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It may be Christmas, but people are still angry about stuff, and being passive aggressive.

Iconic photos is still going strong, and what if is still asking interesting questions, as is The Straight Dope.

We’ll be back in 2014 (yikes) with news of forthcoming titles, including the memoir of a QC, a book about British soldiers in Afghanistan and a surrealist look at the life of a detective.

To play us out, a Christmas song by Betty Lloyd via Derek See’s excellent ’45 a day’ website, where you can listen to all manner of old records you’ve never heard before.

(When he says he’s not sure if it’s the same Betty Lloyd, he means is it the woman behind this excellent obscure northern soul track [fittingly, uploaded to YouTube on Christmas Day four years ago, and not one of the genre's top 21 tracks, according to Paul Mason].)

Happy Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year to all.

 

 

…is all over the airwaves at the moment, in the wake of a serious case review (after which lessons will no doubt be learned, gold standard best practice adopted, and many new and more complex forms introduced).

I’ve just been listening to Sir Peter Fahy squirming on BBC 5 Live as Victoria Derbyshire asked him over and over again how it was that his officers failed to take seriously those complaints which were made.

It’s a very good question, and one I’d be asking were my daughters involved.

Of course, my daughters wouldn’t be involved, because I know where they are and who they are with at all times, as – doubtless – do any parents reading this. That is the point, really. Yes, there were other factors, but young teenage girls cannot be abused (systematically) by anyone if their parents or carers (most of the victims having been in care) know where they are, and who they are with.

But as The Guardian says,

There was a lack of strategies to respond to frequent “runaways”, which allowed them to return to their abusers.

‘Frequent runaways’ is a bit throwaway, isn’t it? I can think of at least one simple ‘strategy’ for stopping kids from ‘frequently’ running away, which is, don’t let them. Unfortunately, for reasons not unconnected to lawyers and other experts, it seems it’s not that easy.

But what is the relevance of this to our books? Well, a number of them have explained frequent runaways and the problems they cause.

In Wasting Police Time, PC David Copperfield defines ‘MISPER Enquiries’ as:

Enquiries into missing persons – usually kids who have run away from care homes or school to play in the amusement arcades and drink cider in the park.

But why don’t the care home staff or teachers bar the door? PC Bloggs (Diary of an On-Call Girl, criminally under-rated) explains why in this story of a missing child:

I AM STILL in custody, waiting for Will to find me, when the radio pipes up once more.

‘Could you attend the Benucci Foundation. Colin Roach has gone missing again.’

The Benucci Foundation is a Care Home, providing twenty-four hour supervision of troubled under-16s, and the name of Colin Roach is more familiar to me than my own. He goes for a jaunt two or three times a week, and the staff at the home do little to prevent it.

One of the rules of the twenty–four hour supervision is that it is the police’s responsibility to keep track of the youngsters who live under it. Thus, when a Missing Person is reported, a police officer will be dispatched to the relevant home, where a five-page description and Risk Assessment will be completed. This is actually the most crucial part of the whole process, as without knowing whether the Person is classified as High, Medium or Low Risk we are unable to determine which rank of officer will be fired if they are found dead.

Luckily, we are proficient at finding them alive. Not only do we have the ability to telephone their family members and ask if they’ve seen them, but we’re also good at driving to their favourite haunts or texting them on their mobiles to ask them where they are.

These skills take many years to master and should not be attempted by civilians.

Most Missing Persons are regulars. They are usually in care or foster homes, and have poor criminal or behavioural records. They are between 13 and 16, they drink, smoke and do drugs, and they ain’t scared of no Feds.

All of these factors mean that their carer is under a legal responsibility to inform the police when the Person goes Missing, even if Missing just happens to be going down the shop for a Mars bar. No matter: the police delight in spending hours on pointless tasks, so we are more than happy to cruise the streets of Blandmore searching for these youngsters, and, when we find them, it’s always a joy to spend half an hour trying to persuade them to go home without any actual power to make them do so.

Colin is 13 and I have located him three times already this year. On each occasion I found him in the same place: back at the Foundation sitting in front of the television.

This time, we are shown in by Carlita, one of the live-in carers. She makes me a cup of tea and apologises for having to call us out.

‘So,’ I say. ‘Why did he go this time?’

‘He went for some fags. We usually let him have one after doing his homework, but he wanted one now. So he just left.’

I look at the front door, a sturdy-looking PVC thing with two bolts. ‘How did he get out?’

‘He opened the door.’

‘Did anyone try to stop him?’

‘We aren’t allowed to do that!’ She looks horrified at the suggestion. ‘If they become violent, we retreat.’

‘But couldn’t you just lock the door?’

‘We don’t lock them in,’ she says. ‘That might make them violent.’

Perhaps I have misunderstood the nature of the Foundation. I ask for a recap. ‘Why are kids here again?’

‘High risk offenders. Most of them have committed rapes or sexual assaults on younger kids. Colin raped a younger boy last year.’

‘And they aren’t in prison because… ?’

‘Well, most of them were also abused as kids,’ Carlita explains. ‘They’re not even sixteen, so it wouldn’t be fair to just chuck them in jail and throw away the key. They’re mixed-up kids.’

‘So let me get this straight: you have a house full of boys who have been victims of sexual assault, living in a house with boys who have committed sexual assaults?’

‘Well, they aren’t allowed in each others’ rooms.’

Colin is under a Supervision Order from the court and Carlita shows me the Order. It lays down in no uncertain terms that Colin is to stay indoors at the Benucci Foundation all day, except when escorted to school and back by staff or taken on outings authorised by staff. He is to abide by the rules of the house and is not allowed to be rude or threatening or to assault anyone.

‘So he breaks this Order every time he goes storming out?’ I ask.

She nods. ‘If he does it again he’ll be put in a high security home.’

Will takes out the paperwork. ‘He’s done it… let’s see… 30 times in the last three months.’

Sadly, this is no exaggeration. Colin and others like him really exist, as do their records of going ‘missing’.

She shrugs. ‘Well, like I say. One of these days he’ll be put in high security.’

While the sergeant is there, I trick him into signing his name on my Missing Person paperwork; that means it is now he who will be fired if Colin Roach is not found. Even as he realises what he has done, the radio controller interrupts us to inform me that Colin is now back at the Foundation and could I please go and lay eyes on him so the incident log can be closed.

Inspector Gadget (Perverting the Course of Justice) has the issue in his area, too:

CHARLIE is 14 years old, he lives in a care home and he’s vanished.

Again.

Charlie is a MISPER.

There are two types of missing persons.

The first type is persons who are actually missing.

They might be stressed husbands who left work four hours ago and haven’t come home. They might be mums with post-natal depression, or old people with Alzheimer’s, or kids who are playing in the park and have just forgotten the time. We don’t get many calls like this, and we take them very seriously indeed.

The second type of MISPER are persons who aren’t really missing at all – like Charlie.

In fact, in our area – as in any area – the vast majority of these cases fall into this category.

Most of them are wayward teenagers who have disappeared from one of the foster/children’s homes on our patch. They’re kids with no obvious future except crime, unemployment and poverty: disturbed, unwanted youngsters from broken homes, born to underclass parents who just drop them and never bother to pick them up again. Usually, mum or dad is in the middle of some drug or alcohol daze, or has a new partner who doesn’t want to know. The result is young boys and girls left to fend for themselves, out in the big wide world at the age of 10 or so. They end up in care, and they abscond very regularly – some of them several times a week – after being told by the staff that they can’t smoke cannabis, or can’t drink, or simply because they want to go and hang around in town with their mates. The staff watch them stroll away (they are not allowed to detain them), and then they call us.

They’re undoubtedly tragic, these kids, and they’d break your heart if you let them.

[E]very time Charlie vanishes, we ramp up an entire system.

How this starts is with a risk assessment.

In theory, this is to decide which of three levels of response we adopt: high, medium or low.

In practice, it’s really about getting some poor bastard’s name on it – usually that of a Duty Inspector like me – so that if and when things get bent out of shape they have someone to stick it to. Call me cynical, but that’s the way I see it.

Let’s go back to the theory. It sounds sensible: if someone is at high risk, let’s have a high level of response.

The problem is, what is ‘high risk’? If it means any kid who goes missing, you can forget it. A high level response requires a helicopter. It needs search dogs, a Gold command (Assistant Chief Constable or above) and incident command posts. It needs large teams of level two-trained officers – the specialists who you see on the TV news, dressed in white overalls carrying out painstaking, fingertip searches. Charlie’s always disappearing and he’s not alone in that: if we act like this for every kid who goes missing in our area every time they do it, I’m going to need eight helicopters a day. I will need hundreds of people. It’s impossible.

As for low risk… well, no-one is ever going to be low risk, are they? I mean, would you put that on a form if you were me?

So what happens is, we end up recording the vast majority of MISPERs as ‘medium’ risk (I think I’m supposed to make that judgment based on an e-learning package I did on the computer once). Hence, the entire, bureaucratic, time-consuming, box-ticking, arse-covering exercise that is the risk assessment is actually a big fat sham.

Medium risk doesn’t mean we just shrug our shoulders and don’t do much about it, though. There’s still a whole list of things that have to be done – at least 50 of them, on forms which are about eight pages long.

For instance, you have to:

- Search Charlie’s home and any outbuildings

- Check for any diaries, letters and calendars he might have, seize them and put them in evidence bags

- Question all people in the home.

- Carry out house-to-house enquiries locally and in areas of interest.

- Do an area search of the places that Charlie is known to frequent.

- Alert CCTV.

- Broadcast his disappearance to other officers.

- Get it on to the briefing.

- Put him on the Police National Computer as ‘locate-and-trace’.

- Go to his school – even though it’s long after dark, and he doesn’t go to school most days anyway.

- Visit his last two known addresses.

- Contact his family and friends, and physically go round and check for him there.

The list goes on for quite a while yet – and everything, of course, has to be written down and recorded in triplicate, just in case something bad does happen, so you and your bosses can prove you did all that was humanly possible to prevent it.

So I take two officers off my shift and put them to work on finding Charlie. They trawl the canal towpaths and the children’s playgrounds and the underpasses and all the hidden away places Charlie likes to meet up with his mates and they eventually find him, mildly pissed, lying in a rosebed next to the bandstand in the park.

By that stage, he’s quite happy to get a lift back to the home. They drop him off, knowing they’ll be out looking for him again within the next three or four days.

I could give you many, many examples. Mandy is another 14-year-old who also lives in a care home in one of our towns. She has an ‘Acceptable Behaviour Contract’ with the home: if she generally does as she’s told, once a week she’s allowed out to go and buy cigarettes. Yes, I know this is illegal but they have to work with what they’ve got; if they just say No to her, what’s going to happen? What sanctions do they have?

(One day, undoubtedly, Mandy will find a no-win-no-fee lawyer who will sue the local authority on her behalf for allowing her to smoke.)

She’s supposed to go to the local shop, or to her mother, or to whoever it is that provides her with the fags, and then come straight back. She gets half an hour for this, and every single time she doesn’t come back. Instead, she goes into town, nicks a load of make-up from Dorothy Perkins, swipes some vodka from the offie and spends the afternoon getting smashed with a load of older kids. All our medium risk responses grind into action and we get officers out looking for her. Sometimes we find her, other times she comes back of her own accord. Depending on how she’s feeling, it might be that night, but more often it’ll be a day or two later. The following week, we’ll go through the same thing all over again. And the week after that, ad nauseam, until they’re no longer juveniles.

As a normal person, unfamiliar with the way these things work, you are probably thinking that this all sounds a bit mad.

If she keeps going missing, why don’t the care home staff just ban her from going out in the first place? (Because she’ll ignore them and go anyway.)

Why don’t they lock the doors? (They aren’t allowed to.)

Why don’t they grab hold of her? (They don’t want to get done for assault.)

And Mandy and Charlie are but two of many. At any one time, I will have half a dozen of these cases on the go.

In other news, our office cat Harry had to be put down this week. He would usually be sitting on my desk looking disdainfully at me as I batter yet more nonsense into my keyboard; 16 years we’ve had him (and his brother Percy, until he died a couple of years back). It’s a terribly sad thing.

Harry

Still, the office dog is sleeping easier:

molly.jpg

…continues to sell well, perhaps because most people who can read are fairly concerned about their child’s education.

Yesterday, Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s chief inspector, said teachers were tolerating misbehaviour in some schools, and that lots of children in those schools were really struggling. Given that they tend to come from the poorest backgrounds, this is a tragedy.

Nicky Campbell’s 5 Live phone-in was all about this subject – I only heard a few minutes of it, but it was pretty grim; one chap rang in to say five-year-olds in the school in which his wife teaches were biting, spitting and swearing at all and sundry. ‘That’s no way for a five-year-old to behave,’ said Nicky (inadvertently leaving open the option that it was, perhaps, the way for older pupils to behave).

The Telegraph rang us to get Frank Chalk to write an op-ed page piece for them, but he was busy fighting off horses of teenagers, so they got Adam Pettitt, instead. Pettitt is a former Eton master and now headmaster of Highgate School, whose list of alumni includes various MPs, barons, professors and judges. No-one famous ever went to any of the schools Frank Chalk writes about, but his basic message would probably be the same as Pettitt’s.

Mike Tyson didn’t go to school, much, so couldn’t have disrupted the education of others. Still, he found a way to make something of himself. No-one who likes boxing will ever forget the sheer excitement of watching the young Tyson fight. The way big, tough (relatively speaking) boxers like Trevor Berbick and Michael Spinks folded in front of him was astonishing; in many cases, his bouts were over before a punch was thrown, never mind landed. His defeats of the brave but hopelessly outclassed Frank Bruno, then his own almost unbelievable loss to the journeyman Buster Douglas and the ear-biting horror with Evander Holyfield… there’s enough in the sporting side of his life alone for a fascinating book.

His grimy upbringing, and grimier behaviour outside the ring, and his insane lifestyle, make his autobiography one of the most interesting sports books I’ve ever read, and a firm recommend for Christmas.

He writes (with the assistance of a ghost) like he fought; you don’t end up liking him, or understanding him, but you can’t deny that he has led an extraordinary life. There’s enough there for an entire conference, as they say.

The Guardian wonders if Santa should bring children eReaders this year.

And, as we head to Perth, Geoff Boycott says England’s glory years are over. I don’t know so much; all we need is two new openers (the unfortunate Carberry being good but a bit elderly), a new captain, a new no6 batsman, a new wicket-keeper capable of averaging 40 in Tests, and four new bowlers.

Air Disaster Vol 2

…will soon be available as an eBook (and followed by Vols 3 and 4).

The Air Disaster series were the seminal works on air crash investigation written by the brilliant Macarthur Job, a world-renowned authority on the subject (and himself a pilot, and still going strong into his late 80s in his native Australia).

Volume 1 looked at the very early days of mass passenger transport – slow, lumbering, piston-engined machines often converted from World War 2 bombers, and patchily reliable; Volume 2, the early years of jet travel, will be following very soon.

The original paperbacks dealt mainly with the technical aspects of the crashes; we have been working to add in some of the background material about the people on the flights in question, and then republishing them as eBooks for Kindle, iTunes and Kobo.

There is something surprisingly moving (given no personal connection) about reading old passenger manifests, news reports and obituaries – stories of people who boarded aeroplanes to take them on family holidays or business trips, and never reached their destinations… all that potential snuffed out, those lives unlived, the friends and relatives left behind.

In some cases, the information available is tantalisingly scant.

For instance, in 1972 a British European Airways Trident, Flight BE 548 to Brussels, crashed on Staines shortly after take-off from Heathrow. Everyone aboard was killed, though fortunately – because of the odd way in which the aircraft came down (almost vertically in a flat stall into open ground) and because there was no fire – no-one on the ground was hurt.

Most were business travellers – 12 were senior Irish businessmen, on their way to Brussels on a fact-finding mission ahead of Ireland’s accession to the EEC the following year; Lieutenant-Commander Hugh Sampson and Commander Alan Alabaster, both of the Royal Navy, and Major Albert Harrison, of the Royal Corps of Signals, were presumably on NATO affairs – but at least two family groups were aboard.

Mrs Suzanne Hansen was a 35-year-old housewife from Seattle in Washington, and she was travelling with her four children – Christen, 14, Gretchen, 12, Heidi, 9, and Peter, 7. All were killed. Why they were on the aircraft, we’ve not been able to ascertain. Perhaps Mr Hansen – Gary – worked in Brussels?

Last week we were looking at the 1974 loss of PanAm flight 806, from Auckland in New Zealand to Los Angeles, via Pago Pago in American Samoa and Honolulu, Hawaii.

There were 91 passengers, six cabin crew and four on the flight deck aboard the Boeing 707 as it approached Pago Pago. It was almost midnight, the aircraft was flying into a thunderstorm with vicious wind shear, and a mile or so before the runway there was only inky black jungle below them. These factors, and errors by the flight crew, led the to jet flying into the densely-forested hillside before the airport.

No-one knew that they were crashing until they crashed, and it actually wasn’t the worst impact, either; the plane effectively landed on the treetops and stayed largely intact, and only minor injuries were caused. However, within seconds the 707 was engulfed in flames. Most people either panicked or were trapped in the aircraft by people who panicked.

The stories of those who died are unbearably poignant.

For instance, Norman and Virginia Orton, both 41, were flying back to the United States with their three daughters – Glenna, 19, Susan, 15, and Jennifer, seven. The family – originally from Baytown, Texas – had spent the previous four years living in Adelaide, South Australia, where Mr Orton had been working as an electronics engineer with East Systems. Now they were at the start of a seven-week vacation, and looking forward particularly to some time in Hawaii, before he started a new job back in the USA.

The strange (but useful) findagrave website shows that this small, tragic family is buried together at Baytown Memorial Cemetery. Someone has uploaded photographs of two of the daughters, Glenna and Jennifer.

Only four people survived Flight 806; they did so thanks to a fortunate combination of being able to keep a clear head and being seated near the emergency exits.

Former US Olympic diving coach Dick Smith had been to New Zealand to do some coaching ahead of the forthcoming Commonwealth Games; he and young Auckland solicitor Roger Cann both suffered only slight injuries.

Mr Cann’s then wife Heather, a 21-year-old ballet teacher, suffered serious burns but lived; Charles Culberson, a 30-year-old Oregon State University oceanographer who had just completed a month-long oceanographic expedition starting off Samoa, was terribly burned and had to have his hands rebuilt by plastic surgeons.

Mr Smith said

I said to myself, “I’m getting out of this place. I unbuckled and stood up to survey the situation for just half a second. I knew I wasn’t going to panic like the rest of them. That wouldn’t solve anything. On my right was an emergency door. I shoved it open and a wall of flame hit me smack in the face. I shut the door real quick and told myself, “That’s one way out, but not the right way out.” I moved to the aisle, and they were just like a bunch of horses stampeding to the front. My first thought was I might want to follow them, but a blast of smoke hit me in the face and I decided to look for another way out.

I went a step, possibly more than a step. Then heavy smoke or heavy flames hit me directly in the face with such a force that I don’t know whether I automatically dropped down to my knees, or whether I was knocked down to my knees. I’ve been in a position where I’ve been in chlorine gas a couple of times, and this was as terrific as chlorine gas. It was a real big black smoke of toxic gas – smoke like molasses. When those flames hit me, well, I could have quit like a lot of other people right then, because it was one of the most tremendous feelings I’ve ever had in my life – just being grabbed like that. I had a great fear right then, and I said to myself, “No, Smith, not you, not this way!”

Because of his time as a diving coach, he had spent many years swimming, which gave him a crucial advantage over many of his fellow passengers.

I can hold my breath for four minutes. When I dropped down to my knees, I did not even try to breathe. I pivoted around and went back on the left side of the aircraft for two rows and forced the emergency exit open. I jumped out on the wing and lit out on all fours. I felt that no one could live up there any longer than they could hold their breath.

Roger Cann said he and his wife made their escape with ‘one gulp of air’ and that there were only five seconds between the aircraft coming to a halt and their jumping from an emergency exit two rows in front of them.

Outside, the Canns and Dick Smith stood in the rain, waiting for other passengers to follow them from the burning aircraft.

Roger Cann said later

I thought, “Well, what are they doing?” There’s got to be some. They couldn’t have died in that one. They’ve got to be somewhere. They can’t all be dead.”

In another shock, horror revelation, the Public Administration Committee was told yesterday that the cops sometimes fiddle the figures when recording crime.

A witness told the MPs that

“cuffing” crimes could involve officers deciding they did not believe complainants, recording multiple incidents in the same area as a single crime or recording thefts as “lost property”, burglaries as “theft from property” and attempted burglaries as “criminal damage”.

Hmm. Where have we heard this sort of thing before?

So how widespread is this, and why do they do it?

Today, Derbyshire Chief Constable Mick Creedon told an ACPO conference that ‘he had spoken to officers from many police forces who said senior officers were applying pressure on them to reduce the crime figures.’ They are

‘inadvertently… still putting pressure on officers to do all they can to manipulate and create crime reductions.  I don’t think they do it because they are inherently corrupt but because pressure is put down to reduce it. It is whether we have the nerve to step away from crime reduction and obsession with crime figures, and whether we can move to a real environment where we do properly record.

But why are these ‘senior officers’ putting this pressure on?

Probably hundreds of run of the mill bobbies have moaned to me about this since we published Wasting Police Time, Perverting the Course of Justice and the rest. They would probably answer the above question with three of their own:

1. Do senior officers get bonuses if the figures look good?

2. Do politicians get re-elected at least partly on the back of boasts and lies about crime?

3. What is a PDR?

Of course, it’s not just that sometimes a shed break-in gets recorded as damage by badgers, there’s also pressure to criminalise effectively innocent people – if you can create a ‘crime’ that you know you can ‘solve’, that’s so much better than recording actual crimes you know you probably can’t. Here’s probably my favourite piece from Inspector Gadget’s book:

LET’S go back to basics for a moment.

Lots of people probably don’t quite understand the words ‘crime’ and ‘detection’, and the role they play in modern policing.

That’s not surprising, because what they mean in reality and what they mean in surreality – ie modern policing – are often two completely different things.

In real life, a crime means something which we would all agree is against the law – theft, assault, burglary – and has an actual victim who has really suffered some harm.

In policing, a ‘crime’ – because of the ‘victim-focused’ National Crime Recording Standard I mentioned earlier – can mean, in practice, almost anything which half sounds like it might possibly be a bit like a crime and which is reported to us. (Because who are we to tell Mr Hughes that his ex’s nasty text message isn’t a crime?)

Here is one example of a non-crime taken seriously by us.

It’s late one afternoon in the middle of last December. The Christmas lights are ablaze on every house in Bigtown, and the concrete walkway outside the local Spar is covered in fresh white litter. Inside, there’s a queue of people waiting to pay for their groceries. Halfway down the line, a little girl and her mum are chatting about Santa Claus, and the presents he will be delivering in a fortnight.

In front of them is a typical Bigtown youth – Burberry scarf, Nike trainers, NY Yankees cap and a ton of bling.

Overhearing their conversation, he turns round, looks at the girl and says, ‘You don’t believe in Father Christmas, do ya? Your mum’s telling you lies… he ain’t real.’

The little girl bursts into tears and the angry mum storms out of the shop.

I like to think that, if that happened to me, I’d tell my daughter that the nasty man was talking rubbish, and chalk it up to experience.

But modern life being what it is, mum doesn’t do this; instead, she phones us on her mobile from the street outside, like it’s a police matter.

OK, so we get a call from a lady wanting to report a Santa denier.

We just tell her we’re awfully sorry but it’s not really one for us, right?

Wrong. The call-taker logs it on the system as a harassment offence. We all know that if the woman had been calling to report a criminal damage that had happened the night before she’d have got someone out a week next Tuesday. But because certain triggers are hit – there’s a child involved, this area happens to be a crime hot spot and the man is still at the scene – a patrol is despatched immediately, to speak to the mum and little girl and, if possible, grab the ‘offender’ (or seize the CCTV to see if they can ID him).

To me, that’s just about as mad as it gets. Is it, even at the edges of abstract technicality, a crime? Harassment is about causing alarm or distress to another. As a senior officer asked in the SMT morning meeting, ‘How can it be harassment to tell someone Santa doesn’t exist? I mean, he doesn’t. Does he?’

He’s got a point. Short of producing Santa himself at an ID parade and proving he’s real, the case is going nowhere. But time and resources have been wasted in a fairly ludicrous way.

Here’s another one.

Two young lads outside a newsagent. One, a 10-year-old, goes in and buys a packet of crisps. Walkers, salt and vinegar I believe. When he comes back out and opens the packet, his 11-year-old chum swoops on him, sticks a fist into the bag and legs it down the road, cackling in glee with a handful of crisps.

The first boy tells his mum and, yes, she calls us. The ‘thief’ is questioned but – horror of horrors – he denies it. This causes our whole system to collapse, because we’re all about getting people to cough to minor offences and accept cautions for them to make detections. Where do we go from here? Forensics? ID parades with witnesses from the scene who saw the boy make off with the crisps? Thankfully, there is some residual common sense in the police, and the case eventually got ‘no-crimed’ – but not before hours of police time was wasted, and only after submissions in triplicate to the crime auditors to get them to wipe it off the computer.

These aren’t isolated cases. Here are a few others from the papers recently:

– A man ‘found in possession of an egg with intent to throw’.

– A child who removed a slice of cucumber from a sandwich and threw it at another youngster.

– A woman arrested (on her wedding day) for criminal damage after her foot slipped on the accelerator and her vehicle damaged a car park barrier.

– Another child who threw cream buns at a bus.

– A 70-year-old pensioner arrested for criminal damage after cutting back a neighbour’s conifer trees.

– A man who threw a glass of water over his girlfriend.

I didn’t make any of these up. Anti-social, yes, and in some cases maybe we ought to have a quiet word with the people involved. But are they really ‘crimes’?

Once someone reports them to us as such, and the call-taker enters them onto our computer databases as such, then, yes, they are.

So that’s ‘crime’. What’s a ‘detection’?

You perhaps think this refers to a mechanism whereby the person responsible for a crime, real or surreal, is caught and punished for it.

In fact, it may just mean that a suspect has been charged* – he doesn’t have to be found guilty. Equally, he may have been cautioned, or reported for summons, or been issued with a Penalty Notice for Disorder, or the offence may have been taken into consideration when he is sentenced for other matters.

What are the implications of all of this?

They are many and varied.

Firstly, all of a sudden anyone who has been looked at a bit funny can ring the police and demand a response.

Secondly, this will mean one extra recorded crime on the force’s figures (eg ‘harassment’ for looking at someone funny).

Thirdly, we can’t just ignore them. Under NCRS, we mostly have to take them seriously, which is just one reason why it takes us three days to show up for your burglary. Plus lots of undetected ‘crimes’ make Chief Constables look bad, and worry the Home Secretary, so they have to be detected with a response that is bureaucratic and slow and will take officers off the street for hours.

Fourthly, a boy who throws a piece of cucumber at a classmate may feel under pressure to accept a caution – and a permanent entry on his criminal record. This may affect his chances of employment later in life. (Though at the rate we’re criminalising the population, it won’t be long before pretty much everyone has a record, and it’s weird if you haven’t.)

Finally, in many forces, each officer now has an individual ‘Detection Target’. If he or she does not hit this target, he or she will end up with an ‘Action Plan’ on his or her Annual Appraisal. This is essentially a negative statement on your file, which can exclude you from an interview for a specialisation or promotion at the ‘paper-sift’ stage. Helping old ladies across the road, diving into swollen rivers to rescue drowning people and preventing or deterring crime from happening in the first place – none of these count against your individual target.

Of the above implications, the only one that really matters is our figures for undetected crimes. That’s because these are the only ones that affect senior police officers and politicians.

It doesn’t matter that bobbies might be so tied up looking for youths who don’t believe in Father Christmas that they can’t come out when you’re assaulted, because senior cops and MPs don’t very often get assaulted. If the young salt and vinegar crisps thief gets a criminal record, that doesn’t matter either, because who cares? And neither does the systematic degradation of what was once a force into a ‘service’ that often only seems to serve the non-contributory members of society, because if the Chief Constable or the Lord Chief Justice or The Right Honourable Jacqui Smith MP has a gang of rowdy youths hanging around outside late at night, you can bet there’ll be a rapid and forceful response to that. (Though remember, Jacqui, that you were once a humble schoolteacher, and you won’t be Home Secretary for ever.)

PC David Copperfield was the first to break ranks and tell people about this nonsense. Since then, there have been lots of noises about how it’s all going to change, and they’re going to slash bureaucracy and cut targets. Well, it hasn’t happened yet, and I’ll believe it when I see it.

Incidentally, the crisps theft was not a lone incident. There were 500 similar thefts, of ‘nominal value under £1’, across my force in the past six months. What are these £1 thefts? Well, this might explain some of them: If your credit card is nicked and used, and the guy who stole it is later arrested with it still on him, this presents us with an opportunity. How about if the police crime this twice? Once for the deception involved in using it to buy alloy rims for his Vauxhall Corsa, and once for the theft of the actual piece of plastic, nominal value under £1.

So some copper calls you up. ‘Mr Smith, isn’t it great? We got the guy who nicked your card. We’re talking to the bank about the loss of the money, and we also want to deal with him for the card itself. Can we just come and take a quick statement from you?’

This is called a ‘Loser’s Statement’ – it’s designed to head off a defence in court that you are the thief’s best mate and you always let him use your card.

You say, ‘Yep, no problem’, and the Old Bill nip round. Result: the theft of the credit card itself is detected and the crime figures for theft look a little better. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether we’d bother criming the theft of the card if we hadn’t actually already recovered it.

Murderers I Have Known

We’re working on a new Theodore Dalrymple book (here’s a link to Amazon Kindle editions of some of his others for those who haven’t followed his work).

It is provisionally entitled Murderers I Have Known (or possibly Murderers of My Acquaintance), and it deals with some of the killers with whom Dalrymple dealt during his many years as a prison psychiatrist and doctor.

These included the infamous Fred West, though the author’s interest is much more in the quotidian nature of your common or garden stabber/bludgeoner.

It will be published after his impending retirement from medico-legal work (he has worked for a long time as an expert witness is murder trials).

More details as and when, but here’s a brief excerpt from the foreword:

Everyone is interested in murder: I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who wasn’t. Bertrand Russell, even at his most pacifist, read one detective novel a day, and he was far from unique in his taste. Perhaps I am deluding myself, but whenever I spoke of a murderer whom I had just met my interlocutor’s eyes never glazed over as they sometimes did (and do) when I spoke (or speak) of other subjects such as politics, philosophy or the wonderful exploits of my dog.

Now that I have retired from medico-legal practice the moment has come, perhaps, for me to reflect upon the meaning and significance of all that I heard or otherwise witnessed in my mildly undistinguished career.

Actually my retirement was not entirely voluntary, in the sense that I declined any longer to jump through the hoops that the bureaucracy now places in the path of doctors who wish to continue to practise. These hoops have little to do with professional competence and everything to do with letting doctors know who is boss; for there is no finer way of controlling highly intelligent people than by making them perform many tasks they know to be pointless but which they nevertheless perform for the sake of a quiet life. Thus the manager’s dream of a world peopled by cringing, creeping time-servers is in the process of formation; the younger generation, which has grown up accepting pointless bureaucratic procedures as a natural and inescapable part of life, has been emasculated without even knowing that anything has been done to it.

I retired, then, at the height of my powers, such as they were and are; it is a long time since a judge or a jury did not accept my view of a case in contradistinction to that of the experts called by the other side. Of course, the expert is supposed to be helping the court rather advocating for one side or the other; he testifies for truth, not victory. But human beings would not be human beings if they did not wish for triumph or at least for vindication by others.

It is better, however, even if somewhat painful, to retire at the height of your powers than wait for them to decline to the point at which you are told humiliatingly that you are no longer up to it. To go out in a blaze, or at least a candlelight, of glory is better than leaving people to shake their heads sadly behind you because you are but a shadow of your former self. It is notorious that those who let decline set in before they retire do not live long, perhaps because they have little else than their work to live for.

Dalrymple seems to prefer murderers to denizens of the accursed box:

In my experience, TV people are as lying, insincere, obsequious, unscrupulous, fickle, exploitative, shallow, cynical, untrustworthy, treacherous, dishonest, mercenary, low, and untruthful a group of people as is to be found on the face of this Earth.

We’ve had a number of people contact us to ask whether @InspGadgetBlogs is the real deal.

It is he (or she).

Here’s a brief statement, for want of a better word:

I stopped blogging because I thought I had said enough. It was that simple. I wasn’t found out, nobody identified me, or even came close.

But most of the things Copperfield, Bloggs and I were trying to say were finally ‘out there’, some of our solutions to problems had even become national policy.

I was getting bored with saying the same stuff.

Plus, I had 13 million hits, regularly had 1,000 comments on each post, and it was becoming a monster.

I am back on Twitter because I can’t stand by and see issues like the media bias in Plebgate coverage, all the damage done by ‘cuts’ (which in some cases are actually costing more money, not less), and the continued and I think largely unanswered criticism of the police every day, with no attempt at context etc.

Some of the people leading the charge against the police are themselves people who have been disgraced or proven to be liars in the past; yet nobody challenges their narrative.

Whether people liked it or not, Inspector Gadget was a reasonably influential and uncensored voice for frontline policing.

This was largely because the newspapers reported the blog posts.

I was only writing what most cops were thinking. I think this needs doing again.

Twitter is easier and faster, and I won’t be blogging again.

Maybe nobody will read my stuff ever again; I don’t have a problem with that.

My strongly-held position is this: I am a police officer who does my absolute best to fight crime, protect the law-abiding and support the other emergency services and NHS.

I adhere strictly to the law and I work hard to make sure my team has a successful and respectful relationship with the law-abiding public.

I understand the concept of vocation and public service; however, I am also a citizen in my own right, a voter, a tax-payer, a veteran, and a married parent.

This means that I believe I have the right to hold views about how the country is run, and to air those views.

I am still on the frontline, still in uniform working shifts with my team, and still in Ruralshire.

He (or she) may do media interviews; if you’re a journo and you’re interested, drop us a line.

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