Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Plebgate - The Unpalatable Truth



I have come out of retirement briefly to put down some thoughts about Plebgate. I wrote about this earlier this year and I hate to say it, but I told you so.
The facts are very simple. Andrew Mitchell left Downing Street on the 19th September 2012 and had a hissy fit because a police officer wouldn't let him through the main gate. Mitchell admits being bad tempered and swearing; the only argument is whether or not he used the word pleb. It is an unusual word to use, one that seems unlikely for the police to make up?
Son of an MP, educated at Rugby Public School and Cambridge, and an arrogant member of the ruling classes; who would believe that Mitchell would say such a thing as 'Best you learn your fucking place. You don't run this fucking government ... You're fucking plebs?' If Michael Portillo is to be believed Mitchell has used the pleb word in private before.
An idiot police officer took it upon himself to write to his MP claiming to have witnessed the incident didn't help the situation and simply gave ammunition to Mitchell, his supporters and the anti police brigade.
A bit like Chris Huhne, Mitchell came out fighting for his career and produced video footage from the area, which he claimed proved that the police were lying. The anti police brigade and media were completely suckered. Anything discrediting the police was accepted without question. It was good work by Mitchell's team. People are still posting today that the video evidence proved the police were lying. You can view the video evidence and a detailed critique here.
A year long investigation has concluded that there is no evidence to support any theory of a conspiracy by the police against Mitchell. The CPS, rather weakly, say that there is insufficient evidence to show that the police officer was lying. There is no evidence other than Mr Mitchell's denial. The CPS also say they took into account evidence including “the fact that Mr Mitchells account has varied since the incident”
The biggest issue for me is the biased and edited video footage that was given to Chanel 4. The programme makers have made it clear that they did not edit the footage given to them. The CPS report says that the programme “showed edited footage that was less than clear in a number of regards”. It goes on to say that the unedited video evidence shows that the police officers account could be correct.
So who produced the footage given to Chanel 4, which appears to have been edited to discredit the police and support Mitchell's case? Why aren't the media asking this question?
I see today that Mitchell's case of libel against The Sun is not going well. He submitted his evidence late and has been told that because of this, even if he wins the case, he will have to pay his costs. He has had a year to get his story straight now. Why was it late? Don't be surprised if you see that case dropped before too long. He may say he cannot afford to fund it now he has to pay his costs. I say he won't want to appear in the witness box and face some difficult questions.
No one has come out of this sorry affair without blemish, but when it comes down to it, who do I believe? PC Plod doing his job on the gate or an arrogant, foul mouthed toff who thinks he was born to rule us?

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The Rape Debate



You may have missed the recent case in the press regarding rape allegations. A woman made an allegation of rape on the basis that she consented to sex but told the man involved that he mustn't ejaculate inside her. He told her would if he wanted to and did just that. Prosecutors decided that they could not charge him as the man's action could have been spontaneous and the decision beyond the point of no return, so to speak. The woman challenged the prosecutors decision in the High Court and the learned judges have decided that breaking conditions placed on intercourse can amount to rape. They have ordered the prosecution to review its decision.

Rape allegations already cause significant debate and not inconsiderable hysteria. The usual, and sensible, argument of innocent until proven guilty doesn't seem apply to rape allegations. All men accused of rape are guilty and must be convicted, according to some. Some feminists and pressure groups are campaigning for the law to be changed; to reduce the burden of proof in rape cases; to upturn the law so that the defendant must prove that consent was given.

When most people think of rape they think of a woman walking alone down a street and an attacker forcing them into an alleyway or something similar. The truth is that the vast majority of rape allegations involve someone known to the victim. It may be a family member or friend. It is often a man met in a pub or club. The most common scenario is one where a woman meets a man and, after a few drinks, agrees to go somewhere with him and sexual intercourse takes place. The critical point to prove will be, was consent given? It can be very difficult to prove that consent was not given.

I saw another interesting article yesterday. After six months in post as HMIC, Tom Winsor has decided that, in these times of austerity, the police should focus their energies on crime prevention rather than catching offenders. Most of us who have been in the job for a while understand that crime prevention was always the first of Robert Peels nine principles of policing.

Crime prevention is good. I think though that Peel's vision of prevention was having a visible policing presence looking for potential crime and criminals. It was also catching offenders and a justice system that imposed negative consequences. In the case of prolific offenders or serious crime it probably also included incarcerating them, thereby protecting society from their offending. I wrote an article about our ineffective justice system. How the police have withdrawn from the streets. How victims are blamed for offences against them. How the justice system fails to punish offenders and in fact rewards them. I won't go on about it again. You can read it here if you wish.

Mr Winsor's advice simply confirms everything that I said in my article. We can no longer afford to protect the public. All we can do is tell them to get a house alarm, window locks, 5 lever dead locks on the doors. Don't leave valuables on display in, and lock, your cars. Don't walk around in public using expensive phones, iPods, laptops Etc. If you ignore this advice then it is your fault for being so stupid when your property is stolen or you are assaulted.

None of this crime prevention advice will apply to rape victims however. If we dared to tell women what to wear. If we dared to suggest they don't get drunk. If we dare tell them not to get in a taxi with someone they have just met, we will be met by abuse and rage from some quarters. Suggesting that women behave in a particular way to protect themselves is an abuse of their right of freedom to express themselves and men have just got to learn to respect that. If only these freedoms applied to all crimes.

For the record I believe that if any man rapes a woman; whether they are drunk or not; whatever they are wearing and however stupid they may have been; he deserves to have his appendage removed or whatever prison sentence comes to him. I don't believe that woman need to appear in public with nothing more than their eyes showing to enable men to keep control of themselves. But I have seen too many hungover young men arrested and put through the mill because a woman was unsure as to whether or not she had consented to sex the night before.

If we are now saying that women can be raped if men breach conditions of sex then it is even more important that the usual safeguards and protections in place for defendants are kept in place. Reducing the burden of proof or bringing about proof of consent by defendants will bring about injustices just as perverse as guilty rapists going free.

 

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Federation RIP

Police Federation of England and Wales


The Chair of the PFEW, Steve Williams, has recently published a report on the Federation website following a meeting he had with the Prime Minister. Mr Williams describes this meeting as constructive. How he can write anything positive about it I do not understand. The Prime Ministers comments sound the death knell for the Federation. Does Mr Williams even understand this you wonder?

Mr Williams raised concerns about compulsory severance. He gave a rather weak and watery reason as to why it shouldn't be introduced. Did he raise the issue that the police have no industrial rights? Did he mention that the Scottish Justice Secretary has clearly stated that the police should be compensated for not having industrial rights?

The poorly organised and flawed ballot on industrial rights held by the Federation in February has given the green light for the Government to introduce compulsory severance and implement any other changes they wish to. This follows on from the beating they have already given the Federation by ignoring almost all their representations regarding the Winsor reforms and cutting police officers pay and pensions. The decision to hold the ballot before the Governments decision on compulsory severance; the lack of support in the top echelons of the Federation for the ballot and the decision that the ballot would be of no effect unless 50% of the electorate voted in favour were crass and short sited.

The Prime Minister then told Mr Williams that Federation Representatives must retain skills in front line policing. The Federation have a significant number of full time representatives. There are 30 national representatives based at the PFEW HQ in Leatherhead. Every Force has at least two local full time representatives. Most have three or more. That is a total of more than 150 full time representatives. These representatives have allowed the Federation to get heavily involved in national issues and represent their members locally in management negotiations and misconduct matters, for example.

Following a campaign in the media, Francis Maude made an announcement last year regarding full time union activists in the civil service. He has stated that they will spend no more than 50% of their time on union activities and they will not get paid time off to attend national events such as Conference. You can read a bit more here if you wish. This has been on the horizon for over a year but the PFEW only appears to have now woken up to the fact that these changes will affect them too.
Implementation of these proposals in the Federation will effectively leave them in a position where they are irrelevant. That appears to be the Governments plan. Officers are already leaving the Federation in significant numbers. When they find no one has time to represent them with regard to complaints or management decisions then they will leave in their droves. The Federation will lose much of its funding and implode into insignificance.

Finally, the Prime Minister told Mr Williams that his officers must behave themselves and be respectful to Government representatives at Conference. If they don't then the Government will no longer come to the party.

The Government have made it pretty clear that they are going to continue walking all over the Federation. The Federation have played almost all their cards by staging the failed ballot in February and unless they come up with an alternative strategy very quickly, the Federation may have to just take it. One avenue that may yet be open to the Federation is Europe. European police forces have the right to take industrial action and it may be that a case can be put to Europe that there is no justification for UK police forces having those rights withheld. This will take years though. I am not sure the Federation will be around to see it implemented. Assuming we are still in Europe, of course!

 

Monday, 15 April 2013

Federation In Meltdown

Steve Williams - Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales
 
 
I spotted this article in The Independent regarding current issues within the Police Federation. I don't normally read that rag; the only thing it is independent of are any views from anyone who isn't a Socialist.
 
I am not sure that the current divisions in the Police Federation concern more power going to the centre. The issues in the Federation centre around The Met, The Constables and the Principal Officers of the Joint Central Committee.The Met accounts for almost a quarter of the membership of the Federation. Constables make up more than 70% of the membership.
 
For decades there has been talk of The Met and Constables declaring UDI and going independent of the National Federation. These tensions invariably increase when the National Federation has been perceived to fail to represent their members effectively. Tensions further increase when senior positions in the National  Federation are not occupied by Metropolitan Officers or Constables.
 
Ian Rennie - General Secretary of the Police Federation of England and Wales
 
 
Paul McKeever was a Metropolitan Police Sergeant and, until his untimely death at the beginning of this year was, in my opinion, one of the finest Chairs of the National Federation we have seen. Paul was very much focused on diplomacy, influence and negotiation. Paul did his best to clamp down on Force Federation officials becoming too vocal over the Plebgate affair, but was ignored by some and this caused significant damage. Paul understood that Plebgate might result in a Government led review of the Federation and he was the architect of the current review. He believed that the Federation submitting to an independent review would obviate any possible Government led review.
 
Following Paul’s resignation, and shortly before his death, Steve Williams, an Inspector from North Wales was elected as the new Chair. His arrival coincided with the Home Secretary, Theresa May, announcing the Governments decisions on the Winsor review. There was no good news for the Federation. Negotiations were seen to have been totally ineffective and Winsor’s recommendations were almost all accepted, resulting in huge losses to police pay and conditions. In a clever move though, May deferred any decision on compulsory severance until July.
 
Under pressure from local Forces the National Federation had been instructed at Conference to hold a ballot  on industrial rights. This was seen as a means of letting the Government know that officers had had enough. The National Federation did not want the ballot and dragged their heels over it. The ballot was eventually arranged for February.
Many people, myself included, believed that the ballot should have been postponed until after the decision on compulsory severance was made. Police officers have always been regarded as servants of The Crown and normal employment law does not apply to them. With the already accepted changes to rights overturned by Winsor, compulsory severance would mean the police being treated almost no differently to any other employee. In that case they should have the same industrial rights.
The ballot went ahead in February. It was poorly organised and advertised. The Fed hierarchy added a self imposed twist. They said the ballot would have no effect unless more than 50% of the electorate voted in favour of industrial rights. The ballot was an inevitable failure. Only 42% of officers voted although 81% of those that did, voted for industrial rights.
The ballot was an own goal for the Federation and gives the Government the green light to impose compulsory severance and any other changes they might wish to. All the new Chair of the Federation, Steve Williams, could say was "it would not be appropriate to undertake a course of action that could potentially change the employment status of more than 133,000 police officers if fewer than half of those officers have voted for us to do so." He seems to have missed the point that the special employment status has already gone.
Will Riches - Chair of the Constables Central Committee
 
We now have a belligerent, Met Chair of the Constables Committee, Will Riches, combined with frustrations regarding the apparent ineffectiveness of non Met and non Constable rank Principal Officers leading the Federation. The Plebgate review is seen by the militants as further capitulation to the Government who have already run roughshod all over the police.
One thing is for certain. Federation blood is going to be spilt over the carpets at the swanky HQ in Leatherhead, Surrey. Whether that blood is the Chair, Steve Williams, Secretary, Ian Rennie or the aforementioned Will Riches we will have to wait and see.
The main point though is that the Federation need to resolve their squabbles and get their act together and start representing their members. They have failed to achieve almost anything for members in the wake of Winsor and officers are beginning to leave the Federation in their droves. They can no longer afford the membership fees and have seen little return for their investment. If the Federation don't start representing members effectively, and soon, they will find they represent no-one.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Death of Margaret Thatcher


Margaret Thatcher died this morning. As she did with everything, she did it in style, taking her last breath whilst staying at The Ritz.

Much will be said about the life of Margaret Thatcher over the next few weeks. She will be castigated for many things. I didn't agree with everything that she did. It must be remembered that when she took power in 1979 the country was on its knees. She is blamed for destroying industry in this country but the unions had already achieved most of that. Remember British Leyland. We had had the three day week, power cuts and the country being held to ransom. Rubbish was on the streets for weeks. When she left office at the end of 1990 the country was unrecognisable from what it had been 11 years earlier.

Love her or hate her she was one hell of a leader and admired and feared throughout the world. Unlike many of her successors her integrity was unblemished and without question. We will be lucky to see the like of her again.