This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Oxford hustings: the need for circumspection
Among these was one woman (although I strained to hear all of her words: memo to the organisers - a roving mike would be have been helpful!) who highlighted the oncoming cases to be tried soon in Oxford of men who have been accused of sexual exploitation of girls and young women. (Here is a link to the news stories in the local Oxford Times.) The questioner asked how the candidates would handle the likely extensive media interest in the court cases if they were to become the PCC.
Their answers were illuminating and worrying. Four of the six candidates, to varying degrees, alluded to the ethnic dimension of these cases and linked it to what they deemed as similar cases in the North of England (for example Rotherham & Rochdale), although without mentioning those towns as such. I cannot remember the exact details but I think Anthony Stansfeld went on to talk of political correctness hampering the speed of police investigations. Tim & John were more circumspect.
Why so worrying?
This is not the place to go into this matter in depth (instead read this excellent article in the Independent, if you wish) but suffice to say that seemingly calmly mixing in a racial element (when I don't think the questioner mentioned this aspect) indicates, for me, a lack of sensitivity, a less than full commitment to evidence based practice and a plain deficit in political 'nous'. Someone in the position of PCC, could easily and unwittingly fall into the trap of fanning the flames of racism and hate in such instances that could well emerge in Oxford in coming weeks. A less than wise PCC could also (again unwittingly in all likelihood) be perceived as supporting the line that political correctness had prevented the police from properly investigating the crimes and led to more harm happening as a consequence. While this plays to the gallery, the impact on police morale (another subject raised last night) could be severe.
These are feverish times with the Jimmy Savile case and linked emerging stories. It is in this context that the Oxford cases will come to court. There are serious concerns that these and similar cases have not been pursued in the past with as much vigour as, perhaps, they should have. However to ascribe this all to political correctness 'gawn mad' is simply not proven (see the Indie article linked above). The reasons are far more complex that that, I would contend. These reasons probably include a mixture of resources, misogyny, beliefs about the credibility of child victims/witnesses, fear of 'crying wolf' or making 'career limiting moves', poor joining up of the dots between public agencies and possibly even corruption (etc. etc. etc.)
That four of the six PCC candidates appeared to leap towards what I will call an oversimplified (dare I say 'Daily Mail') assessment of some of the underlying themes is worrying for me. However, I do take on board, that this was in a packed and busy meeting, and I may not have grasped the subtlety of what Barry, Geoff, Anthony and Patience each said. So please feel free to add your 'cold light of day' comments below if you wish...
But this very clever question and the answers given highlighted just how much the role of PCC, with its singular & high profile, will demand of incumbents up and down the country in a few days time...