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  • Alastair Cavendish

Unfair Cops

Having been in China for almost a month, this is the worst thing I have seen so far. A man who was protesting peacefully in the street was grabbed from behind by police, knocked to the ground, and dragged away for questioning. You might have seen the same thing, now that I come to think of it, since I did not witness this in the streets of any Chinese city, but on British news footage from Edinburgh. The man in question shouted at Andrew Windsor, calling him a sick old man, and it is easy to see why some people might think he ought not to have done this. Windsor was in a funeral procession at the time, walking behind the coffin of the late Queen. He has not been convicted of any crime in any court, except the fickle court of public opinion. He is entitled, like anyone else, to be regarded as innocent until proven guilty.

On the other hand, the incident took place in the public street, not at a funeral. To say that a man should be free to mourn his mother is not to allow that he should do so in public, and take part in national ceremonial events. Windsor may or may not be a criminal, but he is demonstrably a liar, a fool and a cynic who cares for no one but himself, and does not object to sex-traffickers as long as they have palatial homes. He submitted himself to the court of public opinion and has assiduously avoided any more rigorous legal process. This does not mean that he should be clapped in irons, but neither should those who express their justified contempt for him in public.

The policing of protest following the accession of Charles III has been thuggish, sinister, Orwellian and Kafkaesque. It is as stale and obvious to refer to Orwellian policing as it is to call a prison Dickensian but, as Christopher Hitchens observed, they make you do it. How else would you describe a situation in which a man standing in Parliament Square holding up a blank piece of paper is threatened with arrest for the way in which someone might react to something he might decide to write on it? Paul Powlesland, a barrister at Garden Court Chambers, conducted this experiment. Despite being a veteran of many environmental protests, Mr. Powlesland decided not to write anything on his paper, as he had to represent a client in court the following day, and could not afford to be in gaol. This fact alone is chilling enough. When he held up the blank sheet of paper, he was promptly accosted by a police officer, who threatened him with arrest if he wrote anything on the paper which might offend someone. The officer then began to play croquet with a flamingo, or he might as well have, since Lewis Carroll seems almost as relevant as George Orwell at this point.

The killing of George Floyd in May 2020 led to movements in the United States, and soon afterwards in Britain, to defund or abolish the police. It was not always quite clear what these demands meant in practice. The word “abolish” seems clear enough, but when proponents of the abolition movement began to speak, the concept misted over like a car windscreen on a cold day. Nonetheless, minds were concentrated on what the police do and whether it needs doing. Are they really a necessity, like cellphones and broadband, or merely a not very decorative luxury, like garden gnomes and statues of slave traders?

Sir Robert Peel’s notion that the law might be upheld and the weak protected by a dedicated band of citizens in uniform now seems painfully old-fashioned. The police do little to prevent crime (the notion of an officer walking his beat went out with Dixon of Dock Green) and even less to solve it. Fewer than 8% of recorded offences result in a charge, let alone a conviction. Does anyone who is mugged or whose house is burgled really expect the police to solve the crime, or make the slightest effort to do so? They are bureaucrats, who sit at their desks until you call them, then, finding they cannot unburgle you, give out a number for you to write on your insurance form..

By failing to do the job for which they were recruited, the police have effectively demonstrated that we do not need them. If you thought society needed a band of dedicated crime-fighters, you were wrong, since the police have not been fighting crime, and here we all are. What they have been doing, if anything, is creating crime, or quasi-crime, such as the notorious “non-crime hate incidents”, to which the College of Policing appears to be addicted, whatever the Court of Appeal may say. The category of “hate crime” is itself an abomination in a free society, a point which immediately becomes clear when you call it what it really is, which is “thought-crime”. It is not the task of the police to act as amateur psychologists, attempting to guess the motive behind a crime or the mental landscape of the criminal. The only possible use for such nonsense is to tell any officer investigating a crime against you that you believe it was motivated by hostility to your race, sex, sexuality, disability, religion, or some other protected characteristic: “I’m a Melanesian Frog-Worshipper, officer, and that’s why they stole my laptop…” This is the only way in which you might instigate even the most lackadaisical of investigations.

It is nasty and sinister to have a police force that spends its time in the investigation of thought-crime, but this is not the worst way in which the police create crime. The British equivalent of the George Floyd debacle, and an event that ought to have sparked just as much outrage, was the rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Metropolitan police officer. This horrifying incident was exacerbated by the tone-deaf response of the police, violently breaking up a vigil for the murdered woman, and helpfully telling women who felt threatened that they could flag down a bus if they needed help.

Even worse than the aftermath, however, is what went before. Imagine that in 2019 or 2018 a police officer had stopped Ms. Everard and told her that she was breaking the law by walking down a street in South London. She would have laughed in his face, or taken to her heels, or both. At any rate, she would not have allowed herself to be arrested. The arrest, the rape, and the murder happened because the police and the government had spent the previous year creating a climate of fear, in which it was possible to believe that walking home was a crime punishable by law. Thus, by the same fiat, Ms. Everard’s innocent action was decreed a crime, and the monstrous evil of Wayne Couzens was eased and enabled.

There are not many people like Wayne Couzens in the police, or in any other profession. The primary problem is not that this one man was a menace to society, it is that the organisation for which he worked, one which professes to uphold the law, allowed him, over a period of at least six years, to abuse women to an extent and with a level of impunity that is frankly astonishing. The police made the streets less safe for Sarah Everard, even as they protected the party-goers in Downing Street. They then used unconscionable violence against the women who gathered to mourn Ms. Everard’s death. Their harassment of peaceful protesters expressing republican opinions over the last week has been a similarly unedifying spectacle. We do not need to be protected from keyboard warriors and blank placards, and the police in their current form are no earthly use to anyone. If, however, some enterprising Home Secretary wants to establish a band of men and women to uphold the law by preventing and detecting crime, this would be an excellent idea. From what I have seen of Cruella Braverman, I shall not be holding my breath.

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