Greater Manchester Police today announced what it described as a major breakthrough. It will now record offences against people who identify with certain sub-cultures (e.g. Goths, Emos and Punks) as "Hate Crimes". As a consequence they will be able to offer more support to the victims. It is a sad testimony of how low the police service of Britain has fallen that they can describe this as anything other than a cheap PR stunt.
My house was burgled a few years ago. After a half-hearted wander round the premises, the officers informed me that there was a lot of that sort of thing going on now and there was no real chance of finding the perpetrators or the jewellery that had been in my wife's family for generations. They asked me if we needed counselling, I replied that we did not, we would like them to find the people responsible and punish them. They looked at me as though I had lost touch with the real world. The police had already given up on solving crimes and were now simply offering victim support. I had missed that announcement.
This is, of course, a trivial matter compared with the case of Fiona Pilkington.
In 2007, Fiona Pilkington killed herself and her daughter after a sustained and brutal campaign of terror by local yobs. The police said that they would have done more if they had realised that the victim was disabled and that it was therefore a "hate crime." Nobody disputes that the Pilkingtons were terrorised in their own home, the only argument has been whether it was motivated by hatred for the disabled. The police seemed to believe that the failure to correctly categorise a string of offences somehow absolved them from the responsibility to respond to the pleas of a desperate woman. Have the police really sunk so low that they believe they should assess the motive of the perpetrator before they will respond to a reported crime?
Human Rights legislation comes under a huge amount of, often justified, criticism but Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, "All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law." The role of the police is to enforce the law, regardless of who the victim might be. Changing the way they record crimes makes no difference whatsoever. Announcing that they intended to come down like a ton of bricks on those who commit these offences regardless of the victim would represent a real breakthrough. We have a police force more concerned with its image than with fighting crime so that is never going to happen.
What Greater Manchester Police did today was a shameful PR stunt. Trying to throw a few crumbs to well organised and highly effective pressure group, they announced that they will change their record keeping system, they said nothing to suggest that they have a single idea as to how such crimes will be reduced.
Sky allowed this story to be presented as a ground breaking initiative by a regional police force without ever asking the basic questions that a journalist should ask, such as"
- What does this mean is practice?
- How will it change how you respond to a reported crime?
What impact do you expect this will have on the instances of such offences?
- Are the perpetrators more likely to be caught as a result of this initiative and will they be punished?
The police are paid to enforce the law of the land, not to decide which offences they would like to prioritise. Sometime in the coming week a Goth may be attacked in the street simply because of their appearance and a little old lady will be mugged because she has just left the Post Office and might have a bit of extra cash in her handbag. Which of these should the police prioritise. The answer is - Both. That was not the message we got from the PR department of Greater Manchester Police today.