On a night out in Stockport town centre a young man finds himself arguing with a doorman. Things get a bit heated and a passing police van stops. When the officers intervene the young man uses some choice language and finds himself in handcuffs. During the resultant “turn out your pockets” search the officers find two Ecstasy tablets. The young man finds himself arrested for simple possession of a Class A drug and a public order offence. After a few hours to calm down in his cell he is interviewed, admits simple possession and is released with a caution for the drug offence. No one suggests a house search.
Meanwhile an ageing, overweight Peer of the Realm finds himself on the front page of the national press adorned in an orange bra. The accompanying video reveals images of the said member of the upper house snorting something allegedly Class A-ish through a rolled up fiver. The following, deserved, public humiliation is almost medieval in its punitive quality.
For reasons that are entirely beyond me, the Speaker of the House of Lords decides she has to refer matters to the police. The only offence thus far revealed would seem to be simple possession of a drug. If Lady D’Souza is going to dial the police every time she hears a credible account of a person in public life taking Class A drugs she is going to need the equivalent of a Batphone to keep her in constant contact with the Met. Perhaps she can have the equivalent of the Bat signal to call for aid? Maybe the silhouette of an ill-fitting bra to project onto the night sky above the Houses of Parliament?
Despite the fact that hundreds of police officers, from a Walthamstow PCSO to Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, will have seen the incriminating evidence without feeling the need to intervene once Her Ladyship has announced to the press that she has reported matters to the police they have to be seen to act. So what do they do? Do they arrange an appointment for Lord Sewel to pop into a police station to be interviewed and receive the inevitable caution?
No. Under the glare of news cameras they go in through the front door of his London flat. What were they expecting to find? Evidence of a very British Heisenberg? Were we to be treated to the spectacle of a boiler suited forensic officer leaving the premises holding an exhibit bag aloft containing the bra? Exhibit A in an offence against the British public being able to hold down their breakfast?
The team investigating this offence! Not two passing officers in a van. It is the Special Enquiry Team of the Homicide and Major Crime Command. The only thing murdered in all this is decency and perspective.
Meanwhile we are told that we may in the future no longer be able to expect police officers to routinely attend when a member of the public reports that their house has been burgled. The single offence most likely to affect each and every one of us. The invasion of your home. It is said that policing is part of the social contract. Due to Government cuts we would be entirely entitled to repudiate that particular contract when there are not enough officers to go around for us to gain the reassurance of a police visit when we report a crime in our own home. No Special Enquiry team for you.
The link between the police leaping into action for the media raid and the unavailability of officers to assist the public hardly needs any more comment. The police service has been cut far too much. This is not their fault. Yet when priorities are decided this seems the wrong way round.
The person most at fault in all this? The Speaker. Her actions could be listed alongside the comedy 999 calls released from time to time in a plea to the public to stop wasting police time. Lady D’Souza ranks alongside the man who called the police to report that a seagull had stolen his sandwich. Only one of them, however, governs over us.
Lord Sewel deserves punishment. His position means his punishment is very public but that should not allow him to escape the full extent of the law. It is just that the extent did not need to be quite this full…..