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“Is justice served by confirming a raid to the TV news in time for them to hire a helicopter?”

The police show off. A reputation is shattered.

– Libby Purves has written in the Times about the recent extremely well publicised police raid on Cliff Richard’s house. The article is behind a paywall, but here are some choice lines:

Lost in an unfamiliar landscape? Ask a policeman. What I want, officer, is statistics on the usefulness of dawn raids, especially where the allegation involves not weapons, drugs, account books or contraband but a sexual misdeed 30 years ago. Do you generally find a diary from 1985 saying “Molested X today”? Or is there always some extreme porn left around to confirm dodginess? Does this apply even if it is only one of the suspect’s homes you raid? Suppose all his wicked stuff was in Barbados all the time?

More pressingly, officer, is justice served by confirming a raid to the TV news in time for them to hire a helicopter? Then complaining that this causes them to turn up? How do you square it with the College of Policing guideline that without compelling reason suspects shouldn’t be identified? Is the fact that chummy will make headlines a compelling reason?


And there are flaws in the theory that famous names must be named: when some ordinary joe is accused there is no publicity, yet convictions are achieved.

Another problem is the risk of attracting hysterics, liars, and fantasists keen to surf on the excitement and waste police time.

16 comments to “Is justice served by confirming a raid to the TV news in time for them to hire a helicopter?”

  • I read that the reporter was going to do a story and as a quid pro quo for holding off so the raid could proceed as planned the reporter was given access to the raid.

  • Mr Ed

    This sort of conduct by government paid people reminds me that there is no bar to a bill of attainder in English law, and should a Parliament be minded (as if) to remind the State’s henchmen and women that they are not to misbehave, it would be possible to pass an Act of Parliament to punish the miscreants, or simply to impeach them. Sadly, the political prospect of that is even more remote than a cut in government spending.

    For me, the only ethical question is what ultimate sanction would be appropriate pour décourager les autres? And since there is nothing stopping one’s opponents from doing the same to you, why not set the precedent before they do?

    If anything, the only reputations that have fallen as a result of this (if it could fall further post-Hillsborough) is that of South Yorkshire Police, who did the raid, and whatever judge or magistrate authorised it might have been more questioning of the usefulness of a warrant to search a property 170 miles from the scene of the alleged offence nearly 30 years before, which can only be a fishing expedition of the most cynical kind, as Natalie points out.

    Time to abolish judicial immunity and let any wronged citizen bring a case of petty impeachment before a jury of any public official who might have wronged them. Simple case, 10 minutes to make your case, 11 minutes to respond, let a jury decide if the government official should be impeached, sacked, deprived of all pay and pensions (pay recovered as an imprisonable debt from the time of the wrong) and ban from receiving welfare or state funds and healthcare for life.

  • Mr Ed

    read that the reporter was going to do a story and as a quid pro quo for holding off so the raid could proceed as planned the reporter was given access to the raid.

    If that were the case, in English law, any reporter obstructing police in the course of their duty could face prosecution for that and risk 1 month in jail, along with managers authorising a broadcast. The media would back off in that situation.

    That sounds like a cover story that suits both sides.

  • Stuck-Record

    I seem to remember that there were serious threats made about collusion between police and newspapers in the Leveson hoo-haa. Didn’t several coppers go to jail? Journalists were dragged from their beds in dawn raids. A newspaper was closed down. Publishers were dragged in front of show-boating MPs. And here we are, a year or so later with the ‘nod-and-a-wink’ brigade back in business.

    There needs to be heads rolling here. A complaint should be made and this investigated.

    Surely the whole media circus wasn’t just a farce designed to prevent stories about Steve Coogan’s love-life hitting the new stands. Did we really throw 300 years of press freedom for that?

  • Roue le Jour

    What I find interesting is the public reaction.

    Jimmy Savile:
    I always thought there was something funny about him.

    Rolf Harris:
    Really? Well, if you’ve got evidence.

    Cliff Richards:
    No. You’ve gone too far this time.

  • If Cliff Richard committed a crime, it was in recording the Millennium Prayer.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Bludgeoning a prominent figure with a public arrest or search smacks of vendetta.

    But on the other hand – wealthy and powerful people are difficult to bring to justice, sometimes even when flagrantly guilty. Police and prosecutors are thus tempted to gain a psychological edge by such tactics.

    Abusable? Certainly. Collusion with the press is to be expected; the press is eager to play along for future benefits.

  • Paul Marks

    Mr Ed sadly the people go along with the madness.

    Juries convict on absurd “evidence” (accusers making impossible claims and contradicting themselves).

    The state is reflecting (representing)an unjust society – an unjust population. A population intent on hunting “abusers” – even when they are not abusers at all.

    Still, I agree with you, it is the duty of the Sword of State to RESIST the madness of the population (their witch hunting) – instead the state is playing to the gallery (in the hope of votes and general popularity).

    If Mr Hopkins rode in and said he had a list of abusers (and produced his professional screaming witnesses – making their standard demented claims) many (perhaps most) people would support Mr Hopkins (the self appointed “Witch Finder General”) partly out of sincere love of witch hunting – partly out of fear of the crazed mob thinking that they (the people with doubts) were witches themselves.

    In the United States Judge Sewall (the judge who presided over the Salem witch trials) later became convinced that the accused were innocent.

    However, the general population (even more than the authorities) just wanted Judge Sewall to SHUT UP about it.

    He received a similar reception for his book “Selling Joseph” (the first attack upon slavery published in North America – 1700), people knew that slavery was wrong but they wished to pretend that they did not know (hence the book was irritating).

    Just as they knew the people they had burned were not really witches (after all if they had magical powers they would have just vanished – or turned their accusers into toads) – but they did not want to be reminded of the fact.

    Do most people really believe that Cliff Richard raped little boys?

    Of course not – but they are likely to convict him (for fear of being thought soft on abusers).

    Mob rule – rule of the mob.

    Each person in the mob may be (secretly) horrified by what the mob is doing – but is terrified of the rest of the members of the mob (who are terrified of them……).

    A formal legal system is supposed to stop all this – but as you say, it just panders to it now.

    Where a country gentleman judges………

    Such as the judge who said (in response to evidence that an accused “witch” had been seen flying) “in which case the lady would fly away from this trial – besides which there is law against flying CASE DISMISSED”.

  • Didn’t several coppers go to jail?

    Yup. Brother of an ex-GF (now friend) of mine. He was a detective working murder cases for the Met, and played in a five-a-side football league where a team of journalists happened to play. They tapped him up for info. in return for cash payments, and when the shit hit the fan they found his name on one of the journo’s contact lists. He was kicked off the force, jailed for 14 months, and ordered to pay £4,400 in costs. His life is pretty much ruined at 35 years old.

    I haven’t got much sympathy for him, but the difference in treatment between him and those higher up the chain with better connections is notable. I seem to remember the Met shooting a Brazilian and shrugging their shoulders.

  • Stuck-Record

    Tim, quite.

    One law for our rulers.

    The Beeb were VERY loud about the eeeeevil links between police activity and the Murdochs. Not so loud about how they got their tip-offs about Cliff Richard. Very loud about press intrusion. Not so loud about flying a helicopter over the house of a (presumably innocent) man being arrested.

    Would they have hovered over the house of Stephen Fry, Graham Norton, David Dimbleby?

  • bloke in spain

    This morning I noticed the BBC were showing yet another programme centred around the boyzinblue’s ongoing fight against crime. Our heroes were planning a raid on “a man suspected of using Class A drugs”. No doubt yet another steadicammed extravaganza with blurred out ‘almost to be regarded as suspects but regarded as guilty’ versus stalwart plod. Policing as entertainment.
    A justice system as entertainment was inevitable. Which is what you’ve got.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Paul Marks
    August 19, 2014 at 10:20 am

    Just as they knew the people they had burned were not really witches (after all if they had magical powers they would have just vanished – or turned their accusers into toads) – but they did not want to be reminded of the fact.

    It’s a quibble, but the witches in Massachusetts were hanged, not burned.

  • Laird

    Correct, PFP, although I believe that at least one was “pressed to death” (i.e., crushed by stones).

    “Policing as entertainment.” Indeed. The modern version of the Coliseum.

  • bloke in spain

    One’d feel more comfortable if there was more “We do apologise for this gross intrusion into your privacy & broken door, but we were acting on information that’s turned out to be complete bollocks” or “We’re sorry we stopped you on the way home from your mum’s, pulled your car to pieces & kept you standing in the rain for half an hour answering inane questions.”
    But these programmes do have something of the Christians & the lions about them. You know how it’s going to end. Like East Enders storylines.

  • I’m sad to say that your badged boys are learning all of the worst tricks from ours. It’s probably the bloody telly with all those fraudulent police shows. Up next: abolition of basic common law protections like presumption of innocence and requirement of criminal intent. Before long you’ll just be Dank Yanks.

    Lucky you.

  • llamas

    All the fine points made above, plus – wasn’t the phone-hacking scandal supposed to have exposed the invidious connections between the press and the police, and wasn’t it followed with promises that ‘lessons have been learned’ and this sort of handwashing would no longer be tolerated?

    It would appear to me that nothing’s changed, and that the boys from Grub Street are finding it no-more-difficult than before to find officers who will ‘give them the office’ when it suits their purposes.

    Not sure where the Levenson proposals would make any difference either.

    I see where the UK coppers are taking a tip from their US cousins and making the process be part of the punishment – carefully orchestrating their activities to produce the maximum disruption, shame and embarrassment in the life of their target and all around him/her. As noted, a dawn raid, with helicopters clattering overhead, over a 30-year-old allegation of a crime that took place miles away – when it is perfectly well-known that the subject is far away and unable to assert his rights?

    I sniff more than a little of the stench of the SRA hysteria that swept through the US in the 1980s. Have a care that this madness does not prevail there, as it did here.