A few days ago I gave an interview at Salford University where I was asked my views about community policing in Salford. A four and a half minute extract of the interview edited by Kat Middleton is below where I talk about how well our local neighbourhood policing team are doing and how they can improve. The interview briefly touched on the council’s partnership with Greater Manchester Police and I explained how the council could be doing more to promote anti-crime initiatives.
The pictures opposite show the devastation after a robbery of my Home Cinema shop in Manchester. Horrific aren’t they? However, these pictures were not taken on Tuesday following the rioting and looting in the North West of England, they were taken exactly two days before Christmas day, 2003.
As I listened to Salford, Manchester and London traders on Sky News describing how their businesses and livelihoods had been destroyed by criminals during the violence last week, the memories of 2003 came flooding back.
Unlike some shop and business owners who were targeted in these recent attacks, I had no warning whatsoever of what was about to happen. We were just about to complete a busy Christmas period, however we still anticipated two good days of trade before we closed for the Christmas break. Personally, from a business owner perspective, I was looking forward more to our New Year sales. We had stocked up accordingly and were expecting brisk business.
I can’t recall the exact time I received a call from the alarm company, but I believe it was around 9pm. While always a worry, our alarm could be temperamental, and on occasion had been set off by vibrations to the shutters or inebriated individuals falling into the shop front. However, I always made haste to get to the shop as quickly as possible “just in case”.
As I approached my shop, I instinctively knew something was wrong. A traffic jam on Bury Old Road at 9pm on a week night? My heart sank. Fearing the worst, I bypassed the traffic by driving on the wrong side of the road (it was impossible for anything to be coming in the other direction, as I soon discovered).
On abandoning my car half on the road, half on the pavement (facing the wrong way!) I could see the reason for the traffic jam. A pickup truck that had been used to “ram raid” my shop had reversed back into the road, completely blocking it in both directions. A scene of complete devastation awaited my arrival. The alarm was sounding incessantly.
The truck had been driven straight through the shutter, demolishing the small wall below the windows. Inside, the energy of the truck and movement of the metal shutter had obliterated the first few rows of DVD Players that were previously sitting on display. Outside the front door, a 42” plasma TV was abandoned, smashed.
Police were on scene and it transpired that a squad car had been close by when the shop was attacked, but unfortunately the perpetrators had managed to evade capture. I was heartbroken at the complete and utter destruction of the successful business that I had built up from a “back bedroom hobby” to one that employed two people full-time, on a good wage.
Perhaps the hardest job was the telephone call to my father (who had left his previous job to join me and help us expand). In a bitter addition to the horror, when the Police allowed us entry to turn off the alarm system (still blaring), my dad slipped on the debris and broke his arm.
The criminals who robbed us and destroyed our livelihoods that Christmas in 2003 are no better than the mindless yobs who decided to get whatever free “stuff” they could and damn the consequences to others. Many hard working shopkeepers, business owners and shop staff have lost their primary income and in some cases (due to indiscriminate arson), their homes as well.
I know how they feel. They feel the pain and anguish I felt that night 7 and a half years ago and they want the guilty to be caught and punished. Justice yes, swift justice if possible – but it does not have to be rushed. The Police have always had my admiration and I am incredibly grateful for their help in 2003 and earlier in the year (February) when our business was attacked by machete-wielding robbers who almost killed my father in a senseless attempted robbery which landed them exactly zilch in “swag” but scarred us both for life. The Police have an incredibly difficult job to do, with limited resources and an almost unlimited “clientele” to serve, protect and sometimes arrest.
This is why I will not criticise the Police for the decisions they made in last week’s riots, nor in their inability to catch the idiots that attacked me and my business in 2003. I work alongside Police Officers and have heard, first-hand, their varied tales of arrests and incidents they are involved in on a daily basis. These days Police Officers are expected to put their lives on the line (and some have died doing so) with the risk that if they “get it wrong” they might lose their jobs, their pension, sometimes their liberty and maybe their lives. It’s a constant worry to Police Officers that the suspect resisting arrest today could sue them tomorrow for assault or “using excessive force”.
We need to let our Police Officers take the gloves off and police as the moment or event dictates. If a riot is in progress, Commanders should have the ability and power to declare a different set of rules that apply for that particular problem. This would allow officers on the ground the freedom to do more without worry of being hauled before the courts themselves.
I am not advocating giving Police Officers permission to do whatever they like, simply a return to proper traditional policing, rather than acting as a social worker. While I hope that we don’t see events like I experienced in 2003 and many other people experienced last week repeated any time soon, we should act now and free our Police from the “handcuffs” that the last two governments have shackled them with.
Salford City Council has opened an electronic book of condolence, to send messages to the people of Norway and the families and friends of the victims of the horrific attacks on 22 July, in Oslo and at the island of Utøya.
Councillor John Merry, Leader of Salford City Council, has added his own message as follows “I would like to express my heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of those affected by the tragedy in Norway. I have been moved by the way in which the nation has come together to support each other in these difficult times.”
All the messages received from the people of the City of Salford will be presented to the Royal Norwegian Embassy in London.
Last month, Peter Flanagan of Pendlebury in Salford was confronted by machete-wielding intruders at his home. He has been quoted as saying he “did what he believed necessary” to defend his home and family and fatally stabbed one of the burglars.
The day before the break-in, Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters he intended to “put beyond doubt that homeowners and small shopkeepers who use reasonable force to defend themselves or their properties will not be prosecuted”. Who knew that this clarification of the law would be tested the following day?
Now the CPS have agreed with Mr Flanagan that he acted in self defence after being woken by noises downstairs in his house shortly before midnight.
Nazir Afzal, chief crown prosecutor for the North West, said “On investigating the disturbance he was confronted by intruders, one of whom was armed with a machete.”
“People are entitled to use reasonable force in self-defence to defend themselves, their family and their property,” he said.
But is killing someone reasonable force? We haven’t had a full and clear picture of what exactly transpired, so it would be folly to suggest Mr Flanagan went too far at this stage, but I hope that now the CPS has agreed not to charge the Pendlebury homeowner for simply defending his family and property, that the full facts are released.
I firmly believe that homeowners should be allowed to do whatever necessary to “STOP” intruders, but they should go no further and not be tempted to take the law into their own hands (thereby becoming judge, jury and executioner).
Nine years ago a father who stabbed to death a burglar he found in his family’s home was jailed for five years after being found guilty of manslaughter. Barry-Lee Hastings, 25, stabbed Roger Williams, 35, a total of 12 times after mistaking a jemmy in his hand for a machete but Old Bailey Judge Brian Barker told Hastings that he had gone too far and his actions were not justified.
And more than a decade ago Tony Martin was convicted of murder, replaced with manslaughter on appeal when he shot and killed one burglar and wounded another who had both entered his home. Martin served three years of a five year sentence for the crime.
Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke said legislation was needed to clarify what force could be used, and that, if a householder stabbed a burglar, the householder would not be prosecuted.
“What they’re not entitled to do is shoot them in the back when they’re running away,” Mr Clarke added.
The Ministry of Justice is quoted by the BBC as saying it is “looking at ways of clarifying the law so people are clearer about what this means”.
I call on the MoJ to move quickly and set out what homeowners can legally do to protect themselves when they are faced with burglars entering their homes armed with deadly weapons.
In today’s Times, 115 Liberal Democrat councillors (including 14 Lib Dem Council Leaders and almost 70 opposition and group leaders including Councillor Norman Owen, Leader of the Salford Lib Dem Group) have called for the scrapping of Conservative-proposed plans for Police and Crime Commissioners. You can read more about the story at LocalGov, thereby saving you having to pay News International for the privilege of reading the story.
I personally urged Councillor Owen to sign the letter and I am very glad his opinion is the same as mine, that there is a clear need for a separation of the police and politicians. The recent hacking scandal has proven just that!
It worries me that the might of a political campaign could result in the appointment of a Police and Crime Commissioner who is neither qualified for the job nor capable of taking on the huge responsibility that comes with the role.
Take for example Greater Manchester Police, currently the worst performing force in the country, which employs 8,232 police officers, 332 Volunteer Special Constables, 782 Police Community Support Officers, and 4,068 members of police staff and an annual budget of £524.1m
(according to Wikipedia). The new Police & Crime Commissioner for Greater Manchester would be expected to set the strategy, be responsible for the allocating of resources and setting targets for the local force, but would have no influence over the management. How will installing an unqualified commissioner to take on the monumental task of turning around GMP’s performance achieve that?
I cannot think of a more confusing situation having a politician in charge of the (supposedly) politically-neutral police!
The coalition government should scrap this idea immediately and I agree with the supporters of the letter to The Times which calls for them to be replaced with police boards that will work with local government.
At the Ordsall & Langworthy Community Committee on 2nd November Neighbourhood Manager Ross Spanner confirmed that funding is in place and secured for new fencing that will close off Chimney Pot Park from dusk until dawn. Regular readers of my blog will remember that this has been a contentious issue, with residents divided over whether to close off the park or provide better lighting, which would have made it safer to keep it open.
A consultation event was carried out by Seedley and Langworthy Trust (SALT) and after a worrying delay of a couple of months, ratified by the community committee. The majority of people who responded to the consultation decided in favour of closing off the park and erecting fencing to keep it secure. It was felt this would remove trouble makers involved in drugs & other crimes from the park and help protect Chimney Pot Park streets below from the constant problem of stones thrown at cars/windows from the elevated position of the park.
There is no definite date when the fencing will be installed, but Ross assured us it would not be too long.
Bash, our local PCSO emailed me a few days ago with a reminder about our next Police and Communities Together meeting, which is taking place at the Royal British Legion on Langworthy Road this Thursday 19th November.
This is a chance for the residents of Langworthy to meet their local Police and PCSO’s. Please attend if you have any issues you wish to raise or even if
you’d just like to meet your neighbourhood policing team.
This is a chance for residents of Langworthy to meet your local Police and PCSO’s. The meeting starts at 7pm.
Please attend if you have any issues you wish to raise with the Police or even if you’d just like to meet your local neighbourhood policing team.
PACT meetings have proven successful in other areas of Salford, such as Swinton & Ordsall, where they are always well attended. This is your chance to have a say about Policing in Langworthy.
The Liberal Democrats have often (wrongly) been accused of being soft on crime, but here is a story you won’t find in any mainstream press – so I have to thank David Mitchell (yes, that one!) for pointing this one out to me. I firmly believe that gun and knife crimes are one of the biggest problems we face in Britain today, but I do think that the story of Paul Clarke illustrates that Labour have gone too far by turning our country into a nanny state. Think what the outcome of this story would have been if it had happened 15 years ago, 25 years ago, 35 years ago? The case would not have made it to the courts. The law needs to be tough, but in my opinion we also have a duty to make it sensible.
Guildford, Surrey, November 2009
A former soldier who handed a discarded shotgun in to police faces at least five years imprisonment for “doing his duty”.
Paul Clarke, 27, was found guilty of possessing a firearm at Guildford Crown Court on Tuesday – after finding the gun and handing it personally to police officers on March 20 this year.
The jury took 20 minutes to make its conviction, and Mr Clarke now faces a minimum of five years imprisonment for handing in the weapon.
In a statement read out in court, Mr Clarke said: “I didn’t think for one moment I would be arrested. I thought it was my duty to hand it in and get it off the streets.”
In British Law, possessing an unlicensed firearm is one of those “absolute offences” (a bit like speeding), there is no defence – you are either guilty or innocent. There is no excuse. Further, the punishment for possessing an unlicensed firearm leaves no room for doubt nor manoeuvre, the sentence is a minimum of five years imprisonment.
We have created a legal system that is akin to a speeding freight train with no brakes. The Judge directed the Jury to find Paul Clarke guilty (because it’s an absolute offence), so the Jury have no choice. Guilty. So, will the judge now unravel this mess, and sentence Mr Clarke to something proportionate and tolerable: “you will be taken from this place and given tea & biscuits and a lift home” ? He can’t, even if he wants to. British Law dictates that the minimum sentence for this “crime” is five years imprisonment, so the Judge will have no choice on December 11th when Mr Clarke is due to be sentenced.
I often heard the phrase “The Law is an ass” while growing up, without truly understanding it until I was much older. If ever there was a case that defined that phrase, this is it. Yes, Paul Clarke did a stupid thing – carrying a gun through town is not the brightest thing to do. But, when did stupidity become a criminal offence? Since when did being “a bit silly” attract a prison sentence of five years?
Something has gone wrong. Badly wrong. Whether it went wrong at the police station, with the CPS, with the judge, with the jury, with our legal system or somewhere else, it went wrong.
It may have been a headline grabbing attempt to seem tough on crime but Conservative Shadow Home Secretary Chris Gayling’s claim that parts of the UK are like HBO’s series ‘The Wire’, are hardly helpful. The critically acclaimed crime drama (currently showing on BBC2) depicts the problems that many cities across the world have faced, such as gun and drug related problems. Set in Baltimore, USA, it paints a bleak picture of communities where drug dealing and drug addiction are rife and revenge murders are commonplace.
Speaking of a visit he made to South Manchester on June 26, the MP for Epsom and Ewell said: “A few weeks ago, I spent one of the most illuminating evenings that I have had since entering politics out with the specialist police team in Manchester’s Moss Side that works to tackle the gang issues in the area. Even as someone well aware of the gang problem in our society, it was a shocking and enlightening experience.”
Mr Grayling believes that the police are now fighting an “urban war” against gangs and that violence in society has become “a norm and not an exception”. Granted there are some trouble spots within the UK, this isn’t anything new. Some urban areas have significant problems with drugs, violence and guns that this government has failed to eradicate and more does need to be done. But his comments are not backed up by facts.
The chance of being murdered in Baltimore, a city with a population of about 650,000, is one in 2,700. In Britain the chances are one in 85,000. You are also more likely to be robbed in Baltimore than in the UK – the chances being one in 150 compared with one in 1,000. And more likely to become a victim of burglary – one in 80 compared to one in 90.
Julia Goldsworthy, the communities spokeswoman for the Liberal Democrats, said: “The fact that the Tories can only comprehend the issues real people face through box sets watched in the comfort of their own living rooms only highlights their total detachment from the concerns of Britain’s inner cities. We look forward to Chris Grayling’s reassessment of the devastating impact of Thatcherism on this country once he’s watched series 2.”
I must admit, I’ve watched even less of ‘The Wire’ than Chris Grayling. After my parents (both in their sixties) insisted several times that it was a great series, I settled down to watch an episode. I managed 30 minutes. For someone like me who has been the victim of a couple of armed robberies, Chris Graylings comments are annoying and unfair. I think it’s outrageous that the Shadow Home Secretary abused the hospitality of The Greater Manchester Police so that he could engage in nothing more than a fishing expedition to damage the significant progress that has been made eradicating gun crime in Moss Side and Greater Manchester as a whole.
Perhaps in a few days we will witness another hastily arranged press conference outside David Cameron’s home where he will denounce his Shadow Home Secretary’s comments as “eccentric” and embark on another embarrassing U turn?