Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Why These Police Tactics Make Me Uncomfortable

The tragic murder of the nine year old girl in a lorry in a layby near Peterborough is a terrible story. Her step father was found hanging nearby. Since the discovery the Police have publicly speculated that he assaulted his step daughter and then killed himself. I agree that this, on the face of it, looks the most likely explanation. But I question whether this should have been said publicly at this stage of the their enquiries.

It's just possible that they were both murdered by someone else - or more than one person. If that does turn out to be the case, the step father's good name will have been publicly traduced.

Maybe the Police have their reasons for voicing their suspicions in public. But it makes me deeply uncomfortable.


Anonymous said...

For once, Iain, I agree whole heartedly.

Was watching BBC News last night and a police officer was 'guessing' at what at happened, in particular the 'sexual assault' part. Apparently, there was a 'mark on the body' that COULD be associated with sexual contact but 'we are undertaking further examination'.

I simply feel it feeds the 'all men are perverts' mantra forthcoming from every area of the media. Not saying it isn't sexual but, please let's get the facts before the police make comment.

Professional service. My a***!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for publicising this , Iain. I was particularly disturbed by the " paedo" headline in the Sun when the bodies were found. And especially as even the police , at that time, were discounting a sexual motive.

Anonymous said...

I agree Iain - surely the 'sub judice' rule ought to apply - or at least until enough evidence has been collected to make a fair assessment. If the father were still alive they would not be speculating in such a way. But the dead cannot sue of course. That said - do we know exactly what the police have said.... or are the journos making something of a few comments. You know the sort of thing - "will you deny that the father may have assaulted the girl?" etc...

Old Holborn said...

It's what lorry drivers do. Get used to it.

Allan said...

I quite agree entirely Iain, on such sensative cases such speculation should be kept private.

Anonymous said...

"I have already said there is no evidence to suggest that Stacey was subjected to a serious sexual assault before she died but I believe some sexual touching did take place," she added."

from the BBC website

Anonymous said...

The police do exactly what they want, neither you nor I are going to change that. Only a competent Home Secretary is going to make a difference now, beginning, I hope, with the breakup of ACPO.

Russell said...

I got the impression it was one particular female detective inspector who seemed rather alarmingly keen to give detailed replies to questions and even to share in speculation. Maybe she enjoyed being on the stage or something.

Why do the police give press conferences like this? It's a fairly recent development and seems more designed to fit in with the Government's apparent view of the police as a branch of social work, rather than to help solve crimes.

Maybe the police should just shut up and get on with their proper job. Straightforward requests to the public to provide information to a nominated phone number are fine. Prima donna performances aren't.

True Belle said...

I am relieved you have raised this issue Iain.

The medja just encourage the off the cuff remark and pounce. The police ought to know better.

I am sick and tired of sensational speculation on the box and radio.

Where are the cool calm detectives who slowly lit their pipes and and paused for thought?

This type of reporting is becoming very third world in its out pourings, isn't it.

Anonymous said...

Mavbe the police know for certain that she was sexually assaulted and are hoping that ex partners etc might come forward and help to build up a better picture of him to help corroborate this.
In general it seems unbelievable that a 40 year old bloke would want to sleep overnight in a tiny cab (5 times )with a nine year old girl who he wasn't related to and who he had only known a short time. Alarm bells should have been screaming with all the previous pervert cases in the UK.

Russell said...

I simply feel it feeds the 'all men are perverts' mantra forthcoming from every area of the media.

True. It is a truth universally acknowledged that all men are rapists or paedophiles, or would be if given the chance. As The Sun puts things in its customary calm, reasoned way: "This is the last known footage of the little murder victim Stacey and the silver-tongued sex monster meant to look after her."

Who could quibble with such an even-handed assessment of the situation? We must all be grateful that we have such paragons of good journalism as the Sun's Mr Andrew Parker to bring us the truth.

Matt said...

I agree.

I especially hate it when the Police appear on the telly after a verdict and pontificate. I usually scream "Get back to chasing f***ing criminal you b***ards" or something like that.

Their job is make arrests and gather evidence. The CPS do the rest.

That said, I am also against public victim impact statements but the media love them.

The law should be objective and dispassionate. Emotion doesn'y come into it.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree, the news reports said at first that she MAY have been assaulted. As both victim and perpetrator are dead, there is no need to rush out guesses.

Other scenarios are possible, but if a early false accusation is issued, they tend to stick.


The Purpleline said...

Well done for posting this piece, I too believe the march towards guilty until proven innocent is now here in the UK under this atrocious regime.

There are obviously some valid suspicions, however, unless they know for sure they should remain silent.

I would want them to explain why and how they went into the wood to find the body hanging.

Was there a note indicating this was a suicide and murder or have they just taken one and one and added three to make 25 >Nu Labour education<

I also wonder about the stories coming out about the mothers ‘love’ for this man, we all know the dangers lone mothers face with paedophiles targeting them. Her comments appear cold on the surface.

Anonymous said...

Institutionally incompetent again Iain?

You should join and sort it out.

Barnacle Bill said...

Iain in full agreement with you on this one, I have been very uncomfortable with the reporting of this, even if this is the truth.

DominicJ said...

Further investigation?
Bloody 'ell where do you live?

Burning buildings are accidental unless you film the arsonist round here

Joe Public said...

And it could be, that the police have had plenty of time to carry out a forensic examination that proves sexual contact?

In which case, if they hadn't made an announcement, they'd be condemned for prevarication.

They're in a no-win situation.

Or, do you KNOW better?

Bath plugs for the many, not the few said...

I too agree. It's not for the police to speculate on possible culprits but to gather the evidence and present it (if appropriate) to the prosecutors.

There is a wider, not unconnected, issue. It's commonly taught by liberal opinion formers that most assaults on children are carried out by 'members of the family'.

If it is the case that most assaults on children are carried out by people who aren't members of the family (mother's boyfriend, for example,) then this should clarified when statistics are gathered, and a meaningful definition of the word 'family' should be preserved.

Anonymous said...

This is the problem with 'transparancy' etc. A few years ago the press and anyone one else would have been told to piss off until enquiries were complete. The PM's would have been done and the verdict given. This particular case has been handled particularly badly. I wonder sometimes if SIOs love seeing their name in print. ME! ME! ME!
In any case I'm with OH, I immediately thought, lorry driver, little girl, beastliness, murder AND suicide. Tragic.

Paddy Briggs said...


I agree with you. But how often do we all (you included ?) rush to judgment prematurely on a vast range of issues? I'm guilty. It's human nature. But press the pause button is quite a good idea some of the time...

Anonymous said...

I think you have some misinfomration. The police have confirmed this man was not her step father. He was simply the the boyfriend of the mother.

It would be naive to think that the police haven't thought through this statement. Police often encourage 'press conferences' to manipulate responses.

It is a tragic case but perhaps you shouldn't underestimate the dectectives at this stage of the investigation.

I Squiggle said...

Extremely good point, Iain. When I read the reports earlier today, my first thoughts were that if I were the Coroner, the first thing I’d do is haul in the police reps responsible for the speculation and give them a right bollocking. Though I agree with ‘Anonymous’ at 5.50 – it might be febrile journalistic licence at play. Either way I’d want to send a message.

Rush-is-Right said...

Anon 5.57 quite right.

The police are quite out of control and have to be brought under proper supervision.

Is it a criminal offense for a cop to tip-off a journalist about a forthcoming arrest? If not, it should be. If it is, when was the last prosecution?

Tom R said...

It reminds me of the police raids on suspected terrorists in Forest Gate, London.

After the arrests (and having shot one of the suspects in the leg) the police leaked to the press that child pornography had been found on one of the suspect's computers.

Despite that smear, I'm not aware that any substantial evidence has come to light that the men were paedophiles nor, so far as I'm aware, have those men been prosecuted with any pornography offences (which would be quite straight forward, since possession of child pornography is a strict liability offence).

I've come to expect smear and innuendo from politicians, but I don't expect it from the police.

Anonymous said...

I whole-heartedly agree. To release the fact that the girl MAY have been sexually assaulted was poor. It is too late now so why not wait until they could be sure. Sad for all.

Jasper said...

Anonymous said...
"I agree Iain - surely the 'sub judice' rule ought to apply"

The 'sub judice' rule only applies if there is, or is likely to be, a court case. In this case it appears that the police have already decided that there is sufficient evidence that the killer was the stepfather. Since he is now dead there will not be a trial.

Purple Man said...

Definetly see where you're coming from Iain, rather worrying.

Just imagine being one of the family.

Anonymous said...

I agree and I am pleased that it has been said in the public domain.I was of the opinion that the Police were pandering to the press during a slow news period.

I feel deeply for the childs mother. Victim Support?

Unsworth said...

Yes indeed, such speculation is damn dangerous and damn silly. But this is certainly what we have come to expect from our police 'service'. It's called news management (or case manipulation).

But a decent defence lawyer should be able to tear the prosecution to shreds with such damning evidence. What really needs to happen is for these officers to be required to explain publicly the reasons for their actions and comments.

Richard said...

I totally agree. The police spokeswoman has been on national TV talking about 'reddening' of the girl's vaginal area and the likelihood of sexual assault by the stepfather - and all before even the post-mortems have been carried out. In other words, guesswork. I find it disturbing that the police seem to wish more and more to be the makers of news, not the investigators of crime. The female Dep Supt who gave the press conference clearly loved the limelight.

Shut up, the lot of you - solve the murder, and then, possibly you can make a guarded comment. You are not the story.

Anonymous said...

Iain, your comments are a little naive. Do you not think that the police are responding to the media and their speculation to what has taken place?

I am sure that the senior investigating officer is fully aware of how to manage a high profile investigation and the various hypotheses that need to be considered.

The police are in a no win situation, whatever they do.

Anonymous said...

Nonsense, anonymous at 9pm. The police are out of control and see these crimes as a chance to be on TV. Oh for the day when there is a proper home secretary to bring them back into line.

Anonymous said...

I thought exactly the same thing. It's the second time this has happened in a fortnight, I very concerned.

Neil A said...

There are a few strands to untangle here I think. I am an experienced Detective who spent 12 years dealing with offences against children, including murder. The idea that the police's only job is to "gather the evidence and make arrests" is wide of the mark. The police have to develop what we call "case theory". In other words we look at the existing evidence, speculate as to the most likely cause(s) and seek further evidence on that basis. The CPS role comes much later, once the police are already pretty sure what happened.

Anyone with experience of such cases will tell you that the first place you look for a suspect is the immediate family of the child, and the principal motive for a man murdering a girl is likely to be as a result of resistance to a sexual advance. That doesn't mean you exclude other possibilities or jump to conclusions but that thinking will be right at the front of your mind (as it was, rightly, with Ian Huntley). All of that said, there would usually be no reason to engage with the media about your suspicions at such an early stage. It is possible that the police did so in order to encourage other, previous, victims to come forward. Or it could be, as has been said, merely a senior officer with a loose tongue enjoying the limelight.

Please don't interpret it as part of some generalised failing on the part of the police, though. We generally speaking deal with such matters extremely professionally and with very high rates of success.

Anonymous said...

Quite agree Ian. There was a time when all details held by the police were strictly confidential. with good reason

Not any more.

Anonymous said...

When the Police release confidential material into the public domain, then they become no better than those they choose to prosecute.

But isn't this just another symptom of the dire straights that New Labour have taken this country into?

Peter said...

I think we have to trust the Police in these cases. They obviously have much more evidence than they can release therefore they must be pretty certain of the basic facts.

Robin B'stard MP said...

Anon said "The police are in a no win situation, whatever they do.
9:00 PM"

Bollocks. The police "situation" is to investigate the crime, make a report and hand it to their superiors and the coroner. It is not for them to speculate in the press the way they have or allude that sexual contact has taken place without a proper examination.

The police woman concerned is exactly that a "police woman" her remit is to investigate, she is not employed to issue summary justice based on what she "thinks" may have happened.

She is not a medical or scientific expert, and she would be most aggrieved if either of the above were to comment in the MSM on a case she was investigating without having proper evidence or expert knowledge of the case.

The situation they find themselves in is entirely of their own making, and if they fail to prove what they've said i hope the mans family sue them and Betty big mouth loses her job.

Iain, you are quite correct in bringing this to everyones attention. The headlines have bothered me a lot. It is without doubt a tragedy and certainly one that needs no inflamatory or sensationalist headlines wich are based on no evidence at all other than hearsay and a copper opinion.

Old Holborn said...


Let's have some fun.

BP. Libya. Blair. Chairman. Resign. Rent boy. Mandelson. Deal.

Off you go.

Iain Dale said...

Neil, What a brilliant comment. Thank you so much for leaving it. Very enlightening.

Banksy said...

FYI anonymous, there's no such thing as the 'sub judice' rule.

If you are talking about contempt of court, which is the only law that might possibly apply here, then proceedings have to be active against someone. For proceedings to be active someone has to have been arrested or a warrant has been issued for their arrest. Neither of which has happened here.

It is technically possible to be in contempt of an inquest - and there will be inquests into the deaths of both these people - but again the inquest proceedings need to have been opened by the coroner, which probably won't have happened yet, but will do shortly.

But the likelihood of being done for contempt of an inquest is very remote indeed.

As for sniffy comments about speculative media. Whys shouldn't the media do what every pub bore in the country is doing and speculate away?

Old Holborn said...

Exactly how was Huntley immediate family?

He wasn't. Hence the delay in catching him.

Cinnamon said...

This is what you see Iain, and you're right not to like it one bit...

The question is however not what we are seeing here, but, what we've not discovered yet, since this kind of thing appears to be so normal that no-one in charge is batting an eyelid at this.

What else does pass for 'normal' in their universe?

Anonymous said...

How naive can people get?

Sub Judice starts when one is charged! It is then before the courts.

As for releasing sensitive information. He may have assaulted young children before. Children are very reluctant to tell and knowing that the person who assaulted them is dead could make it easier for them to speak out.

It is unusual but I am certain that evidence will show the young girl was assaulted.

Grow up you wimps!

Armchair said...

Technically Iian, I would, as a lawyer of one sort or another, have no choice but to agree with you.

However, if it does turn out that they have both been murdered, I will donate £5k to a charity of your choice.

Neil A said...

@Old Holborn,

My reference to Huntley related to the second point in the sentence preceding it, ie the principal motive for a man murdering a girl being resistance to a sexual advance. He was of course not immediate family (he was, however 'the last person to see them alive' - another category that generally puts you on the radar). Clumsy English on my part I concede.

I would guess Huntley "took so long to catch" because the police were surveilling him in the hope that he would lead them to the bodies. He was the main suspect from the outset. All I am saying is that these things are very complicated. The SIO will have had some basis for her remarks about sexual touching - possibly a previous allegation by the child, a suspicion raised by a family member, a previous allegation against the boyfriend, a suicide note making reference to something he'd done etc. There is no way for us to know at this stage what is going on. That doesn't mean to say that the SIO was correct to have made the comments she did, but all of us are entirely too short of facts to condemn her just yet.

What depresses me most is all the talk linking this to "NuLabour" and to some perceived politically-directed shift in the way police do things. I don't suppose the officers involved give a monkeys about party politics or turning the UK into a police state. They will just be doing their job, which is trying to get to the truth.

Thatsnews said...

Iain, I deal with four different police press offices on a daily basis in my working life. They are always very, very cautious about what they say, and how they say it.

It would be very unusual for a police officer to run off at the mouth.

John Pickworth said...

And now the news is showing rather unnecessary CCTV footage of victim and suspect in the hours prior to their deaths... WHY?

I too feel uncomfortable with this. Are our police (perhaps subconciously) trying to compete with the salacious details being released in the media about the Jaycee Lee Dugard kidnap case in America? Then again, the police long ago ceased to behave like the people they claim to serve. Judging from the incredible number of 'cop shows' and their indecent haste to get in front of the cameras in cases like this; it's clear who their new master is.

FireForce said...

What on earth do you expect from a police state?

We are where we are because the government want the police to support them, (keep them in forever) the police want more power, they love each other, so they do as they please.

ken from glos said...

Old adage from my neck of the woods from long ago. Policing "Facts first, theories later."

Anonymous said...

I was mislead by the headline!

I thought you were referring to the story that Boris and the London Tories have seized control of the Met and are now forcing it to follow their agenda.

The politicisation of the police force is worrying - can we expect to see more of this kind of thing after the election?

Unsworth said...

@ Niel A

"The SIO will have had some basis for her remarks about sexual touching - possibly a previous allegation by the child, a suspicion raised by a family member, a previous allegation against the boyfriend, a suicide note making reference to something he'd done etc."

Pure speculation. You don't know that at all.

"There is no way for us to know at this stage what is going on."

Which means that you are speculating.

"That doesn't mean to say that the SIO was correct to have made the comments she did,"

Exactly - and that is the point.

"but all of us are entirely too short of facts to condemn her just yet."

Why? It's self evident that she has spoken in this manner. You regard that as acceptable, clearly. Others do not.

Nick Osborne said...

It's interesting, back home in Australia, journalists would have stopped publishing photos and names of the victim, accused and their family members as soon as the police state that a crime 'may' be a sexual crime, especially in regards to crimes against children.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for raising this one Iain.

Unfortunately the police have a long record of selectively briefing tame journalists where serious crimes are concerned.

All too often, their version of events - spiced with various juicy bits of background info - is at variance with the facts.

Just think what was initially said about the Menezes shooting, for example.

No one is ever held to account for these leaks of information, which can often ruin a person's good name - or even potentially influence a jury.

killemallletgodsortemout said...

Good post.

I feel increasingly uneasy with Plod standing in front of the TV cameras and pontificating after a court case, and giving their opinion as to the justice or otherwise handed down by the Courts.

This latest press release is a dangerous step closer to total alienation of the police by the public.

We don't pay them to gob off, we pay them to catch baddies.

Chris Paul said...

It's not straightforward. It never is. And the newspaper headline seems clearly pre-emptive at best. But while not tracking every move they've made by any means I'm not sure that the police have any reasonable case to answer on this one. Like I say I'm not following the detail but let me explain.

To be fair the police initially said there was no sign whatsoever of a sexual element, then later corrected that to say that there was an indication that that might be wrong. Which in time came to be known as a mark / damage to the child's body.

As we all know from the myriad of police dramas and true life crime shows the police have to decide at every point what to say and what not to say to progress their inquiries. Don't envy them but that's the fact.

And as they're human they may sometimes get this wrong in a way that was predictable, or make a choice in good faith that events prove was not the best.

Sometimes some clever or persistent or lucky hack will put a Q or point to one of them and get something out of them that they perhaps did not plan or should not have said.

The police letting it be known that they were checking that medical examiners lead seemed to be useful in bringing various other relevant witness statements forward.

Including at least one report of a previous relevant incident.

The police must gather evidence re these two deaths - Morse like - to check that the obvious is in fact what happened.

The police and the authorities also have a responsibility to the rest of the community. And confirming whether they are or are not looking for anyone else is VERY important in terms of perceived threat and fear of crime. With this a FAR greater problem than actual crime.

The perpetrator in this case - even this supposed third party double murderer alarum of yours Iain - may have assaulted or even killed others.

It is very obviously of community interest to solicit information from the public. Someone somewhere decided that sharing the developments with the media was going to be helpful.

Anyone who has been assaulted may need support. Getting it might save or improve their lives. And other cases may be cleared up.

It's a funny old world when a speculating blogger prepared to dream up a third party killer with no access to evidence whatsoever starts calling the police for speculating ...

Chris Paul said...

Just read Unsworth's drivel! It is Iain and indeed yourself who are DEFINITELY speculating without access to evidence. The police have you at a great disadvantage in that regard.

Word ver: troll (oo-er!)

Unsworth said...

@ Chris Paul

Exactly where are my comments 'speculation'?

By contrast your comments are just that - and at some considerable length. You have no grounds for them whatsoever, apart from a charmingly naive acceptance of virually every madcap theory emanating from your evident addiction to TV drama.

'Morse like'. Hilarious.


Anonymous said...

Sky News are reporting tonight that the Bloke strangled the girl then hanged himself. At least the plod are saving us the cost of a Coroner's inquisition then.