed to? And therefore a reason for a solictor - 'An Officer of the Court' - to celebrate a feature of our creaky, over-sophisticated, under-resourced criminal justice system that actually works as it was meant to, rather than carp about it.
Thursday, 10 February 2011
A very unusual title, but let me explain. In the early 1980s there was a very large, very loud and very brusque DCI. And that was the phrase he uttered when a detective had messed up, though I don't think he actually said 'messed'. He was true to his word; within days if not hours the unfortunate officer would don a dusted-off uniform and be patrolling the (then not so mean) streets of north London in one of British Leyland's finest Panda cars.
Somehow over the last 30 years the Police Service lost that ability, that preparedness to judge and then to act upon it. Following the thinking that saw competitive sport replaced by trampolining in our schools and our educational qualifications being watered down so as to be almost meaningless, nobody could be labelled a loser. Blame became a dirty word, followed quickly by responsibility. While Police Officers would rightly be sacked for corruption, dishonesty or criminal acts, making mistakes was forgivable, almost acceptable.
However, lest we appeared arrogant, a way had to be invented to show our acceptance of failings but without picking on the individuals and their errors which had caused them. A lead was given by the Macpherson report, with its now almost infamous construction of the concept of 'institutional racism'. Here was the answer - the organisation can blame itself, take the criticism, promise to change and to do better, but leave the individuals alone, irrespective of what they had done. This was obviously the correct stance where some feature of the organisation's methods were to blame, but it was realised it could also be used even in those cases where the organisation wasn't really at fault - where the processes and protocols were sound, it was just that they weren't followed.
The Met, or at least certain sections of it, have invented a buzz-phrase for this - 'organisational contrition'. And in most cases now, that is as far as it will go. We have seen it already in relation to demonstrations and some investigations - the ACPO officer saying sorry in front of the revolving sign is now a common sight.
There is a high-profile case currently sub-judice where I am pretty certain these issues will become very public, but that of course must wait. However, as the resurrected phone-hacking investigations gets underway, the line is that there will be a new strategy, new tactics - but woe betide anyone who concludes from this that the original investigation was flawed. The new one is different, that's all, not better.
DAC Sue Akers who is heading it is an experienced, smart and practical officer, whom I admire and respect. We can have every confidence that the investigation will now be progressed thoroughly. But although there might appear to have been a reluctance to act in the past, a lack of progress despite information being available and so the possibility of errors having been made, we shouldn't expect finger-pointing. I doubt any detective will have won the keys to a Vauxhall Astra.
In the last eight weeks we have witnessed what he meant. Two tragic murders - those of Joanna Yeates in Bristol and Nikitta Grender in Newport have it seems been separated by much more than the Bristol Channel, and illustrated his point perfectly.
If one were to compare the basic facts of these two murders there are certain similarities. Two young women, attractive, unmarried, murdered in their own homes. If anything, Nikitta being about to bear a child (which, of course, was also a victim of the murder) and the callousness of the attempt to burn her and her home after the murder ought, one might think, to make her crime slightly the more outrageous, the more newsworthy.
But while Joanna's murder was at the top of the news for many days, coverage of Nikitta has been very low key. So what are the differences in their cases which might have influenced this? Yes, the Christmas period during which the investigation into Joanna's disappearance and death was largely played out might have been quieter for other news; the very fact that such a tragedy occurred over the most important Christian religious period may have added a poignancy to the tragedy too. But isn't the real difference exactly what Lord Blair was alluding to? Put simply, using a perhaps old-fashioned concept, it was their class.
Joanna was 25, had studied, got qualifications - she was an Architect, so we were repeatedly told. (In fact she was a landscape architect, a very different occupation and one which wouldn't perhaps have had the same cachet and therefore impact?) She came from a middle-class family, rented in a nice part of town, had a middle-class boyfriend and eloquent friends and family willing to speak to the media.
Nikitta was 19, eight months pregnant (though unmarried, as we were reminded on a few occasions) and lived on a council estate. Her mother spoke via a statement read by police; her friend was interviewed on national news wearing a dressing gown. In daytime. The coverage was scant given the gravity of the crime; what there was did everything to promote an image of a typical (?) sink-estate unmarried teenage mother-to-be. A stark contrast to the features of Joanna's life and background which had been accentuated.
Murder detectives, to a man and woman, strive to solve their cases completely irrespective of the nature of the victim. It would be impossible to do otherwise - the reality of murders, especially in London, is that victims are all too often involved in drugs, gangs, prostitution or other lawful but 'alternative' lifestyles. Were value judgments made on the victim's worthiness then very little would get done. I find it a pity that the media are not as inclusive in the way they deal with these tragedies. I am genuinely interested - is it merely a commercial thing? Do murders of middle-class women sell more papers?
Wednesday, 5 January 2011
Tuesday, 4 January 2011
Freed from the inhibition of being a Police Officer (which is inhibiting of expression, not of thought) I intend to make this blog a vehicle for my oft-disconnected jottings and musings. Until something new comes along to stimulate my thoughts, here's a piece I wrote around two years ago, just to give an idea of what to expect in the future:
I am a Police Officer, and immensely proud of it. I have achieved a reasonably senior rank, and some success in my chosen specialism, which is the investigation of major crime. On successive evenings recently I have sat at home as a helpless onlooker whilst the organisation - the calling - I have followed so passionately for the last 28 years was assassinated on prime-time TV. And the Police, not the broadcaster, were to blame.
First, BBC1’s Crimewatch featured a Police Constable and a Community Support Officer in Newcastle who, waiting outside a Tesco store for an unconnected purpose, were eye-witnesses to a robbery. The Constable was savvy enough to appreciate what she was seeing, and went with her colleague to investigate. The CCTV showed them looking through the store’s main doors, just as the two robbers (armed with a crowbar and a pick-axe handle, but no obvious guns or knife) were relieving the security guards of many thousands of pounds destined for the shop’s cash machine.
They watched too, as a slightly chubby, bespectacled and middle-aged lady employee made a heroic job of grappling with a robber. When her efforts failed and the villains made for the door, what did the cops do? Bar the door armed with baton and CS gas? Rugby tackle the robbers and save the money? Even rush into the store to make sure there were no casualties? No, they ran away. The Constable explained to the cameras (from what might perhaps be her preferred ‘beat’, sitting in the station at a computer) that there were two robbers and she decided they were likely to overpower her so she wouldn’t tackle them.
On Wednesday, ITV showed ‘Cops on Camera’. In it we were treated to the spectacle of a drunken yob who had mouthed off at some Constables. I think he had told an officer “I’m gonna split you”. We were then witness to several minutes of negotiation between three officers and said yobbo. But this was Taunton on a Friday evening, not the Iranian Embassy siege. It can’t just have been old, proud Coppers like me who were cringing at the stand off, with two fit young men frightened to approach an unfit lout who could barely support himself but was making enough noise for ten men.
But worse, they were keeping him at bay with a Taser, the high-voltage electric shock gun which, until relatively recently, was available only to firearms officers in properly authorised operations. What made it the more saddening were the self-satisfied comments they made after he was (finally) arrested. The Taser had made it easy for them, it was ‘fit for purpose’ said one – easily using management-speak like an officer who probably has a bright future. I confess I never realised its purpose was to enable drunks to be bullied into submission, in the name of the Community.
In both cases the worst excesses of the Health & Safety-driven, risk-averse attitudes which pervade our current police force (sorry, Police Service) were plain. The officer in Newcastle may well have been correct in her judgment. She could well have been pushed aside, taken a slap or a punch or, God forbid, even worse. I’m sorry but I expect her – indeed I firmly believe the Community expects her – to take that risk. That is why we have Police, that is why we train and equip them and, yes, why we pay them. Considerably more than Tesco pay their assistants. We expect that they will, occasionally, put themselves at risk for the common good. Is it not completely unacceptable for a Police Officer, on duty and in uniform, to watch a robbery and then run away without even trying to effect an arrest? Unfortunately, anyone who pointed this out to her would, I am sure, be branded a heretic. She had carried out her ‘dynamic risk assessment’ and decided to run away; her flight of course being the only dynamism in her conduct that morning.
What possessed Northumbria Police then to advertise this sorry tale in front of millions on Crimewatch I cannot begin to fathom. Now not only do we do stupid things but we actively seek to put them on the telly. I am pretty confident many of the viewers must have felt similar anger to me; only the Police Officers would have shared the shame.
Then ‘Cops With Cameras’ turned shame to acute embarrassment. It was a drunk, calling Old Bill names just as thousands of drunks have done before him for the last 180 years. The two young officers, having made the decision to act, could have moved in swiftly and effected an arrest in seconds. Instead they chose to threaten the use of a weapon which, while not lethal on its own, is thoroughly unpleasant. It is an excellent tool in the correct circumstances; I have been present at its deployment and support its availability unreservedly. Seeing the Taser-toting PC almost toying with the drunk, playing the laser spot which indicates where it will strike up and down his body, sickened me. It reached a point where the drunk wanted to comply but was also desperate to keep his jacket clean and refused to lie down. I was by now willing him to give in - for the Taser not to be used - with a fervour my TV only usually receives during my team’s away games.
Yet, I don’t actually blame any of these Constables. Just as liberal thought percolated from local authorities through our schools, the NHS and other public services in the 1980s, it is now entrenched in policing and has not only changed the essential character of the leadership of the organisation, but crucially has also distorted the culture and values of its officers.
During my training, in the early 1980s, a common phrase from the Instructors (to translate for modern cops, that was what Facilitators were called then) was “If you can’t take a joke…….”. It should have been completed by “….. you shouldn’t join the Job”, but the regularity with which it was repeated made the second half unnecessary. In that simple, unofficial and light-hearted idiom was encapsulated a whole raft of expectations and norms. It was expected that sometimes it would be unpleasant, thankless and dangerous. We all knew that, and quite frankly we knew we hadn’t chosen interior design or librarianship as a career.
We joined a disciplined, hierarchical force, where obedience without question was the norm, where pride in the uniform, the ethos of service and a readiness to take action when ‘normal’ people would gape or hide, were desirable and highly-prized characteristics.
I now fear this ethic has disappeared. The long tradition of heroics by our police on and off duty may be nearing its end; indeed what we have seen is not just that. It is a lack of fibre, an unwillingness amongst officers to dirty their hands. Despite their extensive ‘Personal Protective Equipment’ (vest, baton, handcuffs and CS gas) we have a new generation of Bobbies unwilling to get involved in physical confrontation unless they have overwhelming force of numbers, or a hi-tech cattle prod to threaten with. Some, less kind than me, might I am sure describe it in a different way – one which makes their awful modern yellow jackets very appropriate.
Another stark reminder of the new mindset in recent weeks came to me not on television but while I was working. Sitting with a few officers from my specialist investigation team, we were catching up on the case we had been called out to in a local police station. We had all been at work for around 16 hours; it was gone midnight and I knew I wouldn’t even be home for lunch. I eavesdropped in disbelief as a ‘veteran’ (read: 3 years service) Police Constable dictated to her newly-recruited colleague an email to their Sergeant. The content was essentially telling him that, as she had been working overtime until 1am, she would not be in for her 6am start but instead would be appearing at noon.
Intrigued, I asked and found that the practice now is that officers can insist on eleven hours between their shifts. “EU rules”, she added, with the confidence of someone who clearly knew her rights; a manner which I instantly recognised from my time on the beat. I tried in my mind to work out how the Sergeant, coming on duty at 6am to find he was an officer short, would cope. What if the whole team, or half of it even, were late off? Finding it insoluble, I was forced to conclude that I was applying the simple logic of the past to what has become a very different situation.
Is there any way back? Depressingly I don’t believe so. The last three Met Commissioners before Sir Paul Stephenson have all appeared as defendants in Health & Safety Act prosecutions. Whilst the Lords Stevens and Condon were acquitted, their case was in relation to how the organisation looked after its officers, and the decision to prosecute at all prompted a re-think of how we dealt with risk. There are now generic risk assessments and corporate risk assessments in place for every imaginable occurrence in day-to-day policing. Officers who are set to work with but a passing acquaintance with the Theft Act are instructed ad nauseam in conducting dynamic risk assessments for the unimaginable.
All an officer has to do is suggest that his/her dynamic assessment suggested danger, and no supervisor has the courage to challenge it, knowing full well anyway that eventually someone further up the chain would capitulate even if that courage were found. In most cases they do their own risk (to career) assessment, and the H&S Emperor continues his streak down the High Street. There are a few left who are willing to point out the nakedness, but sadly we greatly outnumber those who are listening.
Unless somebody grasps this, soon, and changes the culture, we must become accustomed to Police who are no more likely to act extraordinarily than is the lady on the checkout at the supermarket. And that is not a joke I can take.