Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Two Faces of Law Enforcement

In many ways what follows is a case study in what many feel to be the somewhat distorted priorities of current law enforcement. Those who are trying their best to uphold the law and make a small error get clobbered, while those who seem more intent on crime and commit far worse offences seem to emerge from the system relatively unscathed. This is an extract from a letter to John Reid from the Managing Director of McMullens Breweries...

"The first incident I refer to is the ‘sting’ operation at the Lord Kitchener in Barnet, a well run pub with a good reputation locally. Last summer it was deemed to be a law enforcement priority of resources to send into this pub two young persons who appeared to be over 21 but were in fact only 17 to see whether or not they could succeed in being served an alcoholic drink. Our barman thought that one of them was underage and refused to serve him. The other he decreed to be of legal age. An error of judgement in a pub which generally caters for middle aged customers. Clearly I cannot defend serving alcohol to 17 year olds, even if they do look much older but the consequence of this charade was an £80 ‘on the spot’ fine for a decent young man - the sort of person who we should all be encouraging to make his career in this industry. In addition we as the premises licence holder along with the Designated Premises Licence holder were taken to court and prosecuted at great cost to both the tax payer and to my company. I am glad to say that we were both acquitted.

"The second incident occurred on Friday 9th December, 2006 at the Fishery, Elstree a destination food pub in the country. A middle aged male customer who appeared to be drunk was refused service as were his friends in the same party who tried to buy drinks for him. The response from this group was terrifying for both our team and our other customers. They were not only abusive to, but assaulted three of our staff, two of whom were young waitresses. They proceeded to throw brass bar trays across the bar smashing glassware and bottles of wine on the back bar and badly bruising two members of my team. When they heard that the police were being called they fled. This group were known to the manager as they are employed by a local company. In response to our manager advising a director of the company that the matter was being dealt with by the police two of this group volunteered themselves at the local police station. Staggeringly the punishment for their crime was a caution! One can only speculate on the action the police would have taken against my team if they had discovered that these people had been served more alcohol – almost certainly not a caution!

"I hope these two recent examples of incidents which are far from ‘one offs’ help to highlight how far we have gone in this country to redefine the principles of justice let alone advertise our law enforcement priorities. I find it incredible that you encourage your police force to commit resources to entrapping, and fining honest hard working pub employees who make an error of judgement but take no action against a person who admits to assault and criminal damage. Interestingly you will also know that underage persons who actually manage to con their way into purchasing alcohol are rarely if ever fined or prosecuted!

"I am sure your opinion polls are beginning to tell you that honest hard working people are increasingly concerned by our political elite as more and more examples of this sort of ludicrous behaviour by the state comes to light.

"I feel bound to write to someone and have chosen you, not because I think it will result in any change to your political priorities, although I hope it will, but I have a duty to my team to ‘do something’.

"How do you expect this industry to attract and keep the quality people we need when on the one hand we are constantly undermined by both our politicians and their law enforcement agencies and on the other hand we are not supported when assaulted by the scum in our society?"


Anonymous said...

I spent a few of my younger years working in licensed premises - I agree that attempting to work within the law as it relates to underage or intoxicated drinkers can be a daunting prospect when denying alcohol to certain elements of society.

Relying on the police when trouble starts is useless - by the time they arrive there is little they can do as the damage is already done and the culprits fled.

Unfortunately the only solution is for every pub and bar to employ security staff, install CCTV etc - at great cost to themselves - just to protect the well-behaved majority from the actions of a few morons.

Anonymous said...

The Government have announced that only the most dangerous criminals should be incarcerated in prison. The announcement comes just as Inspector Yates' crew get nearer and nearer to the heart of the Blair conspiracy. Might this be a case of special pleading?

Anonymous said...

Breweries and pub chains could set up a fund for private prosecutions, though that probably wouldn't work for Free Houses - too much cost and hassle.

The only permanent cure is to make each police force answerable to locals - best achieved by electing those at the top, though the old Watch Committee idea worked fairly well. Anathema to the Home Office, of course.

As for the superintendent responsible for the planning or policy that resulted in these events - disciplinary action, file marked "Not for further promotion", perhaps loss of rank/seniority.
Nothing will change until somebody pulls these pathetic excuses for 'servants of the public' up short.

Anonymous said...

In fairness Iain, the CPS has taken charging decisions out of the Police's hands and so they no longer have any real power over how justice is done- whereas in the past the police who had directly dealt with the incident could have a strong say in whether the person was charged now the CPS takes that decision and does so with one eye on their charging targets.

Anonymous said...

Meant to add -
heartily recommend "Wasting Police Time", the book of the blog.

He would point out that:
a) the cautions given would allow the force to mark the incident in the statistics as solved or resolved.
b) the underage drinkers is even better... where no crime existed, one has been created *and* solved.

In these days of targets above all, such things don't half help the clear up rate and makes the force look so efficient.

Anonymous said...

Talking of question to government ministers, perhaps a question to put which may give some insight into current and future revenues and the state of the economy is;

How many people in the working population currently work for or are paid for by the government, both directly and indirectly.
By directly I mean civil servants, emergency services, nhs, armed forces etc
By indirectly I mean support agencies, ngo’s, quango’s, companies working on government projects etc.

My own gut feeling is that it is well over 50pct of the working population, which means that government have no new sources of income, and the system will by its own weight eventually collapse in on itself, or does the government have its own macro economy to the detriment of all others.

Anonymous said...

Anon, you seem to forget that with the 'split' powers, if the police don't really want to prosecute someone they just send a rubbish inadequate case to the CPS then cry crocodile tears to the victims.

Anonymous said...

The whole underage sales of alcohol thing stormed up the politcal agenda with the Licensing Act 2003, or '24 hour drinking' as it was dubbed in the press.

All sections of the media were screaming about 'anti-social behaviour' and 'alcohol related disorder'. Local residents and councillors jumped on the bandwagon about the 'ferral youths' and 'hoodies' drinking on their street corners.

As this all fed down through policy makers trading standards services were told to do more underage sales enforcement by their executive and politcal masters. The fixed penalty notices for sellers cropped up when the powers were granted. It was hope this would act as a deterent and get the offending rate down.

I must say using a 17 year old is bad practice and this was no doubt why the defendents were aquitted. When I've done this kind of work in off-licences in the past we used to use 13 or 14 year olds and instruct the girls not to wear any make-up.

Trapesing around off-licences with kids isn't my idea of fun, but sections of local government seem to think this is all trading standards are good for these days. There is a big problem with traders not asking for ID, there's no doubt in my mind about that.

If the public don't like their taxes being spent on this kind of enforcement they should stop whingeing about 'anti-social behaviour', a new-labour invention, and start demanding tough action on crime.

I'd sooner be out raiding counterfeiters than prosecuting newsagents any day of the week.

Anonymous said...

Iain, The police are a bit of a soft target here. As another poster pointed out, the CPS take decisions on whether to prosecute.

Regrettably, a large business with deep pockets is a far easier target for a prosecution than a rowdy person who creates damage and threatens people, but where it is difficult to prove the intention.

I am not a lawyer, but they are going to pick on the easier target of enforcing under-age drinking.

Fining the publican/pub company is far easier than arresting [over-18s] who are violent and causing damage on city streets.

Maybe if the big brewing companies were willing to fund some police operations at the weekends in big cities, the police might not need such a heavy-handed approach to licence enforcement.

Anonymous said...

In 1960s, police officers arrested drunks, prostitutes, shoplifters, pickpockets and troublemakers, banged them up overnight, took them to court the following morning, and presented the evidence to the magistrate. No lawyers, no legal aid, no hassle. It was a fully functional, thoroughly efficient, system, which had worked well for over 100 years.

Three things have combined to destroy that system:

1) The abolition of the "overnights". (They all get police bail now, and are told to come back many weeks later, when some lawyer has prepared a case file).

2) The insistence that lawyers (the CPS) take over work which the police themselves used to undertake, much more efficiently.

3) The obsession with targets, which diverts police time away from the prosecution of real criminals,(who are time-consuming and troublesome) and towards the routine, beaurocratic prosecution of minor offenders (who are basically law-abiding, give no trouble and simply help to boost the clear-up rates).

Now the system has become so cumbersome that we are talking about giving shoplifters (i.e. thieves) penalty notices. A complete cop-out and a tacit admission that at one level the criminal justice system has broken down.

Anonymous said...

This is the result of 10 years of Blairs Britain. Where the inocent are punished and the guilty go free. What a state we have come to.

unothordox behaviour said...

Quite so. Anybody see the small news item about the premiership footballer getting caught shoplifting in B+Q? He and his mate were spotted on CCTV and the police appeared to dole out £80 on-the-spot fines.

By contrast, if you overstayed your London parking bay welcome by as little as 1 minute, expect a £100 on the spot fine.

This contrast demonstrates what is wrong with Britain after 10 years of new age socialism.

Anonymous said...

Hmm...despite the comments here, I am really not convinced that things would be different under the tories. And I am intrigued by the poster who seems to think we have spent the last 10 years under 'socialism'. Errr..yeess..

Anonymous said...

I used to run a wine shop - really! - the police were VERY quick to send test purchasers in but very slow to respond when needed.

We had a group of 12 lads in the store who were refused a sale because of their age and female staff were subjected to abuse of 'black c**t'. The police told us we'd have to remove them from the store ourselves as it wasn't a priority.

On another occasion the shop was robbed and I and a staff member were beaten up - the other person's nose was broken so badly they lost their sense of smell for life - the police took 2 hours to attend despite us pressing every panic button in the store.

Worse the culprit was related to a former member of staff so the police could have gone immediately and arrested them, instead it took 10 days by which time they went on the run.

Anonymous said...

Worst. Government. Ever.

No doubt about it.

Must be Worst. Opposition. Ever. to allow them to be reelected with a large majority. That and Most. Biased. Electoral. System. Ever.

The Leadership Blogger said...

Spot on that man. Our local plod, unwilling to catch burglars or druggies, has announced instead a "crackdown" on .....

wait for it.....

incorrently spaced car licence plates.

It's North Yorkshire.

Machiavelli's Understudy said...

This reminds me of when I had several hundred pounds worth of damage done to my car.

I knew the person who did it and volunteered the information to the police immediately.

It took the police over six weeks to actually pull the guy in- he freely admitted that he had committed the crime (I suspect on the advice of the police, who couldn't be arsed to do a proper job of prosecuting him).

Over the course of that six weeks, the police had the opportunity to arrest him as he would not easily submit to attending an interview under caution at a station, but the police were reluctant to arrest him because their interpretation of various human rights legislation was that arresting him at his workplace (where he would be guaranteed to be) would be disproportionate to the alleged crime and therefore in violation of his rights (which ones, I was never told). Likewise, they could only keep on knocking on his flat's door, even if somebody was in.

Once he was finally pulled in, he spent a couple of hours at a station, admitted to the crime and was then let off with a caution by the sergeant in charge, on the basis that it was his first offence*, as is Lancashire Constabulary, ACPO and Home Office policy with these sorts of crimes.

I was left with damage of several hundreds pounds worth to my car and no retribution for it. I was told by the police that I could opt to pursue him via the small claims court, but that I could not be told of his address for me to address a claim to as that would be a breach of data protection rules (this later turned out to be false, as Home Office guidelines stipulate that, so long as there is not a danger of the information being misused by a plaintiff, an address can be passed on).

Upset that a victim of such a crime could be mistreated in such a way, I approached my MP for help on the matter, who said she would take up my issue.

Several weeks later I received a letter from Baroness Scotland. To paraphrase her attitude and comments, "tough shit".

Fuck you very much, Labour.

Next time, I'll be taking the law in to my own hands, and I'd encourage others to think about the same. A cricket bat and lots of adrenaline would seem to be far more effective than an entire county police force in getting matters dealt with properly.

Anonymous said...

machiavelli's understudy: [12.44 a.m.] My daughter had a very, very similar experience, except that in her case two police officers actually caught the vandal in the act. But still, he was only cautioned.

Baroness Scotland will just trot out the "line to take" as dictated by the civil servants in the Home Office. Waste of space.

Anonymous said...

Ever noticed that whenever the Police visit members of the public to discuss their "homophobic views" (elderly Christian couple over the library literature), or a "dangerous dog" (miniature dachshund pet of 2 yr old toddler), or suchlike desperados, there are always 2 Police Officers.

Suffer a burglary at home, mugged in the street, shop staff threatened, there's no Police available to attend.

How come there's always TWO to visit the first set? What's happened to the Police in this country?

I never used to think Chief Officers should be elected - but now I do think they should. It might concentrate Chief Officers' minds on the priorities of the public they serve - what used to be known as the law-abiding majority.

Snafu said...

It's reassuring to know that these jokers will be 'policing' Labour's road-congestion charges!

It will be a voluntary tax only payable by the law-abiding...

Anonymous said...

Jafo said: "How come there are always two.....?"

It drives me mad. On the rare occasion that I see a policeman on the street, he is always accompanied by a colleague. Why?
To state the obvious, if they patrolled alone, they would cover twice the ground. And bereft of amusing conversation, they might take a little more interest in what's going on around them.
My idea of a perfect cop is that South African guy in Nottingham who goes out on his mountain bike every day and arrests the local toe-rags by the dozen.
I bet his colleagues hate him.

Anonymous said...

I had to Google the Lord K to remind me which one it was which shows how remarkable it is. Nondescript town boozer Sort of place popular with pensioners and the types who sit in the corner reading the betting form. About the last place you'd expect a couple of under-age drinkers to gravitate towards. Does make you wonder if someone was following another agenda here.
If plod wants to catch publicans serving minors why not a disco pub?

Anonymous said...

Has the law regarding entrapment changed? I thought it used to be illegal for the police to deliberately provoke somebody into breaking the law?

Anonymous said...

Something has gone badly awry when anecdotal experience seems to be that the police are ineffectual in working for the average law-abiding citizen (if not actually working against them). Boris Johnson recently had the following story:

Peter Hitchin's (the Daily Mail journalist) book 'The Abolition of Liberty' comments extensively on how and why we now have a police force that is distanced from the citizens they are supposed to serve. Well worth a read.

Anonymous said...

Antipholus Papps [1.04 pm] You can't get a conviction if you provoke someone into committing a crime which, but for your intervention, he would never have committed. But test purchases, as they are called, are not caught by this rule.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not defending the practice. Far from it. The police should not be wasting time on this sort of nonsense.