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"


JuliaM said...

That 'Times' commenter was on the right track...

Was good to see that the G20 cop was acquitted, though I wonder if a jury would have done the same?

Blue Eyes said...

Why did you have to go and do an interesting post just as I was going to spend the evening actively avoiding the internet?

Back later with my thoughts.

sparkflash said...

Perhaps I'm being overly simplistic (it wouldn't be the first time) but I always felt it would keep both sides of the argument happy, if in cases where it's felt that the general public simply don't have the knowledge or experience to preside over, they could call their random twelve from a not-so-random list of experts in whatever field was required.

Stressed Out Cop said...

I agree - I've seen many a charmer smooze the jury and walk whilst I've been left scratching my head, looking at the overwhelming evidence.

Who was up and coming ? Was it Mansfield?

Hogday said...

JuliaM: Maybe, maybe not, for similar reasons to why the Ponting jury acquitted him in the face of clear evidence and a Judge's powerful summing up. I guess it would then all depend on how the jury was selected, challenged and tweeked by the defence and how many YouTube `trials by mobile phone cam` and spin they'd assimilated.

sparkflash: K I S S is a good place to start. Sometimes you can even end up with "twelve good pillocks and true".

SoC: See the link. Although I would point out that I have no affiliation to that particular website, which I found when i Googled his name. I'd no idea that he'd passed over, either. He was an arse-kicker alright.

Area Trace No Search said...

I've often whether the concept of professional jurors would work in this country?

Your thoughts?

Hogday said...

What, like professional politicians, you mean? - Sorry Area, just a pub comment! I'll have a think on that one..

Blue Eyes said...

Hogs - far worse than that!!!! Politicians don't have to decide on anything!!!! Nononononononononono.

Anonymous said...

Very acute post Hog - much better than the rants over on Gadget. I doubt I would have voted guilty on a jury on Smellie, though I don't like what he did. I would defo have found Ponting not guilty, even though he clearly committed the offence. Been on a couple of juries and found them awful.
The issues are complex and need more reflection like this. Our system is archaic and in need of reform.

Anonymous said...

Ponting was acquitted, Sarah Tisdale was not. Same issues, different set of 12 people good and true.
Did some time with the SPG (the pride, integrity and guts tie) and wondered how the Met cope with crime at all given the pace of work there, even in comparison with a busy provincial section like Bootle Street.
We need the deep questions about how bent our society has become and some kind of new enlightenment.
There is a problem with police attitudes, but much of the criticism is equally idiot and smug. The analysis needs to start in wider society, but god save us from those who want answers based on 'lovely human nature' or triumphal democratic, liberal capitalism. These 'abstracts' are non-starters.

Anonymous said...

One answer would be to speed up investigations through the use of new case investigation and presentation systems, with professional magistrates not drawn from the legal profession. Even making local policing more community engaged and drawn from the communities might help.
Repeatedly letting the scrotes back into the communities they harm is clearly not good practice.
I'd go for a complex notion of national service and a new understanding of public scrutiny involving some disestablishment of professions (they are too costly in current form and too good at self-protection).

Hogday said...

Area: I lost my beliefs in the common or garden jury the more cases I found myself acting in, at Crown Court. I need to dig out some of my old notes before doing your short but incisive question (usually the best sort) justice - oo, a pun. My thoughts are scattered at the moment but my gut reaction is firm, that it had its day when the apprehension, pomp and circumstance of the quarterly arrival of the Judges in a town, faded away - and that was a long time ago.

Blue: In my little local gov't job I'm seeing a lot of professional politicking at close quarters, PPC's at it, full-on etc., alongside the council amateurs who are the majority and it's making me squirm.

Allcopped: I nipped over for a read after your 1st comment. Yes, it was a bit `Daily Mail` wasn't it? Agree re Smellie's acquittal too. I have also done some unpleasant things I felt were necessary at the time, but with the benefit of hindsight fuelled by a few beers on the sofa rather than adrenaline on the street, had much cause to re-appraise.

I will need a little more thinking time re your further comments, but feel free to keep em coming. You may well have served with a couple of old buddies of mine, esp if you were at Cally Road. I noticed recently that the TSG were given the adj. of `controversial` by a broadsheet journo. "Controversial"? Judas H Priest, they'll be calling for it to be disbanded next. Nothing like the power of a job with a newspaper to give some pencil-neck his monthly erection. Hang on a minute, SPG/TSG/Controversial, haven't we heard this all before, in a galaxy far, far away?

As for professional magistrates and an investigation to fit the crime, absolutely. There was nothing so fresh as an officer in the case being able to show his black eye to the Magistrate withing 24 hours of receiving the blow. As for making policing more community engaged, I wrote an article in "Police" nearly 20 yrs ago arguing this very point, in the face of ACPO's rush in totally the opposite direction. I seem to recall reaching for Charlton Heston's words, uttered from the beach in the final scene of Planet of the Apes - `Damn them all to hell`.

And your last point about certain professions being `too good at self-protection` has a resonance with that barrister I mentioned in my post. The link to his obit., albeit on a `controversial` website, showed him as a person who would have probably wholeheartedly agreed with you.

Anonymous said...

Caledonian Road would have been about 75 for me - not for long. Made a mistake trying to order my food in the canteen verbally and was amazed at the racism. I couldn't get more than 100 yards from that Nick without having to lift someone or eat a curry.
One of my old mates used to wonder why cops were supposed to be so different from the rest of the population seeing that we are drawn from the same pool. This is often forgotten in 'both directions'.

All our public institutions are in need of independent review and more honesty, but the big block is that the public themselves are often naive, prejudiced, ill-informed and incapable of weighing evidence - many only get information from fiction and gossip (including many of our professionals). My experience as an academic is that most enquiry would lead to the truth if practical barriers didn't keep us away from the real evidence. We end up speculating and in rat-shit philosophy and 'big-wording' as a result - which is just where the spin-doctor Sophists want the ground to lie.

Hogday said...

Allcopped. My mate `Animal` was sacked about that time. An unfortunate off duty altercation with a German tourist. 1-0, but the ref decided it was foul play and Animal walked off into the sunset, minus his job.

LoL @ your canteen order. One of my early posts was about AD canteen. I think I deleted it, anyway I'll paste it back here just for you, as you get an honourable mention:
In the early seventies the Cannon Row police station canteen staff was mainly of African or Caribbean origin. Janet was larger than life, in all aspects, and was from Jamaica. She was a bit of a sport and was always chatting and joking in a salacious and flirty manner, frequently encouraging the guys to peek down her cavernous cleavage. She was a jolly soul, always laughing and often slipping into Caribbean patois, the like of which I’d never heard before but which I found hilarious. Another lady member of the canteen staff was from an African country and was the complete opposite. She had these little horizontal scars on her cheeks, which someone told me were tribal markings of some sort. She clearly did not like Janet any more that she liked us. I was 19 and had never met anyone from their respective ethnic backgrounds before and realised how steep my learning curve was. Always up for a challenge, Janet would begin by winding up her audience with risqué banter that would often culminate in a full flash of her huge Jamaican Melons! The more experienced officers knew just how to steer the banter in order to `get a result`. I was only witness to this spectacle the once and I can honestly say, in my naivety, I was almost speechless at the sight. I quickly decided never to be caught alone with Janet, even with a hot counter between us.

One evening during a late turn, a few mates and I were grabbing a quick meal break when the canteen was suddenly invaded by a Transit vanload of Special Patrol Group (SPG) on a break from bustle puncher patrol*. This particular crowd bowled into the canteen and ordered up their grub with the bulk of them quickly settling down to a game of dominos. In today’s police service this would probably be deemed `stress-relieving displacement activity`, but then it was just called `dominos` - how quaint! One of them, still at the counter ordering his food, spoke to Janet who suddenly became unusually coy and retreated into the kitchen. This PC then turned to a local officer and asked how long she’d worked there because he had cautioned her the previous month for soliciting in Clapham. Oh how we laughed!
Janet went pretty quiet after this little shock to her system, but the lads were pleased when, after a few weeks, word spread around the station that after a period of quiet reflection she’d once again flashed her ‘magnificents’ No doubt she’d been lying low, waiting to see if her little indiscretions on the street corners of south west London were to affect her career in the Metropolitan Police Catering Service. As for the African lady, I always tried to be nice and occasionally got a smile from her, but she was clearly an unhappy soul and our exchanges were never more than brief and functional. For the most part she was surly, sullen and rude which many took exception to and retaliated in similar vein, no doubt doing wonders for community relations in the process. The fact that it was happening in such a matter-of-fact way is a stark reminder of how something as basic as this would, decades later, be revealed to one and all as something someone dubbed, `institutional racism`. I thought it was just human nature.

Anonymous said...

Lovely piece Hog, and I've seen versions of it elsewhere. Up in GuMPwater, it wasn't unusual to be taken in by a black family during 'riots', who offered tea and beer amongst conversations about 'if they are black, we aren't'.
At Caledonian Road you had to write your orders on a slip of paper ('we don't talk to them and they don't talk to us - that's fair'). One day, I got a slip with my breakfast. It just said, 'Don't worry cutiepie, we don't spit in yours' on the back. It was an invite to a very illegal party. I went, and will only say at this stage Lord Scarman was not present, and would not have understood what I did in community relations terms. The following week, something called something like 'the battle of Marny Road' took place and three of us and a van that seemed to drive itself, locked about 40 up. The SPG were 'seasick' or somesuch at the time. A police dog (set on the Spade in cell five) bit me and one of the canteen women bandaged me up.
In court, months later, the defence solicitor said, pointing to his client with me in the box, 'I put it to you, officer, that the only reason you arrested my client was because he was black'. I was glad he pointed his man out as I wouldn't have recognised him from Adam by then.
'I arrested him, your worships, on the sole grounds of the unusual bulge in his underpants' - laughter in court and initial rebuking looks from the bench. Interjections from an outraged brief on the grounds of stereotyping racism.
'I have never been knowingly racist your worships. It would be difficult to survive in my cricket team if I was. Gary Sobers is our professional'. There was something of an interlude at this point as the worthy bench did not know who Mr. Sobers was, or his unsober drinking habits, though it seemed for a while they might be relevant.
'I would also find it impossible to be racist towards an inanimate object ', I continued. The bench were now looking at me in a state of confused despair. Referring to my pocket book, I went on, 'I asked the accused under caution what was causing the bulge in his underpants. He said "something you'll never swell up to white boy". I formally cautioned and arrested him on this basis'. The Beak then asked, 'You arrested this man because of the swelling in his underpants officer?'
'Yes your worships'. The prosecuting officer then approached me with a large evidence bag. I identified the rather large car radio in the bag, much to the relief of the court, as the reason for the underpant swelling and arrest.

Hogday said...

ACO: LoL! And such a typical exchange from a Mags Court of that time. But are you saying my story has been plagiarised? I want royalties.

I had some great times down there, with pals of all colours and creeds. Some of my Carib pals were constantly referring to each other by the n word, but no, not I, not never not no-how. In my travels around the Embassies, I found the most racial arrogance from the Israelis and old school South Africans and the most pure racism from the Nigerians in Northumberland Avenue (Ambassadors car reg NIG 1 didn't help matters) but I guess i must've been a racist because cleverer folks than me tell me I was. A drinking pal (from Barbados) once told me, "The Jamaicans don't hate you cos you're police or cos you're white, Jamaicans jus hate everybody".

Anonymous said...

Cop stories have striking similarities Hog. I had a tiger fight in the middle of an armed robbery once (I don't mention the tiger was stuffed until near the end - shades of the Lion Fight in Monty P). I've heard that one told as though it was another officer and a real tiger. One like yours got a mention in Scarman as though it was crude exploitation by the cops. My last uniform station was full of Lol Lambert stories, including him being responsible (for brown ale relief purposes)for Laker's 19 wickets at Old Trafford, leaking exclusively on a good length under the covers. The last bit gives it away - pitches weren't covered overnight in those days. Lol was real enough though, as I discovered clearing up one of his old cases on Duke Street. He had referenced 20 visits to number 26. Eventually, some old guy told me the house had been bombed to bits in WW2. Two Panda Control officers were utterly cocking themselves when I got back. Revenge might have been sweet, but they'd fiddled the time due book so I could get to my leaving do early.
Racism is everywhere, not institutionalised, but genetic-cultural. The better of us do not tolerate it, but also tolerate weaknesses and blemishes, fearing sticks and stones more than words.

sparkflash said...

Hogday and allcoppedout - thanks for the anecdotes, great reading, constructive rather than ranting, and why I started reading blogs.