Friday, October 25, 2013

"Plebgate" and the Ethics of Policing. A Personal Account - when Law and Ethics Fail.

"Plebgate" is a peculiar UK controversy which has escalated out of all proportion... and for good reason! The initial cause was the allegation that a UK government minister, Andrew Mitchell MP, called officers in the Downing Street security cordon "plebs", the resulting publicity made it inevitable that the minister resigned his post. ("Pleb" is considered a patronising insult in the UK, while to call someone, its antonym, a "toff" for some reason passes without notice; but such is the reverse snobbery of public discourse in the UK).

As it turns out the Security TV footage does not accord with the police account and subsequent police inquiries have been fraught with mendacious self serving commentary. It turns out that Andrew Mitchell may be the victim of a police "fit up"!

Internet trolls have made the point that the ongoing inquiries and the cost incurred are merely the product of MPs seeking to protect their own but I believe these people miss the point entirely. If the police can "fit up" a government minister then how can any of us feel safe?

Regardless of the cost this incident needs to be investigated and if the police officers are found culpable they should be prosecuted. This particular incident comes on the back of the Hillsborough Inquiry, the mistaken shooting of Charles de Menezes in 2005, the police assault on, and subsequent death of, Ian Tomlinson etc etc etc. The fact is few police officers are ever called to account, the worst sanction often being that they resign on a full pension.

My opinions of the police were first formed a long time before any of these particular incidents. When I left school in 1976, aged 19, my first job was as a 'legal executive' in the criminal litigation department of a firm of solicitors in Bradford in the north of England. Over the course of the four years that I worked there preparing defence cases for hearing in the Crown Court (UK's superior criminal court) I moved from the naive opinion of 'if you can't trust the police who can you trust?' to one of deep scepticism. My role was to interview defence witnesses, brief the defending barrister and attend court as a note taker and adviser.

During my time at TI Clough & Co, solicitors, Market Street, Bradford, there were several cases where I was convinced the defendants had been "fitted up" by the police and in all of them, Thank God, they were acquitted. They were many less clear cut cases where the defendant was probably guilty and yet one suspected that the evidence produced by the police was concocted. Policing was then, and for all I know still is, about identifying a suspect and then finding the evidence to convict them. Let me explain why this procedure is flawed.

I had a case where a woman was being prosecuted for a serious assault on her infant. Her partner said she had done it and she herself had confessed to it. It seemed an open and shut case on the 'get the suspect and then collate the evidence'. But I sensed she was lying to protect her partner. The case came to trial at the Crown Court and fortunately the barrister felt as I did. Professionally speaking what we did next was totally unethical - even though we had been clearly instructed by our own client that she wanted to plead guilty, we cajoled her into making a 'Not Guilty' plea! As the trial unfolded we picked holes in the police case and we ignored her subsequent instructions that she wanted to plead guilty. We suspected her partner was continuing to pressurise her, but we fobbed off her instructions. The barrister spoke to me privately, "you do realise what we are doing is unethical?" I wish I had made some sort of noble comment at this point but I think I just laughed, "yeah, right!".

Our defendant, and the infant who was assaulted, were ill served by the police and the law; it is not cynical to say that the law is not the same as justice. It leaves me cold when I hear smug pundits in the media who seem to believe that the law provides Mankind with adequate notions of right and wrong, and put their trust in legal procedure. Humanists have misplaced faith in the fundamental goodness of Mankind. Human institutions are fallible and it is foolish to trust them so implicitly. I agree with King David who said, 'let us fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men!'

Realising that we could never get our client to give evidence in her own defence we set about destroying the police case before it ever got to that stage. And Thank God, by the end of the prosecution evidence we persuaded the judge to throw the case out! We got her off. Of course, having backed the wrong horse, the police could not now get a conviction on the real culprit. The leading police officer even asked our advice on the issue - I wasn't overly impressed by his intelligence I have to say.

The lesson of all this; there is much talk in the media about 'transparency' and 'ethics' in public life generally not just with regard to policing, but it seems to me that "transparency" is not a substitute for trust and "ethics" are no substitute for righteousness.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Ryan Anderson debates gay marriage with Piers Morgan

I had never heard of Ryan Anderson before but he stands up well to hostile cross examination by Piers Morgan and guests. Clearly set up for a fall he more than holds his own and despite being goaded remains courteous throughout. Well done!

Monday, April 15, 2013

St Helen's Bishopsgate - Resources - ST HELEN'S TRAINING

St Helen's Bishopsgate - Resources - ST HELEN'S TRAINING

St Helen's pioneered the use of "RML" (Read Mark Learn) and I really benefitted from joining a Bible study group looking at the Gospel of Mark in the early 1990's. It is great to see some of the content being made more widely available, especially in equipping Bible study leaders to handle the Word of God more skilfully.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Day I Realised I Wasn't a Catholic!

I was raised in a Catholic family and attended RC schools until I was 18. Three of my Grandparents were Irish who moved to Bradford in the north of England before WW1, but I never knew them because they had all died before I was born. So to say that I come from an Irish Catholic family is a bit of a stretch because we had no links with the old country, and if asked I would have said I was from Yorkshire. In fact the only Grandparent I did know was a true Yorkshireman. Bradford was a boom town in the 19th Century and attracted Irish people looking for work. My Irish Grandfather, Patrick, had several brothers who emigrated to the USA. Bradford obviously had its attractions, with a sizeable population of Irish descent, even having its own soccer team, Bradford Park Avenue with its Celtic-like strip. Bradford City Football Club being its protestant counterpart.

If my ties to Ireland were tenuous my connection to the RC church was little better - I did the stuff required by the Catholic school system but had no personal attachment or sense of belonging. At primary school it was expected that all the lads would serve as altar boys in the parish church on a Sunday. I refused point blank, not that I was making any courageous sort of 'statement' by it, I just felt it looked daft! I gathered later that the Head-Sister (we were taught by nuns) spoke to my parents about this; 'doesn't he realise what an honour it is?!' In fairness to my parents, who were regular church-goers, they never pressed the issue and when I was 13 they allowed me to decide if I still wanted to go to church. I did not.

Despite going through a 'raving atheist' phase in my teens, in one respect being Catholic did remain with me. In the late 1960's when I was 10 or 11 years old 'The Troubles' started in Northern Ireland and I vividly recall the parish priest coming to our house and speaking to my mother about the possibility of the violence spilling over to the UK mainland. My mother was in genuine fear and even though I didn't understand all that was said, being of a sensitive nature too I registered that sense of foreboding. Occasionally school would finish early and I recall that we would be told to go home directly when rumours circulated that gangs were planning to target Catholic kids - often in response to some IRA bomb outrage. Looking back now it may seem far-fetched that 'The Troubles' should affect us but the fear was genuine enough at the time, even if it never came to anything.

When I was 17 I started attending an Evangelical church and it grieved me that some people I knew felt a sense of betrayal far more acutely then than when I had ceased to attend Mass.

Later when I left school, in 1976, my first job was working in the Criminal Litigation department of a firm of solicitors in Bradford. The senior partner was an amiable gent called Desmond Joyce who, as this story will go on to relate, was a pillar of the Irish Catholic community, a point I had completely failed to register. One day I took a phone call for Mr Joyce from his golf partner arranging a game, I wrote down his name phonetically having asked him to repeat it a couple of times. Later I passed on the message to the Senior Partner, 'an Italian bloke called for you' I said. He looked mystified, slowly I read out the name, 'a Signor Roncelli'. Mr Joyce looked at me in despair, 'that should be Monsignor Ron Kelly, stupid boy!'
That was the day I realised that I really wasn't a Catholic!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

"The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood.

As soon as I started reading this it immediately reminded me of an earlier novel by Robert Heinlein called "Revolt 2100", the basic plot is the same; a theocratic regime takes over the USA. Even some of the key characters such as "The Commander" in THT is similar to "The Prophet" in R2100, "The Handmaid" in THT has a similar role the "The Virgin" in R2100 (it is a purely honorific title of course!) Neither story is great literature but "The Handmaid's Tale" has been praised out of all proportion to its merit. I can only think that this is because it is ideologically 'right on'. Personally I found the plot implausible, but that may reflect the author's paranoid worldview. By all accounts this was written as a serious warning about the threat Christian Fundamentalism poses to democracy; which has to be either paranoia or a cynical attempt to use fear to manipulate the reader. What is certain is that no Christian I know of would feel comfortable with the Republic of Gilead and its activities. I don't think the plot has been well thought through, there are several internal contradictions - a puritanical regime forcing someone to work in a brothel? It doesn't sound likely. The book is a bit of a blunt instrument if it is genuinely meant to make a serious point. But then again I don't believe the polemic is aimed at anyone with a background knowledge of the Bible - it is aimed to confirm the prejudices of the ignorant.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Jimmy Savile and The Misogyny of Liberalism.

There was an editorial in the UK news magazine "The Week", 13th October 2012, by Caroline Law which I have reproduced below. The title above this post is my own interpretation of her comments...

"It was different back then. That's one of the explanations given for how Jimmy Savile got away with molesting girls for so long. Savile, who prowled the corridors of schools and hospitals in search of victims, appears to have been far more calculated in his predations than most. But it is undeniable that many pop stars and DJs routinely exploited young female fans in the 1960s and 1970s. Some even paraded underage girlfriends, yet were not prosecuted. (Jailed for seven years in 2001, Jonathan King was a rare exception; but then he molested teenage boys).
This is often put down to the casual misogyny of the time, but it was more than that. In the era of free love, parents worried, as they do now, about 'dirty old men', but there was also a feeling in the air that sex was something that everyone should enjoy, children included. So much so, there was even an activist group called the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE). From 1974 to 1984, PIE openly campaigned for greater acceptance of paedophilia, lobbied for the abolition of the age of consent, and helped paedophiles make contact with one another. And it had influential friends. No less a group than The National Council for Civil Liberties, now called Liberty and then run by future Labour minister Patricia Hewitt, was affiliated to PIE. Consenting sex between adults and children was harmless they argued, and shouldn't be illegal. Perhaps that's how BBC bosses rationalised away the rumours about Savile. They were in respectable company."