Tag Archives: prison

Smartphone – Stupid Driver

On the 10th of August 2016 Tomasz Kroker crashed his HGV into stationary traffic on the A34 in Berkshire. Immediately prior to the impact he was scrolling through music on his phone. He killed a woman and three children. He was later sentenced to 10 years in prison.

On 12th August 2015 Christopher Gard sent a text message to his friend about going for a walk with his friend’s dog. He was driving at the time and whilst his eyes were off the road he crashed into and killed a cyclist. He was sent to prison for 9 years.

Both cases outline the catastrophic consequences that can so easily occur when drivers use their phone behind the wheel. People who use their mobile phone whilst driving are a very real danger to themselves and every other road user.

In a recent survey by the RAC it was found that attitudes are changing but not in the right direction. _81248922_driver_paDrivers who felt taking a quick call was acceptable increased from 7% to 14%. Those who felt safe checking social media whilst driving increased from 14% to 20%. To compound these issues further the number of prosecutions over the last 5 years has almost halved from 178k in 2011/12 to only 95k in 2015. The net result is an increasing likelihood of offending whilst the chances of actually being caught and prosecuted is reducing.

Over the years the penalty for a car driver using a phone has gradually increased and is currently set to double to a £200 fine and 6 penalty points. What hasn’t changed is the actual offence itself. This still revolves around a phone being ‘hand held’. As such handsfree operation is, as far as this offence is concerned, completely legal.
When the legislation was first introduced phones were very simple devices capable of making calls and sending text messages. The offence very simplistically focused on ensuring the drivers hands were where they should be (on the steering wheel) and not on the level of distraction a call can engender. Any reasonable person will agree that a quick 15 second handsfree call to say you are on your way home is vastly different to a 20 minute business call or an argument with your partner. This wider distraction is not something the legislation ever covered.

If this danger wasn’t enough, phones have now evolved into powerful pocket sized computers capable of a vast array of functions. In addition to calls and texts they have a multitude of apps that vie iphone6vsnokia3310for our attention with notifications and alerts presented on large high definition screens. As the devices have changed our reliance upon them has increased too. Our desire to be informed and up to date has reached such a state that we have developed an ‘always on’ culture. Our devices have become an extension of ourselves and we have been led to a place where many suffer with FOMO (fear of missing out). We cannot leave our devices alone and when an alert sounds we are inextricably drawn to read it, sometimes regardless of the very obvious dangers.

We are now entering an era where cars have functionality built into them that allows phone applications to appear on the media screen within the vehicle. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are two examples carplaythat deliver mobile phone functionality into the driving arena. We are easily seduced by new technology but we would be wise to sit back for a moment and seriously think about what functionality we actually need whilst driving a car. At present these devices are limited to SatNav, calls, texts and music. CarPlay also allows access to Spotify. This can easily be seen as combining, in one place, all the functions we may enjoy from different devices already in our cars.

Simplistically this would appear to be logical progression but how long before other applications become available including social media and livestreaming applications? Without exception these products are marketed on the basis they make driving safer whilst giving the driver access to more information and all those things that are important to them. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Driving is a complex blend of hand, eye and foot coordination and demands our full attention. Advances in mobile phone and in-car technology have always focused on keeping the hands on the wheel and voice activation/control has been a big driver in enabling this situation. This has engendered a belief that keeping our hands on the wheel will therefore deliver a safer drive. Whilst in singularity this cannot be denied there are other factors at play that are close to being abandoned by the driver distracted by a phone.

In 2002 TRL conducted research into the use of phones by drivers both hand held and hands free. This was benchmarked against drink driving (a known dangerous driving practice). The results indicated that certain aspects of driving performance are impaired more by using a phone than having a blood /alcohol level above the current drink drive limit. The study reinforced all the concerns about mobile phone use by drivers. TRL concluded that;

“Drivers need to be strongly discouraged from engaging in any phone use while behind the wheel”

The evidence points to what has been known for a long time. Having our hands on the wheel alone does not engender safe driving. Our eyes and our mind need to be on the road too. Devices and technology in cars are increasingly providing ‘eye candy’ and feeding our desire to be connected all the time. They are creating an easy distraction that takes the drivers attention away from where it should be and consequently the risk of fatal and serious injury road traffic accidents increases as a result.

Some news outlets reacted to the RAC report by describing the use of phones by drivers as a pandemic. When coupled with the significant reduction in prosecutions it was argued it was a pandemic running unchecked.

Nothwithstanding the pending increases, some quarters are calling for stiffer penalties for those caught. Others are calling for technology advances that prevent drivers using a phone whilst the car is in motion. Both are riddled with complications. A car that isolates the driver’s phone may also isolate any the passengers may have. A driver could of course simply have two phones and bypass the safety features. It has been evidenced that using a phone whilst driving can be equivalent to drink driving and yet the penalty for drink driving is significantly harsher. Would an increase to bring mobile phone use in line with drink driving help reduce its prevalence? In some regards yes. However, we know that education, penalty and enforcement are all essential factors in changing behaviour. This final factor requires the fear of being caught . It would seem from the numbers admitting to using phones coupled with reduced prosecutions that the fear of being caught is quite low.

The government have gradually increased the penalties for drivers caught using a phone whilst driving. The evidence to show it is as dangerous as drink driving has been available since 2002 yet 14 years later the penalty is some distance from the two matters reaching equal footing. Education by many road safety organisations such as Brake and national media/social media coverage continue to highlight the dangers. Regular enforcement action by the police helps to tackle the issue but the reduced numbers of traffic officers across the country is likely to be contributory factor in the dwindling number of prosecutions being brought. In a time of austerity it would take a considerable amount of investment from the government to allow Chief Constables the flexibility to dedicate resources to tackle this issue more aggressively.

Technology will continue to evolve and in years to come a realistic prospect on how to manage phone use in cars will no doubt become a reality. However, in the interim people are dying on our roads every day. The solution is simple in theory but complex in application in that it needs multiple stakeholders buy in to move forward. Changing the mindset of today’s drivers is hard because behavior engendered by ‘handsfree is legal therefore ok’, is embedded deeply. It is not impossible but, as we know from 50 years of drink drive campaigning, it takes many years for the impact to be seen. Regular innovative campaigns, sensitive highlighting of tragedies stemming from phone use and encouraging people to take pledges such as the Brake Pledge all help. Manufacturers should be encouraged, maybe even required, to wind back on the ever increasing use of unnecessary technology in cars that seems to prioritise profit and novelty over safety. A recent survey by Brake has shown overwhelmingly that distracted drivers are considered by many to be the biggest danger on our roads. Drivers need to understand the degree of impairment using a phone engenders and that driving safely is far more than just being handsfree. Passengers need to comprehend the dangers and feel empowered to challenge drivers using their phone.

Only if everyone works together will we see positive change in the use of phones by drivers. The government, police, manufacturers, road safety organisations and the public must all combine their efforts to effect change. The original mobile phone offence making handsfree use legal was misinformed and set us down the wrong road. A road we have been travelling since 2003 and it’s going to take some considerable back peddling to get us back on track. However, it’s a journey we have to make because peoples lives depend upon it.

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CIAO

No two people are the same. I’ve sat behind the charge desk over a period of seven years and seen people from every walk of life. From those in penury to those who have more than they will ever need. From those who couldn’t give a toss about arrest to those whose life I could see unraveling before me as we spoke. Those who were confident of their innocence when guilty and those who were innocent scared of what guilt may mean. I’ve seen them all.

Some I’ve seen once and never again. The more concerning ones are those who come regularly. Our frequent flyers. Some who landed so often that if we had a custody club card they would have amassed thousands of points!

The relentless vicious circle of crime, drugs, poverty, domestic violence and other factors means many people are trapped in a world they cannot escape from and pretty much becomes normalised. One young woman used to be in custody every week. Sometimes every day. She was involved in drugs, she was stealing, dealing and also getting knocked about by a procession of “boyfriends”. Her life was in a total mess. My dealings with her were regular but I can’t, hand on heart, say that I had any influence over her. She was so regularly with us it was almost like she was one of my team. She was skinny, unhealthy and looked.. for want of a better word, like shit.

Then suddenly she stopped coming in. The assumption was she was finally back inside prison. It really was only a matter of time. She probably was for a short while. However, a few weeks became a month or two. A few months became 6 and life moved on. I hadn’t heard she was dead but it could have been a very real possibility.

Then, 18 months later, local cops arrived with a prisoner. The prisoner had been arrested in another force for a matter she had been identified as being responsible for some time ago in our area. I barely recognised her as she walked in. She had clean hair and clothes. She was clean. She had put on weight and the gaunt face she always wore had been replaced by a rosy cheeked, sparkly eyed one with a somewhat cheeky grin. It was like meeting an old friend. What a transformation. Underneath all the abuse she had put herself through (and been exposed to) was a good looking young woman.

We chatted as I booked her in. She had made a change in her life. She had moved to another area, was off the gear, had a stable home, was trying to learn new skills and find a job. I was, to much consternation from my colleagues, utterly delighted for her.

She was ultimately charged but with a lack of recent offending and a new life at her feet she was granted bail. Something she never got and this also put a smile on her face. She left. I don’t know what happened next but over a period of a few weeks she went to court. She met up with old contacts in her old town and suddenly, defying all logic, she was back in the town and back on the gear. She spiralled rapidly downward into the hole she had so successfully crawled out of. Regular arrests, remands into custody, lost weight, gaunt face, dirty and unkempt and her health crumbled. She was right back where she started from. It was all her doing but it was tragic. My heart cried for her.

I’ve no idea where she is now. I hope and pray she found her way back out of that dark place. I hope she is healthy, happy, clean and living the life she was clearly capable of giving herself.

Having spent 7 years in custody I met many people like this. I often pondered about how this circle of behaviour could be broken. Over the years my only hope was to talk to people in custody. I never knew if I got through to someone but, where I could, it was worth trying. I was then introduced via Twitter to a lady called Clare McGregor whom I then met at the very first BlueLight Camp in Manchester. I have remained in contact with Clare ever since and she has been doing some amazing work with women at Styal Prison. Working with women to help them break this cycle of crime, prison, crime.

She has now written a book about her work which is really making a difference for women in prison.

Coaching Behind Bars

I have met many women similar to those Clare speaks of in her book.   Women trapped in a revolving door of crime and despair for a whole multitude  IMG_1132of reasons that we, the police, rarely get beyond. The cycle of reoffending is notoriously hard to break but Clare took this project on and once she has something in her sights she is like a dog with a bone. Her determination, passion and commitment to succeed and help women at Styal shines through on every page.

This book will open your eyes to a world rarely seen. It will make you think and seriously challenge any stereotypical perceptions you may have of offenders. These are people that are lost who, ironically, have the map to freedom and a new life within their own head. They just need a coach to show them where to find it.

At a recent TEDx event I listened to a presentation by Clare. She said she had realised she couldn’t tell people what to do. She had to ask them what they wanted to do. What they wanted to change and then help them explore how they were going to do it themselves… and it’s working!

It’s a remarkable book detailing some amazing work by a team of dedicated and passionate people who can only inspire you.

In Italian the word “Ciao” means both “Hi” and “Bye”. It is fitting that CIAO is the name of the organisation. The coaches say “Hi” to a new client and later say “Bye” as they wave them off to a more rewarding and satisfying life. Brilliant.

Ciao!

You can find out more about Coaching Inside and Out here

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.