Friday, August 19, 2011
Sick British police priorities
Greater Manchester Police have been rightly praised for their robust response to the riots. The courts in the North West are equally resolute in their determination to crack down on disorder.
In Warrington, magistrates had no compunction about sentencing two men to four years in jail for using Facebook to incite a riot.
Needless to say, the severity of some of the sentences has been roundly criticised by the usual conga-line of hand-wringers and ‘criminal justice professionals’. They protest that ministers have put undue pressure on the courts to hand down exemplary jail terms, and insist that sentencing should be left to the discretion of magistrates.
So I wonder what they make of the case of Christopher Heathcote, from Stockport, Greater Manchester, who has just been banned from driving for a year — against the wishes of local magistrates.
In April last year, he made five 999 calls when his cousin’s quad bike was stolen. It took the police 90 minutes to respond, by which time the bike was long gone. The next day, when there was a report that the bike was being driven in fields at nearby Wythenshawe, he set off in hot pursuit.
Spotting a police patrol, he stopped to ask officers for their help. But instead of joining the chase, they breathalysed Mr Heathcote and arrested him when the test showed he was over the drink-drive limit. He admitted he had drunk three pints of lager earlier in the day.
While he was being processed, the thieves made good their getaway. They’ve never been caught, and the bike has not been recovered.
The magistrates were sympathetic and refused to give him a mandatory 12-month driving ban because there were ‘special circumstances’.
The police were not satisfied with the verdict and referred it to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer. A High Court judge subsequently ordered the magistrates to disqualify 26-year-old Mr Heathcote for a year.
This week, the chairman of the bench, Alan Bodgers, reluctantly banned Mr Heathcote, while making it quite clear it was only because the magistrates had been overruled by the DPP and a higher court. He added: ‘You’re only a young man, you’re just starting off, and this is a bad lesson to learn. I’m not happy with the police.’
The ‘bad lesson’ Mr Heathcote will take from this case is one which millions of ordinary citizens have already absorbed. We can’t rely on the police to protect us or our property in normal circumstances, let alone in the event of a riot.
In this case, Mr Heathcote wasn’t even taking the law into his own hands, which the police hate. He had actually stopped to ask the officers for help. His only thought was catching the thieves and recovering his cousin’s stolen quad bike.
Let me say right here that no one is condoning drunk-driving. Mr Heathcote was over the limit, but, as the magistrates appreciated, there were ‘special circumstances’. If local courts are better placed to decide on appropriate sentences for rioters and looters, without political interference, why shouldn’t they also be able to use their discretion in cases like this?
Greater Manchester Police may have deserved the plaudits for their rapid response to the riots. But when it comes to everyday crime, they’re not quite so enthusiastic. A senior officer admitted that their target for responding to non-violent thefts and burglaries is four hours. As a result, every small-time crook in Manchester now knows that if they commit a crime, they will have up to four hours to make their getaway.
It’s not just inner city estates like Broadwater Farm which have been abandoned by the police, it’s city centres and suburbs, too. Not to mention vast swathes of the countryside.
A couple of weeks ago, it was reported that one in three reported crimes in Britain is never investigated. As many as 650,000 crimes, from cycle thefts to violent assaults, are ‘screened out’ because officers think there is no realistic chance of a conviction.
Little wonder, then, that they concentrate on easy collars like Mr Heathcote, a man with a previously unblemished record. Still, no doubt it got them off the streets for the rest of the shift.
If the police had done the job we pay them for, Mr Heathcote would never have climbed behind the wheel.
Why were the DPP and the High Court judge so determined to over-rule the magistrates? Simple: it’s because the criminal justice establishment operates a rigid closed shop. They think they own the law.
The independence of magistrates has been consistently undermined by rigid rules and soft sentencing guidelines imposed by the Guardianistas at the Home Office and the Ministry of Injustice to satisfy their own ‘liberal’ prejudices.
JPs are slaughtered when they reflect the public mood and sentence those who attempt to instigate riots to hard time. Yet they’re also over-ruled when they show justice and compassion, and refuse to impose a mandatory driving ban on a decent man like Christopher Heathcote.
Nothing of substance will change until we are allowed to elect our judges and police chiefs.
To add insult to injury, the insurance company has refused to pay out on Mr Heathcote’s cousin’s £2,000 quad bike because it wasn’t in a garage at the time it was stolen.
As for those poor little toe-rags sentenced to four years for inciting a riot, you can guarantee that they’ll be back on the streets by this time next year, if not sooner.
Before the last election, Call Me Dave promised he would be on the side of those who played by the rules, paid their taxes and tried to do the right thing.
If you’re Christopher Heathcote, or you’ve been burned out of your home and business while the police watched and did nothing, that must seem like a sick joke.
British Christians get more rights -- except if it affects homosexuals
The state equality watchdog yesterday set out a plan for a two-tier law for Christians. It said that Christians should be freed to display their faith by wearing crosses or pinning up Christian symbols at work.
But they should not be allowed to follow religious principles if they clash with gay rights, the Equality and Human Rights Commission said.
The decision means that the equality watchdog will back BA check-in clerk Nadia Eweida, who was banned by the airline from wearing a cross at work.
BA caved in during the row caused five years ago by the ban on Miss Eweida wearing a cross with her uniform, but she is taking her case to the European human rights court in Strasbourg to try to establish a right for Christians to wear symbols of their faith.
The Commission, which is headed by former Labour politician Trevor Phillips, will also give its support at the human rights court to Shirley Chaplin, a nurse removed from the wards at her hospital in Exeter because she refused to stop wearing her crucifix.
However the equality body will oppose any leniency towards Christians who asked to be excused from work which involved helping homosexual couples.
Documents released yesterday show that Mr Phillips’ lawyers will go to Strasbourg to oppose the claims of Lilian Ladele, a registrar in Islington who lost her job after she refused to conduct civil partnership ceremonies, and of Gary McFarlane, a Relate counsellor sacked for refusing to give sex therapy to gay couples.
The double standard for Christianity follows an admission from the Commission last month that British judges have failed to protect religious freedom. All four of the Strasbourg cases are under way because British courts and tribunals found against the rights of Christians.
But Christian groups yesterday accused Mr Phillips of backing down from the Commission’s declaration in July that ‘the way existing human rights and equality law has been interpreted by judges is insufficient to protect freedom of religion or belief.’
The Evangelical Alliance, which represents a million Christians from the evangelical wing of the Church of England and the major nonconformist denominations, said Mr Phillips had been bullied into backtracking by the gay lobby.
Alliance spokesman Don Horrocks said: ‘It seems pretty clear that the Commission has been successfully intimidated against proceeding as they initially announced. They appear to have changed their initial approach as a result of the outcry from those groups who wish to restrict freedom of religion and religious rights of conscience being recognised more fairly by the courts.’
Mr Horrocks added: ‘For many Christians wearing a cross is important, but these situations ought to be relatively easily accommodated by reasonable people on both sides in work related situations. However, being forced to be morally complicit in activities which directly violate people’s religious conscience involves seriously fundamental human rights principles.’
The EHRC is to run a two-week consultation to gather opinions from interested groups before giving final instructions to its lawyers on which line to take when the cases are heard in Strasbourg this autumn.
A spokesman said: ‘There is no change to the question we are asking: have the UK courts properly considered people’s right to manifest their religion?
‘There is a wide range of opinion on this issue and we have had helpful responses to our consultation from a wide range of mainstream religious groups. Our job is not to take sides in political arguments between activist groups, it is to make sure people do not face unjustified discrimination.’
Its consultation document said: ‘The accommodation of rights should not require the rights of one person to cancel out or trump the rights of another.’
Australia: Burqa law to be extended to jails and courts in New South Wales
NEW laws giving police the power to insist Muslim women remove their burqas so they can be identified will be extended to prisons and courts in legislation New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell will take to parliament next week.
Under the laws, police will not be able to forcibly remove a face-covering if the wearer refuses to do so. However, those who do refuse the request will be charged and face $220 fines. For motorists, the penalties will be even greater, with fines of up to $5500 or a year in jail. Refusing to remove a headcovering in a courtroom will carry a $550 fine.
The laws will also apply to helmets as well as to niqabs, masks and burqas according to The Daily Telegraph.
If the subject of a police roadside stop pleads cultural sensitivity as a reason for refusing to remove a head covering, they can ask to go to a police station to remove it.
The Ombudsman will review the laws in 12 months.
Mr O'Farrell will announce the changes to the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act today. Mr O'Farrell said that under the current laws, police could ask someone to provide identification but had virtually no powers to require someone to remove a face covering.
"Under the changes, police will be able to demand the removal of any face covering including a helmet, burqa, niqab, mask or any item of clothing when requiring people to prove their identification," he said.
"There will be strong safeguards to ensure that the new powers are used sensibly. "People will only be required to remove a face covering for as long as it takes to identify them.
"In other words, we want to ensure that identification occurs as quickly as possible and with privacy if the person requests it. At the same time, we are going to give police the powers ... to make a clear identification of those suspected of committing offences."
Can we have some diversity of opinion at Australia's major public broadcasting network?
LAST week's coverage of the London riots by our national broadcaster provides yet more evidence of the deep and damaging divide between mainstream Australians and the so-called intellectual class. The term "so-called intellectual class" is deliberate. Many of its apparently well-educated members are more ideologically blinded than they are intellectually curious.
Take PM, the ABC radio's premier political program. The program was abuzz with talk about the causes of the criminal mayhem, except the causes that fall outside the bounds of respectable Left-liberal orthodoxy.
We are used to being intellectually underwhelmed in Sydney by ABC local radio's Deborah Cameron. Her constant lightweight crusades are just that: they represent the unthinking Left.
Even former ABC chairman Donald McDonald has pointed to Cameron's morning stream of consciousness and asked why can't the ABC do better? Good question. A better question is this: aren't we entitled to expect more from PM, which describes itself as "one of the grand institutions of Australian public broadcasting"?
Sadly, the highbrow program let us down. Early in the week, PM's host Mark Colvin and London-based reporter Rachael Brown kept making comparisons with the race riots in the 1980s.
When it became clear that the riots were not political protests, but instead rampant, opportunistic crime, the program then canvassed every Left-liberal excuse for the shocking violence.
We heard about the hot weather, high unemployment, bad police communications, unfairness, inequality, austerity cuts, culminating in PM interviewing author Will Hutton, who blamed the crime wave on capitalism.
By Friday, not even the ABC could ignore another possible explanation: the poisonous cocktail of welfare dependency, broken schools, the absence of family authority and a vacuum of values that bind communities. Yet, even then, PM's interview with Theodore Dalrymple, a critic of the welfare system, looked like a token effort to placate a broadcasting charter that requires the ABC to present different perspectives. After all, why didn't the ABC's premier political program evince earlier and more genuine curiosity about the riots? Plenty of people have asked questions about the damaging role of welfare.
The journalists at PM could have spoken with Frank Furedi or Brendan O'Neill, to name just a few who have provided thoughtful analysis that challenges leftist sacred cows. If PM didn't want to take its cue from this newspaper, which featured both men, the program could have interviewed many others who reject the so-called progressive orthodoxy of welfare.
The term "so-called progressive" is also deliberate: the London riots have shown that decades of progressive welfare policies have not provided a path to progress for the people who need it most.
Colvin's evening political coverage could have included Katharine Birbalsingh, for example. The former state school teacher made headlines last October after her passionate speech about education to the Conservative Party conference attacking the deep "culture of excuses, of low standards and expecting the very least from our poorest and least disadvantaged".
Colvin's PM program could have explored what turned Birbalsingh from a self-described serious lefty who read Marxism at university and flirted with the Socialist Workers Party into a well-placed critic of a leftist ideology that has long since stopped helping children.
The 37-year-old teacher told the conference that when she tells a child who has caused trouble to repeat "I am responsible for myself, Miss", she is "fighting a generation of thinking that has left our education system in pieces".
From front-line experience, Birbalsingh blames the "well-meaning liberal" for the dumbing down of schools 'that even the children themselves know it", where the children are crying out for structure and discipline (one child pleaded with her: "Miss, I want to be in your class because I hear you're really mean").
In schools and in society, "we need high expectations; we need to instil competition among our kids and help build their motivation". A few days after saying these things, Birbalsingh was asked by her employers to work from home and she has since parted ways with the British state school system.
Perhaps PM will interview Birbalsingh when she comes to Sydney to speak at a Sydney Institute function next month. That they failed to cast Aunty's net of analysis wider during the London riots tells us much about the state of debate on important issues in this country.
This is a debate that requires some genuine curiosity and courage from the broader political class if we are to learn anything from the riots across London.
And there is plenty to learn. Lessons such as what happens when we fail to attribute responsibility to individuals for their actions, when we fail to lay down boundaries for behaviour, when there are too few expectations on people, when generations grow dependent on the state, when they have only a sense of entitlement to handouts rather than a sense of contribution to the community in which they live.
After all, people don't jump up and start demolishing their own community because benefits are cut back.
If the austerity cuts are to blame for the violence, then handing benefits back won't restore the moral values that were absent on the streets of England last week. The mentality that led to the riots was quietly brewing while public expenditure in Britain has skyrocketed for the past few decades.
Instead of using the riots to attack capitalism, we could relearn some basic economic lessons too. As Irving Kristol once said, it's true that a market economy creates inequalities of income and wealth but "there is simply no alternative to 'trickle-down economics' which is just another name for growth economics".
As Kristol said: "The world has yet to see a successful version of 'trickle-up economics', an egalitarian society in which the state ensures the fruits of economic growth are universally and equally shared" because this socialist ideal has never produced the fruits in the first place.
When the state grows bigger and more intrusive, assuming greater control over individuals, the other side of the equation necessarily gets squeezed. Individual freedom, accountability and responsibility for our actions as free agents diminish in equal measure.
Jed Bartlet, the fictional Democrat president on The West Wing, best described the consequences of not taking responsibility when he said: "We come to occupy a moral safe house where everyone's to blame so no one's guilty". In response to his wrongdoing, Bartlet said: "I'm to blame. I was wrong."
When governments and the broader political class, when schools and bureaucracies, and when parents raising children relearn the importance of individual responsibility, then we will see real progress for those who most need it.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.