Coffee House

See no crime, hear no crime and speak no crime

28 January 2013

In the current issue of The Spectator, we put on the cover four words that sum up the coalition government’s approach to crime: pretend not to notice. Today’s Birmingham Mail offers a snapshot of what we mean:

‘The data, released under the Freedom of Information Act, showed the crimes were committed by 11,422 lawbreakers – meaning on average each carried out three offences within 12 months of being released on licence or receiving a community sentence.’

That’s an astonishing 33,000 offences in West Midlands committed over two years by those on the alternatives to jail: suspended sentences or community sentences. Or by those released from jail early, in what’s supposed to be a cost-saving strategy. The symbol of England’s failure in the fight against crime is the tag. Since David Cameron came to power an astonishing 280,000 people have been tagged – more people than were given tax cuts by the last budget – and as Theodore Dalrymple says in his cover story  ministers know this does not work. Tagging, certainly the way it is done in England, is hopelessly ineffectual. In Scotland things are not much better: a fifth of all crime is carried out by people who are already on bail. The Birmingham Mail finds that almost a third of those handed non-custodial sentences went on to reoffend in the next 12 months. And while shocking, it should not be surprising – a Home Office study about a decade ago showed that the average prisoner commits 140 crimes the year before being locked up.


The Tories campaigned in the last election with posters attacking Labour for early release. And it was a Tory – Ken Clarke – who then decided to close prisons once in office. The Tories have not taken much heat for this U-turn, but fairly soon it will be possible to calculate the extra crime it created. Yes, prison is expensive and yes it has its problems with rehabilitation. But prison works for non-criminals because it locks up the bad guys. A stunning amount of crime in Britain is committed by a tiny number of criminals. The coalition’s attempts to save cash by closing prisons will have a cost, and it will be paid by the poorer communities who tend to be – disproportionately – the victims of crime. Do read Theodore’s piece, and we discuss this on the View from 22 Podcast here.

Yesterday’s Sunday Times splashed on an investigation into why police are giving cautions to violent criminals, rather than arresting them, to cut down on paperwork. We sum this up in our cover illustration by Morten Morland who portrays the judges and coppers as the three monkeys. It’s a a policy of see no crime, hear no crime and speak no crime.

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  • fitz fitzgerald

    … and the ethnic breakdown is … ? …

  • HooksLaw

    Sorry – I was looking for the Spectator and seemed to have stumbled upon the Daily Express.
    Millions received a tax cut in the last budget – allowances were raised significantly and will be again in the next budget.

    According to that other newspaper you are intent on emulating there is a crime committed every 5 seconds.
    How many prisons do you want to build and since you also have another hobby horse – just how do you want the government to make your cuts if they were to build them?

  • Matthew Blott

    A quick fact check shows our per capita prison population is far ahead of other European countries with comparable crime rates and in some cases far lower rates. The prison population has been increasing exponentially at what point should we appriase the situation? Madness is doing the same thing again and expecting a different result – I’m not sure Fraser Nelson understands this.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      I’m sure.

    • Colonel Mustard

      I’m not sure you read the article – or understood it.

      • Matthew Blott

        I’m not sure you read my comment and understood it.

        • Colonel Mustard

          I read it but you are correct I didn’t understand it – or its dubious relevance to the article. I’m sure you knew what point you were trying to make though.

    • Fraser Nelson

      Per capita doesnt tell you much – look a prison population per crime. We’re pretty average there.

  • The Laughing Cavalier

    One had hoped that this sort of thing would stop with the expulsion of the neo-fascist NuLabour regime. It is a great pity to see this undemocratic authoritarianism repeated by the Coalition.

  • Victor Southern

    ACPO has forfeited any right to speak on matters that affect the public’s experience of crime. Indeed it is hard to find any good reason that this anachronistic body should still exist.

    Pathetically I am going to repeat that the bobby on the beat, by foot, is the best antidote to casual crimes.

    In general the police has withdrawn from showing any interest at all in cybercrime [unless it is a crime against PC]. Had your credit card cloned – don’t bother the police.

    Summing up – the police services are becoming less and less attuned to what the public want and more and more becoming selfish. They are now like a medieval guild.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Nothing pathetic about your suggestion. It is the cornerstone of effective policing as still sensibly practiced in many countries of the world and true to Peel’s Principles of Policing. Here in terms of direction and management policing has lost its way and been hijacked by vested interests. Parliament, our supposed protection, has done absolutely nothing to correct the appalling direction policing has taken, even to stem the routine and unnecessary use of excessive force in executing powers.

  • In2minds

    ” crime: pretend not to notice”

    Ken Clarke: pretend he’s a Tory!

  • Eddie

    Ah but what exactly is a ‘crime’. I’d argue that rich people who own property assets getting things like maternity ‘pay’ (ie benefit) linked to income – yep, £20,000 a week for million-a-year city women…yep, billions spent in schools, colleges and hospitals paying for this and the cover – is a crime. So is this:

    And what about all the corruption and waste of billions of pounds in military budgets (as Ian Hislop has so rightly highlighted).
    Morality is in the eye of the beholder, perhaps? We’d all lock up different people, it seems…

    • Noa

      You might argue that Eddie, but you know that its not a crime. They are claiming benefits to which they are legally entitled. You can criticise the lunacy of a system and governments which disburse those benefits, but that’s a different matter.

      And if one can establish that ministers are guilty of and punished for malfeasance in office for using public funds for their own malign party purposes we would see an immediate improvement in government probity.

      • Eddie

        Yep, I know. But colloquially, these parasitic spongers who claim benefits they do not need are stealing money from those who do need it, and knowingly, so morally just as bad as any shoplifter (an easy arrest for the police) – or worse, because the money they are taking is ours, paid by taxpayers, and not belonging to a private business.
        I take your point that I am veering onto ethnical – and not purely criminal – territory here. But why not?

        • Colonel Mustard

          If the government were to append the caveat of need to the claiming of benefits then it might possibly fall within obtaining a pecuniary advantage by a deception – the deception being that he benefit was needed when it actually wasn’t. But it is all a bit subjective and would be fraught with practical difficulties.

          • Eddie

            Yes, accepted – it’s npt a crime to claim any benefit offered to the government (whose money comes from us, of course, so it is never actually theirs).
            But it is a still a ‘crime’ in inverted commas.
            Poor people pay taxes to the government, who then give them to people with many hundreds of thousands of pounds of propert asets – because we don’t have a rational system of means testing which includes assets, not just income.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Crime is as defined by Parliament through statutory law or by Common Law and understanding (which Wiki does not appear to understand at all).

  • UlyssesReturns

    As bad as the last government was, it is very difficult for those of the right to understand just how it is that a Tory led government could be so awful. There are beacons of light: Gove and IDS certainly, Pickles occasionally, and May says the right things, but when one looks at this government’s behaviour and actions overall, one could be excused for thinking there had been no change at all at the last general election.

    • telemaque

      The hated doctrinaire Gove who is destroying our examination system
      The rotund Pickles Who is destroying the fabric of local government
      And Duncan Smith who having failed his leadership test is now dismantling the welfare system
      God preserve us from the totality

  • Noa

    Following its politicisation by Labour significant time and resources within the justice system are misused in the monitoring and prosecution of ‘Offence’ based ‘Hate’ crime, when formerly attention would be focused on real crimes such as assault, burglary and theft.

    “All crime is unacceptable but offences that are driven by hostility or
    hatred based on personal characteristics set a particular challenge to a
    civilised society. For the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) therefore,
    effectively addressing all forms of hate crime and crimes targeting
    older people remain a core commitment.” – Keir Starmer QC, Director of Public Prosecutions.

    The Association of Chief Police Officers and the CPS have agreed a common definition of hate crime:

    “Any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other
    person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person’s
    race or perceived race; religion or perceived religion; sexual
    orientation or perceived sexual orientation; disability or perceived
    disability and any crime motivated by hostility or prejudice against a
    person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender.”

    The police, lawyers and courts now prioritise subjectivity over actual harm. It is no longer traditional crime and its punishment which concerns them, but morality, control of deviate thought and its eradication.

    • Hexhamgeezer

      My experience with the Met in East London is that of twice being assaulted on the grounds of being white. I reported the first one but didn’t bother with the second. As I wasn’t seriously injured and the assault was part of a mini crime spree on one day the cops did not think it was worth recording as an assault or a racist assault (I had only minor bruising).

      That ACPO/CPS statement is utter coque.

      • Noa

        It is, but it exemplifies the brave new world of modern justice. A hate crime is committed when the victim thinks it is, not when physical harm or loss occurs.

        Crimes, and statistics, can now be infinitely expanded, solved and punished by a politically correct state apparatus to show a job well done, whilst physical crimes like the assault you suffered go unrecorded and unpunished .

        To those who believe that crime is meaningfully monitored and measured I would commend Peter Hitchen’s post below.

    • Colonel Mustard

      I think the fact that the CPS and ACPO can “agree” on the definition of a crime without the consent of the people through Parliament is extraordinary. Neither of those bodies should have anything to do with determining the law (from Parliament) or the enforcement of it (at the Constable’s discretion). The “core commitment” is probably an abrogation of the first and fifth of Peel’s Principles of Policing, which Starmer should not be interfering with anyway.

      What seems to have happened is that the CPS and ACPO appear to have taken it upon themselves to direct policing strategy. The unelected Starmer in particular seems to think he is in charge of it all. This never gets the media or Parliamentary scrutiny that it should. It is a travesty that Grieve should have tackled at the outset.

      “Aggravating” an offence based on the subjective perception of the victim risks creating a hierarchy of crime. Assault is assault and any motivational or “aggravated” factors should be a matter for the courts according to the circumstances of each case.

      This is indeed politicising justice.

      • Noa

        I agree with every word that you write. We are witnessing the establishment of a new body of ‘Hate’ criminal law, based on the fundamental insanity of Equality legislation.
        And dependent on the witness against us, we are all guilty.

        • Colonel Mustard

          And the other aspect of concern is the way that both the CPS and ACPO attempt to influence the drafting of law, even encouraging the creation of law. It should come from the public through Parliament to be impartially enforced by the police on behalf of the public and prosecuted by the CPS when the facts are brought to them by the police.

          The whole thing is now round the wrong way with the CPS and ACPO determining what the police should enforce from the political and corporate policy perspective. That is not the impartial rule of law but the hijacking of it and I would argue constitutionally illegal as well as very dangerous indeed.

      • FrenchNewsonlin

        The “unelected Starmer” is a Labour placeman and that surely says it all, for the rest your analysis is right on. The “rule of law” as a concept is being undermined and in a seditious fashion.

    • HooksLaw

      Too many police officers with degrees.

  • Daniel Maris

    There is no historical context to this.

    I think that the experience of many people is that crime has reduced substantially over the last three or four decades. The explanation is I think a combination of better education, and improved technology. The latter includes burglar alarms (which burglars hate), car alarms, number plate recognition and CCTV.

    Shoplifting, a relatively victimless crime, has shot up.

    • Fergus Pickering

      Do I think that Britain was more lawless in my youth? No I don’t. In the 1960s I habitually walked home through Edinburgh in the middle of the night. I was seventeen or eighteen and I never felt myself at risk. I was never mugged nor did I know anybody else who was. Murder was much rarer. Anecdotal, as people say scoffing..

      • Colonel Mustard

        Anecdotal maybe, but a shared perspective of those of a certain age. Those who never experienced it are less resistant to the wool.

        • UlyssesReturns

          At the tale end of the ’50s I walked alone the mile to my primary school in rural Hampshire and I can not recall any of my siblings, friends or other children being attacked or molested, and, short of our periodic apple scrumping, I do not remember any crime of note. I do remember being stopped by a policeman for riding on the crossbar of my elder brother’s bike and the sheer terror his authority induced in 2 independent-minded boys of 6 and 10. My childhood, teens and early adulthood remained remarkably free of any thefts, muggings or break ins and at all times the authority of one’s teachers and the omnipresent ‘bobby’ on the beat affirmed that crime was what happened in New York and Glasgow only. Now I worry if my wife is 5 minutes late back from her Park Lane health club and insist my daughter texts me when she returns home to leafy Richmond after visiting us in our Romanian gypsy-infested W1.

      • MichtyMe

        I still enjoy the absence of any fear of crime that I had in my youth many decades ago. Although residing in cities all my life I have never been assaulted, robbed, had property vandalised or been the victim of dishonesty or fraud, unless the pension policy from a well known institution in the financial services industry is included.

      • HooksLaw

        I think most would agree. But the most expensive thing worth stealing in my youth was a bag of nutty slack.

    • Noa

      Why do you consider shoplifting to be victimless?

      It is theft. which from either a corner shopkeeper or Sainsburys has the effect of hurting the owner and increasing costs to all customers.

      • Victor Southern

        “Shrinkage” is part of the cost of sales of any store and is factored in when arriving at selling prices. So shoplifting is , as you say, far from being a victim-less crime.
        Thinking that it is so shows sloppy and dishonest thinking allied to that of regarding insurance fraud as victim-less.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Shoplifting it is a silly euphemism for theft which involves dishonestly appropriating the property of another person with the intention of permanently depriving that person of it. The other person is the shop owner so not “victimless” at all, except perhaps from a weird, skewed Marxist perspective that aligns shop owners with bankers and considers thieves as some kind of class warrior.

    • Fergus Pickering

      I suppose burglary could be renamed houselifting and mugging personlifting.

      • Colonel Mustard

        Mugging is another euphemism for robbery. The act of stealing (theft) where the offender uses violence or the threat of violence at the time of doing so and in order to do so. Snatching away a handbag has been considered an act of violence to effect theft but a scuffle with a pickpocket after the act is questionable.

    • Eddie

      No. Shoplifting has not ‘shot up’. What has happened is that the police have targets to meet – and they know easy meat when thenh sniff it.
      Whenever a shoplifting crime gets called over the radio, there is often a bunfight to see which copper can get bthere first: easy arrest, easy solved crime, so good stats. Meanwhile, the police all but ignore burglaries and muggings which they know they’ll rarely solve or make arrests for.
      You fail to take this into account, nor the way many people these days don’t even bother to call the police when they’re robbed, because they know it’ll be more hassle for them for no result. Many people just want an insurance number anyway – and the police don’t even bother visiting for many burglaries.
      Correlation does not equal causation. Try and look behind the figures eh?
      ‘Better education’ (as if we have had that over the last 40 years) has lowered crime? You are joking, I presume?
      CCTV does not seem to stop mugging, now that we have the immigrant cultures that goes in for it. Compare with Canada – no CCTV is their cities and next to no mugging.

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