Professional Secrecy

I didn’t blog last week about Alex Dolan, when she was suspended by the General Teaching Council for undercover filming in schools. The footage was shown on the Channel 4 investigative program Dispatches and actually brought the state of Britain’s schools into the open. She showed very bad behaviour in four different schools, including teachers hiding badly behaved pupils from Ofsted inspectors, and pupils openly threatening violence against her. She revealed that the education emperor has no clothes and the GTC did not take kindly to being exposed.

This week it is the turn of Margaret Haywood, who filmed the neglect of elder patients in a hospital for Panorama, the BBC investigative program. Even though all the patients gave consent after they were filmed, she was charged with breaching confidentiality and struck off the nursing register. Because she was too concerned about patient care, she was declared no longer fit to be a nurse.

I’m also reminded of the cops who beat up newsagent Ian Tomlinson from behind as he walked down the street with his hands in his pockets during the G20 summit. Tomlinson later died. Apparently the balaclavas over their faces are part of their uniform to protect them from fire, but they are still supposed to wear their identification number. Their numbers were not visible, so it took a while to identify them from the video footage.

Is it any wonder that three of the areas of public service people know aren’t working are education, nursing and law enforcement?

Lack of Convictions

Once again, between extensive discussions in the comments and work, I’ve gone several days without a new post. And once I have something to post, it’s one of those topics that is important to me, but doesn’t tend to generate a lot of viewship. Oh well. . .

Even though crime in the UK has continued to rise, the number of convictions in trials is at a seven-year low. If this were because the quality of criminal defense work is getting better and better, then I suppose that would be okay. But I don’t think that’s the reason.

This is really due to three main causes. Police forces are under a lot of pressure to meet targets. They need to charge defendants. They put together sloppy cases that the Crown Prosecution Service can’t win.

The other two causes create a danger to the public. They endanger public safety by using cautions instead of trying to get convictions. A signed caution counts just a good for the statistics as a conviction, because it is an admission of guilt.  As reported in The Daily Telegraph, from 2002 to 2006, “there was a 142 per cent rise in the use of cautions for violence against the person from 23,607 to 57,273. There was a 75 per cent increase in cautions for robbery and a 60 per cent rise for sexual offences.”

That’s right, chances are that if you rob someone, the cops will say, “Okay, you’ve admitted you’ve done wrong. Now don’t do it again. We might take you to court if you do.”

The police are also endangering the public with fixed penalty notices. A fixed penalty notice is like a traffic ticket. A cop says you are guilty and issues a fine. The number of fixed penalty notices has risen dramatically, in no small part because the number of crimes for which a notice can be issued has also expanded significantly. This is bad for civil liberties, because there are an increasing number of transgressions for which the burden of proof is shifted to the defendent. But it is also bad for public safety and welfare, because for those who are committing some of these offenses, there is no criminal record.

The following information is from the Home Office:

Offences where a notice might be issued

Examples of offences where a penalty notice for disorder may be issued include:

  • intentionally harassing or scaring people
  • being drunk and disorderly in public
  • destroying or damaging property
  • petty shoplifting
  • selling alcohol to underage customers
  • selling alcohol to somebody who is obviously drunk
  • using fireworks after curfew

Maybe it’s just me, but some of these seem fairly serious for there to be no record attached. You can harrass someone, destroy their property, or steal from their shop, then pay a small fine and go back to what you were doing. Or you could use your shop to sell alcohol to children.  No big deal.

Something that shocked me as a former criminal defense attorney in the States was to learn that only 67.5% of cases in Crown Court (where the more serious cases are heard) result in a guilty plea. And this is an increase. In the States over 90% of cases are pleaded out. This means that that in over 30% of cases sent to trial in Britain, the defense thinks they have a shot at winning. I suppose with a 61% acquittal rate this is not surprising.

This either means that defense lawyers are really good or the police are fitting a lot of people up and having their cases collapse. I think I’m going with the latter.

The New Stasi

In the former Soviet Bloc, everyone had to be very careful, because no one ever knew if their neighbour was spying on them to report them to the government. Miss those good ol’ days? Welcome to Gordon Brown’s Britain.

As reported today in the Daily Telegraph, if you live in the UK, your neighbours may have been recruited by the local council to report on you. They may be your very young neighbours.

Children as young as eight have been recruited by councils to “snoop” on their neighbours and report petty offences such as littering, the Daily Telegraph can disclose.

The youngsters are among almost 5,000 residents who in some cases are being offered £500 rewards if they provide evidence of minor infractions.

One in six councils contacted by the Telegraph said they had signed up teams of “environment volunteers” who are being encouraged to photograph or video neighbours guilty of dog fouling, littering or “bin crimes”.

The “covert human intelligence sources”, as some local authorities describe them, are also being asked to pass on the names of neighbours they believe to be responsible, or take down their number-plates.

Ealing Council in West London said: “There are hundreds of Junior Streetwatchers, aged 8-10 years old, who are trained to identify and report enviro-crime issues such as graffiti and fly-tipping.”

Hundreds of Junior Streetwatchers. That’s just the ones working for one council.

Don’t confuse this with a neighborhood crime watch program. This is paying people to look into your garden to see if you have put your rubbish bins in the right place.

This comes at the same time that many councils are only collecting rubbish on a fortnightly basis, because they can not longer afford a weekly service, even though they are still collecting the same amount in council tax. Of course if rubbish has to be stored for twice as long, it is twice as likely that it will result in an infraction of local regulations – more money for the eight-year-old spies climbing over the fence for a peek.

This escalation in Britain’s growing surveillance state follows an outcry about the way councils are using powers originally designed to combat terrorism and organised crime to spy on residents. In one case, a family was followed by council staff for almost three weeks after being wrongly accused of breaking rules on school catchment areas.

It also emerged last month that around 1,400 security guards, car park attendants and town hall staff have been given police-style powers including the right to issue on-the-spot fines for littering, cycling on the pavement and other offences.

Big Brother really is watching.

Barry George Unframed

The big story this week in the UK has been the acquittal of Barry George in his retrial for the murder of TV presenter Jill Dando. At the time of his arrest and initial conviction, I had serious doubts about his guilt.

Having been a criminal defense attorney, I was aware of two things. First, since I hadn’t seen all of the evidence, I was not best placed to make any truly informed opinion about it. Second, I had seen police frame-ups since before I was admitted to Bar. I was practicing under supervision as a law student in a criminal defense clinic when I won back-to-back supression of evidence hearings against undercover narcotics officers who had no qualms about bald-face lying under oath. (My double win surprised both my supervising attorney and the assistant prosecutor, but that’s another story.)

What was obvious at the time was that the police needed to make a case. This was the highest profile murder in the UK for years. Dando was a presenter of the BBC series Crimewatch. The show was responsible for putting dozens of criminals behind bars. The Met were under a lot of public pressure. And if you want to know how the Met responds when they are under lots of pressure ask Jean Charles de Menezes. Oh, wait, sorry, he’s dead.  Ask Harry Stanley, then. No, wait, sorry, he’s dead, too.

Sure, Barry George is a nutter. His mental illness is compounded by his Asperger’s (and I make a clear distinction between the two). That didn’t make him a killer. He was a bit of a pest to women. That’s a long way from sidling up behind one on her doorstep and putting a bullet in the back of her head.

It’s like when the cops tried to spin that he was obsessed with Dando because they found eight newspapers in his flat with articles about her in them. What they didn’t say was that they found a total of 800 newpapers in his flat, so it is not surprising that eight of them had articles about a celebrity TV presenter.

Even though there were eyewitnesses that placed Barry impossibly away from Dando’s Gowan Avenue address, the one piece of circumstantial evidence the police relied on was a single grain of gunpowder reside on a coat belonging to George, found by police a year after the murder. After all, it wasn’t found until after it had been placed on a mannequin by police to be photographed as evidence. Barry doesn’t know how it got there, but I’m afraid I have to go with his suspicion that it was planted there by the police. I’ve known nutters and I’ve known police. Barry only has an IQ of 75, but I’m going with the nutter on this one.

The police maintain that they got their man, but after eight years in prison he got away. They have to do that in order to save face. As a result, it is very unlikely that they will make any real effort to find the real killer of Jill Dando.

Ahead of His Time

The Welsh get unfairly blamed for a propensity to a certain crime against nature. However, a string of attacks has made national news (and here) and the alleged perpetrator is a Londoner.

Though it seems a bit over the top, he was arrested in a dawn raid on his home. He has been bailed by police while they continue their enquiries, on the condition that he not visit any farmyards in the London area. Of course there’s nothing to stop him visiting farmyards outside the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Police.

This may be what has been happening all along. It may be Londoners looking for virgin territory, so to speak, visiting the hillsides of Wales, and observers have just assumed that they are Welsh. The lie is then spread by other English people, casting aspersion on the natives of the Principality.

The alleged crime carries with it a possible two-year prison sentence. However, in the news stories there is no mention of a political lobbying group protesting about his right to express his own sexuality. After all there is no suggestion that the sheep in question were lambs. These were described at violent attacks, though there was no evidence of actual violence. Do we just assume that the sheep were not consenting?

Isn’t is just a bit hypocritical to say that others are not bound by sexuality linked to the possibility of procreation, and yet criminalise this man for expressing his own orientation? This is especially true given the advances in embryology. Scientists have already created human-animal hybrids and cloning became most famous with the case of Dolly the sheep. Who’s to say that in a very few years, a man and his ewe (though I suppose that’s sexist to say “his ewe”, implying that it’s not an equal partnership) won’t be able to have their own offspring.

Rather than being criminalised and ostracised, this poor man should be recognised for living in the true spirit of the age. He is a shinig example of the British liberal ethos that it shouldn’t matter what you do as long as you’re not hurting anyone else.

One Ring (of Ministers) to Rule Them All

In a move regarded by the Conservative Party and much of the media as evidence of the further Stalinisation of the UK, the Government is planning to further centralised the police. Until now, chief constables of the 43 police forces across the country have been appointed by local police authorities, comprised of local councillors, magistrates, and others.  Now they will be hired and fired by the Home Secretary or other Home Office ministers.

They will become political pawns. If they do not carry out Government policy effectively enough, they will face the sack. Missing Government targets on cutting crime will be regarded as poor job performance. It will also ensure that police chiefs will not be critical of the Government, and especially of the Home Secretary.

If they can hire and hire the bosses, there will be nothing to stop them getting rid of troublesome lesser mortals. Jan Berry, head of the Police Federation, would have to think twice before publically accusing Home Secretary Jacqui Smith of fraud for refusing to abide by decision of the independent arbiter regarding police pay. Ms Berry probably wouldn’t even dare to bring up Ms Smith’s past as a admitted user of illegal drugs.

The Labour Party knows you can’t trust local people to carry out the Governments totalitarian rule. Only the highest officials can be trusted to stay on message and guide the country.

Court of Appeal Rules Man Can Carry a Stick

It is a stark contrast between the right-to-carry laws in the US and the stripping of weapons in the UK and at the same time a demonstration of taxpayer money wasted in the pursuit of a political agenda.

Stuart Kennedy is a stripper who uses a police uniform as the set up for his act. He was stopped out the Paramount Bar by two real cops. They weren’t so worried about the uniform – though they did follow him to the pub to make sure he was telling the truth. There’s no indication as to whether either constables Amanda Lawson and Fiona Duncan enjoyed the show. Of course they needed to watch the whole thing to be sure. That’s right, two police women watched him on taxpayer time, just to be sure he was a real stripper. PC Lawson told the trial court, “We had never been in a situation like that before. We needed proof he was a stripper.”

But that wasn’t the issue. No, it was his truncheon that bothered them. Stuart used a real police truncheon, not a floppy imitation. The policewomen arrested him after the show. He was charged with carrying of an offensive weapon. There is an provision in the law for a “reasonable excuse” but neither the police nor the Crown Office (the prosecutor in Scotland) thought Stuart had a reasonable excuse. The sheriff (trial judge) disagreed and threw the case out of court. Both he and the general public thought it was a waste of time and money.

Not to be put off by a judge or the overwhelming common sense of the Scottish people, the Crown appealed. This time three judges told them the same thing. The full written opinion will be released at a later date, but the Court of Appeal decided not to waste anyone’s time and let it be known that the Crown’s case had failed.

There is probably no way to tally the total costs of this overblown exercise in comic jurisprudence. All of this over who can carry a stick with a handle.