I was recently incensed when I read Peter Hitchens’ article in the Mail and wrote a letter to them expressing my strong counter viewpoint. They printed an extract in The Mail on Sunday but below are my full thoughts.
Dear Peter Hitchens
As a comedian a lot of my time is spent taking the proverbial out of the police and as a veteran cop, I reckon I’m well qualified to investigate the laughter leads and am the first to acknowledge genuine ‘cock-ups’. There’s been an abundance of material to go at lately as cops try to balance on the wobbly thin blue tightrope between ever increasing public demand and the devastating effects of 25% budget cuts. Oh yes! The belly laughs have been coming thick and fast.
However when a headline like yours reads: ‘What’s the point of the police if they’re scared of the dark?’ that’s when I stop laughing.
The point of the police, Mr Hitchens, is to allow idiots like you to rest safely tucked up in your bed at night whilst dreaming up tomorrow’s daft Daily Mail headline.
You think it’s a good idea for cops to go marching through woodland into a disused quarry in the middle of the night to tackle 400 drunken ravers because they’re making a noise? Really?! You mentioned the ‘National Police Air Service’ budget – I’m surprised you didn’t suggest helicopters be fitted with ‘anti-rave water cannon’ as a proportionate response.
The reason the police held back is that they carried out what’s known in the trade as a risk assessment. All professions have them – even journalists. Although theirs historically have been: Should I loosen up my fingers? Is my swivel chair set at the correct height? Have I remembered to switch on my phone tap?
Let’s break that risk assessment down a little:
• What do we know? 200-400 young adults having a rave, some using alcohol.
• What risk do they pose? Low risk to themselves and others but they’re noisy.
• Do the police have a legal power to intervene? Yes.
• What are the intervention options? Basically go in quickly or wait.
• What are the likely consequences of going in quickly?
Well let’s say Avon and Somerset manage to round-up 20 officers from around the county (and that’s optimistic) and decided to go in. Setting aside the obvious risk of a difficult terrain at night there are likely three responses from the ravers:
1. They resist: 20 coppers versus 400 angry ravers – oh dear that’s not good!
2. The ravers starburst and run through dark woodland and into the town of Frome – oh dear that’s not good either is it?
3. They comply. Now you’ve got 400 young adults in the early hours of the morning for whom you have a duty of care. What do you reckon Mr Hitchens: Individually give them a lift home? Put them up in a local B+B? Drop them at Frome bus stop at 1 a.m. and tell them to wait quietly for the next bus?
Any decent cop worth their salt knows that the consequences of marching into that rave were far more difficult to manage and far more dangerous than allowing the rave to continue where the risk was relatively contained.
Those cops at that Frome quarry found themselves quite literally between a rock and a hard place, because if they had’ve rushed in dozens of ‘frothing at the mouth’ journalists, would have been reaching for their laptops poised to write tomorrow’s ‘Bungling Bobbies….’ headline (once they’d loosened up their fingers and adjusted their swivel chairs of course).
By the very nature of the business mistakes in policing are absolutely guaranteed. However the first rule that every wise old cop knows is: Never try to cover up your mistake and never ever EVER try to cover your mistake using a lie.
What is becoming clear is that is exactly what has happened with Hillsborough and it will continue to be a damaging scandal for many years to come.
My initial reaction is that it would be disrespectful for me to defend the Organisation considering that the families of the 96 finally had a positive result in the Coroner’s Court after 27 years trying. This should be their moment of victory – a brief respite to take comfort that there has at last been an official acknowledgement of unlawful activity before continuing their battle for justice.
I’m not going to defend the Organisation but I am going to defend the ordinary, honest, every day, working class cops and paramedics who went to work 27 years ago to help people and ended up in the middle of a tragedy that will haunt them for ever.
People starting accusations with, “all coppers are….” or “all coppers connected with Hillsborough are…” is the same type of shameful bigotry we see directed at minority groups all the time and it’s disrespectful, damaging and offensive to the thousands of good honest people that put themselves in the line of danger to keep us safe in our beds at night.
Let me be clear I’m not defending the Organisation’s lack of integrity in respect of Hillsborough. I am, in fact, absolutely blaming the Organisation – although I’m certainly not singling out South Yorkshire Police. I am blaming the UK Police Organisation of 1989 for promoting an internal culture of fear, bullying and intimidation that punished mistakes rather than one that promoted a culture which supported and rewarded openness and honesty.
‘Bad culture’ is like a festering sore that becomes infected and spreads through an organisation like a contagious disease. However, the source of the infection doesn’t spread from the bottom upwards – rather it spreads and contaminates from the top downwards.
Sadly it’s becoming apparent that ‘bad culture’ still lingers on in some parts of policing and so people like me can’t just blame the ‘bad old days’. I really hope that we look beyond the all-purpose “lessons have been learnt” and other blah blah generic rhetoric. This thing really needs forensically unpicking with an openness and honesty that has been sadly lacking for 27 years.
One thing I’m convinced of is that cultural problems within the Police are absolutely the responsibility of the people at the top of the Organisation and the politicians above them.
I still passionately believe that we have the finest Criminal Justice System in the world and now, more than ever, we need to demonstrate that and restore Public confidence in the Police Service. Great leadership, demonstrating absolute integrity will be a good start.