Thursday 6 August 2015

Just say "No".

Oh, the irony.  As we are told that Leicestershire Police are rationing resources by investigating your burglary vigorously only if your door number happens to be odd, as Sara Thornton doubts whether police could or should visit burglary victims anyway, what happens?  Five forces embark upon another series of resource-intensive investigations which cannot possibly result in the suspect being prosecuted.  Because he is long dead.

The one senior police officer to get it anything like right this week was Sir Peter Fahy when he tweeted:

Just because we are there 24 hours a day does not mean that we are always the best suited to deal with vulnerable people after 5pm

At least I think he did.  If I have interpreted the tweet correctly it fits exactly with a principle growing ever-stronger in my thinking: That Police must concentrate what they have on policing, that they must pull in the tentacles which have been stretching ever-further for the last 30 years and stop filling in for deficiencies in other public services.  As unpalatable as that appears for an organisation which, as a whole and through its individuals, actually does care.

How does this fit with the Edward Heath story?  I will explain.  Ignore the strong possibility that the politically-motivated, the insane and the spiteful might make false allegations.  Let us assume there is something in the claims.  In the situation where 70000 officers have apparently been lost, where residential burglary is being placed on the back burner, where officers of all ranks are squealing every day about their inability to police the community properly, what is the point in spending time and money looking into allegations of crimes many years ago where the alleged perpetrator is dead and therefore no prosecution can follow? 

“The victims”, I hear the resounding cry.  Yes, of course.  If there are victims they need caring for. Indeed – and I promise this is without cynicism – they might also need compensating.   Is the best way to meet these needs really as by-products of a criminal investigation which cannot possibly achieve the outcome for which that process actually exists?  That is of course, identification of the offender and adjudication on his guilt of innocence, followed by sanction if it is found proved.

Victimisation comes in different forms.  We tend to think immediately of the criminal justice system as the first call to help victims simply because crime produces more of them than negligence, faulty products breach of contract and the like, or indeed than accidents and natural disasters.  But there is no doubt that non-criminal acts do leave us with victims – who also need support and compensation.  And for which there are mechanisms in place – counselling, social services, charities and of course litigation.  That is where the support and redress for any victims of Edward Heath should lie. 

Consider a person going to see a solicitor, saying I was abused by Edward Heath in the 1970s and I want to sue him.  How might the solicitor respond?  I suspect that professional ethics would mean a referral for counselling and support, and a judgement would be made about the possibility of a successful claim against his estate balancing the likelihood of acquiring sufficient evidence to prove the case and other considerations such as time limitations.  If the lawyer thought the claim must fail then that would be the answer.  I much prefer this as the sensible way for any Heath victims to seek assistance.

Why then use police resources to facilitate help for victims of historical crimes where the suspect is dead?  Because the perception is there is nobody else?  Because only Police can investigate? Of course not, once more it is police leaders making decisions because they lack the courage to say no.  Because they fear the consequences (to themselves, their reputation and career) of a clamour of criticism if they point out the truth - That any investigation must go nowhere, that the sensible thing to do is to direct the victims to those who can help them and to concentrate what is left of their investigative capacity on current child-abusers who not only might one day end up gripping the rail at the Crown Court but more importantly present a current and future danger to our children.  Which is the vital thing for us to get right.

Please do not think in any of this that I am showing any contempt or lack of compassion.  We know people were abused in the past, both by the famous and by the unknown.  We must acknowledge that, offer assistance to those who have suffered and learn so we can prevent abuse going forward.  There is a judicial inquiry in to child sex abuse already established.  Perhaps the sensible thing to do is to widen its remit so that the Heath allegations are looked at there?  As that inquiry progresses it is likely that it will uncover evidence of offences committed by persons who are still alive; of course it is right that those offences are referred to the police for investigation and action. That would be very worthwhile, there would be an obvious reason to do that. 

But let us not detract from the ordinary, necessary, policing of our communities by diverting resources to pointless investigations which can be adequately and thoroughly dealt with elsewhere.  On this, as with many other extraneous demands, Police need to learn to say “No”.