Banged to Rights

The film 'The Matrix'. Swallow the red pill for reality the blue for an artificially constructed illusion

I was sitting on a bench at the side of the custody office in a police station one night trying to look as if I was minding my own business when a suspect who had just been arrested was brought in.

‘Take that hat off,’ barked the custody sergeant as he began the process of taking the man’s details.

‘It’s not a hat, it’s part of my religion,’ squawked the suspect.

‘No, it isn’t. If it was part of your religion, you would be wearing a tea-towel on your head. That is a hat. Take it off.’

With a bad grace the suspect removed his pudding-basin hat and thick Rasta-type locks cascaded over his shoulders.

I cannot imagine such an exchange happening now. The custody sergeant would be too scared to make a remark that could be interpreted as disrespectful to Sikhs or to Rastas. Somebody somewhere would find out about the remark and would profess outrage. Somebody somewhere would launch an official complaint. It is so much easier to concentrate attention on soft targets – people who are likely to admit they are in the wrong – than to tackle real hard racism. Police officers in particular are vulnerable to such complaints.

We have got to the point where many people decide not to communicate with ‘ethnic minorities’ for fear of saying the wrong thing. How have we got ourselves into this mess?

urdered in south-east London. The initial investigation may well have been incompetent. Some argued that the police were corrupt, that the police had links to the father of one of the suspects who was a well-known drugs baron. As far as I am aware, there was never any hard evidence produced to back this up.

I have been a solicitor specializing in criminal work for many years and can think of many instances in which there have been incompetent investigations. Particularly prevalent recently have been the ‘cannabis farms’. Typically the police have information that a private house has been converted into a cannabis factory. They do a raid and find sophisticated equipment dedicated to growing cannabis: hydroponics, sprinkler systems for watering, lighting designed to provide heat. The house will be photographed showing that it contains almost a forest of plants; there is obviously a well-planned criminal operation but the only person arrested will be a Vietnamese peasant who has been pottering around with a watering can. He will have no right to be in the UK. He will almost certainly refuse to give any information about who has employed him, usually saying that as a person trafficked into the country he had no alternative but to survive by doing this work. No one has thought to mount surveillance on the house, so although they have only managed to arrest someone who is a very unimportant part of the operation the main offenders go free. I don’t know why it seems always to be a Vietnamese but this is my experience.

Stephen Lawrence had two articulate parents who launched a campaign for ‘justice’ and persisted with press conferences and lobbying with an admirable determination to find out the truth about their son’s murder. The issue simply would not go away, and Stephen’s parents were advised to launch a private prosecution since the CPS were not prepared to prosecute. There was only one witness who identified the suspects and to prosecute on the basis of one eyewitness is always risky, so it was no surprise when the private prosecution failed.

The case still excited public attention. In July 1997 the Home Secretary announced that there was to be a judicial inquiry into the murder investigation to be chaired by Sir William Macpherson, a retired High Court judge. When Macpherson’s report was published in February 1999 politicians of all parties rushed to applaud its findings and to say that its 70 recommendations should be implemented. The police, according to Macpherson, was ‘institutionally racist’. Even if they did not know they were racist, they were. The label of ‘institutional racism’ has haunted the police ever since. No government spokesman was prepared to say the label was nonsense.

All racist ‘incidents’ should be investigated, said Macpherson. ‘… the term ‘racist incident’ must be understood to include crimes and non-crimes in policing terms. Both must be reported, recorded and investigated with equal commitment.’ The public would prefer the police to limit themselves to criminal investigations: Macpherson did not agree. With the definition of a racist incident being ‘any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person’ there can be no objective standard. A person accused cannot say: ‘It is absurd for the witness against me to say he is upset. No normal person would have found what I said distressing.’ It can be argued, of course, that an allegation is trivial and not a crime, but most defendants are not prepared to take the risk of pleading not guilty and incurring a heavier penalty. There is no plea-bargaining when a criminal offence is ‘racially aggravated’.

Drunken abuse in a pub may contain only one word which could be construed as racist. It is very obviously something not said with any serious intent, but the police and prosecution will pursue it. Call someone a ‘git’ when he accidentally spills your beer and you may not end up in court. Call him an ‘Irish git’ and you may well find yourself facing a prosecution.

Particularly toxic was Macpherson’s recommendation that the law should be changed so that offences ‘involving racist language or behaviour’ committed ‘otherwise than in a public place’ could be prosecuted. The Public Order Act 1986 which creates offences dealing with threats of violence, behaviour ‘likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress’ rightly rules out prosecutions for offences in private homes. Snooping on people’s privacy is too intrusive. Fortunately, not even the fawning politicians accepted this recommendation and at least in private free speech is preserved.

So where are we now, years after Macpherson? A government report published in 2009 noted that reporting of ‘hate crimes’ (broadly, mostly those perceived as racist) had increased to around 60,000 incidents a year, compared with 9,000 across the whole of the United States. As the criminal law now stands, not only can offences such as assaults, criminal damage and threatening behaviour be ‘racially aggravated’ they can also be ‘religiously aggravated’, enabling those alleging they have been offended by street preachers to launch spurious complaints. Thus this year when two men in Bristol preached in a shopping centre quoting parts of the King James Bible they found themselves prosecuted, fined and ordered to pay costs. The prosecutor was reported as saying that quoting parts of the Bible in the context of modern British society ‘must be considered to be abusive and is a criminal matter’. The appeal against the conviction was successful, but arguably the case should never have been brought.

It is only too easy to report a ‘racist incident’ and the police are very conscious that there will be plaudits if they can show that they are taking such reports seriously. The Crown Prosecution Service report of July 2016 shows that there has been a success rate of 83.8 per cent convictions for racially aggravated crimes in 2015-16, far higher than for other types of crime. However, the number of cases referred to them by the police had fallen by 9.6 per cent compared to the previous year. The apparent fall was to be investigated, and I would be surprised if the finding were to be quite simply that the incidence of racial trouble is lessening. The incentive is to sniff out every incident, however trivial, and the decrease will doubtless be ascribed to under-reporting. The Crown Prosecution Service these days refers to ‘victims’ rather than ‘complainants’. The concept of ‘innocent until proved guilty’ appears to be eroded.

When sentencing, a criminal court must increase the sentence for a racially or religiously aggravated offence to mark the racial or religious element; there is no discretion. Magistrates these days are no longer independent when it comes to sentencing, and nor are crown court judges. Sentencing levels are prescribed not by Parliament but by the Sentencing Council, an unelected group of legal professionals. They can be asked to justify their sentencing guidelines by a parliamentary committee, but the committee has no power to re-write any of their recommendations. Thus a person appearing in a criminal court has the level of sentencing fixed within certain parameters. Then on top of whatever the sentence is calculated to by using the fixed instructions in the guidelines, there has to be an additional element imposed to reflect the racial or religious aspect, which has to be announced in open court. A drunken remark made with no real desire to offend can add to a prison sentence.

Racists are to be found everywhere. Whether it is helpful to prosecute every incident, however trivial, is questionable. It can cause a resentment and sense of unfairness which is counter-productive. My own view is that police officers are no better nor worse than the rest of us, that most of them – some would be surprised to hear me say this! – are well intentioned. The custody sergeant all those years ago who told a suspect to remove his hat had no racist thought and the suspect himself laughed as he took his hat off.

In 2005 the rule of double jeopardy was scrapped so that although a suspect had been acquitted of a crime if there was new overwhelming evidence, a prosecution could be launched again. In January 2012 two of the suspects, Gary Dobson and Stephen Norris, were found guilty of murder at the end of a six-week trial. New forensic evidence found on their clothing linked them to the murder.

Jan Davies is a solicitor.

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This article first appeared in the Winter 2017 edition of The Salisbury Review. (Subscriptions from as little as £10 a year)

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7 Comments on Banged to Rights

  1. “at least in private free speech is preserved”. If it’s not preserved in public it’s not ‘free’. Beyond this the piece is an accurate if depressing summary of our ‘hate crime’ laws, for which we are all overwhelmingly thankful to Tony Blair. I don’t know where all of this will end, perhaps in a final solution in which millions of white, Christian, middle class males are marched off to the gender awareness camps, never to be seen again.

  2. Ironic to note: Sir William Macpherson, the retired judge who conducted the Lawrence Inquiry, was born on April Fools’ Day. Stupid Scottish git.

  3. Top of article:
    “With a bad grace the suspect removed his pudding-basin hat…”
    End of article:
    “The custody sergeant all those years ago who told a suspect to remove his hat…the suspect himself laughed as he took his hat off.”

    No further questions, M’lud.

  4. Dealing with one of your smaller points, it’s been my experience that the police turn a blind eye to local drug dealers, just so long as they stick to certain rules; no sales to children; keep away from school entrances; no violence towards the public, as distinct from other dealers; no dangerous cutting or mixing; keep a low profile etc.

    This is somewhat reminiscent of the police treatment of bootleggers during prohibition, although I don’t think there is much financial corruption in British policing to compare with what was commonplace in the US.

    The explanation is that the police in some relatively peaceful town can cope with their local dealers. They know that if they caried out a sweep of known dealers, and got them arrested,much more dangerous dealers from out-of-town would soon be turning up, looking to take over business.

    Many of these gangs, such as the Yardies, and others, are known to be armed and dangerous, and rather more than a police force in some quiet backwater want to have to deal with.

    Better the devil you know………….

  5. William Macpherson was merely a cipher.

    He was called to the Bar in 1953, Derry Irvine, Blair’s mentor, in 1967, Tony Blair in 1976, Blair’s brother, William Blair in 1972, and Charlie Falconer, Blair’s flatmate in 1974.

    All Scotsmen in the small world of the London Bar. Macpherson and his enquiry were just the tools that Blair and Jack Straw, (called to the Bar 1972 ), needed to advance their twin causes, mass immigration and the silencing of any opposition to mass immigration.

    Just look at some timelines. JFK just won the 1960 US election ( after much tampering with the polls ). Realizing that the white working class was moving away from them, the Democrats looked to the black community and new Third World votes to shore them up. Result: the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Hart-Celler Act of 1965 ( Mass Third World Immigration ).

    Wilson, after the “wasted 13 years” of Conservative rule, only just beat the allegedly hapless Douglas-Hume. Again, because the white working class was drifting away. Result : the Race Relations Act of 1965, and the first tranche of mass immigration to Britain. Once again, new voters, and the need to depict any opposition as bad and “racist”. Enoch Powell exiled to South Down.

    Fast forward to 1997, Blair comes to power, but after 18 years of Conservative rule. What does Labour need ? Why, an imported mass of new voters and the need to silence any opposition to mass immigration.

    April 22nd 1993 – Stephen Lawrence murdered; April 23rd 1996 – defendants acquitted in 1st trial; May 1st 1997 – General Election; July 1997 Macpherson report instigated.

    In December 1997, the Crime and Disorder Act is brought in introducing “racial or religious aggravation” as amended; and relying merely on “racism” as perceived by the victim or any other person.

    February 24th 1999, Report published; after 937 years, ‘autrefois acquit’ abolished by the Criminal Justice Act 2003. i.e. the Double Jeopardy rule, which had survived since the Norman Conquest, and is a bedrock of civil rights against a haughty government, abolished without a murmur. It survives in every other English Common Law jurisdiction. except England.

    The mass immigration of the Blair years could then begin in earnest, with any criticism of any immigrant, or any immigrant belief or conduct, from quoting Churchill to posting “Free England” now a matter for arrest.

    The Stephen Lawrence case was cynically used by Blair and his acolytes to move the British electorate firmly and permanently towards a Labour hegemony.

    [ Another time, I’ll tell you about the white man who called his unfaithful West Indian wife a “black bitch” and was areested and prosecuted for it ].

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