Tag Archives: crime

The Blaney game

It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye. Apparently the 21st century political equivalent of having a punch up beside the bike shed after school is to have a live debate on 18 Doughty Street.

Having had one with Mr Blaney not that long ago – and lived to tell the tale – the one thing I will say about him is that he has a curious attitude towards the individual and the state. The crimes of an individual – in Nelson Mandela’s case the violent reprisals of the ANC – are always unforgivable. The crimes of the state – in this case the Tory government’s refusal to criticise South Africa’s system of apartheid – is always justifiable. Philip Lawrence’s murderer should be exterminated. The system of human rights that protects me from being abused by the state should be abolished.

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but support for a system whereby the rights of the individual are always considered to be subservient to the interests of the state is support for the sort of totalitarianism that Uncle Joe would be comfortable with. Apparently however, we are to regard this as true “Thatcherism”. Thanks for clarifying, Donal.

The only exception to the rule that murder is murder is murder, as Donal himself pointed out during our debate on the Doughty News Hour, is Tony Martin (or St Tony as I understand he is known amongst certain members of the swivel-eyed fringe). Martin, let us not forget, shot a man in the back of the head as he was running away from him. At the very least, one would have thought, Mandela’s tacit support for necklacing by the ANC and Tony Martin’s laughably named ‘self-defence’ could be described as both morally abhorrent. Sadly however, simple consistency is too much to ask.

Get tough on the fear of crime

One of the things that most irritated me about the Orange Book a few years ago was David Laws hectoring the Lib Dems for not doing enough to acknowledge how the fear of crime affects people’s daily lives (I paraphrase as I don’t have the book in front of me right now). Boris Johnson made a similar comment during the launch for his bid for London Mayor today and last week the Observer wrote:

The state cannot order civil society back into being, but it can facilitate the process. A first step is to recognise fear of crime is not irrational just because recorded crime is down. It is a reasonable response by a public feeling remote from the police.

Nonsense. Well, half nonsense. Because it is certainly true that the fear of crime is a debilitating thing, and that it needs to be dealt with. But we will only be able to get a grip on it once we recognise that it is indeed irrational, and stop pretending otherwise.

If the fear of something is greatly out of proportion to the possibility that it might happen, then that fear is irrational, full stop. All parties have been going on about the semi-mythical “bobbies on the beat” for decades, yet it is simply impossible to have a policeman on every street corner, at all times. The level at which a visible police force would start to ‘reassure’ the public would be simply unattainable. Spending a fortune on recruiting, training and retaining policemen who will then be given nothing more to do than walk around to ‘reassure’ people would be simply silly.

It simply isn’t good enough for parties and journalists to persist with this line. We don’t need the police to reclaim the streets, as the Observer suggests, but the public to. How we tackle such a seemingly intractable notion is the big question, but by asking it we might just find the answer.

One thing we, as a society, might try is to reverse the trend towards viewing anti-social behaviour as criminality. 12 years ago, we had more crime, but no-one knew what anti-social behaviour was. One of New Labour’s most pernicious legacies has been to convince people that naughtiness, rowdiness and petty vandalism is something the police should handle when in the past it was something the community itself sorted out. The more we concentrate on anti-social behaviour, the worse it seems. We can never win the war on anti-social behaviour because it is so mutable: unless all young people transform into angels en masse, there will always be someone doing something that upsets someone.

Worse, it seems to have created an antagonism towards the police that eclipses even the attitude when I was a teenager. I remember my sixth form being chased down Bromley High Street by coppers with dogs simply because the landlord at a pub we had paid to hold a party at smelt a spliff. That was a moronic over-reaction by the boys in blue. Now they are charged with enforcing curfews on any kid who doesn’t look like they have a place to go. You couldn’t invent a better system for alienating young people from authority if you tried.

I’m sure that round the edges there are things that governments could do to sort this unholy mess out, but ultimately it is up to all of us to actually turn this situation around. In my view, we need to develop a mass participation consciousness-raising campaign such as Full Stop or Make Poverty History, to persuade people that they are the agents of their own destiny, that they need to take responsibility over their own children and that they need to rebuild the adult solidarity. Such a campaign, if it could be made a success, would be one of the most liberating mass movements in our history. As such, it would inevitably come up against a political and cultural establishment – politicians, the police and of course the tabloid press which would all be emasculated by it.

How could we achieve such a thing? Haven’t the foggiest, sorry. Answers on a postcard please. All I know is that the alternative – to continue indulging the fear of crime – leads to a vicious circle of self-destructive madness.

In the meantime, I suggest we can make a start by doing things such as getting former policemen who admit to finding the concept of anarchism appealing elected as London Mayor. Just an idea.

How society has failed Frances Lawrence

Frances Lawrence has been doing the rounds on TV and radio today, expressing her outrage at the fact that her husbands murderer will not now be deported when he finishes his sentence. For liberals, issues such as these place us in a tricky position. No-one wishes to cause Frances Lawrence or her family any further grief, but what if pretty much everything she says is utterly wrong?

First of all, the Human Rights Act is a sideshow here. The real issue is that we are members of the EU and as an EU citizen Learco Chindamo has freedom of movement within the community. There has to be a compelling reason to not only send him back to Italy – a place he left when he was six – and not allow him to come back. Now, if he was a threat to the Lawrence family, or indeed anyone, then that might be a reason for keeping him in prison. But how is that a reason for keeping him in Italy?

Bizarrely, if the guy was a UK citizen, we wouldn’t even be having this debate. This isn’t, ultimately, about whether ‘criminals’ should have more rights than ‘victims’. This is a debate about whether ‘British criminals’ should have more rights than Italian ones. More than that, this is a debate about whether the perpetrators of media-friendly crimes should be treated more severely than the perpetrators of the majority of crimes that the media couldn’t give two hoots about. Chindamo would not be embroiled in this row if he’s murdered another black kid, as that is just black-on-black crime and therefore to be disregarded. If his victim had been Stephen rather than Phillip (I’ve seen at least one person get these 90s Lawrences confused), we’d have never heard of either the murderer or the victim.

He’s currently serving life imprisonment and having served 12 years is now entitled to parole. But that doesn’t mean he will automatically be released now. But more to the point, he’s spent his entire youth in confinement. This is not, as Frances Lawrence puts it, someone who is free “to pick and choose how he wants to live his life.” Iain Dale seems to think he’s had a light sentence. Call me a bleeding heart, but I most certainly don’t. His life has been thrown away – he isn’t going to just walk away. I’m not saying he didn’t deserve it; just don’t tell me that 12 years of imprisonment at an impressionable age is something you can just shrug off. Is it so outrageous to suggest that someone like Chindamo – who clearly had a young chaotic life – having served his sentence, should be allowed to try to rehabilitate in the country he has spent 21 of his 27 years in? Are there really no grounds for even an inch of compassion for this pathetic creature? Are we really so keen to create another Hindley-esque monster to tell campfire stories about?

What should the alternative be? There are plenty of Tories – including if I recall their own Shadow Home Secretary – who believe that what should have happened is that Learco Chindamo should have been marched off to a gas chamber on his 16th birthday (because obviously you don’t murder children in cold blood – that would be inhumane), as they do in many US states. Short of that though, at some point the guy was going to be released. If he’d been given a minimum sentence of 30 years, I can guarantee that Iain would have been writing in 2025 “So a headmaster’s life is only worth thirty years. That is perhaps just as big a scandal as the abuse of the Human Rights Act.”

Meanwhile, Home Office Minister Tony McNulty claims that by committing a heinous crime, Chindamo has “forfeited his human rights.” This is now familiar New Labour rhetoric. To counter the Tories’ call for no-one to have any rights at all, Labour prefer to say that only the innocent should have rights. But how far should this go? If Chindamo has forfeited his rights, then presumably torturing him in prison would have been fair game? Indeed, how far does ‘heinous’ go? Speeding and killing a child is pretty heinous. Pinching from pension funds is pretty heinous. Where do you draw the line? Get a judge to decide? They’re supposed to be the problem in the first place!

Writing as an atheist, and a rationalist, whatever happened to those very Christian concepts of redemption and forgiveness? Whatever happened to hating the sin but loving the sinner? I find it hard to see how a society can function without these principles and stay sane (even Sharia law has a certain crude concept of rehabilitation). Yet a lot of the same people who are first in line to denounce how ‘family (Christian) values’ have been lost seem to have no truck with the idea that such values ought to apply to them as well.

How did society fail Frances Lawrence? Fundamentally, by not letting her get over it. The media have lapped her up as a cause celebre, endlessly reinforcing her quiet sense of outrage by having to rehearse it to camera ad nauseum. The Home Office clearly mislead her by confidently assuring her Chindamo would be deported when they surely had scant grounds for believing it. And the criminal justice system has failed her by not letting her confront directly the man who destroyed her family. I suspect that half an hour in a room together would do both Frances Lawrence and Learco Chindamo a lot of good. It would enable Mrs Lawrence show Chindamo the effects of his crime and force Chindamo to confront his evil act. She’s correct to say that Chindamo’s lawyers reassurances that they are unlikely to meet in the street is missing the point, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. All the evidence I’ve seen suggests that restorative justice is of huge benefit to the victim. The right however would prefer it if victims held onto their sense of injustice. It saddens me that she will now be used as their preferred political football of choice for the next 48 hours. Scrapping the Human Rights Act won’t bring her husband back and it won’t get her justice.

EXCLUSIVE (really this time!): Tories brag about dirty tricks

Leading Romford Conservative activist Billy Taylor and personal friend of Greg Hands MP has been bragging about stealing (sic) election literature:

6 Romford Tories were out delivering leaflets today (Sunday 8th) in Ealing and managed not just to deliver a whole polling district, but we managed to steal over 150 Lib Dem leaflets and 20 Labour out of letterboxes!!! (my emphasis)

Surely theft is illegal? Where do the Tories dig up these criminals?

The comment has now been taken down from the Facebook group “Ealing Southall by-election Broughton Road Sector office” (an admission of guilt?) but – funnily enough – I did have the wit to make a screen grab at the time. Evidence of his posting can also still be seen on Billy’s profile.

Tories steal leaflets

Billy Taylor

Conservative campaign organiser Grant Shapps has taken a high minded view against ‘dirty tricks’ on this campaign so far. I will be writing to him to see what action he will be taking in light of this evidence.

Madeleine McCann – is there something we should know?

I’m getting increasingly suspicious about the media management of the Madeleine McCann story. Something tells me that there is something quite significant that we aren’t being told and that the family has had professional help in ensuring that only a carefully crafted and sympathetic narrative is recounted by the mass media.

Firstly, there is the fact that on the morning after the abduction, the suggestion that the family were in any way neglectful (remember: the abduction happened at a time when the child was in a hotel room and the parents were eating at a restaurant) had already been carefully pre-butted. That in itself is fair enough: I doubt any parents haven’t, from time to time, taken a calculated risk like that.

Recently though, we’ve had an increasing number of articles that reinforce the Daily Mail-esque prejudice that the police force of any country other than our own are clunking incompetents and living proof of the superiority of the British species. These are the Portuguese for Pete’s sake – they used to own the bits of the world we didn’t. This isn’t exactly a backward nation, yet it has been presented as such. The worst incident I can recall was John Humphries lambasting the Portuguese Ambassador on the Today programme when he was patiently attempting to explain that in a country that is part of the Schengen Agreement can’t exactly set up strict border controls within minutes every time a child is reported as going missing.

Now we’re being told that a businessman, Stephen Winyard, is putting up a £1m reward. Why? Does he do this every time a child gets abducted? Is it just because she is blonde, white and pretty with ‘decent’ middle class parents, or is there some other reason?

Finally, there are those photos. Loads of them. A new one in a different newspaper every day. Usually in cases such as these, you get a single photo which quickly becomes iconic as the media reproduces it ad infinitum. This time, the family have generously given up all their photo albums. For a couple that are said to be distraught, they are being remarkably co-operative with the media.

I’m not saying they’ve done anything wrong, or that this isn’t a tragedy. But these things happen. Stories like this usually go off on all sorts of tangents until the media settle on a narrative; not this time. I know I risk pariah status for pointing this out, but we are being spun, and I would like to know why.

The Church of England: An Apology

Yesterday, I made the claim on this blog that the Church of England was obsessed with sex. However, having heard about Peter Halliday this morning, I now accept that when it comes to paedophilia going on where the Church has a clear duty of care, they aren’t particularly interested in sex at all.

UPDATE: On a serious note, what really gets me about this story is the narrative that the CofE is spinning that the 1980s were a dark time when paedophilia was rife and that attitudes have changed (cf. Today). As a 5 year old I remember being sat in drafty assembly halls to watch public information films about ‘stranger danger’ – and let’s not forget good old Charley. They only people who appear to have thought that paedophilia was ‘okay’ in the 80s appear to be in the Church.

UPDATE 2: It’s interesting to note that despite stonewalling John Humphries on the Today programme this morning, the Churches Child Protection Advisory Service are now joining in in condemning the Church:

Although the Children Act 1989 was not implemented until 1991 and most denominations did not establish child protection procedures until some time later, it was well known even then that serious crimes against children had to be reported to the police. The Church had a clear responsibility to take effective action to ensure that a known risk was prevented from having any further contact with children whatsoever.

“Sadly, the fact is that those in charge at the time failed to act appropriately and take professional advice was readily available. CCPAS’ child protection Help Line was established in the late 1980’s; had we been contacted by the church authorities then we would have had no hesitation in telling them to go straight to the police. Of course, there was also nothing to stop them from taking advice from police or social services at the time.

It is also misleading to suggest that there was only one opportunity to act in this case. The introduction a few years later of the Church of England’s child protection policy and their training programme should have highlighted to those concerned the inappropriateness of actions previously taken and this should have resulted in a different response.

Contrast this with the Church’s line:

“But I think also that in accordance with the way things were done in those days the Church can be seen to have done the best it could.”

In any other corporation, you would expect to have heard a statement from the man at the top by now. Not so in the case of our ‘moral guardians’ (although Williams does have lots of stuff on his website about how important he is to provide us with moral leadership). Watch this space.

UPDATE 3: Jonathan Calder provides a good rebuttal of the Church’s ‘nobody knew about child abuse in the 1980s’ line. Still no response from our moral guardian, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Letters – Labour style

So police warning letters are more effective than ASBOs, eh? The problem is, they don’t sound very sexy. Or tough. Got to be tough.

I think John Reid should rebrand them as “Police Instruction Missive Actions” and set a “tough” target for all policy authorities to send out as many as possible. Of course, renaming them must surely require primary legislation, so expect a new Criminal Justice Act detailing exactly what font size to use and how they should be worded to be tabled soon.

Hurrah! All crime has now been solved.

Criminal Nonsense

It’s a sad day when you don’t even need to look up the actual figures to realise the media and political classes are talking utter balls on crime.

An 8% increase in robberies? No an 8% increase in recorded robberies. To give this some perspective, one other statistic hidden in the Guardian coverage today was that just 38% of violent crime is reported. According to the British Crime Survey, an annual survey of 50,000 people (vastly higher than the 500-1,000 surveys newspapers commission themselves and then claim have been written on tablets of stone), violent crime is stable.

You have never had it so good. The only exception is, possibly, if you’re young. Under 16 year olds are not interviewed as part of the BCS so crime against young people is not recorded in it. It is therefore conceivable that the recorded increase is due to an increase in crime against kids, largely perpetated by other kids.

The only way in which that angle gets covered in the media however is to blame kids themselves for carrying MP3s and mobile phones. Strangely, no one ever blames pensioners for getting mugged despite the fact they make it really easy for people.
Top prize for most idiotic remark of the day must go to Nick Clegg, who put in a press release that:

The rise in these violent offences is fuelling the fear of crime which runs deep in the public consciousness.

Or, to paraphrase:

The possible increase in young people getting mugged allows irresponsible politicians like me to scare the bejesus out of Daily Mail reading grannies. Hurrah! As for mobile phone masts and the MMR jab, they’re really scary! Wooo!

He couldn’t sound more Mark Oaten-like if he tried. Let’s hope he isn’t in the market for a glass coffee table.