Sunday, November 19, 2006

Public Humiliation Should Not be Part of Our Legal Process

From my Eastern Daily Press column...

Anyone who knows David Prior (former Tory MP for North Norfolk) will testify to the decency of the man. His former constituents in North Norfolk and the staff at the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital will have been shocked at his very public arrest this week. But let us remember that arrest does not imply anything. What should shock us more is the very public way this was done. Someone somewhere wanted it to be in the public domain, and I don’t think we have too far to look to know where the news was leaked from. Whoever it was had an agenda.

This is not the first time it has happened. I well remember the case of Neil and Christine Hamilton being arrested on suspicion of rape and being put through months of hell before they were completely exonerated. But in those few months the ‘no smoke without fire’ brigade had a field day. The Metropolitan Police had tipped off the press that they had been arrested and a phalanx of cameras was waiting to greet them at Ilford Police Station.

The same thing happened more recently to Lord Levy, when he was arrested in the Cash for Peerages inquiry. Whatever happened to the concept of ‘innocent until proven guilty’? It seems if you a public figure you have to put up with this sort of thing nowadays.

I don’t blame the EDP for splashing the Prior case as a big story. It is. But perhaps someone in Norfolk Police, or maybe the Norfolk Health Service, should be hanging their head in shame this weekend for putting a transparently decent man and his family through hell. And perhaps the rest of us should be asking ourselves what their agenda is.

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

Iain, These sorts of things happen beacuse of the "let's bring down the other man down" syndrome which pervades British society. If those in "authority" can arrest, humiliate, or embarrass a successful public figure, they'll do so. In this country we hate successful people and we love seeing them fall.

G Eagle Esq said...

Sehr geEhrte Iain & Jeremy

Over the last 15 years, we have seen the legal risks multiply at a geometric rate for school governors & charity trustees - teachers are now being sent to prison for volunteering to take school trips without payment, if something goes wrong

This is a massive disincentive - why should anyone intelligent man (or in these enlightened times, woman) stick his (or increasngly, her) head above the parapet for little or no reward, if they risk the gratuitous & malicious humiliations suffered by Iain's friend

It is now increasingly difficult to persuade people to take on these "public" but unpaid responsibilities - school trips may well become a thing of the past

In contrast, my impression is that the Police & indeed Judges are rarely accountable for their actions

The Police (who cannot be described as poorly paid) shoot a clearly unArmed Brazilian many, many times because of their breath-taking & lethal incompetence

Then the only things that the Police seem to have carried out effectively & with well-oiled efficiency is :

1. the lies that were promptly spun in the press about this man - he jumped over a ticket barrier (only he didn't) - he was wearing clothing that could have concealed a bomb (only he wasn't)

2. the smooth & easy promotion to Assistant Chief Costable of the lady who was "in charge" of this shambles

3. the return of one of the Shooters to Armed Police duties

4. the resolute determination not to prosecute any individual Policeman - I do not understand why someone was not required to explain to an English Jury how there could be any justification for a Not Guity verdict to a Manslaughter charge

Perhaps if a few Judges or Parole Board members were sent to prison for a year, if they unleashed on to the Public some murderous Criminal who went onto to murder (err, sorry - manslaughter) some child, we might see a greater focus on ensuring Puvblic safety in the criminal system

Your obedient servant etc

G E

paul williams said...

Hypocrite warning!

What about Des Smith, Lord Levy, Christopher Evans? They should be entitled to privacy too.

Should they not?

Paul Burgin said...

I never thought I would see you stand up for Lord Levy, Iain! ;)
That said, whilst I agree with jeremycj, I wonder whether it's sometimes due to some individuals within these services who have their own personal axe to grind, depending on their politics!

Anonymous said...

Iain I totally agree with you. Good post.

Anonymous said...

I do hope Iain, you will be as sympathetic, when TB is dragged out of NO10 in handcuffs, in full view of the media.

Anonymous said...

All true Iain. But this has been going on for years, and not only with regard to public figures: policepeople have obviously earnt a bit on the side by supplying stories to the press. Any pretence of neutrality by the police ended when your Thatcher government unleashed them against the workers. Needless to say, NuLab have betrayed their supporters by making things far worse with the result that the police now are totally out of control.

Colin said...

Reading the EDP report it appears that Mr Prior is Chairman of the Norfolk University Hospitals Trust and a Director of the 'independent psychiatric unit' at Cawston Park, which accepts NHS patients from the Norfolk TNHS Trust, and which in turn is owned by 'Chancellor Care', a private health provider. This would at first blush appear to be a very unfortunate conflict of interest. However the police say they were acting on information from the NHS counter fraud and security management branch, which exists to ensure that the billions of public money spent by the NHS is safeguarded from fraud.

Prior seems to be in a difficult position: his two posts indicate a clear conflict of interest and suspicions therefore lies naturally at his door. He may well be an honest man, but he must at the least have been pretty dim not to realise how damaging the perception of that conflict of interests would be.

In the meantime it is invidious to criticise the Norfolk Police for acting on information brought to them by the specialist NHS counter fraud unit, whose efforts to safeguard the proper expenditure of huge amounts of taxpeyers' money we should be applauding.

David Boothroyd said...

I do not believe the public arrest happens by accident. I remember the case of Robert Maxwell's sons more than a decade ago, when the police arrived to arrest one at 5:30 AM, and the world's press were with them. Someone had evidently arranged that.

In truth it's part of the police strategy of putting pressure on their suspects. They hope that public humiliation and suspicion will have an effect of making the suspect feel they have no hope of escape, and therefore should confess guilt. It's the same reason they sometimes put relatives up to appeal for information about someone missing: they hope that the press will ask questions implying the relative is guilty, so they can see how the relative takes the pressure.

Sabretache said...

The effects of an increasingly politicised police force.

Late last month Avon & Somerset police arrested the Master of the Devon & Somerset Staghounds. He was take to Taunton police station and held in police cells for over 2 hours before being charged with an offence under The Hunting Act. The alleged offence was committed 6 months earlier in April and, following video evidence from the League Against Cruel Sports, the police had previously declined to prosecute. However, after a successful private case based on similar evidence, they changed their minds. So, what was their purpose in locking a 63 year old pillar of the local community in a police cell for two hours if not a simple arbitrary execise of power? "We can get away with it so we will - snigger snigger"

The campaign leading to the Hunting Act produced many similar cases of blind stupid arbitrary excercise of police power that I am aware of. It taught me very plainly to be very careful about co-operating with the police under pretty well any circumstances. For the most part they have an agenda of their own - fed to them by the political establishment - which is far removed from the real interests of the ordinary citizen. For sure they can forget about continued cooperation from the Exmoor farming community where, to a large extent they are already seen as the uniformed (often armed) agents of an oppressive State.

Croydonian said...

Ah, beaten to the punch. The arrest of the Maxwells was the first media circus arrest I can recall, and that was an utter disgrace. And they were both acquitted.

Anonymous said...

Iain, I reported this on my blog and I only printed what the EDP has already reported on their website. I added no embelishments and believe I gave David Prior fair credit for the way he conducted himself as an MP and since.

Not everyone does things for political advantage.

Anonymous said...

Dawn raids have their place. They can be used to catch dangerous offenders off guard and to disorientate them. By the time they've found their trousers its too late. But with white collar crime it is surely different?

Personally my favourite dawn raid was on Kevin Maxwell's place. When the police hammered on the door Pandora Maxwell stuck her head out of the window and said "f*%k off we don't get up for another hour." Apparently she thought it was the gentlemen of the press calling! Of course they were in attendance too.

dearieme said...

Aty least the Maxwell business lead to that wonderful exchange:-

Wife, leaning out of window "Fuck off or I'll call the police."

Voice from below "We are the police."

Anonymous said...

Right on the button Iain.

You said what I was trying to say earlier in the week, following the arrest of David Prior.

http://fairdealphil.blogspot.com/2006/11/top-tory-blogger-defends-labours-lord.html#links

Anonymous said...

So iIain. let's get this straight, if the police arrest Tony Blair you would rather the news of this is kept quiet until the trial?

billy said...

the "let's bring down the other man down" syndrome

Don't you think that this syndrome exists because so many people who put themselves into public life act as though they are above the laws that apply to us 'little' people?
I should have thought that the humiliation comes with being found guilty not with an arrest, however public.
Besides that, I would not have known about this event without Iain publicising it on his blog.

Anonymous said...

No Billy I don't agree with you at all. Whilst the actions of a few are regrettable, that's got nothing to do with the age-old British characteristic(wonderfully portrayed in the media)
of knocking our heros. Individual success is frowned upon in this country.

Jeremycj

William said...

What a lot of nonsense! Getting arrested IS a public matter. If you're famous that's unfortunate, but what's the alternative... allow the police to carry out secret arrests? In some countries, those are called the "disappeared."

Sorry folks, but for the sake of a few peoples' injured pride I'm not willing to go down that slippery slope.

Chris A said...

why are friends of Tony not coming forward to deprecate the leaking of police information?

raincoaster said...

Reporting a factual event is not irresponsible. That an arrest has been made is itself newsworthy.

Think about this: if arrests were not reported, would the police have as much incentive as they do to ensure that they make arrests only with a degree of evidential support? If reporting on arrests were not allowed, they could arrest anyone for anything and do so knowing it would never hit the radar; indeed, in the US they routinely arrest people for the crime of "driving while black" on the quite factual basis that those people will never have their cases covered by the media.

Reporting that an arrest has been made is fair. As is reporting that charges have been dropped, or that a case has been thrown out.

(btw Iain, why in god's name am I suddenly getting ten times my normal referrals from your site? Are you overrun with communal anarchists or sumpin'?)

Heron said...

Iain, while I agree with you, the obvious reason for this is that some of our policemen will release these details to the press in return for a brown envelope full of £50 notes. The only way of stopping this from happening repeatedly, as far as I know, would be a change in the law to force journalists to reveal their sources. I'm not so sure you'd be in favour of that. What are your thoughts?

machiavelli said...

I remember David Prior treating me with utter decency when he was Deputy Chairman of the party and I was a researcher at CRD; he's always seemed to me to be the model of propriety.
I do wonder at his solicitors, though, who have said he will prove to be "vindicated", which implies there is indeed at least something to the allegations. Perhaps "exonerated" would have been a better word for defence solicitor - as no doubt their barrister client could have counselled them!

machiavelli said...

Plus, I don't suppose we can be that surprised that your odd Met copper supplies information to the press when at least some of them have apparently been supplying it to criminals too... "institutionally" corrupt, perhaps?

Anonymous said...

sabretache said...

""We can get away with it so we will - snigger snigger""

Very true, and the same with road accidents. On the Continent emergency services turn up and usually get the mess cleared up within about 30 minutes. Here the police close the road for most of the day just 'cos it's fun.

Anonymous said...

He looks about 20 years older in your pic compared to the one on the website!

Anonymous said...

Any chance you're going to answer your critics on charges of hypocrisy Iain?

Revelling in the Levy arrest while moaning about the press publishing stories about your mates' arrest?

Vienna Woods said...

Aren't our police wonderful! You should be so lucky, you've not come across these bastards in Vienna. On Sunday afternoon I parked my car in the driveway of our house (between the road and our garden gate)while I helped a totally blind, 85 year old visitor from the house to the car and then returned to collect another disabled visitor. I had a disabled badge clearly visible in the windscreen. In this short time the local Gestapo put a ticket on the car for a 50 quid fine and buggered off smartish. When I complained about what the hell was wrong they told me that the driveway I paid two grand for just a few years ago, was adopted as soon as it was laid and is classed as a footway???

Anonymous said...

"Any chance you're going to answer your critics on charges of hypocrisy Iain?

Revelling in the Levy arrest while moaning about the press publishing stories about your mates' arrest?"

Guess not...

Iain Dale said...

Glass House. Obviously you find reading difficult, so let me point you towards this sentence in my original post...

"The same thing happened more recently to Lord Levy, when he was arrested in the Cash for Peerages inquiry."

Go figure.

G Eagle Esq said...

'
6:30am RegenCoaster "Reporting a factual event is not irresponsible ..."

Perhaps uncharacteristically Miss R-C may be overlooking a major point - arbitrary & discretionary abuse of power by the Police, who seem to be rarely accountable for their actions or inactions

... unlike Teachers who face imprisonment if (without pay) they volunteer to take School Trips, where something goes wrong

In a Democratic Society, the Police should not carry out an Arrest, unless there is adequate & sufficient justification therefor

Mr Prior hardly seems to be a man where there is any concern that he will "flee the realm" in favour of a non-extradition state

Was there any evidence to support a concern that he would not fully co-operate with the Police, unless arrested

Getting a "good" head-line or inflicting gratuitious & unnecessary humiliation & intimidation is not a juestification for an arrest

What are the implications for those who stick their heads above the Parapet by becoming an UnPaid Charity Trustees or School Governors

Do they now run the risk of arrest at some ungodly hour (when honest folk are in a most satisfyingly malleable frame of mind), if there have been financial irregularities, regardless of their innocence

Your obedient servant etc

G E