A shop-keeper who fought back against shop-lifters who attacked him has been fined £250 and given a criminal record by Truro magistrates. The thieves were given fixed penalty tickets – equivalent to a parking ticket.
This obviously says something about the quality of policing in Penzance and a little about Truro magistrates. It says very much more about the Government’s criminal justice priorities.
The policeman on the spot finds that a group of yobs stole spray-cans from the shop, and that two of them turned on the shop-keeper when he caught them. He fought back and, when one of them kicked him he punched him to the ground and followed it up with a kick.
Now, if you are a dim provincial Plod in Blair’s Britain, keeping law and order and reducing crime is not your priority. Top of your list is getting enough points to reach your target for the month. Bringing an assault charge brings you more points than merely handing penalty notices to a few thieves, so the shop-keeper gets it. His superiors, who have to approve the prosecution, have the same interest in reaching paper targets.
“We call the police, but nothing is ever done”, the shop-keeper said, meaning, presumably either that the police do not bother to show up or merely hand out fixed penalty points each time. Perhaps the constables get a few points for each penalty notice handed out and do not want to kill the golden goose by actually arresting the thieves. Being able to nab the desperate victim for fighting back is a bonus.
Julian Herbert, the prosecutor, is with the CPS in Truro and therefore probably not a man too much troubled by thoughts of policy or, indeed, thoughts of any kind. The decision to prosecute will have been taken in much the same way as a post office clerk prices the stamp for a package – if it fits the slot in the sizing card you prosecute, if not you don’t. CPS prosecutors, like traffic wardens, are not entrusted with much discretion. The magistrates took against the shop-keeper because he had kicked the yob after knocking him to the ground.
So, in summary, a thick constable, a target-driven police inspector, some salaried civil servant lawyer from the sludge at the bottom of the legal profession, and a bench of prosperous worthies, have taken against a small businessman because he did not, in their view, judge correctly what degree of force to use in defending his livelihood in the absence of any protection from the state.
If the shop-keeper had not pleaded guilty, he would have gone to prison – on the very day that the government freed thousands of criminals, including burglars and drug-dealers, because its failure to build prisons means that there was no room for them in prison.
Mr Herbert said that it was an “aggravating factor” that the shop-keeper had “taken the law into his own hands”. Who else would have defended his business? Certainly not the dim plods of the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary.
What does it do to you, this story? I found my teeth clenched and my fists in a ball of fury, longing to kick one or more of the participants – thieves, policemen, CPS pen-pusher and magistrates. Most of all, however, I longed to kick some politicians – former Home Secretaries David Blunkett, Charles Clarke and John Reid in particular – for creating a society in which we are taxed to hell to pay for public services and then punished when, in desperation, we take the law into our own hands because the defence of our property is not seen as a priority for our expensive police force.