Wednesday, 31 March 2010

She may very well pass for forty three (In the dusk, with the light behind her) *

Today's papers and news bulletins from other media are all making much mention of the radical case of the not guilty... not guilty...not guilty....Guilty verdict of the presumably soon-to-be-known-as "The Thiefrow Four". The arguments this will bring forth will be a fascinating peep into not only the principles of the non-jury trial concept, but of the hearts and minds of this nation - well those who actually have hearts and minds, that is. As one commenter in the above linked `Times` article stated somewhat sarcastically, "What struck me reading this article is that the estimated cost – and no doubt in the end it was a lot more – of a trial to convict four men of stealing £1.75 million was £1.6 million. I’m sorry to make a cheap point but which ones are the robbers? As someone who started his police career in 1971 in London, I was soon to find myself in the higher courts giving evidence on behalf of the Crown. One case, at what used to be known as The Inner London Quarter Sessions, was particularly memorable for me. The defence barrister, who eventually became quite famous, did an excellent job of portraying me as, amongst other things, `forgetful`, `mistaken`, `short sighted` (I actually wasn't, then), `dishonest` and `corrupt`. This, as any seasoned plod reading this (and who has managed to get some Crown Court time in) will recognise, as simply par for the course. After this trial, where the guilty man was acquitted (which of course makes him not guilty in everyone's book - except mine) this charming barrister came up to me outside the court, put his arm around my shoulder and told me that I had done an excellent job, that he felt I would be a worthy opponent in a future trial and would have to `watch out for me` and finally, not to take what he said personally because `it was all part of the game`. After many more jury trial appearances in my career, I formed the firm belief (I almost said `conviction` then) that if I ever found myself in real trouble and facing criminal charges, I would always elect for a jury trial if I possibly could. This wasn't because I believed in the principle of being tried by my "twelve good men and true"...but because I considered that it was ultimately my very best chance of acquittal - especially if I happened to be guilty. I have studied the law both academically and practically, albeit the latter merely as a police officer, and this still remains my firm belief. I have also studied the justice system in The Netherlands, a very liberal democracy, and there is no such thing as a jury trial there, although this is occasionally the subject of vigorous debate. I think the answers lay somewhere in between the two and would cite the case of Clive Ponting as a prime example where the jury system can send a clear message of discontent from an otherwise powerless public, although one could argue that this was more about aspects of the Official Secrets Act and decisions of Government than it was about the pure facts of whether he was really guilty or not, in the pure legal sense. This is particularly poignant in the light of the current enquiry into how we were committed to war in The Gulf. As for me, give me `twelve good men or women and true` or a mixture of both sexes - but only if I'm guilty. As for having to face a tribunal of canny and experienced legal experts, I wouldn't feel so confident. * From Gilbert and Sullivan's "Trial by Jury"

Friday, 19 March 2010

Bear in the air

I understand that some police forces are starting trials with unmanned aerial `drones` like the military use in Iraq and Afghanistan. These can be `piloted` from a control room many, sometimes thousands, of miles from the scene under observation. I have found a good example of how these can be of tremendous use to those `on the ground`. I can think of a few times I wish I could have called in one of these. I wonder if they can drop "Policing Pledge" leaflets?

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

INTERLUDE: Something for all you Health & Safety freaks

Where's the `road closed` signs and an eagle-eyed PCSO directing traffic when you need one....Whats that? Its a fake? What's fake?

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Yes, I do believe it's Spring

Yesterday evening, 5.35pm to be precise, I thought I heard it as I was walking across open fields with the Jack Rascal Terrorist, out on his final rampage of the day. Light was starting to fade. I heard it again, above the howling North wind that had frozen my cheeks and made my nose drip. As I tramped across the rough grass the sound got louder. Then it seemed to be right above me, blasting away lungfuls of uncontrolled joy. Singing for all it's tiny might. The birdsong equivalent of a Van Halen guitar riff. I gazed up and searched for it, focussing on the sound and then tracking upwind because those near gale force gusts were carrying the notes southwards. There it was, fluttering, hovering, dipping and jinking in the gale. A lone Skylark. I could hardly believe it. If there's one sure fire indicator that Spring is kicking its way through Winter's drafty door, its a Skylark. Oh joy. Now I really will gunk off the ACF 50 from both bikes. I may even remove the duvet lining from my riding trousers and dust off the leathers Oo-er :-/ Then it did its classic landing. Dipping down in short swoops, 20 feet at a time, hovering, jinking, scanning the ground for its selected site. Three more swooping dips and it was down and gone, vanished from sight, no more sound. Before too long, farmers ploughing plans permitting, there will be a nest amongst the tussocks, crudely scraped out, nothing fancy. Then, when the eggs hatch its returns to earth will be with a beak full of insects for the chicks. It will be a sneaky, tactical landing many yards away from the destination with the final part of the journey made overland, hopping through the cover of the grass so as not to give away the true location of its precious nest. "They think I'm there, but I'm really here". Sniper tactics from natures little bringer of joy.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Just when you need a change in the law, nothing happens fast.

We are selling our house and moving on. We have no idea where to....really, no idea. I guess that in itself is a bit of an adventure and we should consider ourselves lucky that we have such a choice, so no complaints on that front. But, along with tens of thousands of other home owning folks, we are once again faced with the daunting prospect of putting ourselves and our sanity at the mercy of what is arguably one of ther most unhelpful and obstructive house buying and selling systems you can find. We are considering moving to Canada, although that is by no means a forgone conclusion, despite my prized possession of a Canadian passport. Nevertheless, having been dealing with a Canadian house buying system for some time, we find ours in England all the more exasperating. For the benefit of any British folks reading this, I'll explain a little of how they do it over there. When you set about finding a house to buy, you can either walk into a real estate agent and ask them to do it, or you can surf the numerous agents websites or to cover both you can scan MLS yourself on the internet. It is a national database whereby, theoretically, an agent in Ontario can find you a house in British Columbia, thousands of miles away. Unlike its English equivalent, the Canadian estate agent will set about trying to find you a home to buy, whereas a British estate agent will only sell you a property on with their agency. This means you either have to trawl your way around numerous agents or surf on one of the estate agency search engines like `Right Move`, knowing that it doesn't cover everything and, like the estate agents shops, you have to traipse through lots of them to cover all bases. But my main point is that a British estate agent will only sell you one of their properties, the onus being very much on the buyer to go and find it themselves. If you choose to approach a Canadian estate agent they will show you any home that takes your fancy, regardless of which agency is handling the seller. This `one stop shop` system saves an awful lot of shoe leather and mind numbing visits to mind numbing estate agencies. So your agent will draw up a list of properties that allegedly match your criteria and, regardless of who they are listed with, your chosen agent will arrange the viewing, accompany you to the property and show you round. They even have a system whereby the seller can opt to have a `lockbox`, a sort of hefty padlock, secured to the house and containing a digital safe` wherein you place a house key to allow the agent to get in when the owner is out. All the agent has to do is leave a calling card to inform the seller that a visit has taken place. I don't think that would go down too well in the UK, unless you had Securicor guarding your lockbox 24/7. So you find your dream home. Your agent will immdeiately draw up the contract with any `subject to` clauses eg subject to a) a survey b) permission to build a garage/extension/pool or any other clause you wish to insert in the contract. This is then run past a lawyer and put to the sellers. When both agree to the terms, both parties sign and contracts are `exchanged` right at the beginning of the process. Unless a `subject to` clause flags up, both parties are committed to the deal or will forfeit a big deposit if either reneges on the contract. No guzump, no gazunder, no pulling out at the last minute to pressurize a seller to drop the price or a buyer to up the offer - Oh joy! And to cap it all, if your agent finds you a home that doesn't happen to be one of theirs, they simply split the fee with the other agent. For anyone unfamiliar with the ENGLISH system (Scotland do it about right - Sorry, Conan!), contracts of purchase/sale are drawn up by both parties solicitors. Buyers will typically have to have a variety of surveys ranging from pure valuation (compulsory for the mortgage lender) to full structural, with prices to match. The whole shebang can cost from £9,000 and thats before the selling agents fee. And THEN either party can walk away from the deal right up to the point where contracts are finally `exchanged` which is the point of no return. So that dream home you've set your hearts on and paid out several thousand for already, can still amount to nothing at the whim of either party - even something as simple as `I've changed my mind` or in our case 3 years ago, the seller suddenly withdrawing from the deal 2 weeks before we were due to move in, because her ex suddenly decided he wanted a bigger cut of the equity - and she'd never mentioned him to our solicitor throughout the entire process. This resulted in us having to either let the sale of our home fall through and start looking all over again or, as we did, go ahead with our sale and then find somewhere to rent in the area we were moving to. Not easy when you live 300 miles from your new place of work and only have 2 weekends in which to do it. You become homicidal! What got me onto this was something I read on a police blog about the miriad of legislation this labour government has generated and thrust onto us, contributing little towards making the lives of ratepaying, home owning citizens the least bit easier. Everything they loaded onto the statute books seemed, to me, to involve some sort of additional tax (usually stealthy), ten reams of administration and no visible change for the better. When something is crying out for change, no one is there to champion the cause.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Entirely my own fault - Bollocks!

And I was hoping the winter was on its way out. Yesterday at 9am I made the most basic of errors and turned down a sideroad short cut to avoid some traffic lights. As I got to the bottom of this road the surface suddenly took on the appearance of the downhill ski section of Cypress Mountain, Whistler. A light kiss of back brake - ABS kicks in, max chat - just the time you probably don't want it, along with the 1:7 hill. The ice was not patchy, there were no patches, there was, however, zero grip - lots of it.
I glided slowly into the thankfully empty, quiet suburban T junction, having made the decision to come to a halt, after my gentle right turn (there was a parked car dead ahead), and re-assess continued travel. I turned right as intended, straightend up and selected my landing site, just ahead of another parked car. But the road was now the fully monty bobsled run and what appeared to be slushy snow, was solid ice. At what was no more than a brisk walking pace, the back wheel drifted gracefully left, aided by the camber, whilst I applied more and more oppo lock until the bars were full left on the stops. I really wanted more. In my youth I'd seen Ivan Mauger do this stuff at 70mph using one hand, but those nice BMW guys in Bavaria hadn't allowed me more lock and my tyres were fresh out of spikes. I was bolt upright, sliding ever so slowly sideways down the road, almost broadside. I even had time to confirm that the clutch was in and I wasn't standing on any brakes. Then it just tipped over onto its left side, with yours truly plonking down next to it - no slide, just plonk.
I get up as a lady in a VW stops 25 yds behind me. She gets out looking worried and asks if I'm alright, before her legs go from underneath her (ice again, not a faint) and I end up helping her up. "Do you need a hand picking up your bike"? "That would be nice madam, but it weighs about 600lbs and there's no room for you to grab anything, so just be patient and I'll soon have it out of your way". I assumed the GS lift position, check back is straight, tense core muscles (I do pilates you know), head up and wind on the collective pitch and up she slowly came, engine still running quietly. Lady driver gave me a very nervous wave and then slapped her left hand back to the steering wheel as she slid off to find a dry road, knuckles white and eyes fixed dead ahead in petrified stare. Quick check revealed nothing, nix, zip, zero damage. Just some gouges out of the paint on the engine crash bars, a bent screen strut and a loosened handlebar mirror. For some reason those scrapes reminded me of a `Hitlergramme` from Spike Milligans's hilarious book, "Rommel, His Part in My Victory" when Spike reminds Hitler that he started the war because he `kicked the shit out of The Poles`. Hitler replied, "Everybody kicks zer shit out of zer Poles. Zat iss vy zey are zere".
I rode off, feet down, bolt upright and turned out of the frozen waste that was Manor Road and went home. The bars were painted up with Hammerite smooth within the hour and the screen strut was hammered straight and re-fitted before the paint was dry. My fault entirely. I wanted to avoid a traffic queue and took my well known shortcut but didn't do what, hitherto this winter, I've always done i.e. keep to the mains `cos the minors fend for themselves. A couple of aches in the shoulders and hips this morning but hey, I'm of an age where it hurts just a little longer, but my trusty Hein Gericke kit bore nothing more than a grey, watery muddy patch. Hey ho. Onward and upright. As my hero, the great Mike Hailwood once allegedly said, "The three golden rules of riding a motorcycle are 1. Always know your limitations. 2. Everybody falls off. 3. Everybody falls off". Today is a beautiful day. I may fire up the Harley.