Let it go..

On 12th August 1966 in a street in west London, 3 police officers were gunned down; murdered. The country was appalled. This was something that simply didn’t happen. Less than two weeks prior to the incident the England football team had won the World Cup. The country was on a high and this brought everyone back down to earth with a huge bump.

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The three officers, DS Christopher Head, DC David Wombwell and PC Geoffrey Fox were all shot dead. The offenders were Harry Roberts, John Duddy and John Witney.

There is a good overview of the case here by the Channel 4 news team.

1415781017557_wps_12_Police_and_members_of_theOn the day of the funerals the public turned out in their thousands and lined the streets with police officers to pay their respects. The public sentiment on that day is identical to those we experienced more recently in Manchester.

In the meantime the might of the Metropolitan Police began a manhunt. Witney was arrested within hours. Duddy fled to Scotland but was arrested within 5 days. Roberts on the other hand vanished. It took three months to locate him. He was finally brought into custody in early November. He has been behind bars ever since.

The crime was awful and described by many as the most heinous of a generation. It also led to the formation of the Police Dependants Trust.

After a 6 day trial and overwhelming evidence the three suspects were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. The judge, on handing down the life sentences and a 30 year tariff said;

“I think it likely that no home secretary regarding the enormity of your crime will ever think fit to show mercy by releasing you on licence. This is one of those cases in which the sentence of imprisonment for life may well be treated as meaning exactly what it says.”

The death penalty had only been withdrawn the year before. Many called for it to be reinstated. It does appear, based on the evidence and the sentencing, that had the crime occurred when the legislation was in force, the death penalty was a very real possibility.

Either way two of the men have since died. John Duddy died in jail on 8th February 1981. John Witney was released on licence in 1991. This caused huge controversy as he was released before the expiry of his 30 year tariff but his release stood. In 1999 Witney was beaten to death with a hammer by his flat mate.

Roberts on the other hand remained in prison. He completed his 30 year tariff and up until this year (18 years later) the parole board never saw fit to release him. This is a good blog by Rachel Rogers that discusses life sentences, tariffs and whole life terms.

The news of the impending release of Roberts spread like wildfire. The response was overwhelmingly outrage. The national chair of the Police Federation said that “officers up and down the country were furious”. He said Roberts gunned down police officers in broad daylight and “quite frankly, he should never be released from prison”. He went on to make a further statement that “there will be people out there, planning to murder police officers, thinking they can get away with it”. He closed with “It’s not about rehabilitation or whether Roberts is now safe. It’s about the punishment fitting the crime”. Steve White’s comments can be watched here.

John Tully the Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation branch tweeted; “a total betrayal of policing by the criminal justice system this man should never see the light of day again, life should mean life”

As a contrast the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was asked about the release on LBC.

He, dodged the direct questions but he defended the justice system and the probation/parole system. His overall view was that we cannot allow the justice system to be run on emotions and popular opinion.

Then, most importantly, behind all the froth in the media are the families of those three officers. The families who have spent the last 48 years living without their loved one.

A few years ago a good friend of mine, a police officer, was stabbed to death on duty. On the day I wasn’t furious. I was speechless. I came home, sat on the sofa and cried. The man responsible was convicted and sent to prison. Over the following weeks and standing as guard of honour at the door of the cathedral I didn’t feel anger. I wasn’t furious. I was sad but I was also enormously proud. The offender never really crossed my mind.

In more recent years we have had the murder of Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone in Manchester. I think of them a lot and I think of their families and friends too. I don’t think of the murderer himself and I never ever name him. As I look back on those events was I furious? No. I was intensely shocked and saddened by their deaths and I also know that it is what police officers face on a daily basis.

With all the comment in the media I began to think I should be outraged. I should be angry at this man and those responsible for allowing his release. Then I stopped because I realised I wasn’t furious and I wasn’t angry.

This man took away the lives of those officers and their families lives changed that day forever. There is no getting away from that. No matter how much we discuss, debate and argue about the release of Roberts we cannot bring those men back.

When someone you love dies you don’t simply get over it. You can only learn to live without them. It has to be the same for those who lose a loved one in such tragic circumstances. They will never get over the loss but they will learn to live with it in their own way. I can only imagine it being much much harder when there is someone to blame. A person who is responsible for your loss.

We know that the death penalty still exists in the USA. We know that the family members of a victim can attend and watch a person put to death. Would observing such an act cleanse you of your pain?

We know that a person can be sent to prison for life and never be released. Would a person being in prison forever ease your pain?Would their ultimate death behind bars finally allow you to find peace?

Do any of these scenarios reduce the pain suffered by the families? Do they make the situation better? More bearable? I don’t think they do. I’m sure that having the offender in prison gives some comfort but I don’t think it brings release from hurt.

Whether you like it or not, Roberts has been released. A 78 year old man has served 48 years  (longer than I have been alive) for the murder of police officers. What difference will this make to my life? None at all. I’m somewhat shocked at the statement by Steve White about ‘getting away with it’. We hear a lot of talk that people who are given a police caution are getting away with it. I’m really stumped at how 48 years in prison can be seen as such? If this is getting away with it what would be suitable? I’m sure the response to that will be life means life. I’d agree. I think if life imprisonment without chance of release makes legislation then so be it. Until then we have to live with the system we have, no matter how unpalatable it may be to some of us. Getting angry about the promise of legislation promised but yet to come and applying it to a 48 year old case is absurd.

The crux of this matter is that Roberts appeared before a court, was sentenced and has seen that sentence through with an additional 18 years on top. That justice system, removed from the emotion of being too close to the offence, has now deemed him fit for release and have done so. My immediate thought? So what!

The tragedy of the loss cannot be underestimated but what needs are satisfied by keeping him inside after all this time? I have only seen anger and hurt. It seems to me that in trying to hurt him we actually hurt ourselves. Revenge imprisons us.. forgiveness sets us free. How can anyone move forward whilst holding bitterness, hatred and revenge within them? A toxic mix of emotions that destroys the person you are and who you can be. It’s like having a tumour inside you and instead of treating it you hold onto it and allow it to define you.

Some may ask if I would feel the same way about the man who killed my friend. Some may ask if I would feel the same about the man who killed Nicola and Fiona. The answer is yes. Would our loved ones want us to remain static. Would they want us to remain angry, bitter and vengeful for 30, 40, 50 years or would they say.. “Move on. Be as happy as you can be. Don’t let this tragedy define who you are”. I hope and pray that nothing ever happens to me when I’m on duty but if it did… please show this to my wife. Tell her to be happy.. life is far too short.

I understand my view here is contrary to popular opinion and I do not post my thoughts with any intention to offend, upset or hurt anyone. I just feel strongly about being able to ‘Let it Go’. Free yourself.

By forgiving those who hurt us we are not letting them off the hook; we are in effect letting ourselves off the hook.

Looks Matter

We are told these days that looks do not matter. We are told that those who are slightly, or even heavily overweight should not be ashamed. They should be proud of who they are and how they look because looks do not make the person. The person makes the person. We have adverts where shapely women show off their curves and point two fingers at the sterotypical size 6 figure that has, over the years, been portrayed as the perfect form. Oddly, as women’s magazines start to use models with a fuller figure, the mens magazines are full of tanned muscle bound, six pack toting chaps.. it seems a bit odd to me.. but that’s another blog. I’ll stick with my family pack! The bottom line though is that how you look is not a factor that should determine your opportunities or you abilities. It is most definitely not something that should be used against you in a discriminatory fashion.

A person should be proud of who they are without fear of being singled out, sneered at, abused or overlooked. Conversely everyone also needs to be accepting of others and challenge those who are not. Looks and appearance DO NOT matter.

With nearly 24 years service I have been IMG_4601very fortunate to have been awarded three medals during my service with the police. I am very proud of them and whenever I get the opportunity to wear them I will. There was a time when turning up at court to give evidence meant a tunic (as above) was essential. Times have changed and now officers turn up at court in combat trousers, body armour and the well worn coat or fleece that they wear every day on duty. Sadly, even after my fight for a tunic, I’m not allowed to wear it at court. I think I’d probably defy the rule for crown court but for magistrates I wear my fleece.

In addition to my physical medals I also have a ribbon bar. This is always attached to my fleece when attending court. I’m proud of my uniform, I’m proud of my service and I’m proud to be a police officer. Granted, I do not wear the medals themselves, but I wear my ribbon bar because I can and because I’m entitled to. I have never been asked to remove the ribbon bar.

This week we have had the case of Cpl Mark Kershaw appearing in court in Hull as a witness. He was the victim of a dreadful assault by 3 people and attended at court, in a civilian suit wearing his medals. His wearing of the medals was challenged by the defence on the basis that they might ‘unfairly affect the jury’. The suggestion here was that standing in the witness box wearing his medals may cause the jury to incorrectly give his evidence greater credence. The jury may fall on the side of the victim because he was a war hero and would get favouritism. The judge agreed and for the four day trial Cpl Kershaw was banned from wearing his medals.

Does the wearing of medals sway a jury so easily? I’ve never been asked to remove my ribbon bar. I’ve proudly stood in the witness box wearing my medal ribbons and been called a liar, told I’m making things up and I’m particularly rubbish at my job. The defence have not had any qualms in challenging me, regardless of the decoration on my chest.

There was some discussion about the Cpl Kershaw case yesterday and one of the arguments put forward supporting the barrister and judge was that the Cpl has previous cautions. He apparently has cautions for violence and, if I understand the circumstances correctly, a deal was struck that the cautions would not be mentioned if the medals were not worn.

I find this a little odd. If the court is interested in the truth then the truth was something very different than that presented to the jury. The truth was that Cpl Kershaw is a decorated soldier commended for bravery. The truth is that Cpl Kershaw also has a police caution/s for violence. It seems a little odd to me that the defence asked for the medals to be removed. I can’t imagine, after the treatment I’ve had in the box, a barrister giving up the opportunity to build up a witness based on his gallantry and medals and then shoot him down with his previous history.

Ultimately the case concluded and the 2 suspects (a third had pleaded guilty) were unanimously convicted of assaulting Cpl Kershaw. Sentencing will follow in December. So it was a win for the victim yet it leaves a sour taste in the mouth. A deal was struck. It shouldn’t have been. The Cpl should have been allowed to wear his medals if he chose to do so and any self respecting barrister would have been able to leverage them to the advantage of the defence in this case. One of the purposes of the defence and the prosecution is to discredit the witnesses. Why did that not happen in this case?

The defence and judge claimed that wearing the medals may ‘unfairly affect the jury’ or give a ‘false impression’ of his character. Cpl Kershaw had the medals but also had cautions. As the defence chose not to try and discredit his character by use of his previous cautions it seems clear to me that it was his ‘appearance’ that was the issue. The worry was what the jury may assume based on what they see and not on what they hear.

Many years ago I dealt with a pretty awful young girl in care. She had committed a nasty robbery on two young girls, of around the same age, walking home from school. The evidence was compelling but she pleaded not guilty and went to trial. She turned up in court in jeans, a scruffy top and hair like she’d been pulled through a hedge backwards. She looked a mess. My two victims on the other hand turned up in school uniform, ties and blazers. They were beautifully presented, spoke eloquently and were a credit to both themselves and their parents.  The contrast between the two sides was stark. Granted this was not before a jury but before youth court bench but were they asked to dress down? No.

If we had a frail pensioner beaten and robbed during a burglary by a violent thug what would happen at court? Would a jury be swayed by the fact that the witness in the box is a frail, weak, elderly pensioner in need of a sympathy vote? No. They would consider the evidence. We do not hide such persons behind a screen to stop the jury drawing conclusions based on how they look or speak.

If Cpl Kershaw wanted to wear his medals he should have been allowed to do so. If the defence then worked those medals against him then that’s his own fault. Even if not wearing them, a shrewd barrister, with the requisite knowledge, who wanted to discredit him may have asked about them anyway.

The fact remains that in this case the medals of Cpl Kershaw were seen as a fact that could adversely influence the jury. His appearance may cause the jury to believe him to be honest and trustworthy. His appearance may secure him a conviction he wouldn’t get if not wearing them. Is this really the trust the judge and barrister had in the jury?

Then we find the two defendants were both allowed to wear a poppy. What does a poppy signify? What mindset might it engender in a jury? Someone who cares perhaps? Some one empathetic to the losses our military personnel have suffered over the years? An upstanding, compassionate and caring member of the community?Would the presence of the poppies ‘unfairly affect the jury’ or give a ‘false impression’ of the character of the defendants?

In the court room it is EVIDENCE that is king. Not the appearance of the witness. So it would seem that whilst we say appearance doesn’t matter and we should take people as they are… this doesn’t apply to medals in court because, it would seem, that ‘Looks matter’

EAW

EAW? What’s that then? Well typing it into Google shows that it could be Eastern Acoustic Works ( a loudspeaker manufacturer) or Extreme American Wrestling or the 904 Expeditionary Air Wing of the RAF.

No.. I’ve not gone mad. Read on.

On a relatively quiet day quite a few years ago a police officer came through the doors into custody. She stood the man in front of me and went on to explain that he couldn’t speak english and had been arrested on a European Arrest Warrant for offences in Poland.

Being a custody sgt of several years experience at this point I smiled and nodded knowingly as the officer outlined all the circumstances. I portrayed the persona of the ‘sarge knows and understands all of this’. Behind my ‘regal swan’ facade my mind was racing with questions like ‘What the bloody hell is a European Arrest Warrant?’ and ‘What do I have to do with this?’ and ‘Is it lawful?’, ‘Can I detain him?’ and many many more. I make no excuses.. I didn’t know. Many of you reading this who are cops will know that sometimes we miss something. We either didn’t read a specific edition of the Chiefs orders or we missed an email about an NCALT package. When law changes and updates at such regular intervals it can be very difficult to keep abreast of them all.

The police officer in question, fortunately, was very well briefed on this process. She outlined the processes we had to follow and some of the unique requirements of an EAW. I booked him in, practicing my basic Polish, before calling an interpreter and got him sat down.

This was the first EAW I and my colleagues had seen. Oddly having never seen one we then started to see quite a few of them. The officer became a regular visitor to custody and she was a fantastic source of information and guided me/us on the protocols and intricacies of the EAW. As with most things that become a relatively regular occurrence.. they became second nature.

However, I never saw the reverse. I never booked in someone who has been arrested on an EAW, extradited and landed at my charge desk.

Those who know police and the PNC will know that when someone is circulated for an assault nationally it generally says ‘Serious Assault’. It’s not very often that it will say S47, 20 or 18. The same often applies to an EAW. The paperwork is in its original language and a certified translation.  The offence details and descriptions can be somewhat vague. My only fallback as the Sgt booking in is that this warrant, no matter the offence or seriousness of it, has been granted and authorised by a court in the home country. It has gone through the EAW process and been granted. I am personally, therefore, ok.

During my time in custody there was a sharp rise in the number that started to come in. This raised the question as to ‘how’ serious some of the offences were and was the process being abused by some countries. These concerns were being flagged up by others too as per this Guardian article. There were concerns that the authority of the EAW was being undermined if it were being used for trivial offences.

The most recent case in the UK of course was that of Ashya King. There are a number of issues around this case that I don’t intend to go into in this blog. Suffice to say that the furore that surrounded this case was huge and created a groundswell of anti police/cps resentment even though they were acting on professional medical advice. Whatever your view, this case brought the EAW to the attention of many who had probably never heard of it before.

Now we come to present day and MP’s are to vote on whether to keep the EAW for the UK or to bin it.

Should we bin it? It’s creating work and expense for the country as we process them. There are some serious offences in there but also a big chunk of lesser ones. Where do we draw the line?

If you do a search, like I did at the time of the Ashya King case, on the EAW you will find it is a massively complex piece of Euro legislation. It crosses the path of so many Euro member states and all have different legal processes and procedures. It’s not an easy place to navigate. To my mind it is very much in need of rebooting. Stop, take stock of where it is, review, develop it on the basis of experience so far and move forward. Binning it and withdrawing is not a solution.

Crime is coming down.. we are told. But is it? Fraud and the shift of may crimes to digital platforms is huge. Are we accurately being apprised of these crimes and recording them correctly? Are we struggling when the victim is in Basingstoke, the offender is in Madrid and the server and host is in Estonia? Too right we are.

Criminals and criminality pays no heed to boundary lines drawn on maps. As far as Europe is concerned, Schengen allows movement that is free and unchallenged. A criminal can float from one country to the next without restriction. Crime is moving. It is moving around countries physically and it is moving around the world digitally. We have to be able to respond to that.

Yes the EAW needs a review. What do we do if we do not remain signed up to the EAW? Do we become a safer haven for European criminals who can flee here and then face traditional, lengthy, costly and often unsuccessful extradition procedures?

At a recent event I attended I was very impressed by Deputy Peter Sloly of the Toronto Police Service. He said that technology was moving faster than we could keep up and we ran the risk of ‘digital darwinism’. Essentially an inability to keep up and therefore become inefficient and redundant. One of his key phrases;

“You do not jump a 20ft chasm in two 10ft jumps.”

Crime is getting bigger and spreading wider than just our shores. We have to be able to respond and tackle it. We have to think bigger and that means team work. It needs all European countries to partner together to tackle serious and organised crime but also the lesser offences. We only have to look at the tragic Alice Gross case to realise how important cooperation and communication between Euro countries needs to be. This needs to be far more efficient and streamlined than current ‘Interpol’ methods. Yet when 43 forces in E&W’s can’t agree on some simple domestic matters the battle is always going to be an uphill one.. but one that must be taken on. We must make that jump.

Crime is growing. It’s fingers of misery to victims are spreading into Europe both physically and digitally. If we seriously want to make our homes and countries safer then we need to work together and the EAW must stay. Otherwise the criminals are running free whilst we attempt to tackle them with our hands tied behind our backs standing on one leg.

Staying Safe

We in the police know about the risks of ignoring safety advice. We deal with it every day. We advise and prosecute people who don’t wear seatbelts. We know the risks. We have dealt with those injured, seriously disfigured or killed because the safety advice to wear a seatbelt had been ignored.

We know how catastrophe can follow a driver using their phone whilst driving or after drinking alcohol. We have stood with distraught parents when their children have ignored safety advice and taken drugs or so called “legal highs”.

We tell people about personal safety, sticking together with friends and never getting so drunk that they cannot take care of themselves but every weekend we see people do just that.

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The terrorism threat to police officers in the UK has just been raised to “Heightened”. Your force will have published information to you about simple steps you can take to stay safe. It will ask you to be vigilant. Ask yourself who that person is that is coming in the nick behind you. Did that car behind just tailgate you into the car park?

In simple terms it is safety advice. Advice that you cannot afford to ignore. Do not proceed over the coming weeks on the basis that nothing will happen and that if it does it will happen to someone else.

We give safety advice to people every day. Many take it onboard. Others ignore it and face the consequences.

Read the advice. Put it into practice and keep yourself, your colleagues and your family safe. It’s time to practice what we preach.

Be safe and stay safe.

This is Home

There has been much hubris today about this image.IMG_0475.JPG

It’s been lauded as offensive to Muslims as though they are not with “us” against ISIS. Who are “us” exactly? In the Guardian commentisfree section a post has been made that suggests it is a “proxy for anti-Muslim”.

There is a line from Star Trek IV I’m drawn to. The earth is about to be destroyed by an alien probe transmitting a message nobody can understand. Kirk and the crew are increasingly frustrated. “How can we respond if we don’t understand what it is saying to us” says Kirk. Spoc replies;

Only human arrogance would assume the message was for man

What an amazing quote.

The vast bulk of Muslims in this country are British and proud.
The vast majority of Muslims in this country are peaceful people.
The vast majority of Muslims in this country are appalled by ISIS.

Notwithstanding the headlines by The Sun that could have been better this image said something to me far different from those who are jumping up in defence of Muslims who may be upset by it.

I saw this message directed not at Muslims but at everyone else who has misinformed mistrust of them because of the atrocities we have seen recently. To me, this image said to every doubter in this country, no matter their colour or faith, that the Muslims in the UK are as British as the rest of us and it’s about time we recognised that.

This image isn’t saying to Muslims join us. It’s Muslims saying I’m already with you.

It’s not a message for Muslims. It’s a message for everyone else to open their eyes. Only our own arrogance allows us to view it otherwise.

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