Posted December 8, 2013
Many members of the Asian community traditionally like to own gold jewellery, or give gold jewellery as gifts. As a result, they have been targeted by thieves who are all too well aware that Asian gold tends to be of great purity (22-24 carats) and that world gold prices are at the highest level in history.
As a police inspector I became aware of the extent of the problem as far back as 2005. I also learned of the limited response that the police could provide at a local level. As reports of attacks came in from every part of the country it became clear to me that some form of national strategy was required; a strategy that put communication, reassurance and coordinated action at its forefront. However, back in 2005, the Home Office had other pressing concerns, and the problem remained ostensively a local one.
By the time I retired from the police in 2008 little had changed. Police advice on improving security, reporting suspicious activity and marking or photographing ones jewellery remained pertinent, but didn’t really address the fears of the community that the police were always one step behind the offenders.
This is not to say that the police are doing nothing about the problem. Far from it. Different police forces are putting what resources they can into tackling these crimes in their own force areas. The Metropolitan Police found that Asian homes account for nearly a quarter of all burglaries where jewellery is stolen, that the offences peak between October and January, when family celebrations tend to take place, and that Asian homes accounted for 16% of all repeated burglaries. They have formed a specialist unit to deal with the problem.
Other police forces have recognized the problem, and each has devised their own local approach to tackle it. But what is lacking is a national plan to link all of these operations under an umbrella strategy that can share and respond to intelligence, scrutinize the industry that deals in gold, particularly those who invite any Tom, Dick or Harry to post gold to them for cash, and use legislation such as the Proceeds of Crime Act to deter those who deal with gold in significant quantities, and keep inadequate records.
This week I attended a meeting at the Didsbury Mosque, chaired by local MP John Leech and attended by the police. Over one hundred concerned members of the local Asian community were there, and many told heartbreaking stories of how they had been the victims of burglary.
As the police responded to their questions it became clear to me that the problem was still viewed largely as a local one. When I asked if there had been any moves to coordinate between forces and make the issue a national one the police had to admit that they didn’t know, but offered to get back to me. I suspect that the answer will be no as it would undoubtedly have been announced publicly if such a strategy was even being considered.
What the Asian community need now is not political point-scoring, but national recognition that there is a problem that is being dealt with inadequately by local police forces and downplayed by local politicians and some media. This is a time for leadership and positive steps to get to grips with a deeply worrying issue for the Asian community.
I call on our Police Commissioners and Chief Officers to get together and come up with a holistic national strategy to deal with these crimes more effectively, and reassure the Asian community that their concerns are recognized at a national level.
Posted October 19, 2013
In October last year, three police officers representing rank-and-file members of the Police Federation, the police union, met with then Government Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell in his constituency office. The meeting came at the height of the so-called ‘Plebgate’ affair, where Mitchell had been accused of using the word ‘Plebs’ to describe officers who refused to open the main gates of Downing Street for him.
Mitchell denied using the word, but wouldn’t accuse the officers of lying, suggesting instead that they had misheard him. What he might have said that they so egregiously misconstrued was not made clear. However, Mitchell was determined that he wouldn’t be ‘misunderstood’ again; he covertly recorded the meeting.
The three Federation representatives left Mitchell’s office and spoke to reporters waiting outside. What they said is currently the subject of a row that has drawn in the Prime Minister, Home Secretery, three Chief Constables, Police and Crime Commissioners, the parliamentary Home Affairs Committee, the IPCC, Uncle Tom Cobley and all.
I have since read the transcript of the interview between Mitchell and the Federation reps, and viewed the tape of the ensuing press meeting. I believe any fair-minded person would agree that the comments made by the officers did not represent an accurate account of what was said in the meeting. In my view, those officers owe Mitchell an apology.
However, in the midst of all the hysteria being whipped up by this particular incident there are certain factors that should be kept in focus. The three Federation reps were not acting as police officers but as ‘shop stewards’. There was no question of them arresting or prosecuting Mitchell for anything. They were representing their members when they met with the hapless politician, and they were heavily involved in furthering a political agenda aimed at countering what they view as hostility towards their members by a Tory party with its own agenda of cuts and privatisation.
This was very much a ‘political’ meeting and not a misuse by police officers of their powers of arrest. The Federation reps would not be the first to leave an acrimonious meeting with a politician and give a misleading account to a reporter. Should they be held to a higher standard because they are also police officers? Yes, IF they were acting in the execution of their duty. But if, as some are demanding, they should be prosecuted because, as ‘union’ reps, they misled the press about a meeting with a politician, then I suspect there are going to be a lot of prosecutions pending.
Are the PM and Home Secretery really saying that anyone misleading the press or the public about a conversation with a politician should be prosecuted? If that is so, will we soon see the handcuffs snapping on the wrists of Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell, or anyone else connected with dodgy dossiers? Will we see TV archive and YouTube being trawled for examples of politicians being ‘economical with the truth’ that can now be used to prosecute them? Will Damien McBride and Gordon Brown be thrown into the back of a van and dragged in for questioning about the McPoison years?
There is plenty of ‘evidence’ out there of politicians deliberately misleading the press, and by implication, us, on issues more important than what words might have been exchanged in a hissy fit at a gate. If the politicians are serious about prosecuting those in the public eye that mislead the media and the public, then three cheers for them and their reforming zeal. However, I have a sneaking feeling that, once again, they are misleading us. There seems to be a lot of it about.
Posted September 18, 2013
Today, we have been marking the first anniversary of the dreadful killing of two brave women, Fiona Hughes and Nicola Bone, police officers who died doing their duty on our behalf.
Our thoughts will always be with the families, friends and loved ones of Nicola and Fiona, and their sacrifice will be remembered and recognised in the years yet to come.
At times like these, it is often difficult to find words that incapsulate what one feel’s one ought to say to those left behind, and yet the urge to say something is innate, part of our human need to console those in pain. This is made all the more difficult when one recalls the tragic circumstances of their passing.
What happened to Fiona and Nicola cannot be erased from our memory, nor should it. But the passage of time can bring it’s own form of comfort, expressed, at least in some small way, by the following observation;
“The heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.”
― Gabriel García Márquez
We will always remember them.
Posted July 28, 2013
During the PCC election last November I nominated Dr Jackie Pearcey to be Deputy PCC if I was elected. There was an all-male list of candidates for the post and I felt that Doctor Pearcey brought a balance and insight that would be lacking if the only perspective on offer was a male-dominated one.
The decision was made after much consideration of the pros and cons, and was put to the electorate from the outset. Tony Lloyd dismissed my proposal and argued publicly against the need for a Deputy PCC, stating “I don’t need a deputy, I will be the commissioner for everyone.”
This week we learn that Tony has appointed an old mate of his as Deputy PCC, on a salary of 55k a year. Jim Battle may be a pal of long standing, and loyal to his good friend, but I wonder what balance he brings to the role, and whether he could put the duties and responsibilities of the office before personal loyalties?
I also argued during the election that too much money was being diverted into bureaucracy and away from frontline policing, a critical issue when the police were facing cuts to their budgets. Tony Lloyd didn’t argue with me on this issue, but then again he didn’t tell the electorate that he planned to establish the largest back room team of any Police and Crime Commissioner in Britain. So much for cutting bureaucracy.
Tony Lloyd didn’t tell the electorate of his plans to raise the Council Tax across Greater Manchester either. The long-suffering taxpayers might have accepted such a rise if it was intended to spend it on policing, but I suspect they are less happy to see their contribution diverted to paying for jobs for old friends with no policing experience or background, or a bloated admin. staff.
Many will recall that during the election I said that the job of PCC was overpaid. Tony famously argued that he wouldn’t take a penny less than the 100k salary, and didn’t think the level of pay was ‘relevant’. I still think the salary is too high, particularly during these austere times. Tony must think himself very fortunate to have turned his back on being an MP. After all, the furore surrounding the suggestion that MP’s should be paid £75k has probably scuppered that idea for some time.
During a hustings organised by the Manchester Evening News, Tony said that his priority was to fight the Government cuts to the police budget. I pointed out that his own Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, had announced publicly that Labour wouldn’t oppose the cuts. Tony announced to the audience that he has spoken to Balls by phone that very morning and that this was untrue. Nine months later I have yet to hear what Tony has done to fight the cuts, which was the main platform of his manifesto. Certainly Balls hasn’t publicly backed this pledge.
Many people, including me, had their doubts about the role of Police and Crime Commissioners. I eventually took the view that they were here to stay and the best thing to do was to shape the office so that it offered the broadest mechanism for holding the police to account , and developing a police service that met the expectations of the people, while cutting bureaucracy and unnecessary administration, in favour of frontline policing.
We could have had a Commissioner’s Office that involved the people, and which we could be proud of. I still believe that this is possible, some day, but it won’t be achieved by the current Commissioner and the regime he has established in Greater Manchester. Perhaps it was too much to ask for, but it shouldn’t be too much to hope for.
Posted May 23, 2013
The BBC has carried out an investigation into the cost of Police and Crime Commissioners, with findings that come as no surprise. BBC
The investigation, by BBC Home Affairs correspondent Dominic Casciani, was frustrated by the lack of a central register of information. Ed Brown, of the BBC political research unit, also found difficulty in obtaining data. “There were huge variations in the levels of transparency on this data from PCC to PCC,” he reported. He went on to say, “Some of them were helpful; but the vast majority had labyrinthine websites, many had failed to publish much of the information they were required to under statute and press officers were sometimes difficult to get hold of.
“It is difficult to see how an interested member of the public would be able to get hold of this information, which is meant to be freely available.”
The BBC investigation revealed that the Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner employ’s 40 staff, far and away the most of any PCC. The investigator’s also published the salary of many of the Chief Executives employed by the PCC’s, however the Greater Manchester Chief Executive’s salary was not included.
The public cost of Police and Crime Commissioner’s is a particularly sensitive issue in Greater Manchester, where the PCC’s first major decision was to increase the Council Tax police precept. With public mistrust of this new office still high, it is important that PCC’s are as open and transparent as possible.
Greater Manchester’s PCC, Tony Lloyd, may have good reason for employing almost twice as many staff as the next largest force in Britain, but this information isn’t easy to find. In his recently published Policing Plan, the Commissioner calls on the police to be more open. A good start might be to lead by example.
Posted April 24, 2013
For over ten years, successive Home Secretary’s have wrestled with the problem of how to deport Abu Qatada, an Al Qaeda-linked Palestinian who was initially granted political asylum in the UK in 1994.
The crux of the problem is that the Jordanian Government wishes to try Qatada, using evidence that may have been obtained through torture. Britain is a signatory of the United Nations Convention against torture and is bound not to deport people to states that practice or permit it. Indeed, we cannot deport anyone to a state that may be complicit in the use of torture.
Which makes the suggestion by Home Secretary Teresa May, (that the Tories will work to scrap the European Human Rights Act because it has prevented Qatada’s deportation), somewhat puzzling. The UN is not the EU. If the Tories did manage to dump the Human Rights Act, we would still be signatories to the UN Convention against torture. Is anyone honestly arguing that the UK should withdraw from the UN because of its stance on torture?
When Governments toy with the idea of withdrawing from international obligations, or dumping long-established legislation, we need to be very clear about the implications. We need to ask the question, “Who stands to gain or lose most?”
Laws exist to protect ordinary people, to help level the playing field between the rich and powerful and the vast majority of citizens who cannot match them in resources and influence. When I hear people talk of cutting laws in order to get around a legal problem I am put in mind of a scene from that memorable play, “A Man For All Seasons”, by Robert Bolt.
In the play Thomas More (another troublesome cleric), argued that laws were so important to the welfare of ordinary people that they should protect even Satan, surely the epitome of evil in that age. In a famous exchange with his prospective son-in-law, More said:… “And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned around on you–where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast–man’s laws, not God’s–and if you cut them down…d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”
More had a point that is as relevant now as it was five and a half centuries ago. The way to deal with Qatada is to use the law. Ironically, around the world, our difficulties in deporting Qatada are being viewed by many as proof that Britain is a law-abiding, advanced civilization, determined that even someone as repugnant as Qatada receives the benefit of British jurisprudence. If Qatada is finally dealt with through the law, it will only reflect well on Britain, its people and institutions.
I do not profess to be as legally astute as the silks advising the Government, but one thing about this case has puzzled me. In 1999, Qatada was sentenced to life in his absence by a Jordanian court, and in 2000 received another 15 years. Qatada has fought deportation by arguing that he may be put on trial using tainted evidence. If a Jordanian Court were to dismiss the outstanding charges against Qatada on the basis that the evidence may be unsafe, his main grounds for appeal would be lost. He might then be deported to Jordan to complete the prison sentence he received in 1999, a sentence he apparently didn’t appeal.
Perhaps the Home Office should pay a Jordanian lawyer to get the charges there dropped, something Qatada would not be in a position to prevent. Then, (if we can get around our UN commitment), he could be packed off back to Jordan post haste, legally. The Jordanians would get Brownie Points by proving to the world that they don’t prosecute using evidence obtained under torture, and we would be rid of Qatada for once and for all.
Now, how British is that!
Posted April 11, 2013
When I was a serving Police Officer I, and my colleagues recognized the value of co-operation with other European police services. The exchange of information saw many serious crimes solved and prevented, and allowed various countries, including our own, to extradite each other’s wanted suspects.
That any Government would want to turn the clock back to the bad old days of the ‘Costa Del Crime’ seems incredible, and yet this is what the Tory-dominated Home Office are considering.
The plan, to withdraw co-operation between police forces, will turn Britain into a safe haven for foreign criminals and terrorists fleeing justice in their own countries. It will also make Britain a target for foreign criminals keen to commit crime in a country they cannot be extradited to, and re-establish the continental ‘bolt holes’ that British criminals could escape to when the heat was on.
Chris Davies, Manchester’s campaigning Liberal Democrat MEP has said “All politicians should be able to agree that allowing Police Officers to talk to each other across national borders is a good idea – after all, criminals do.”
This blatantly political move seems intended to placate the Tory right while putting people at risk. It threatens to reverse the many positive developments in police cooperation over the last twenty years and will benefit nobody but organized and professional criminals. Liberal Democrats are opposed to this proposal, and have promised to work hard to block it, but it will need goodwill and common sense from other parties to ensure that it fails to get off the ground.
Whatever your political persuasion, or your views on the EU, this is one area where public safety should come first.
You know it makes sense.
Posted March 22, 2013
On 24 October last year, on this blog, I talked about how to put more police officers on the beat by changing the way we manage those with mental health problems. For too long, police custody suites have been used as ‘dumping grounds’ for people who, to all intends and purposes, are ill. For too long, the NHS has failed in its responsibility towards these most vulnerable of people, leaving frontline police staff to do their best, with limited powers and diminishing resources.
I understand that the Home Secretary, Theresa May has written to Police and Crime Commissioners to encourage them to work more closely with NHS Commissioners to address problems associated with the management of mental health issues. This is a step in the right direction, but in my experience the NHS has been the problem, not the Home Office.
The Police and Crime Commissioner must insist that the NHS assume greater responsibility for the provision of more mental health assessment centres while the police work on improved training for staff in recognizing and dealing effectively with those experiencing mental health issues.
Reducing police involvement in the management of those brought to crisis through their ill health is not just a better use of scarce police resources, it is a more humane policy. I would hope that we will begin to see a significant reduction in the involvement of frontline police in the treatment of those with mental health issues. This is a problem that can no longer be ignored.
Posted February 19, 2013
Yesterday’s Manchester Evening News had, as it’s front-page headline, “Bring Back The Old Squad!” The article opened with the gushing statement; “An army of retired detectives is being lined up to help police tackle major crimes.”
I’m all for innovative thinking, and have often thought that the combined knowhow of retired police officers could be put to productive use, but our sad experience of the former Labour Government has taught us to look long and hard at any announcements they make.
In the body of the Manchester Evening News article is the revelation that £100,000 has been allocated for this squad. When one recognizes that a Detective Constable (the lowest detective rank) with ten years service is paid a basic £36,519 per year, one is given to wonder how many former officers will be in this ‘army’.
The Evening News glosses over the real story (which wasn’t on the front page) that the PCC intends to raise Council Tax to collect £3.3 million. The article states that this money will be used to hire 150 civilian staff and 50 police officers. What the article doesn’t specify is if these are new staff, on top of the 50 additional officers that the Force announced it would be recruiting as far back as last February, nine months before the PCC was elected (see previous post – below – from Bolton Evening News in February 2012). I have a sneaking feeling that there are no new recruits, just an old announcement recycled to hide the bad news.
The MEN editorial praises the plan to recruit retired ‘tec’s while seemingly oblivious to the fact that the funding allocated to this ‘army’ (to use the MEN’s own description) would hardly stretch to a handful of officers for a year. It is also of some concern that the paper seems unaware that these ‘extra’ staff were announced over a year ago, and the Chief Constable requested additional ‘Investigative Assistants’ as long ago as 2011.
This raises two questions; if these new recruits were already factored in to the policing budget, what is the extra £3.3 million for, and why is the MEN putting this tosh on it’s front page?
Last February’s Bolton News | News | GMP to recruit more staff despite budget cuts – Bolton Spotlight
Posted February 18, 2013