John Hemming's Web Log John's Reference Website
Sunday, May 15, 2005
  Why Labour are missing the point on Yobbery
On Tuesday 10th May at about 3pm two youths snatched an I-pod off a 15-year old lad on the Coventry Road near the Swan Shopping Centre. He contacted his mother who then drove after the bus towards Sheaf Lane in Sheldon where she confronted the theives. She then chased them down the Coventry Road towards Topps Tiles whilst taking to the police. Three police cars were involved and the two youths (aged 15/16) were arrested. This was not an isolated incident. Four similar incidents had occurred in the same location in the last two weeks.

The Crown Prosecution service decided that they could not prosecute because there was no actual violence. The youths were let off with a caution. It is clear in this instance that there was fear on the part of the victim. Theft from a person is one of the most frightening experiences.

This incident (which is not isolated) gives an example of why it appears that Tony Blair's Government are in power, but unable to actually influence what happens. Tony Blair wants to ban hoodies. There may be locations where people use hoodies and baseball caps to hide and I would not oppose the right of the Bluewater shopping centre to ban people from using such mechanisms of disguise. In the mean time, however, when theives are caught and identified the government has established rules that result in the criminals being let off with a caution. Blair as usual is going for the wrong target. He is bringing in the fashion police rather than enforcing the law.

We as a society have to say that we will not tolerate these sorts of offences. At the moment the message to the criminals is that society does not care if they do this sort of thing.

I will, of course, make this point directly in parliament as soon as I am permitted to do so. (I need to swear in and then make my maiden speech first). If any media people wish the contact details for the mother I can provide them. She is happy to talk to the media.

In the mean time I will write to Tony Blair. I will refer to the above and say:
It is clear that Labour do not understand how to govern this country. You have now been in power for 8 years and serious offences involving intimidation are still happening without the CPS agreeing to prosecute. Rather than change the name of the DTI why not change the name of the CPS to the "Can't prosecute service". That would be more honest.
 
Comments:
What an interesting proposition: "Change the name to Can't Prosecute Service." It would then put Labour in line with the Lib Dem policy, which is actually precisely that; not to prosecute young yobs.... as passed by the Lib Dem Conference in September 2004. Remember to raise that during your parliamentary masterpiece please John.
 
In the 2005 Lib Dem manifesto it said:
"We believe there should be a presumption of imprisonment for anyone who commits violent crime."

A threat of violence is similar to actual violence whether explicit or implicit.
 
Sir,

Based on my experience of living in or near to Birmingham for most of the last 35 years, I must say I'm suprised that the police turned up in time to apprehend the criminals. The few times I've had to call the police (to report thefts or assaults) they have either declined to show up or have appeared hours after the event. Now I just make a report over the phone and get a crime number for the insurance claim.

On the CPS, I understand from friends who work in various parts of the legal profession (CPS, courts, solicitors, legal aid &c) that the CPS has had some quite serious problems in the last decade or so. These have tended to be administrative in nature and centre around information vital to the prosecution not being forwarded on. Frequently documents are lost or delayed, chain of custody for physical evidence is compromised so it becomes inadmissable and cases often have to be dropped or are thrown out due to lack of evidence.

One of my friends has spent much of the last few years (along with her collegues) visiting various CPS offices and helping introduce procedures that should reduce the errors. We must wait and see if this will have any effect.

On a related note I was wondering as to your opinion on the recent demands from the police for more (possibly all) officers to be issued with 'Taser' weapons?
 
Most people would prefer to be zapped with a taser than disabled with a baton (whether friction or otherwise). Tasers, however, are not total solutions.
 
Another example of the Lib Dems talking with two tongues. Their Conference passes a policy at which Home Affairs spokesperson Mark Oaten pronounces one thing and their manifesto says something else. Thereby allowing both Hemming and Oaten to claim the Lib Dems would do both whenever circumstances allow. Easy really, governing without responsibility.
 
Incidentally John... these youths were, according to you, aged 15 and 16. Does that mean you are advocating prison for 15 year olds? Prison works... Michael Howard and John Hemming.
 
Sir,

I believe the most people would prefer to not be zapped by a Taser or beaten with a baton.
 
Bob: The argument I am putting forward is that a caution was not appropriate. What sanction should be used is another issue and also one that needs proper consideration. For people of that age it is clear that some mechanisms which ensure that they modify their behaviour are key.

Stephen: The first question is whether you give the police any non lethal weaponry that they can use to deal with people. IMO the answer is clearly that they should have something. Then the question is what.
 
You're wobbling again John. What you clearly wanted was to be able to prosecute. Otherwise why would you make your 'funny' about the 'Can't Prosecute Service'. As I have pointed out... the Can't Prosecute Service is Lib Dem policy. Please ask your question at PMQ's and we can all have a laugh as Blair gobbles you up and spits you out.
 
Sir,

I agree that the police do need non-lethal weapons, although the Taser barely qualifies from what I have seen/read.

Based on reports from places where Tasers are routinely issued they don't seem to be suitable for general unrestricted issue. Their ease of use, and lack of lasting visible evidence of use (most of the damage is hidden beneath the skin), seems to lead to them being used in situations where such violence is not needed for a suitable resolution. Tasers do seem to attract a culture of zap first and question, if practical, later.
 
>What you clearly wanted was to be able to prosecute.
Yes, but what the sentance should be is a separate issue. It is clear that a caution is insufficient.
 
But the Lib Dem policy would not see them prosecuted but referred to Social bloody services or the education Welfare service.
 
Tasers are a sub-lethal solution to a particular problem. Without them, the police go straight from a disabling irritant spray with not a lot between that and the use of firearms. The police training is to 'shoot to stop' - which means that they aim to hit the torso, with the aim of causing disabling trauma. Unfortunately, given the location of the body's organs, they also risk the probability of fatal injury. Currently, I believe that the Tasers are only being issued to the crews of armed response vehicles, rather than the ordinary officers to give them an alternative where the target is perhaps armed with a knife or similar close-range weapon. The rules governing use are very similar - so your average graffiti artist is no more likely to be Tasered than he was likely to be shot. The Taser is considerably less lethal than either an ordinary firearm or a baton round, so isn't a bad weapon for use in specific circumstances.
 
Bob is exactly right about LD policy on young offenders, but I'm sure that's another one of those little inconveniences that Chat-Show Charlie will be able to finesse away before the next election. I'm sure he'll be able to ditch these policy promises - along with lowering the drinking age to 16, allowing 16 year olds to buy and appear in porn and giving prisoners the vote.

Anyone care to bet how many of John's 'Ten Reasons to Vote Liberal Democrat' will still be valid in four years' time?

By the way, the caution isn't necessarily a let-off - they will have had to formally admit the offence and it will sit on their record.

Just because these two youths stole this iPod from the other lad, doesn't mean that they were involved in the other thefts - we still need some evidence to prosecute on offences. The mother and the victim may feel aggrieved that the thieves weren't sent down for a long stretch in Winson Green, but even if there had been a prosecution, I think it most unlikely that youth custody would have been ordered for these two (based solely on what you've written). The CPS has a duty to decide whether a case has a reasonable chance of obtaining a conviction and it is always dangerous to jump in and blame the CPS without knowing the full facts of the case.

Finally, Blair doesn't want to outlaw hoodies. He was asked at his press conference if he backed Bluewater on their decision to ban them and he does. On that, you and Tony are in complete agreement.

Verbatim text of press conf here:
http://www.downingstreetsays.org/archives/001579.html
 
Politicalhack,

I have no worries about firearms trained officers (even officers who have been rotated out of firearms duty) being issued with Tasers. They go through a great deal of training and councelling to reach that status so are unlikely to act without good reason. What concerns me is that the current demand seems to be that all officers should be issued with them. Reports from those areas with unrestricted issue of Tasers seem to indicate that they are frequently used in situations where a less violent method would be more appropriate.
 
Sir,

According to the BBC Breakfast News there is a suggestion of introducing US style chain gangs in bright orange uniforms for youth offenders. In addition to the punative work performed the visability may add a further aspect of punishment, the youths may be embarrassed and publicly humiliated.

Perhaps this might make a suitable alternative to incarceration in our over-crowded jails?

With any luck the pillory and stocks wil be re-introduced shortly.
 
Stephen's point about Tasers needs evidence to be considered.

Politicalhack brings out the comment about appearing in Porn. The 1978 Childrens Act sets the age at which people appear in porn at 16. It is, therefore, Labour policy for this to happen.

I have quoted from the Lib Dem Manifesto on which I fought the election.

Bob is wrong about what the manifesto says.
 
And I quote from the Liberal Democrat candidate for Hemel Hempstead who announced to the Radio 4 audience that 'there's a difference between policy and what you do in government.'

The crackpot policies may not have appeared in the manifesto, but they are passed by conference and therefore 'Liberal Democrat priorities for UK government' (to quote from the LD website).

Feel free to repudiate any of your party policies, John. Charlie will.
 
What is to stop the victim either mounting a private prosecution or even a civil claim against the alleged offenders?
 
Political Hack is, of course, spot on. The purpose of Lib Dem policy saying one thing and Chat Show Charlie and his team saying something else is to allow them to say one thing to Tories and another thing to inner city areas. Total bloody hypocrisy.
 
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