Crime, justice and football

The weekend of May 11 and 12 saw the scout Streetwise event in Manchester’s City Centre. This was used by Manchester East Scouts to highlight the experience of street children in Africa and a number of the explorer scouts built make-shift shelters from plastic and cardboard so that they could sleep out under the stars. I agreed to join them and slept out in a tent on the green outside the old Corn Exchange. The noise of the city through the night was incredible and eventually the sound of revellers, taxis and car horns was replaced by the rubbish lorries and street sweepers. Then on the Sunday I welcomed Bear Grylls the chief scout to Manchester. Although the weather was not great it was good to see so many young people joining in enthusiastically with so many activities. Unfortunately I did not do that well either in the sack race or tug of war but I was wearing full uniform at the time. We have been working with the scouts to support them setting up new scout groups in the more deprived areas of Manchester and I met some of the new members of these groups and they were really enjoying it.

Away from the scouts one issue being discussed by some politicians at the moment is the use of Restorative Justice (RJ) and cautions. Some have argued that the greater use of cautions and RJ is because of the budget cuts which is just wrong. We have made a conscious commitment to look at each individual case and do what is right for the victim and for the offender. In appropriate cases RJ has a greater impact on the offender and results in more satisfied victims. They feel they have had the chance to confront the offender with the impact of their crimes which does not happen if the offender pleads guilty in court. In any case we know that the bar is set very high by the Crown Prosecution Service for a prosecution and they have supported the greater use of cautions. The Home Office have made it clear that they want to see officers having more discretion and I know most officers like the fact that they are trusted to use that discretion in suitable cases. Some people have argued that cautions should not be used for “serious offences” but we also know that there is a big difference between an armed robbery at a bookies and a lad threatening another to hand over his dinner money. It is right that we don’t criminalise young people unnecessarily and give them a second chance where it is justified.  And where a victim does not want to support a court prosecution using a caution at least gets the offender some sort of record. Overall this is a good news story. Appropriate use of cautions and RJ and work with the Youth Offender Service has led to a big reduction in the number of young people going into custody while crime has continued to reduce.

Crime continues to reduce overall in Greater Manchester but there has been an increase in burglaries in the southern area of the force and particularly in South Manchester. What is striking from the analysis is that a high proportion of these burglaries are from insecurities where burglars are able to get in through open windows and doors to grab easy to dispose of property such as iPads, iPhones, cash or vehicle keys. What I find depressing is that many of those that we are arresting for these crimes have long careers of burgling and have already served prison sentences for this type of offending. The Government have announced plans to reform the Probation Service and ensure that all prisoners get some sort of support on their release. We already work very closely with the Probation Service to monitor very closely those who come out on licence or who are seen as a particular risk. These are often complex cases and many of these people would struggle to get a job or stick to a training regime. Some, although by no means all, commit crime to fund an alcohol or drug habit and even if they have been clean in prison quickly revert to old habits. There is no secret formula to changing these people around and probably there needs to be both more carrot and more stick. If they choose reoffending it is the job of the police to get them identified and arrested as soon as possible. I certainly hope that all the disruption the Probation Service will go through won’t damage the existing strong joint working which has contributed to the reduction in crime.

My various trips around the Force included a visit to the Serious Crime Division. One of the units there is the section which deals with getting evidence from mobile phone and Internet communications. Their work has been crucial in many successful prosecutions. Serious criminals on the whole are not stupid and are constantly seeking to frustrate our tactics. More and more communications are going over wireless networks rather than mobile phones and use emails and messaging systems. The Government is committed to bringing in new legislation to assist us by requiring service providers to hold on to records of Internet usage. Opponents have called this a “snoopers charter” but all the police service is asking for is that we are able to hold on to the capability we have at present to gather evidence from communications used in the planning or commission of crime. Chief constables have argued that there is now a pressing operational need and in this regard I gave evidence to the House of Lords but our opponents have argued that we are getting involved in politics when we make the case. I disagree we are only trying to paint the operational picture for the public to understand. In any case the new legislation was not included in the Queen’s Speech and so there will be a further delay until this growing gap is filled.

Over the past week we have seen the arrests of three notable fugitives from justice. Stevie McMullen and Ryan MacDonald were recaptured in Salford after they had been “sprung” from a prison van carrying them to court and Andrew Moran was recaptured in Spain. Moran had been missing for four years since he escaped from the dock at Burnley Crown Court while waiting to be sentenced for serious robbery offences. The crimes all three were involved in were extremely violent and terrifying for those they targeted. Their arrests show our determination to make sure that serious crime does not pay and we will be relentless in pursuing those who escape from custody even when they go abroad. Moran’s case shows the close working we have with our colleagues in Spain and the European agreements which mean we can get these criminals back to the UK very quickly.

There has been much coverage of the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. Now I am neither a red nor a blue (as it happens I am a Watford supporter) but like many have to pay tribute to Sir Alex’s incredible football achievements. Nick Robinson the BBC ‘s political correspondent argued that Sir Alex is the greatest living Briton. He argued that this is not just about football but about Manchester United being a global brand. This certainly brought to mind my experience when working with street children in Uganda with the charity Retrak where right in the heart of the slums of the capital city Kampala the children who had only rags to their names had all heard of Manchester United and often had a picture or card of their favourite player. Nick Robinson also pointed out Sir Alex’s leadership skills and the balance he had between setting clear standards of discipline and being a hard task master while at the same time having that ability to treat each player as an individual and possessing an extraordinary talent for motivation. In my experience not too many leaders have that balance. Whatever may be the debate about his achievements many in GMP will remember the way that he turned up in the crowd standing outside Manchester Cathedral at the funerals of one of our murdered colleagues last September showing his own personal respect for their sacrifice.

Another issue in the news has been the many cases of historic sexual abuse some involving celebrities some not. There has been some debate on whether arrests should be publicised and in GMP we follow the national guidance that the names of arrested people are not released to the media unless there is a very clear public interest in doing so. We do release names when people are charged and I think that is the right balance. A police officer can make an arrest on suspicion when there is no available evidence which could be used in a court. They can make an arrest based on the allegation of one other person. Given the basic human right of innocent until proven guilty it is right that arrest alone should not be used to raise questions over an individual’s integrity and good name. Some sections of the media have accused the police of making “secret arrests “. Well none of this is secret, every person arrested has the right to a solicitor free of charge and to have another person notified of their arrest. All our custody systems are monitored constantly by CCTV and have independent lay visitors. Our arrests are not secret.

These recent cases have also caused some to question why are so many people coming forward to make allegations about events so long ago. I have heard people questioning their motives and asking why they have kept quiet for so long. Well those who use their power to sexually abuse others do not pick on self confident assertive people they deliberately pick on those who they believe are in a position of weakness and will not complain. They often put fear into their victim warning them of the dire consequences of talking to others about it. Victims think they will not be believed and live with the pain and trauma for many years hiding it from family and loved ones. Sexual abuse is the abuse of power over the vulnerable and those who have rebuilt their lives after abuse have to think long and hard as to whether they will relive it all over again by coming forward. It is an appalling crime and we will continue to encourage victims to come forward whether they are willing to support a prosecution or not.

Last Friday I joined one of our officers PC Steve Phillips for the first 10 kilometres of his run from Hyde to Bournemouth. He was going to run 40 miles that day and the next day and the next running 230 miles in total. Ricky Hatton also joined the start and there was great support from local people. The run is in memory of Nicola and Fiona our two murdered officers and Nicola’s dad was also there. The same day a new housing development in Sale was named after Fiona and her dad was there to lay the foundation stone. I am truly grateful to all those doing so much to keep their memory alive.

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