It’s time once again to talk about a key institution: one which politicians feel it necessary to praise and support, whatever their private views, one which many feel we cannot live without, a rather dysfunctional, arrogant one, repeatedly making the same mistakes, mistakes which have caused great harm to those directly affected, repeatedly refusing to learn the lessons and change its ways, hostile to outsiders, an organisation whose senior members rarely seem to bear the consequences of the problems they oversee.
No. Not that one. The police. Yes, afraid so.
Some may recall Operation Midland (the investigation into alleged child abuse by politicians) and the Metropolitan police’s lofty refusal to do anything about its gross list of failures in that inquiry – not simply procedural failings but actual unlawful behaviour. (If not, see here.) Not to mention its high-handed dismissal of the recommendations of the Henriques report into its failings, in which the judge pointed out to the police what the criminal presumption of innocence and burden of proof mean for how it should investigate crimes. Or the IOPC’s inadequate investigation of the officers concerned. Or the failure of any of the senior police officers involved to take any sort of responsibility for what happened on their watch. Rather, as so often happens in public life these days, the Met’s leader, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe was promoted to Poo-Bah on a government body and has now, given his Dido-like record, been tasked with investigating the loss of records from the Police National Computer. Reportedly, it is Cressida Dick, the current Met Chief, who may have to take the fall, it being so much easier to blame a woman for men’s failings if one is conveniently to hand.
Two years on – what has happened? Nothing. Henriques’ excoriating report has, to all intents and purposes, simply been ignored: a giant FU by the police to the judge. The promised review by the Chief Inspector of Constabulary also seems to have disappeared into the long grass if, indeed, it ever started. So irritated by all this was the judge that he recently told the Today programme that there should be yet another inquiry. And not just into the police but into the IOPC as well. 6 former Home Secretaries agreed with him, as did the Times.
But in truth we don’t need this. What we do need is the perfectly good one we do have to be implemented without further delay. We need a Home Secretary with a bit of gumption to order the police to do so and hold their leaders personally accountable for its implementation. We need Ministers to have no truck with the all too prevalent belief that the police’s job is to provide therapy for victims, to believe them without question rather than properly investigate their allegations, that it is their job to police “hate” and, rather than investigate crimes, record matters which are not. This last would be laughable were the consequences for individuals not so serious. Hate Incident Reports which report matters which are not crimes can nonetheless be disclosed by the police to potential employers and others. Little wonder this has been and is being challenged in the courts and police forces, such as Merseyside Police, were forced to backtrack when they publicly claimed that being offensive is a criminal offence. It isn’t and in any self-respecting society never should be.
What do we get instead?
- Merseyside Police are to investigate why the Metropolitan Police did not investigate two other individuals who, like Carl Beech, allegedly lied about child abuse in Operation Midland. Not investigate and prosecute the two individuals, you understand. That will have to wait. One mustn’t rush these things.
- Another high profile trial into sex abuse charges from 50 years ago, this time against Lord Ahmed, a former Labour peer, collapses as a result of what the trial judge describes as “disgraceful” failings by the police and CPS which “sabotaged the trial”, including the police failing to follow up reasonable lines on enquiry and failing to disclose relevant evidence. This last was one of the lessons which should have been learnt after the failure of the Liam Allan rape trial in 2017 when the police failed to disclose evidence they held showing his innocence. Indeed, disclosure failings underlaid the miscarriages of justice in the Birmingham 6, Guildford 4 and Maguire 7 cases in the 1970’s. (There was a Royal Commission after those too.) You’d have thought that 50 years would be long enough to learn that particular lesson. Apparently not.
- Meanwhile the Home Office is introducing another Crime and Sentencing Bill with lots of fine words about harsh sentences, taking crime seriously, cracking down and all the usual blather Home Secretaries come out with because they think it sounds good with the public. It was all deliciously undercut by the Justice Minister, Chris Philp, admitting to the Commons that there is little evidence that longer sentences cut crime and that all the evidence shows that the likelihood of being caught and punished is a much greater deterrent. Which brings us back to the police. Fat chance of any of that happening if they do not understand how to do their job, do not understand the law, refuse to listen when they are told what it is, refuse to implement recommendations to make them do their job properly, refuse to confront their own failings or take steps to change.
- And even when criminals are caught and charged, the Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland, admitted last week that the backlog of cases is so great that current trials, even those involving charges against children, are being postponed until 2023. What sort of deterrence value is that?
We don’t need endless inquiries and promises to learn lessons. We don’t need the disastrous mix of stupid sentimentality – which thinks that strong expressions of how one feels about a problem are a substitute for effective action to resolve them and a justification for ignoring all the processes put in place to achieve such resolution – and populist statements, based on no or in complete contradiction of the available evidence.
But that is what we are getting. Until the next scandal when the whole sorry saga will be repeated. Not that anyone really cares – other than the accused, the victims and their families and those who think that law and order is the most basic and important function of the state. The Tory party used to care about that too once.
It’s rumoured that Priti Patel might be replaced by Michael Gove, though whether that means demotion or promotion for either is hard to say. Who cares. If only whoever is Home Secretary now and in the future would pay heed to the politician said to inspire the PM and his “Action: this day” stickers.