Thursday, 19 May 2011

Ken Clarke: An apology

I should declare at the outset that I like Ken Clarke. A genuine political heavyweight of the old school, his gravitas and class bring me a welcome sense of comfort whenever he appears on Question Time, always outshining the manufactured young Party people propped up against him.

So I felt quite sad that, at his age and with his record, he was hounded yesterday into a very 21st century PC apology.

What did he have to apologise for? He stated, publicly, that there are different degrees of crime - a concept which the learned judges have regard to every day when sentencing in the criminal courts. What is the difference between him saying in a radio interview that there are varying degrees of severity in offences of rape, and a judge explaining that he has based his sentencing decision on the very same principles?

We are familiar with sliding scales of 'badness' in non-sexual assaults, where the law actually defines different offences dependent upon the outcome. There is a possibility of such a framework being introduced for murder offences, like the American degrees. Indeed, if one considers homicide then we already have this distinction with the offences of manslaughter and murder. So if we are happy with the principle for the most serious of all offences, and for numerous lesser crimes, why should rape be any different?

Could the answer be that rape is still viewed as an offence victimising women only (which it isn't)? Is the knee-jerk, leftist, PC view that, therefore, we must somehow treat it differently? How indignant would yesterday's critics be if we decided that all assaults, or abuse, or criminal damage should be treated the same, and removed the rider that these offences can be 'racially aggravated'? The law ought, as far as is possible within our over-sophisticated, defendant-slanted system, be consistent.

Please don't get me wrong, rape is a very serious offence, whatever the circumstances. It ruins lives, degrades, humiliates and scars minds as well as bodies. That is why we treat it so seriously, why the maximum sentence is life imprisonment. But remember that word maximum; the sentences available to judges effectively encompass the entire range. The final disposal will always depend on other factors, peculiar to the offence and the offender. We are, I think, happy to let the judges apply the sentencing rules in these cases; why are we so agitated by their boss talking about them on the radio?

Thursday, 5 May 2011

I was dreamin' when I wrote this, forgive me if it goes astray

Sean O'Neill of The Times has written an interesting piece today (which you can read HERE if you are a Times subscriber; if you are not then it is worth a Pound), having had exclusive access to a copy of the IPCC report into the Met failures in the Night Stalker case. Or, to be absolutely accurate, the IPCC's report into one failing which occurred in 1999 in the Night Stalker case.

I am not going to rehearse my views on the other, later, Night Stalker failures in this post. If you wish to read them, simply click on the 'March' posts over on the right. But I am still mystified that no journalist, no MP, no Councillor or no victim has asked the question as to why the IPCC were so narrow in their approach. It is a question I asked last year both of my bosses in the Met and the IPCC investigator. I was not given any sort of answer, let alone a compelling one. My experience of IPCC investigations (in a completely different but equally flawed investigation which I took over in 2005) is that, notwithstanding their original terms of reference, they will allow a large degree of mission creep if they feel there are skeletons to be found. And so they should. But in the Night Stalker case 1999 was the beginning and the end; if it didn't happen that year then it might as well not have happened at all.

The Met's line on this still seems to be that 1999 is all we need worry about. Perhaps they are all just avid Prince fans? They also replied to an enquiry to their Press Bureau about the 'learning' review that it was being conducted by NPIA. Which is interesting - I wasn't aware that the NPIA did reviews; their business plan, website and publicity material certainly make no mention of this function. Perhaps they are diversifying in light of the threat to their very existence? Or perhaps the Met meant there is a debrief planned which will be held or even facilitated by NPIA at their Bramshill site. I know that DSU Simon Morgan organised such a day some time ago, in his role of heading the learning exercise. I don't know when it will take place, or even if it already has, because I wasn't invited, even before I retired - though I would gladly contribute to such an event now, free of charge. Indeed, I'd probably even pay to be there. It feels somehow wrong, perhaps even (immodestly) a waste of what I can offer, that neither the Met nor the IPCC have asked for my input. I was asked, in May 2009, to look at the Night Stalker investigation and make suggestions to resolve it. I looked, reported, was given the authority to change and we were successful pretty quickly. I have therefore studied the case, its strategies and tactics, and its leadership very carefully. Understandably as a result I have many, many views on how it was led and progressed before May 2009, which I am sure would assist the 'learning', but nobody is asking for them.

If things are still as I think they are, the Met's answer citing the NPIA was clever, was not untrue, but neatly sidestepped the issue of who exactly in the Met is leading the review. Which, I still maintain, is an area which needs to be explored alongside the question of the extent of the IPCC investigation.

The difficulty I continue to encounter is that I want to answer questions which nobody seems prepared to ask.