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No good deed goes unpunished

“If the boy responsible doesn’t own up then the whole class, and I do mean the whole class, will stay behind after school.”

I have no idea if teachers can still do this but if not I’m guessing that those of us past out mid 30s can probably remember hearing it at least once, and unless we happened to be the boy – or for the sake of equality, the girl – responsible we probably thought that it was bloody unfair. We mightn’t have even seen the boy/girl/hermaphrodite/person of indeterminate gender responsible for doing whatever it was doing it whenever they did and be as much in the dark about it as the teacher, so why this great love of collective punishment? As an adult I’ve come to suspect that it’s because trying to shame a confession out of someone, or failing that to get others to point the finger, is just a hell of a lot easier than the alternative and that often there won’t even be an alternative. Does that justify collective punishment in classrooms? I’m not sure but I’ll leave that as a question for parents with school age children to ponder, assuming, as I said before, that it’s even allowed these days.

But I am sure that when it’s a situation between adults and the state collective punishment is highly undesirable.

“If the person responsible doesn’t own up then the whole neighbourhood, and I do mean the entire postcode, will be put under house arrest.”

We’d go crazy if they said that, wouldn’t we? Well, I hope we would but seeing as how if you changed ‘house arrest’ to ‘fingerprinted and DNA swabbed’ a lot of people would nod approvingly perhaps not. Certainly there’s not enough objection to collective punishment in this part of the world when it comes to motoring offences and car confiscation, which as I’ve mentioned here before frequently punish the innocent owner of a vehicle as well as the person who committed an offence while driving it. Whether it’s because more vehicles get loaned to untrustworthy dickheads in the Perth area or whether it’s because the WA media have just picked up on this earlier I don’t know, but most of the examples of excessive punishment of innocents, i.e. confiscating the car for a period of weeks, seem to be in West Oz, while here in the eastern states it usually seems to be a couple of days. But just in case anyone in this bottom right hand corner of the country thinks that’s the worst that can happen we’ve just had a good reminder from Victoria Police that they can impound a car for something the owner didn’t do for just as long as their west coast colleagues can.

And yes, they bloody well are prepared to do it.

A man caught speeding through streets in Melbourne’s busy inner east this morning told police he was running late for an exam.

Police said the 21-year-old man was speeding along Swan Street in Richmond, ran a red light at Lennox Street and went through a pedestrian crossing before attempting to avoid police near Docker Street around 9.30am.

The Altona Meadows man was picked up travelling more than 100km/h in a 40 zone.


His friend’s car will be impounded for 30 days and he will also need to pay $689 towing and storage costs.

I don’t want to give the impression that I excuse this kind of driving because I don’t. Many people in Melbourne will know Swan Street and anyone else can tell with a quick look at Google Maps that it’s not really a 100+ km/h (62+ mph in old money) road – it’s a tram route, there are often parked cars narrowing the road to just one lane each way (shared with the trams) and there are lots of shops, often with delivery vehicles coming and going (the Street View image shows this pretty clearly). Personally I’m not sure 40 km/h isn’t a tad on the low side and doubt it’s significantly safer than the old 50 limit it used to have, but it’s not somewhere I’d feel safe doing 100 even if it was the middle of the night and the road was empty. If he really was going that fast, and since the driver in one of the WA cases was eventually acquitted I’m going to stress ‘if’, then he’s a complete dickhead that I can’t raise much sympathy for. No, nobody got hurt and as far as the speeding bit goes it is, as is the norm with speeding, a victimless crime. It’s the driving like a tool part that puts people at risk and which, rather than speeding, The Age says he’s being charged with:

The man is expected to be charged on summons for driving in a manner dangerous, speed dangerous and evade police.

Ignoring the fact that the subbies must napping on job when let that sentence though, if what’s been reported is accurate I have no sympathy with the guy at all, and if I was on the jury and felt the evidence supported it I’d say guilty of driving like a dickhead, and possibly speed dangerous and evade police to boot. But I can sympathise with his mate who has lost the use of his car for a month no matter what happens now. Even if the driver pays the storage costs and then goes to court and proves that he wasn’t speeding it doesn’t help because the case won’t be heard until months after the owner gets his car back, so the result of the court case will be moot. Win, lose or mistrial the owner of the car, who, since lending your property to a tool isn’t a crime, will not himself be in court having not been charged with anything, gets punished anyway. And I have no idea if a successfully defended case would mean that the police are required to compensate the whoever ended up paying that $689 storage charge. I’d bloody hope so but I wouldn’t be shocked to discover that they weren’t.

Some people would say that’s too bad and just the risk you run when you lend your car to an idiot, but how is an individual supposed to know the person borrowing it is going to do something idiotic? People are neither mind readers nor fortune tellers. You might balk at giving your keys to a young or inexperienced driver or someone with a heap of points, but at the end of the day if you were to lend your car to me, a driver of twenty years with a clean licence, you’d still be trusting me to behave with it. If I betray that trust you’ve already been wronged, so why does the law feel the need to punish you even more by depriving you of your property that had been used in a way you weren’t aware of and did not consent to? Do a mate a favour and if he abuses your faith in him then law comes round and stamps on your face. Hardly justice, is it?

This is a terrible kind of collective punishment, far worse than knowingly punishing innocents because establishing the identity of the guilty is too difficult or impossible because the identity of the alleged offender is known from the outset and because even for them the presumption of innocence is reversed – supposedly unthinkable where the English legal system has been a significant influence, but all too common when it comes to traffic offences which are typically victimless crimes. And worst of all it’s a wrong that Victoria’s Liberal In Name Only government appears not to have the slightest interest in putting right.

I wouldn’t call it a police state, but…

… but things do seem to be tilted in their favour sometimes, as two stories this week about policing in different parts of Oz illustrate.

First, over in the west, yet another example of the law punishing the innocent and guilty alike when it comes to impounding cars for speeding, though in effect the innocent party receives the bulk of the punishment by being deprived of their property while the driver cops a fine and is at liberty to carry on driving their own car.

A Mercedes-Benz dealership employee has been left red-faced and on foot after having a work car impounded for 28 days for speeding.

The 26-year-old woman was allegedly caught doing 105km/h in a 50km/h zone in East Waikiki, Western Australia, driving a near new Mercedes-Benz C250 Avantgarde. […]

The woman reportedly had permission to drive the car, but not that quick. The driver has been summonsed for reckless driving.

Western Australia’s laws are particularly tough on hoons, with police able to impound vehicles for up to 28 days for speeding offences, even if the car isn’t owned by the driver.

Western Australia’s laws are not unique in the country as far as I know, and I’ve certainly seen similar things happen to so-called ‘hoon’ drivers in their mums’ cars here in Victoria on those Police, Film Crew, Dickhead Driver type TV shows that fill TV slots for no better reason than being dirt cheap to make. What seems to set WA apart is that states such as Victoria that happily confiscate cars despite them not belonging to the offender mostly do so for a couple of days, while over in the west the rozzers feel no guilt at all about adhering to the letter of a bad law and sitting on an innocent third party’s property for a whole month, despite them not even being present when the alleged offence occurs. They do this when the driver protests his innocence and announces their intention to fight the charge in court, which turns the notion of innocence until guilt is proven on its head and must be a bit embarrassing for the cops when the driver is then found not guilty.* They do it when it rapidly becomes clear that the driver didn’t have permission to be in the car in the first place. And it turns out that they do it when it’s a demo vehicle belonging to a dealership, and they do it even if it happens to be the dealership’s only demo vehicle for that model. Oh, and by the way, they’ve also had cars stolen while in police care recently.

In all these cases apart from the one stolen from the towing yard the person or body with legal title to the confiscated cars was not the driver and wasn’t even present when the alleged offence – and since at least one case has been successfully defended we really must say alleged offence – occurred, yet all have been punished by the confiscation of their property. And as the case that was successfully challenged makes apparent, if it turns out that the police got it wrong it’s all too late because the car will have been given back long before and there’s no way to retroactively un-confiscate it. Even if they go out and hire another car for you for a month you can’t drive two at a time anyway. There’s simply no getting round the fact that the law has punished innocents, and it doesn’t seem eager to fix that.

Police Minister Rob Johnson says the car dealer who had his Mini Cooper S impounded yesterday after a test driver was allegedly clocked at 170kmh was not let down by the law.


Mr Brandon said the legislation had punished his company for something they did not do.

”We feel a bit hard done by,” Mr Brandon said.

“Unfortunately we lent a car to someone and they behaved badly and now we have had it confiscated with no great loss to him (test driver).”

He lodged an appeal against the confiscation but it was rejected by police.

Mr Johnson said he sympathised with Mr Brandon but insisted the law had not let him down.

“I accept this is a very difficult situation and I sympathise with Darrin,” Mr Johnson said.

“Let’s not lose focus here. Mr Brandon hasn’t been let down by the law, he’s been let down by someone who chose to drive one of his cars in a dangerous and reckless way.”

Don’t see the police minister explaining how Mr Brandon or his company is responsible for someone else ‘who chose to drive one of his cars in a dangerous and reckless way’ but there you go. That was the attitude of WA’s Liberal run government and it’s police minister in 2010 and presumably still is since neither have changed and the election’s not due ’til next year.

As I mentioned, this is not unique to the sand grubbers and happens over here in the eastern states as well, and that’s another worry for victorians because it turns out that the police have another little advantage when it comes to walloping motorists. You know how police are supposed to follow certain rules when it comes to gathering evidence, like not beating the ‘truth’ out of suspects or manufacturing evidence? In most places one of those rules is that evidence gathered illegally isn’t admissible, and as far as I knew that’s the case here too. It’s not to make police work harder than it needs to be or to make it more difficult to lock up criminals, or rather it is but the intent is to make it less likely that innocent people are punished as a result of police cocking things up and arresting the wrong people – and if you don’t think that’s a valid concern can I suggest you re-read the first half of the post dealing with the punishment of innocent parties.

So imagine my surprise when it turned out this week that setting up a speed trap in an illegal location doesn’t invalidate the fines. Surprise? Sorry, I meant concern.

A speed camera operator will be slapped with a fine after parking illegally to catch speeding motorists in Belmont.

But despite doing the wrong thing, speeding fines will still be issued to anyone nabbed by the vehicle.

Ross Kroger snapped the snapper after coming across the vehicle in Roslyn Rd last week, parked so far out from the kerb it was blocking the bicycle lane.


The photographs were referred by the Geelong Advertiser to the Victoria Police traffic camera office for review.

The office found the operator had parked the car out from the kerb to avoid reflections, which can distort speed camera results, but admitted the car contravened the road rules and issued a $73 parking infringement notice to the operator.

Anyone caught by the camera doing less than 10km/h over the speed limit can expect to be fined more than twice that amount.

Fine, you might say. The operator’s getting a parking ticket and where he parked doesn’t change the fact that people who got tickets were speeding, so what’s your problem here, Angry? Well, leaving aside concerns with various handheld speed measuring devices and the ability of some to get speed readings from stationary objects (not least because I have no idea which one was being used and whether such concerns apply), my problem here is with the principle of police gathering evidence correctly and in a way which is unimpeachable. Not because I want criminals and bad drivers – and I mean the real dickheads, not merely people who are more than 2km/h over and can afford a fine – to get away with it but because we all should want to be sure that in their eagerness to get the right man the police aren’t sometimes getting the wrong one as well.

And this business with speeding fines from an illegally sited camera isn’t just thin end of the wedge-ism on my part – even before this we’d already seen a fatter part of the wedge when, as I blogged at the Orphanage in March, it turned out that thousands of search warrants in Victoria had been issued on improperly sworn affidavits and were therefore invalid. Didn’t stop them being executed and people arrested, charged and jailed as a result of some of them, and when it emerged that Victorian officers had been making a complete Horlicks of this for years what was the reaction of the state government? Well, much the same as with that speed camera really (my bold).

ROBERT CLARK, VICTORIAN ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We simply cannot afford to have cases being delayed, growing demands on the court system, and potentially serious offenders walking free from court simply because police or others have failed to comply with proper procedural formalities.

Translation: they dunnit, we knowit, so screwit. And with that attitude it requires a a lot of faith in the reliability of a service that’s admitted many of its officers couldn’t follow procedure in getting affidavits to keep innocent people from being arrested and and punished by accident. More faith than I have, to be perfectly honest.

Anything you say will be taken down, ripped up and shoved
down your scrawny little throat until you choke to death.

Funny, isn’t it? Plenty of people in the UK worry about arming the cops there. I live somewhere where we see routinely and openly armed police on the streets every day and the guns aren’t the part that worry me about policing. The worst they can do with those is… well, okay, the worst is actually shooting you dead but at least they still get in a colossal amount of shit for shooting innocent citizens. But what really worries me is that more than ever the activities of the police, and not just Victoria’s, need to be beyond reproach, and yet the rules that are supposed to hold them to account seem to be flexible. And I feel we should want to avoid moving goalposts in any area of policing if we also want to avoid the day when they don’t into a colossal amount of shit for shooting innocent citizens.

* Actually this is just me speculating. For all I know they don’t give a rip and it may be more accurate to say that they bloody well ought to be embarrassed.

When constabulary duty’s to be done

Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

Readers who take an interest in police activities may recognise that as one of nine ‘Peelian’ Principles of Policing. The idea is a straightforward one: that a police officer is just another citizen, no different from those around them except that they’re paid to enforce the law for a living and so need a few extra legal powers. How true that remains in 2012 is up for debate when that little difference has grown to mean they also need all sorts of extra equipment, as can often be seen merely by glancing at a police officer and what they carry around with them these days. In this part of upside down land police, now mostly decked out in cargo pants that make the wearer look like they have an allergy to trouser presses, are provided with some or all of the following for use in the course of their duties.

Smith & Wesson M&P .40 pistol with 15 round magazine

Capsicum spray

Asp telescopic baton

Holden Commodore SS model (pic by Bidgee via Wikipedia
and used under Creative Commons licence)

Surely this doesn’t need a label

Whereas their fellow citizens are, as long as they provide them themselves and are sensible about using them in public, allowed roughly the following: a water pistol, offensively strong perfume, a small stick, a Commodore SS minus the decals, and finally…

Surely this doesn’t need a label either

And to be brutally honest I’m not all that sure about the water pistol or the stick. In private, sure, things are different, and Aussies can even buy a Smith & Wesson Military & Police model semi-auto pistol, though not the .40 and not with a 15 round magazine (maximum the law allows is .38 and ten rounds) and with predictable restrictions on use, purpose and storage. Good luck asking to be allowed to wander round with one in public though, and I don’t think you can get capsicum spray or telescopic batons at all.*

You might be thinking that this is going to be me going off on one about private gun ownership and why, if the public is the police and vice versa, law abiding and responsible citizens may not arm themselves. Bearing in mind that closer to Robert Peel’s day the police borrowed firearms from passing members of the public at least once I could say something about that, but actually no, not today.** And not least because the police here are, with very rare exceptions, only armed when on duty – presumably a law abiding and responsible police officer becomes a criminally reckless tool at clocking off time or Victoria Police can’t afford enough guns so it’s sharesies. No, where I’m going with this is that if the police really need all those toys, plus radios and body armour and even more kit carried by various support units, because of the demands of 21st century policing then why the fuck did they decide to stop a stolen car being driven at high speed on the Hume Freeway by forming a roadblock made out of unarmed and unequipped citizens in their private vehicles? And double why the fuck did they leave them in the goddamn cars, and triple why the fuck did they include vehicles with children on board?

”The primary duty of a police officer is to protect life and property. This duty comes above all else, including the need to apprehend offenders.”
– Victoria’s chief traffic policeman, Kieran Walshe, in an opinion piece for The Age in January

David Rendina in that clip there had his partner and their 8 and 9 year old children in his vehicle when police gestured to him to park up at the rear of the formation on the emergency lane side, and being one of the last to be directed he had little choice because the freeway was already blocked. Unfortunately for him the driver of the stolen vehicle this show had been put on for decided to try to barge through the block by smashing between the vehicles in the emergency lane and lane one. Happily nobody was injured and so he still has his partner and children, but his ute is currently un-driveable and he’s waiting to find out if it can even be repaired. Since he’s an electrician and that’s his work vehicle and had his tools on board that means he’s currently unable to work as well, though no doubt that’s a lesser consideration than being ordered by police to put himself and his family in the way of a fucknuts car thief with his foot on the floor.

ABC Melbourne Radio: Did you think you were put at risk?
David Rendina: Yes, of course.
ABC: In order to catch a… a driver of a stolen car.
DR: Yep.
ABC: Do you think it’s worth it?
DR: Not at all.
ABC: Do you think it was worth putting your kids and you at risk to catch a kid with a stolen car?
DR: No way. Erm, I think if I was asked to do that or given an option my answer would be no.
ABC: Were you given an option?
DR: No.

774 ABC Melbourne radio interview (mp3 here, approx. 20 minutes long)

Let’s reiterate that this was a pursuit that had already been begun and called off after just a few minutes and left to the air wing to follow from high up because of the risk to other road users, and while I’m prepared to believe the Assistant Commissioner talking later on that recording that the decision was made to stop the idiot because he was still driving like a twat even after the police stopped chasing I find it really difficult to believe that the only option open to getting him stopped and nicked was to put a load of people in his way, wait for him to crash into them, and then haul him out and slap the cuffs on. Victoria Police has a budget of some $2 billion, which among other things buys and runs lots of police vehicles, some of which could perhaps have been used to hare down the Hume warning people to get off as soon as possible (there are four exits in the 15km or so north of where the roadblock was ordered) while others, if allowing the suspect to crash into cars was absolutely necessary, could have been put in his way instead of vehicles belonging to members of the public. Yes, I know they’re expensive and wrecking them costs taxpayers money, but Vic Police is on the hook for compensating those people whose cars were wrecked and whose children are having nightmares. And where’s the money for that going to come from? Yep, you got it.

A review has been ordered, but for Christ’s sake, Vic Police, Benalla is the best part of 200 kilometres away from where the roadblock was made. You say you had eyes on him from the air the whole time, and even at the speeds the moron was doing it gave you over an hour or so to come up with a better plan than ‘Oooh, I know, let’s just stop all the traffic and wait right here for him.’ You cannot have it both ways – either the police and public are one, in which case there’s a discussion to be had about the seemingly widening gap between the two, or they are not, in which case you’ve got no goddamn business putting anyone’s arses on the line but your own. In either case you’ve sure as hell got no right putting kids at risk. The public in Tottenham a century ago may have lent their property and even voluntarily mucked in, but that was in a time where the public could have things the police didn’t rather than the other way round, and I expect that even the very keenest to help would have been pretty reticent to let the bobbies borrow their kids to use in lieu of bullet proof jackets.

ABC Melbourne radio: Would you order your family to park at the back of a road block and wait to be hit by a speeding car?
Asst. Commissioner Fontana: No I wouldn’t.


* You probably can get plain handcuffs if your tastes run that way. Sometimes there are avenues of research I’m just not going to go down for a blog post.
** Interestingly the history of the Tottenham Outrage that appears on the Met’s website makes no mention of the part where police borrowed firearms from passersby or armed members of the public joining the pursuit, though it’s mentioned in at least one other place. Draw your own conclusions.

Another downside of summary justice

I’ve blogged a few times on how Australian police forces have the power to impose summary justice on drivers at the side of the road in the form of impounding vehicles, and that my concern isn’t so much that I think it’s being abused as that it’s fundamentally a recipe for injustice due to its inflexibility. If vehicle is seen doing, or in practice is merely believed to have been doing,  X, Y or Z then it’s impounded for N days no matter what, even if the person whose car it is and who’s therefore being punished was not actually the driver. Hence we have the Perth doctor who lost the use of his Lambo for a month after police stopped and impounded it for speeding despite not even being in the car at the time, never mind driving it, and despite the driver later being found not guilty of the offence; we have the Mercedes dealership who lost one of their loan vehicles to Victoria police for a couple of days after they took it away from Lewis Hamilton for being a tyre smoking dickhead outside the Albert Park Grand Prix circuit two years ago, again without anyone representing the car’s owner being present let alone in control of it; and we have the Perth Mum whose car was impounded for a month after her son was caught driving it, yet again without her even being in the car let alone at the wheel.

This is sort of more of the same, but with a couple of important differences. First is that in this case Tom O’Sullivan, the person driving at the time the car was impounded, was the owner, which means that at least they weren’t punishing someone who wasn’t even there again. Sure, it’s still an over the top punishment to lose your car for all that time for “undue and excessive noise” (Seriously? Not even speeding, just “noise”? What’s wrong with a defect notice?) and there’s that thing missing from the process… oh, what’s it called again, now? It’s on the tip of my tongue…Kang Oh yes, a fucking trial. Anyhow, that’s by the by. The point is that in this case the person who was driving is the one on the receiving end, disproportionate or not.

But then there’s the second big difference, which is that in all likelihood Tom O’Sullivan will never see his car again because it was stolen from the impound yard. And to add insult to injury it took them a fortnight to tell him.

Police waited two weeks to tell the owner of an expensive high-performance car impounded under anti-hoon laws that his vehicle had been stolen from a towing yard.

Embarrassed police told PerthNow there had been a “communication breakdown” between themselves and AAAC, the private company it contracts to tow and store seized vehicles.


It was not until February 29 that Mr O’Sullivan received a call from East Cannington Police Station to say his car had been stolen from an impound yard at Kewdale on February 17.

How much communication is even needed here? Ring ring, hello officer, one of the cars we tow away and store for you has been stolen, please tell the owner … ring ring, I’ve very sorry sir, but there’s been a break in at the impound yard and your car was stolen. Two phone calls. Two! Okay, that’s a bare minimum but it’s hard to believe that it could take two bloody weeks to have broken the bad news to this poor guy.

“The keys to every car are in the impound shed are kept on the car…..they simply jumped the fence, walked in played with the electric gate and drove my clubby out the door.”

Or maybe not so hard to believe.

Police said it was the first time such an incident had occurred.

If the keys have been in the cars all this time that sounds like you’ve got luck to thank for that.

“This is a one off and very sophisticated operation possibly done by professional people,” Inspector Bill Munnee said.

Yes, jumping a fence, starting a car with its regular ignition key, opening the gate and driving away sounds like the level of sophistication that would have given even Danny Ocean a migraine.

Needless to say Tom O’Sullivan is less than ecstatic and wants compensation from WA Police. And fair enough – he’s insured but why should he have to eat the increased excess given it was in someone else’s care at the time? For that matter his insurance company could be forgiven for wondering why the police and/or the towing company shouldn’t pay all the costs if it’s true about leaving the keys with the vehicles.

But I think Tom O’Sullivan is missing a trick here. I think he should also be asking for the undue or excessive noise charge to be dropped and any fine he paid to be returned along with any compensation. Because I think it’s possible the police haven’t just lost his impounded vehicle, you see. They may also have lost their evidence that there was a reason to impound the car in the first place.

Disposable double jeopardy

Having stuffed up the RSS readers of anyone unlucky enough to be on the feed when I altered all those posts I feel I owe some sensible comment as well as apologies. Unfortunately it’s late, it took me much longer than I expected, and I really need to get to bed so I’ll be brief. I’ve noticed that in the UK someone has finally been convicted for the murder of Stephen Lawrence, some 18 years after the fact and after having already once been found not guilty. I don’t wish to defend the two men who’ve just been convicted – for all I know they did do it, and the very conspicuously did not sue The Daily Mail when that paper came right out and accused them of the murder on the front page and challenged them to sue if it was wrong. This is one of those awkward situations where I think that someone who is probably, though not certainly, guilty has been convicted but I’m as uncomfortable as hell in the way it’s come about. In short an ancient legal protection was tossed away and then this was applied retrospectively in order to paper over the cracks of an inadequate investigation.

The law of double jeopardy meant no one could be tried twice for the same crime but that legal principle was abolished in 2005 following a series of high profile campaigns.
The Lawrence murder played a key part and Sir William Macpherson recommended the law be changed following his inquiry in to the case in 1999.
Until 2005 there was no chance of ever bringing Dobson back to court as a suspect in the murder because he was acquitted, along with Neil Acourt and Luke Knight, following a private prosecution brought by Stephen’s parents in 1996.
However, that situation changed with the 2003 Criminal Justice Act 2003, which abolished the double jeopardy rule for serious crimes and which came in to effect two years later.
Crucially, it was also retrospective meaning it did not matter whether an alleged offence had occurred before 2005.

Seriously, how can anyone be comfortable with the police getting another go when it’s believed the jury got it wrong the first time? How many people in the UK went apeshit over the EU’s practice of repeat referenda until it got the desired outcome? How many of those will now be nodding approval at the British criminal justice system doing more or less the same thing?

Let’s look at a more mundane parallel. Let’s say you’d been done for speeding and decided to fight the ticket in court, and you discovered that the device the police caught you on was supposed to be calibrated daily but in fact they’d only been doing it once a week. As a result you’re found not guilty and sent on your way. Now imagine that the law is changed so that the speed device was now allowed to be calibrated once a month and that speeding motorists who’d been acquitted by a court once could be dragged back in again, except this time they wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. Ridiculous? Why? The law allowing the criminal justice system a second bite for murderers sets the precedent, and it’s naive to think that eventually there won’t be calls for it to be extended to those acquitted of kidnap or rape or drug dealing… and if those then why not robbery, burglary, assault, fraud, possession and even motoring offences? The principle has now been established that nobody may be tried twice for the same offence unless someone thinks it’s quite important, and that importance may be established retroactively if need be.

And in case anyone thinks that I’m an unfeeling bastard who cares nothing for the death of Stephen Lawrence, or even that I’m a racist taking the side of the white guys, it’s not that at all. Like I said, I think they’re probably, though not certainly, guilty. But the steps taken to convict them of murder open up the possibility, slender though it might be at the moment, of anyone being tried again (and who knows, maybe again) if there’s enough belief that they’re guilty. Until now the police and Crown Prosecution Service have not had the luxury of being able to put defendants in the dock again and again until one jury gets the ‘right’ verdict, which is both to protect the innocent and discourage police and prosecutors from putting up with a sloppy investigation.

This will be a popular result and might even be a just one, but really it shouldn’t please anyone, not even those close to Stephen Lawrence and certainly not those who are already hoping to see more use of disposable double jeopardy. I’ll let Sir Thomas More have the final word and explain why.

“What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? … And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you – where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s, and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!”

Seeing the light

Click for linky

Shoulder mounted laser? Wow, like the fucking Predator. We’ll show those little pond-life estate scum next time they get a bit fighty, eh lads? What they gonna do when we’ve each got a las… er… oh.

Expect laws restricting the purchase of welding goggles and mirrors to be around the corner, affecting only the law-abiding, non-rioting majority who won’t simply steal them when they want them.

/ facepalm

Justice is also a dish best served cold

Over at Max Farquar’s blog and one or two others is an horrific story of a very young child, a baby in fact, who has been brutally raped. As yet few details are known – even the baby’s gender isn’t certain and whether the poor kid is critical or has in fact died from the injuries is also up in the air. Other than that a really nasty assault with some terrible injuries has taken place and that the parents were arrested and then bailed far more is not known than is known.

Max, who I have a lot of time for as I agree with much of what he says, wrote this:

North Kent police have said that a 35-year-old man was subsequently arrested, on suspicion of grievous bodily harm and rape, along with a 33-year-old woman. They were both from the Gravesend area and were detained in a North Kent police station. However, they have now been released on bail.
Released on bail?
WTF! A one month old baby has been raped!
Who is the 35-year-old man, that is walking free after raping a one month old baby? Is he the father or is he the boyfriend of the 33-year-old woman that has also been released on bail? Do we presume she is the mother? Someone, somewhere out there must know who these loathsome, disgusting and unbelievable evil people excuses for human beings are!
It’s time to name and shame.

Here’s my problem.

With respect to Max, we don’t as yet know that anyone’s walking free after raping a baby and so no it’s not time to name and shame. It’s time to thoroughly investigate, identify the guilty party(s), build an absolutely watertight case with extra attention to detail given to all the human rights – yes, I know, but hear me out – of any initial suspects and the eventual accused. And there are two reasons – first is that we all know the police screw up from time to time and arrest the wrong people, and right this second we can’t honesty say that those arrested are guilty of anything. Suspected, yes, sure, but right now they haven’t even been charged and in law they are innocent ’til proven guilty, just the same as everyone else. This is not a triviality. This is not showing more concern for the human rights of the perpetrators, who I repeat are not as yet known to be the perpetrators, than it is for the victim. This is absolutely essential for law to work at all. As Bolt’s Sir Thomas More put it:

And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

The second reason is more prosaic. I’m appalled by this crime and I want to know that someone is punished for it. I want to hear that they got the bastard, that he was tried, convicted and locked away like an animal. And if he appeals I want to be confident that he’s got no hope at all and the Appeals Court will reject it in very short order because the police and CPS did a thorough job, cutting no corners and respecting the accused’s rights at every step of the process. I said they were important, and that’s why – it’s not just that some accused really are innocent but also that you don’t want it to become a get out of jail free card for the guilty ones later on.

Naming and shaming now, if the eventual accused is indeed the one who gets named, puts that all that at risk if the defence persuades the court that it’s prejudiced the jury and a fair trial is no longer possible. And before we start launching into defence barristers, see above – if you’d been charged and you were innocent you’d be wanting the barrister to do absolutely everything, play every angle at every stage, to get you out of there and back to your life, and if we want that for innocents accidentally put on trial or maliciously fitted up then it’s got to be done for the crims too. It’s not perfect but that way we know. If there’s no trial, no guilt can ever be proven, and I don’t trust British mobs to get it right when people have been known to attack the house of a paediatrician.

The disgust I feel over the idea that someone of technically the same species could do this to a tiny baby meant that I struggled to blog anything right away. There is no just punishment for this, none. There can’t be. We’re not a society that tortures people to death over extended periods anymore, and we’re the better for it, but even if we were I’m not even sure Leg-iron’s suggestion of hacking their legs off at the knee and standing them in salt is enough. Death certainly isn’t, and not just because it’d be sending him off to a hell I don’t believe in but because even if I’m wrong and there is one the bastard would get the opportunity of absolution before he got the rope or the needle or whatever. Spending the remainder of his miserable existence hearing the whispers, knowing from the beginning that the first beating – and worse – will come sooner or later, and then over the years learning from the less than gentle ministrations of fellow prisoners that the most frightening sight is an absence of screws and the worst sound is the small metallic click of a door that should remain shut being quietly unlocked, being moved for his safety and living in terror of the moment that who he is and what he’s in for will become known in the new prison, that might well be the closest thing a civilised society can do for a just punishment.

We should want as many waking moments of this creature’s remaining life as possible to be filled with nervous fear, and as many filled with terror and pain as other guests of Mrs Majesty’s prison system are able to supply. The best chance of all that happening is to name no names except to police officers. If folks on the blogosphere or Twitter or Facebook blab enough to screw up a trial, or even any chance of there being a trial, then they’d almost be accessories to the crime. Because the perpetrator of this evil will go free and those who named him will all have helped. Jeez, if he gets a new ID and life somewhere at taxpayers’ expense the blogs and twitterers and facebookers might as well have clubbed together and bought the bastard a ticket abroad and a clean docs.

Revenge is a dish best served cold. Quite often so is justice.

Well, that didn’t take long

I’ve been meaning to get round to blogging on the actions of John Pike, the American cop who calmly sprayed capsicum directly in the faces of some of Occupy protestors sitting peacefully in a row offering no resistance. On the one hand I’m not a huge supporter of the Occupy mob and think that many of them are aiming at the wrong target (business rather than government) and protesting something that doesn’t truly exist (the free market). It all rather smacks of the anarchists for a bigger government protests in London last year. However, free speech and association and all that, as enshrined by our American cousins in their Bill of Rights, which makes it troubling that it was in America – Land of the Free, etc – in which a cop unloaded a canister full of capsicum spray right in the faces of some protestors sitting Gandhi style, unresisting and offering no violence.

However, not for the first time events have overtaken my blogging efforts and John Pike, whose identity and contact details quickly made their way online, has now become an internet meme. Those UK readers who are old enough to remember Tony Hart’s gallery music can start humming it now.*

Do-duh-do-duh-do-duh-dooo, do-duh-doo-dooo, do-duh-do-doo-doo-doooo…

John Pike, aged 39

John Pike, aged 39

John Pike, aged 39

John Pike, aged 39

John Pike, aged 39

John Pike, aged 39

John Pike, aged 39

But my personal favourites this week are these three, by John Pike, 39, John Pike aged 39, and finally 39 year old John Pike, all of the University of California, Davis, police department.

Clever reference

A meme within a meme

No comment necessary

* For the benefit of non Brits the late Tony Hart presented a couple of art TV shows for kids when I was little, at least one of which had a gallery segment of drawings and paintings sent in by kids and which was accompanied by that piece of music. The bastards never showed any of mine.

I thought this only worked on TV

Well, if it works for internet fraudsters why shouldn’t offering something for nothing work for police?

More than a dozen suspected criminals have been arrested as part of a British undercover sting operation after being duped into ringing the police to claim free beer.
Derbyshire Police said the suspects were detained after officers sent letters to a string of people who had evaded arrest for several months, urging them to claim a complimentary crate of beer from a marketing company.
A total of 19 suspects, wanted in connection with a range of offences including robbery, burglary and sexual assault, fell for the hoax and called the number on the letters, which put them through to officers based at Chesterfield Police Station.
Police then arranged a time and date for the free alcohol to be dropped off, but instead arrested those awaiting free beer at locations in Chesterfield, Staveley, Alfreton, Ilkeston, Sheffield and Nottingham.

I can’t help thinking that at least one of them is still going “But what about me free beer, innit?” to his solicitor.

Guilty ’til proven innocent

I was going to blog on the arrest (with free strip search thrown in) in Germany of Tracey Molamphy on a charge she knew nothing about relating to an incident involving someone she was with more than 12 years earlier, but SadbutMadLad has already done a thorough job on it over at The Raccoon Arms.

Was she unlawfully arrested? No, because the EAW is law. Was she unfairly treated by the German police? No, they were following their lawful procedures. So if everything was above board and followed the law what was wrong? The fact that no evidence needs to be shown to back up the extradition request.

The only thing I’ll add is that thanks to the European Arrest Warrant and its provision for detention with absolutely no prima facie evidence, and of course the feckless politicians who signed the UK up to it, that nasty little phrase ‘Guilty ’til proven innocent’ effectively applies to everyone living in the UK. For that matter it applies to everyone else in the world who might visit any part of Europe – if a British citizen can be picked up in Germany over an incident in Portugal then there’s no reason why an American or an Aussie or a Japanese tourist visiting London couldn’t be arrested over a years old accusation they no nothing about in a completely different part of Europe. Any protection that might be afforded by a statute of limitations will depend on which country issued the warrant since many don’t have one.


Two old gun clichés

When every second counts the police are only minutes away.
When you criminalise possession of guns only criminals will have possession of guns.

Even as clichés go these two are pretty well worn, yet not only are both still true nonetheless true but from time to time that’s demonstrated in a single incident. That’s right, I am about to give you an example of that. How’d you guess?

A great-grandfather has told how he used a baseball bat to fight off two thieves who were ransacking his gun cabinet and stole a cache of weapons.
The 70-year-old grandfather-of-10, who has one great-grandchild, told Perthnow he swung his bat at both young men who were smashing into his gun cabinet and attempting to steal his utility at his Alexander Heights home early today.

Now straight away the problem with this should be obvious. Thieves were stealing his guns – his unquestionably legally owned guns which he kept in gun cabinets in accordance with WA and Commonwealth law – and he had to defend his property, and his life if they’d arrived armed or managed to load a gun and turn it on him, with a fucking baseball bat. Surely it’s not just shooters who can see the stupidity in this, but just in case it’s not I’ll note that if they’d stolen a car from his driveway the law would not have insisted that if he chose to give chase he should do so on nothing faster than a bicycle.

Oh, and on that subject they did nick his car too.

He described how he was awoken just before 5am to find his prized Ford XR6 ute on the driveway with its doors wide open and a man smashing his gun cabinet open with a sledgehammer.
John, who lives at the home with his wife, was awoken by loud bangs from his garage just before 5am.
When he went outside to investigate he found the men trying to break into his gun safe and fought with both of them with a baseball bat before they fled in his ute.
As the robbers drove off John smashed the vehicle’s windscreen with the baseball bat.

And predictably enough the ute was found burned out a short time later, minus the six guns the thieves had got away with, natch. As Vincent Vega put it, what’s more chickenshit than fucking with a man’s automobile? Well, I suppose there is nicking his guns as well, safe in the knowledge that he’s highly unlikely to have one out and ready to use to defend himself against you because that’s against the law, and the overwhelming majority of legal gun owners are scrupulously law abiding no matter what they might think. And the recently disarmed John is a case in point.

“I’ve got a crook hip [he took a blow to the side from the sledgehammer – AE] but I’m not as sore as they are,” he said.
“If they came back I wouldn’t have any hesitation . . . (to do it again).
“I confronted them because this is my house, and I’ve got a right to protect my property.
“Had I had a pistol in my hand, I would have used that as well.
“They’ve got no right to come in here, I would have used anything to stop them, I’ve got every right to do that.”
He shrugged off suggestions he was a hero for standing up to the two thugs.
“It’s just something you do to protect yourself and your property and I feel we’ve got every right to,” he said.
“I’d do it again now, right now, if they were here.
“I think everybody should have a pistol under their bed and use it.
“Had I had my pistol under the bed I would have used it and bugger the consequences . . . this has got to stop.”

But of course John did not have his pistol under the bed, because neither John nor anyone else here is allowed to keep a pistol under the bed. Yes, at least law abiding Australians are allowed to have pistols – providing the local police give permission and that owners comply with various state and Commonwealth laws, of course – and clearly this is a better situation than not being allowed to have one at all. But it’s not as good as being at liberty to have one, especially since if self defence is not a valid reason for wanting a pistol, or any other type of gun for that matter, and the law insists that you keep it unloaded and locked away then it’s quite useless when dealing with sledgehammer wielding intruders anyway. Jeez, you can have half a dozen guns and for all the good they do you locked away you might as well defend yourself with a baseball bat and hope for the best. Oh, actually that’s exactly what happened, isn’t it? John didn’t have his pistol to hand and resorted to a baseball bat because at least he’s allowed to have that lying around, and now doesn’t have his pistol or his other guns at all anymore by the sounds of things.

Six guns were stolen including a shotgun and two air rifles.

Terrific, score six for the bad guys, even if John did get a few good whacks in with the bat before they got away. And what about the good guys?

A description of the thieves has not yet been issued by police.

Well, that’s not exactly an auspicious start, is it? And of course it’s not long before we’re reminded to leave it all to the police.

WA Police Sergeant Graham Clifford said the law did give people the right to defend their lives and property, but it was a grey area.
If the defence went too far and became a form of punishment, people would probably be charged, he told AAP.

Which is fair enough, but I don’t think home owners dealing with intruders, possibly violent and possibly armed, really give a tinker’s stuff about punishing them for breaking in. Driving them off or failing that making them no longer a risk to the occupier and any family there, yes, and if achieving that means one or more intruders lying face down and approaching ambient temperature in a pool of their own vital fluids, well, so be it. Nobody made them break in to someone else’s home and put the occupants in fear for their lives, so the consequences of their decision to commit crime are on their own heads. But punishment? Seriously, Sgt Clifford, how many people do you think would honestly give a stuff about punishing intruders when just getting rid of the danger they present is all that matters in that instant?

“Really what we’d prefer people to do is back off and observe and let us know what’s going on and we’ll chase them down the track,” Sgt Clifford said.

And I wouldn’t want anyone other than trained, professional police investigators doing that, but as for the backing off part, what about when you’re at home and have nowhere to back off to? We know we’re still supposed to call the cops and let you guys sort that out too, but the problem is the intruders are there already. And in case it’s not clear why that’s a problem that can be tackled only by people being at liberty to defend themselves we only need to ask one simple question: how long did it take WA police to respond to the report of a break in at the home of a registered firearms owner?

If it was more than five seconds there’s your answer.

Another one for the Ambush Predator’s collection

Yesterday a Perth teenager said she’d been raped whilst out jogging, and today

A 15-year-old girl who claimed to have been raped while jogging in Mt Claremont has now confessed to police that it was a lie.

Why? Just… why? I can sort of understand, though certainly not condone, crying rape after a drunken shag or one night stand that’s regretted the morning after, but from the sounds of what the ABC say she simply made the whole thing up. Unfortunately the made up description of the made up man who made up attacked her certainly fits the description of a lot of men who are actually real.

Police launched a search on Monday for a sexual predator, who the girl claimed was 20 to 30 years of age, fair-skinned with long light brown hair and had an Australian accent.
Police appeared hesitant about the claims but still issued a description to the media, which included that the assailant wore “long dark pants and a dark hooded jacket”.

Okay, the lie came out before anyone was arrested but that description would have put thousands of men in Perth in the frame, and there’s every chance a few of them were in Mt Claremont and wearing dark trousers and a dark hoodie. And if one of them had been dragged in what would she have done then? Confessed that it was all a lie? One would hope so but since these things are known to escalate it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that she’d have said: ‘Yes, officer, that’s the man.’ Okay, because he’d done nothing the charges would eventually be dropped or at worst he’d be found not guilty – well, probably – but even an overnighter in the cells along with the associated DNA collection and so on is enough to taint a life.

Senior Constable Naomi Smith yesterday said the girl was still being interviewed about her claims and police were still waiting for a forensic analysis from the girl. [Forensics? Possibly what prompted the admission that it was made up? – AE]
Today Senior Constable Smith said police were now following up the circumstances of the report with the girl and her family

Which I hope means they’re considering charging her. It may not have gone very far and it didn’t, thank goodness, actually point the finger at any individual, but all the same this could so easily have been an horrific experience for some innocent but unlucky bloke. I’m not normally one to support prosecutions on the basis of what could have happened, though in practice the police in most jurisdictions don’t seem shy about the idea and I doubt West Oz is an exception, but even if nobody is arrested after a false rape claim it is not a victimless crime. I’m not talking about the unquantifiable effect it has on real rape victims, though I’m by no means saying that that doesn’t happen. No, the victim is everybody who pays for policing since the police themselves have had their time wasted, and because they have much better things to do than follow up on crimes that have simply never happened – an excellent example of which is coming up tomorrow – I don’t have a problem when they charge people for it.

Happily this shouldn’t be too hard to put a dollar value on for when people admit they’ve spun the police a fantasy story. So, what’s the going rate for some initial forensics, a Senior Constable for about a day or so and I imagine several other officers for at least several hours?

I predict (not) a riot

After what happened in Britain early last month it’ll be interesting to see what happens in Sydney as a result of this.

Five police officers surround a car, a number of them with their weapons pointed at a man who was reportedly driving around Sydney streets armed with a gun yesterday.
Moments later, the gunman was dead. Police won’t say whether officers or the man fired first – or whether the man fired at all – nor reveal how many shots were fired.
The drama unfolded on Castle St, Castle Hill, about 12.45pm after a 000 caller told police of a man armed with a gun driving on Showground Rd. Minutes later, the Toyota Hilux was spotted at the intersection of Pennant and Castle Sts, near the police station.
Plainclothed officers ran from the station, and Assistant Commissioner Denis Clifford said there was a confrontation with the driver and a number of shots were fired.
A handgun was removed from the vehicle and placed on the nearby median strip.

As Australian police are routinely armed and in most states are often equipped with tasers as well these sort of incidents are probably more common here. In fact Sydney police shot a guy in his own home only a couple of days ago, apparently as the result of a misunderstanding. And of course Sydney can riot as well as the next city, as the 2005 Cronulla riots showed. Still, despite the fact that so far it appears to share a few things in common with the Mark Duggan shooting in London (not in the race of the dead man because that’s not been made public yet and he could be Mr Average White Guy for all we know right now, but just in that police quickly surrounded a car, shot an occupant and recovered a gun) I don’t think the shops of Pitt Street Mall are going to need to rush out to buy window boarding before the first wave of looters hits because I don’t think anything’s going to happen.

And I can’t really put my finger on why. I don’t think it’s because this does happen a bit more with armed cops about and that people are blase about it – in fact if you think about it in terms of incidents per X number of ‘police hours armed’ it’s probably quite rare, and possibly rarer than in countries where the police are not all armed all the time (ironically the last coppers I saw before I left the UK were wandering around with MP5s and a semi-auto pistol each). Perhaps it’s just that I don’t get the same feeling of them and us with Australian police, or at least not to the same extent as in the UK.

That might not be at all representative of the thoughts of Aussies but it’s the way I see it, so my feeling is that people will watch and wait and see what comes up as a result of the investigation. If it had happened in Britain right now I reckon people would already be pulling garden walls apart for the bricks.

There’s never a cop around when you want one – UPDATED

And The Thinking Policeman may have the reason why.

My boss recently told me that I had not been attending the Town Centre Management Group meeting. I had been missed and they would like me to attend. So I attended. The agenda had nothing on it that I thought need my presence but clearly I was wanted. Item 7 on the agenda was the turning on of the Christmas lights in the High Street. I was excited to hear that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs will be the pantomime at the local theatre this year and the actors taking part will be invited to turn on the lights. The actors will stand on the first floor balcony of the town hall. Concern was expressed that people would not be able to see the dwarfs on the balcony. A suggestion was made that the dwarfs could stand on a bench so they could easily be seen. There was then concern that the dwarfs might get caught up in the excitement and fall off the balcony. The solution: We can stand the dwarfs on a bench but have them all wear harnesses and tie them to the building so they cannot fall.

So, nearly two hours into a meeting that has no relevance to the police at all, we have discussed for nearly half an hour whether some dwarfs from the local panto can stand on a bench and whether they should be harnessed and tied to the building to ensure they don’t fall off the balcony. I kept having to remind myself, this was not a dream…

Now obviously that’s not going to mean that every copper is busy in Town Hall meetings about irrelevant crap all the time – Lex Ferenda is an Inspector after all – but the point is that for however long he was in that meeting for was time in which he wasn’t able to do what he’s paid for. The guy clearly prefers to do that policework thingy over boring meetings about how to prevent the differently tall (or whatever is the PC term) from falling off things, but attending the meeting sounded less like a choice and more like a three line whip. And it’s not like it’s never been suggested that it applies to rank and file officers to an extent as well, because of course it has.

Or try the Town Hall – there’s probably at least one down there

Let’s just remind ourselves of a few salient points. In Britain the law abiding citizen’s ability to defend himself is very restricted and they’re expected to call on the police, either literally because there has been a crime or figuratively because the very existence of the police force is supposed to deter crime in the first place. There are roughly 145,000 police officers in England and Wales, so at the most basic level there is only one cop for every 380 people, and assuming that roughly 95% of people are law abiding citizens that one cop has about 19 crims to worry about. That cop needs to eat, sleep, have time off, take holidays, and will occasionally be unwell and unable to work, so the workload is divided and realistically it’s probably closer to one on-duty cop for every thousand or so people, each of whom has about 50 crims to worry about. And if they’re spending half their time doing paperwork and desperately wishing that they weren’t twiddling their thumbs listening to plans to attach safety harnesses to dwarfs (side note: did anyone think to ask the dwarfs, who are adults and probably more experienced with the needs of dwarfs than anyone at the meeting, what they thought? I’ll leave a comment asking at The Thinking Policeman, but somehow I doubt it) then it’s more like one active cop per hundred criminals and per couple of thousand citizens. Who, as I mentioned, are prevented from doing very much if they attract the attention of one of those criminals while the nearest copper is dealing with one of the other 99 crims or 1999 members of the public.


UPDATE – over at The Thinking Policeman Lex Feranda comments that they did ask the dwarfs – all in the name of consulting the relevant community, natch – and incredibly decided that maybe tying them to a wall might not be a good idea. But before you think that meant actually letting them decide for themselves whether to stand on the bench it should be added that the elf’n’safetee knob said that the council would be liable no matter what so it sounds like everyone stands on the balcony and the crowd get to look at Snow White (or Mild Albinism with Narcolepsy, I imagine) and the Seven Hats.

Another sensationalist headline brought to you by…

The Mainly Fail.

And I love the way the caption, assuming we can’t see for ourselves what’s in the picture, spells out that an armed officer is holding his gun right over the actual head of a waittaminute…

Perhaps the article needs a subheading, something like “Well, obviously not the precise moment it’s pointed at his head unless teenagers literally have their heads up their arses these days, but if any guns were actually pointed at heads rather than just chests or torsos or whatever than it was probably a moment quite near then”. Because I’m sure The Mail wouldn’t be beating the story up or have a grasp of anatomy so poor that they’d think that gun was aimed at the kid’s head.

Tip of the Akubra to the Ambush Predator.