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“Due to officer safety it was not safe or legal for them to enter the site”

What are Cambridgeshire police for?

“Police find stolen caravan hunt too risky”, reports the Times:

An owner was forced to retrieve her stolen caravan from a traveller site after police refused to enter, claiming that it was unsafe.

Officers from Cambridgeshire police were called by Helen Cox, 44, after her family caravan was taken from a farm near her home in Ely.

The force told her that they had spent five hours trying to gain access to the site, in which the caravan had been spotted by a local farmer, but that the travellers “wouldn’t let them in”.

Instead, Mrs Cox’s mother arranged for a microlight to fly overhead and capture images of the caravan hidden by some trees. She gave the photographs to police but officers still refused to enter, claiming that they had too little information to obtain a warrant.

In the end, Mrs Cox launched a social media campaign to try to retrieve her property. Several people said that they had seen the £9,000 Hobby Excellent caravan, and shortly afterwards it was found dumped in a nearby field. Mrs Cox said that a dozen travellers had surrounded her when she went to collect it.

The same story was reported in the Mirror:

“Woman tracks down her stolen £9,000 caravan to travellers’ site using microlight after police ‘too scared’ to enter camp”

…She [Ms Cox] added: “I had posted the stolen caravan all over Facebook and that is why I have it back.

“In the words of the PCSO who accompanied us to the caravan, ‘I’ve never seen a caravan returned to its owner in x number of years’.”

A Cambridgeshire Police spokesman said: ‘Officers attended the location of where it was believed the stolen caravan was and also used a drone to look over the site, however these attempts were unsuccessful.

“Due to officer safety it was not safe or legal for them to enter the site.

“There was insufficient information for officers to be able to obtain a warrant to access the site, however the caravan has since been recovered and returned to its owners.”

A masterful use of the passive voice there. “Has since been recovered and returned to its owners.” A reader who did not know the whole story might even think Cambridgeshire Constabulary had something to do with it.

I won’t add an extract from the Daily Mail story (“Caravan owner is forced to track down her stolen £9,000 vehicle to a travellers’ site with a MICROLIGHT after police refuse to send officers fearing for their safety”), as it is almost identical to that of the Mirror and very similar to that of the Times. (Despite the demonization of the Mail as “fake news”, this similarity is not uncommon.) Both the tabloid newspapers quote a comment on social media from Larry Locke, who said, “I would like to know what we are paying the police for […] if that had been in my house they would soon be in, even if I said you could not come in. Is there a law for one and not for another?”

That bewildered question has been heard in this context for a while now. Back in 2011 in a post called Guardian readers hate gypsies and travellers”, I wrote, “If you want to poison a human soul with racial hatred, just do that. Tell him that the laws that burden him do not apply to them.”

40 comments to “Due to officer safety it was not safe or legal for them to enter the site”

  • Chip

    To be fair, they have limited resources. The police’s elite forced-entry squad had been reassigned to the Islamophobia quick-reaction force on Twitter.

  • What are Cambridgeshire police for?

    Protecting the interests of the political classes and their clients, from what I can tell. The British police forces are sure as hell not looking out for your interests or mine.

    It seems that the public are beginning to understand this point. See the replies under this Twitter post, for example.

  • Mr Ed

    Wilful refusal to enforce and uphold the law = misconduct in public office, life imprisonment.

    And 6 months for the implicit ‘ethnic’ slur on travellers being dangerous, surely that’s incitement to racial hatred?

  • Kevin B

    The UK police are on a work to rule in protest at the ‘tory cuts’. This tactic will be familiar to anyone who lived through the seventies here, but it is particularly galling that the Police Commissioners are playing the role of Red Robbo.

  • PapayaSF

    The wimpification of the English since WWII is something very strange and disturbing to us Americans.

    I also find it interesting that of all negative ethnic stereotypes, it seems like the ones that apply to gypsies are the ones hardest to dismiss as merely unfounded prejudice.

  • What that means is that if you locate your property, as this admirable woman did, you find some nice Irish builder/plumber/electrician/roofers who will turn their hand to pretty much anything if you pay them cash (I know several such people as it happens). You ask how the wife is doing, and is the youngest son out of jail yet? Then you tell them what the problem is, provide them with suitable tools for the job (baseball bats work well, but they may well have their own), come to an agreement regarding the appropriate number of £50 notes, hand over half up front, tell there where your property is, and in a few hours you will have your property back.

    No need to get the Plod involved, in fact, doing so is a terrible idea.

  • Watchman

    The police only work as an effective force if they have the ability to go anywhere (other than into people’s homes – and a camp is not a home, it is a site where homes are located), even if to go there they have to go in mob-handed. If the police start to not go to places, those places become homes for crime (travellers may not be particularly criminal by nature, but if their camps are police-free then there is no incentive for them not to commit crimes). So this is not only silly, but its a threat to the system of law and order by effectively creating private jurisdictions (no-go estates used to be the same, but to be fair to the police they did go back into these).

  • Kevin B (November 10, 2017 at 4:05 pm), while your explanation might be almost preferable to being obliged to assume today’s police are truly afraid merely to enter a traveller site, if the police think they’ll have more fun under Corbyn then I think they are a bit confused about something.

    While I appreciate that the despicable spokesman’s “safe or legal” was intended to make two distinct points, my eye ran them together. Six years ago a woman died slowly over six hours, at the bottom of a Scottish mine shaft while the official and equipped rescue team at the top waited for equipment they could legally use for rescuing people from mine shafts. As that unfortunate lady could have testified with her dying breath, cowardice in act is becoming almost as much a legal requirement as cowardice in speech.

  • Watchman


    No idea about gypsies, since our gypsy population (thanks EU) mostly live in council housing in inner cities and poor towns. Travellers here are Travellers, a sort of semi-distinct Irish group with their own identify, not Roma.


    As an idea it has merit, but I have already handed over a number of £50 notes to a similiar bunch of guys to do exactly this (and in addition, if they can do so in a reasonable way, to start the prosecution of the bastard who stole said property), albeit through the agency of some government bureaucrats, so I would like them to do what I have paid them to do. Or to pay me my money back.

  • The difference, Watchman, is my approach has proven to get results.

  • John K

    I’m afraid the British police often act like bullies, and like all bullies, they are also cowards.

    Thus, they are happy to “crack down” on various politically incorrect crimes such as “hate speech”, where they know they are not in any danger. But they are really scared of travellers, and tend to leave them alone.

    Travellers live by their own code, and relish a good punch up. In their society, a man who can fight is a man of respect. A bit of prison time is no deterrent. So the police would rather not get involved.

    Those doughnuts won’t eat themselves you know.

  • bobby b

    Are these police generally armed, or not?

    If I was a moderately-paid civil servant such as a police officer, and I was not allowed to carry a weapon, I’m not sure that I would be willing to enter into such a situation myself.

  • Mr Ed

    bobby b:

    No, they are not armed. Only specialists carry firearms and they only are deployed either in high value ‘targets’ (e.g. around Whitehall, Buckingham Palace) or at points or times of assessed high risk (e.g. main railways stations after a massacre). They would at most carry Tasers. However, if they know the site is high-risk, why have they allowed that risk to fester?

    And if one weren’t prepared to take risks, one would of course refuse the salary that goes with it?

  • I’m just thinking how they’d deal with this in Russia. I expect the ordinary police would go in and say something like “Right, the fun’s over, give the caravan back.” They might even arrest someone, but probably not. If the travellers refused to cooperate or started assaulting the police they’d retreat and hand the whole situation over to some unit like the OMON, who are made up of absolute man-mountains who travel around in wheeled armoured personnel carriers and happen to be psychopaths. They’d go in and lay waste to the entire camp, probably killing someone in the process and putting others in hospital for months. And nobody would care one jot. Of course, the thieves would know this well in advance hence would likely cooperate with the ordinary policemen who asked them nicely.

    It’s one approach, anyway.

  • Sadly it is actually the best approach

  • Mr Ed

    I think that this clip shows what sort of unit Tim is referring to, I’ve read comments that suggest that this was in the Ukraine, but it is football hooligans v OMON type units, after the stewards and local cops get some grief, along come the chaps in red berets.

    I can’t help thinking that they wanted violence and disorder, and they got it.

  • bobby b

    Mr Ed
    November 10, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    “And if one weren’t prepared to take risks, one would of course refuse the salary that goes with it?”

    If I were hired for an unarmed job that consisted of writing parking citations, helping lost children, and guiding home the occasional drunk, all while filling in many forms, and was paid a middling desk clerk’s salary for doing so, I might see a hostile undermanned unarmed expedition into an armed camp of brutes as being somewhat ultra vires of my salary.

    I might think that a social worker’s salary should leave them just as responsible for going into that camp as my salary made me responsible for it.

    In other words, what was described wasn’t a problem with cowardly and disloyal police officers, but a systemic problem in a society that so proscribes weapons as to in effect empower physical prowess and large groups.

  • itellyounothing

    The juniorish cop leader, Inspector or Sergeant, who directed Constables to go forward and retrieve the caravan would promptly be decried as racist, stripped of their job, prosecuted for a hate crime and thrown in jail, (With little or no recourse to public funds to defend themselves). Parliament has made it a legal duty to consider the impact on the community when any executive body takes an action. Parliament has mandated punishment for hate crimes far out of alignment with non-hate crime.

    All the people currently decrying the failure to act would not be willing to put their hands in their pockets or risk their own employment.

    Said ex-Inspector or ex-Sergeant would loose their home, their spouse would divorce them and their children would be brought up without them.

    Warrants are granted by Magistrates, not the Police on the basis of evidence. More than one caravan of the type stolen will exist. Travellers frequently own a lot of caravans. You might or might not get a warrant from a Magistrate. Likely not.

    What ordinary human being (the only kind available) is going to die on that hill?

    The General Public are willfully ignorant about the people they vote in and the results of the systems those elected officials impose on the country at large.

    Without massive reform of Western nation’s politics starting with voters sense of personal responsibilities, nothing will change.

    The public get the government (including Police) that they deserve.

    I live in hope that Voters deserve is good governance one day in the future.

    Harrogate Agenda and all that….

  • Mr Ed

    bobby b

    Our police are quite happy shooting dead a man lying naked in his own bed (Sussex Police) or a man with a chair leg in a plastic bag (London Met) on the basis that they thought he was armed, or a Brazilian electrician on the basis that he was a bit swarthy and might be a terrorist, so they can get tooled up if they need to be.

    No one forced the w@nkers to sign up, and having taken the smooth and the pay cheque, it’s no f@@@ing good to say it’s a bit dangerous now, IMuHO. Flt-Lt John Quinton DFC did what decency, honour and duty required when fate called, they weren’t in anywhere near the same peril. Death’s too good for them, as the Vogon said.

  • itellyounothing

    Ordinary Police Officers also went forward at London Bridge a few short months ago with a baton and pepper spray to face committed terrorists equipped with petrol bombs, who had just run over a bunch of people and who were running round with knives taped to their hands.

    It’s not a lack of bravery for physical danger that is the issue.

    There is definitely an unwillingness to challenge the legal system they operate in.

    Those are two different problems with radically different solutions.

  • Mr Ed


    They are not hiding behind the law, but a travesty and misrepresentation of it. There are good officers, like the chap at London Bridge. Simple test for these jobsworth scumbags, ask them ‘Have you got any case law on that?‘.

  • bobby b

    Mr Ed
    November 10, 2017 at 10:25 pm

    “Our police are quite happy shooting dead a man lying naked in his own bed (Sussex Police) or a man with a chair leg in a plastic bag . . . “

    How could they do this if they were unarmed, as the cops at issue here appear to have been?

    I understand you have the two tiers – armed and unarmed. My impression is that the unarmed ones considered this a proper job for the armed ones, but the armed ones weren’t sent. Not sure I would fault the unarmed ones for this conclusion at all. You have a systemic problem.

    And I understand your reaction. I’ve had my share of interactions with arrogant inhuman cops. (I’m betting ours are worse than yours.) What they do is tar all of us with the same “you might be scum” brush. I, like you, need to sometimes fight the urge to do the same to all of them.

  • Mr Black

    Why is this tolerated? The entire camp should be jailed for a variety of offenses relating to the theft and concealment of stolen property.

  • Eric

    What that means is that if you locate your property, as this admirable woman did, you find some nice Irish builder/plumber/electrician/roofers who will turn their hand to pretty much anything if you pay them cash (I know several such people as it happens). You ask how the wife is doing, and is the youngest son out of jail yet? Then you tell them what the problem is, provide them with suitable tools for the job (baseball bats work well, but they may well have their own), come to an agreement regarding the appropriate number of £50 notes, hand over half up front, tell there where your property is, and in a few hours you will have your property back.

    This reminds me of the opening scene from The Godfather. It’s true, though. The risk here is if you get caught the police certainly won’t be afraid to arrest you. And they’ll nail you to the wall, too, for embarrassing them.

  • Mr Ed

    bobby b

    The police call out their armed response units, when it suits them. Sure US cops are worse, but if they know the camp is dangerous, why have they done nothing about it? Because they are cowardly scum, and should not take the pay or position without the risk.

  • Tim Newman (November 10, 2017 at 7:30 pm), in the good old days, the Ukrainian policing process you describe was available to UK police. (We did it in a much more civilised way, of course.) In the 1930s, Glasgow was reputed the most violent city in Europe. Gangs and rumbles (usually with some catholic/protestant ethnic flavouring, but noticeably lacking in the Christian spirit 🙂 ), made life interesting for each other – and, in the usual way, also for ordinary citizens who could get caught up in it. Chief Constable Sillitoe (IIRC) organised the police into a bigger and better gang that would always turn up and always win the fights in a very “we’re having fun here – how about you?” way, which effectively discouraged the gang culture. As the Glasgow idiom put it, “He scuffed the razors doon the stank.”

  • Paul Marks

    This has been a gradual “evolution” (supporters of F.A. Hayek please note) over many years – the legal system and the practices of the police (and others) have got worse and worse.

    The point is that when the basic ideas are wrong – a “social evolution” is going to make things worse and worse. First get the basic ideas (the basic principles) correct – and then one can develop on the right lines. This is a point that Hume-Hayek miss – indeed deliberately miss.

  • Alisa

    I find myself nodding with understanding and agreement with both Bobby’s and Ed’s comments, but I have to say that Ed has the ultimate point in what I usually phrase as ‘police service* is not compulsory, is it?’. Armed or not, find yourself a job where you get paid directly and willingly by people who find your product/service useful.

    *or any government service, for that matter. That is not to say that people should avoid government jobs, including policing, altogether – but… well, those of us who live in economies that are not largely nationalized, should at the very least think long and hard before we take such jobs.

  • Thailover

    I’m with Perry, but even more extreme. Burn those motherfuckers out.

  • John K

    I’m not sure the question of armed police is relevant here.

    I doubt the travellers would have guns. They live by doing various manual jobs allied to low level criminality. But what they really like to do is fight. Bare knuckle boxing is their favourite pastime, and good boxers gain the respect of the community. The police know that if they enter traveller camps, there is a good chance of a punch up, no guns involved. Some travellers may end up in gaol, which they don’t mind, and some cops may end up in hospital, which they most certainly do mind.

    So the outcome is that the police turn a blind eye. The travellers are tougher than they are, and so they would rather leave them to it, and not enforce the law.

    And that shows the limits of the law: it depends on people being prepared to enforce it. If they don’t want to, all laws are just words on paper. Most travellers can’t read anyway, and prefer the more practical law of the fist.

  • Alisa

    And that shows the limits of the law: it depends on people being prepared to enforce it.

    Yes, only those people are not the policemen in question, but rather their superiors and the lawmakers themselves – they are the ones who make the system what it is, which in turn attracts certain types of people and not others to do (or not do, as the case may be here) the actual work on the ground.

  • I know a gun club in Belgium that was the subject of a targeted raid in the small hours a couple of years ago. The club armoury had all the required alarms and stuff, so the police were alerted, their helicopters appeared as the raid progressed, etc. – but by the time the Belgian police (who are armed) were deployed near the scene, they assumed the criminals had also armed themselves (if they had not been already) and so, despite urgings of a club official who had also been alerted, they preferred to avoid confronting the gang, who made their escape.

    My point is that, in Belgium, armed police versus armed criminals can show a similarity to this incident of truncheon-armed police versus (probably) club-wielding travellers in the UK. It would be nice to think that we have not gone the full Belgium yet.

  • Gong Cult

    If you have a police force all LEO(law enforcement officers) should be trained in firearms and supplied with the appropriate arms. Here in Chicago, sometimes police ‘go fetal’, not because of their fear of perpetrators, but because their use of justified lethal force will send upon them career devasting reprimands and lawsuits- not a way to finish an honorable career ! It is sad when then a well-equipped police force deigns to stand down for those reasons. It is even worse if the police feel outgunned or otherwise feel inadequate to go into a crime scene !

  • bobby b

    “It is sad when then a well-equipped police force deigns to stand down for those reasons.”

    I suppose it’s not really sad – it’s just the electorate of one jurisdiction getting the police protection they vote for. It’s democracy in action! Chicago cops are just listening to what their employers want.

    If there’s anything sad in the situation, it’s that an electorate can be too dim to understand when they’re being played.

    (Thanks for Obama, by the way. 😀 )

  • Paul Marks

    What are the right principles?

    First if one is going to have a government police force (only compulsory after 1856 in English and Welsh counties) then it must do its job. Or no tax money for it. Every Policeman in Ireland always knew that he could be killed at any time in relation to anything – not just Nationalism, just a dispute over a cow, or an argument in a pub. If people are peaceful they do not policemen. As for “travellers” – well of course they want a fight, that is their culture (oh no “racism”). There are no “bailiffs” in Northern Ireland to this day – as people who came to someone’s house to peacefully take their stuff (because of a “court order”) would have their heads kicked in (if they were lucky – if they were not lucky they would be shot dead).

    If you do not want to risk your life as a policeman – then do not join the force. As for “health and safety” and so on – “do not get me started” on all that.

  • Itellyounothing

    Incentives matter. If you want more of something, make it easier.

    In policing, like any sector of the economy, there are shed loads of rules. Get rid of some, simplify others. There is little exceptional about it, even with the personal safety element.

    If you want more raids on traveller camps, then make it simple to arrange. Vote for a party that will arrange the law in this area to be simpler.

    The Police are a fairly ordinary selection of people with all the strengths and weaknesses. They respond to incentives.

    If you privatised the Police or libertarianised or classical liberalised the delivery of Policing, you will still get a reluctance to raid traveller camps if hordes of rules stand in the way.

    Conversely for the right pay, right legal regime and a society that is generally supportive of such actions, you will get a people who will do such things. There will be a trade off for that…….

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Good to see that the police are not discriminating…. against the blind! Indeed, they’re actively hiring them as coppers! A stirring story of nondiscrimination that we can all applaud, except for some whingers like the people above. Let’s just turn a deaf eye their way.

  • Barracoder

    I can’t help thinking that perhaps our cousins over the pond have the right idea and that electing local police chiefs would ensure that problems like this would only ever happen once per electoral term, at most.

  • Laird

    Where I live (South Carolina) we don’t elect police chiefs; they are appointed by the mayor or city council (depending upon the legal structure of the municipality). We do elect sheriffs, but that’s a different matter.

  • Gong Cult

    Bobby D. You’re right ! I keep forgetting that democracy consists in giving people what they want, good and hard !