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

It is rumoured that only in Oxford might you overhear people debating in a café where one person will say "and ninthly...!" Perhaps not surprisingly then, that the six PCC candidates were faced with some pretty challenging questions & statements last night.

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...


  1. I mentioned at the start of my reply last night that all violence is unacceptable. I also mentioned the inquiry into what happened in North Wales. Operation Bullfinch is the subject of a trial in January, and thus largely sub judice. 20 years ago rape within a relationship was apparently not a crime, and ten years ago domestic violence wasn't investigated by the police even though Eran Pizzy wrote 'Scream quietly or the neighbours will hear' some 40 years ago. To that extent Society is more enlightened today.

    As you are aware, I have campaigned to take preventative action to reduce youth crime and have praised the work of Trading Standards in dealing with those who prey on elderly and vulnerable householders. Like Tim, I think more can be achieved, and the good thing about the PCC role is that it can bring together agencies dealing with crime in a way that the Chief constable cannot.

    I agree a roving mike would have been very helpful last night. I would be interested in your scoring of the chairing of all hustings you have attended when we reach the end of the campaign. It is a difficult job, but vital to the success of the event: some parallels to the PCC role there perhaps.

    john Howson
    Lib Dem Candidate
    Police & Crime Commissioner Thames Valley

    1. Thanks for your comments John. I think the hustings I have got the most out of was the meeting in Aylesbury. I liked the fact that each candidate had the opportunity to be grilled on their experience and ideas on their own. I did not enjoy the second hustings in Reading at all - it was flat as only pre submitted questions pretty well were taken. Last night was not bad, although I think the chair was sometimes a little unclear about the process and less than strict on allowing the order of comments to rotate. All in all the best meeting chairing was the first I went to in Reading which was hosted by the Reading Criminal Justice Association.

  2. To be fair, the lady who posed the question said, and I paraphrase, "In January Oxford is going to become Rochdale", so the inferred link to previous cases was made at the very beginning, and not by me as once again I was asked to answer first (as I was with over half the questions last night).

    I made no specific mention of a given ethnic/religious group, a previous case, or the forthcoming one. My point was that I personally see avoiding hard truths and facts out of fear of offending a given demographic to be inhibiting to a transparent and honest approach to law enforcement. It is my view that honesty is crucial so that any underlying cultural (not racial) elements of a given issue are objectively and constructively addressed and not swept under the carpet. This does not mean that I reach for a racial or religious descriptor as soon as a given offense is mentioned, but I will not shy away from one if it is present regardless of who it might offend. Facts are facts.

    As an aside, I think that your take on ranking the hustings that you did attend would be illuminating and interesting - it is a pity that you were not at Didcot or Finchampstead though.

    1. OK. Thanks for your views. I did not hear the comment you report (we are back to the absence of a roving mike). Nonetheless 'back to Rochdale' does not necessarily imply a cultural / ethnic / racial aspect which you and three others did see fit to, at lest, allude to.

      One could easily and simply describe the case in Rochdale a bunch of men exploiting young women and girls. (Have you read the Indie article I linked above?)

      As far as I am aware - although I am open to being shown differently, there is no evidence of the police 'looking the other way' as it were for fear of being accused of being racist. But let's research it... If it is shown to be the case then clearly action would need to be taken. The title of this blog is no accident.

      Being honest in my book means being cautious about what is a 'fact' and what is not. The media surrounds us with 'facts' that are anything but. (Have you read Ben Goldacre on how many things the Daily Mail now says cause cancer...?)

      Sorting out how to tackle the causes of child exploitation is mighty complex: as I suggest above the factors are probably many and various. We must not let it be over simplified into being about just one ingredient or another. I agree we need to be courageous but that involves courageously researching what is happening not lurching into 'easy conclusions'

      Now I am not accusing you of all this, Barry. I merely said I was and remain worried. What the newly elected PCC of Thames Valley says when these cases come to court could significantly affect how the Oxford community responds.

      And I have done my review of the hustings above - in my reply to John's comment. Not sure I have much else to add! You will note that I thought last night the Chair was remiss in not fairly rotating in what order people should speak.