Posts Tagged 'CPS'

Tommy, can you hear me?

I’ve written about the Proceeds of Crime Act before (oh yes I have, see here) and as it enables us to strip the bad guys of their ill-gotten white tigers, it’s definitely one of my top five Acts.

The above video illustrates why the powers afforded to us by ‘POCA’ can be so pleasing to use as they let us confiscate large amounts of cash on the spot and apply to the courts to strip criminal assets too.

Rather than being a gangster ducking and diving amongst foggy London Town’s docklands back in the 50s as his name suggests, Tommy Scragg was actually a conman living in leafy Solihull who was convicted of a multi-million pound tax fraud last year.

Officers looking into the fraud noticed Scragg was living way beyond his means and so have been able to get the court’s permission to sell off his stuff to help raise money for local community projects.

If you like the idea of criminals rightly losing all of their assets to the auctioneer’s hammer then it’s worth remembering that many successful seizures take place in the first place because members of the public have let us know something isn’t right about the finances of someone in their area.

Should you live next to someone with no identifiable source of income to explain the Fabergé egg collection you can see in their window then please give us a call, you never know how helpful your information might be!

You can call us on 101 or alternatively, give your information anonymously via Crimestoppers and let us know your suspicions.

Young ones shouldn’t be afraid…

The court system may not always provide the best fit for young witnesses, what provisions does the law give to make the process of giving evidence easier?

The story today about the disparaging comments apparently made by a CPS barrister regarding a young sexual abuse victim has raised concerns from charities and pressure groups about the way cases involving young people are dealt with by the courts.

At the best of times the courts are not the most friendly places, a trial can be a frightening process and uncomfortable too.

To provide a fair trial, the evidence forming the case has to be tested and when it comes to witnesses, the way this is done will be by cross examination with attempts made to find weaknesses in the credibility and reliability of those testifying.

For adults alone, this challenging of their evidence and of their character may be a stressful experience.

Even for police officers experienced in the court process and the giving of evidence, stepping into ‘the box’ is not something to look forward to.

For children then, it’s understandable that the prospect of a criminal trial would cause some real fear.

This isn’t only an issue leading up to a trial, concerns about participation in the judicial system may well put someone off approaching the police in the first place, the preference being to let things be rather than risk having to go to court.

To make things easier for young and vulnerable victims, the law provides a number of ‘special measures‘ designed to make people feel more at ease with the trial system.

Rather than asking young people to stand up in court to give their account, the law presumes that all young people will have their evidence videoed and this video be played at court.

Furthermore, there is an assumption that at court, young people will qualify for special arrangements designed to make the giving of evidence a less daunting experience.

One possibility is using a video link so that they don’t have to face the accused, another is in-court screens for the same purpose.

Further options include asking the court staff to remove their wigs and gowns to make the trial feel a little less formal, also clearing the court so that there is less of an audience to speak in front of.

Special measures are designed to make the trial process seem a little less hostile, to help bolster the confidence of those giving evidence.

Despite the measures though, a great deal of courage is still required hence acting as a witness is a respectable, commendable thing to do.

On the whole, the courts do well in encouraging such confidence – stories such as today’s don’t help but at the same time, aren’t representative of the system as a whole.

Everybody’s talking at me…

Trolling is one of the worst examples of internet misuse, is police investigation the solution considering the vast scale of the problem though?

As an officer heavily invested in social media as a valuable tool for helping promote the openness of the police, I’m often approached for advice on how best to proceed when we get allegations involving the misuse of sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

It’s a topic that I touch on from time to time on this blog too, relating to how we use social media and the best ways to tackle issues arising from its misuse.

Last August I’d written about proportionate ways to respond to online trolling and harassment, the summary being that in many cases the proportionate course of action may well be to block the offending accounts and make a report to site admins.

Looking at the issues raised this week by the offensive tweets sent to Caroline Criado-Perez and MP Stella Creasy, the same problems around launching police action resurface.

Traditional police action taken to look into every instance – described as “about 50 abusive tweets an hour for about 12 hours” – would conceivably necessitate an investigation on a truly vast scale.

There’d likely be hundreds of individual offenders to question spread across the whole of the country, each needing identification, arrest and interview.

Stemming from these enquiries, there’d be hundreds of computers to seize, thousands of hours spent preparing court files and a similar knock on effect felt the whole way down the justice system.

The resources involved for such an investigation would be massive, far beyond anything that police budgets could reasonably sustain with officers taken away from other duties accordingly.

This, baring in mind, is for one case and a case that sadly is not unique – the complaint and associated workload ought be repeated thousands of times by other users of social media experiencing similar issues.

Looking from this point of view at what is a very serious, distressing experience for those suffering trolling, the solution I don’t think can lie with the police alone.

Such huge criminal investigations are neither proportionate or sustainable in relation to the scale of the problem faced.

Rather, the problems needs to be tackled at source and that starts with the sites themselves.

Offending accounts need to be blocked but to prevent further issues, there’s a requirement for sites to offer a genuinely effective abuse reporting function and take steps to ensure that the upsetting example highlighted by Ms Criado-Perez is not a regular occurrence.

Options to flag trolling accounts in an easy, responsive way are a requirement and it’s the site creators that need to arrange this.

Sites such as Twitter and Facebook are the gatekeepers and need to take responsibility as such, the police can’t be left to do the job for them.

Paper romance…

With quantum computing just round the corner and communications satellites enabling us to stream funny cat videos to our smart phones whether we’re on the bus or at the top of Everest, you may be forgiven for assuming that our courts would have kept pace with technological advances.

As paperless offices were all the buzz at least ten years ago and Wi-Fi now pretty much a basic human right, surely the people dealing out justice to the futuristic spandex-wearing citizens of 2013 would be up to speed on computers?

Unfortunately not.

Enter a court room and not only will you see folk running around with funny wigs on, you’ll also see on every available surface big thick paper files that have to be carted in and out of the court by grumbling legal understudies with back problems.

Stack up all the 160,000,000 bits of environmentally hostile paper used by the justice system each year and the resulting pile would be fifteen times higher than Snowdon. That’s a lot of paper.

It’s not only a reliance on paper that is a little out of place in our futuristic times, it’s also that the most is not being made of the technologies that’d make everybody’s life much easier and save time as a result.

Examples include available Wi-Fi in court rooms so files can be shared electronically and better use made of electronic displays eliminating the need for folk to run around with multiple VHS tapes whenever CCTV evidence needs to be displayed.

It’s in response to concerns such as these that the Ministry of Justice has launched the ‘Transforming the Criminal Justice System‘ initiative under which it aims to have a digital court system up and running by 2016.

At ¬£160 million it’s not cheap, the savings in terms of everyone’s time and the associated reduction in costs that would follow though I think mean this is an investment that would likely pay for itself.

Amongst other areas, the money is proposed to be spent on:

  • Installing secure Wi-Fi in most courts so that all necessary files are available at the touch of a button.
  • Digital Evidence Screens so that documents can be displayed without the need for paper copies
  • Court Presentation Software allowing legal folk to easily navigate complicated court files

These are set against a wider range of proposals under the initiative to help improve the efficiency of the court system including adapting to digital systems now used by police and providing electronic portals on which victims can track the progress of their cases.

Last year in the West Midlands we switched to paperless first hearing files which saved a huge amount of the time that we would previously have spent sitting in funny paperwork nests after charging someone.

Rather than printing out case summaries, witness lists, statements and everything else we instead had the option simply to complete the file online and hit the send button to transfer it to the court.

The time this saved – hundreds of thousands of hours – can then be spent back out on the streets where we belong, shining torches down alleys and blowing our whistles at traffic.

Part of the proposals are that the majority of officers will provide evidence via video link – again this is something already trialled in the West Midlands and has drastically reduced the amount of time wasted by officers who are called to court, spend a morning twiddling thumbs in the witness room before being told they’re not required.

As an estimate, some four and a half million officer hours could be freed should the proposals be implemented in all forces which is a good thing for everyone other than criminals.

I’m a big fan of proposals that result in criminals losing out and as I’d rather not spend any more time than I have to ‘file building’ in the office, I’ll be following the implementation of the Transforming the Criminal Justice System initiative with great interest.

There’s so much you have to know…

What am I going on about when I talk about getting some ‘CPS advice’?

As I mentioned on me Twitter feed earlier today, this shift I had to give the Crown Prosecution Service a call to get some advice in relation to a prisoner I’d been dealing with.

This is something we have to do fairly frequently on the Investigation Team, what does ‘going to CPS’ involve though and why do we have to do it? For that matter, who are the CPS anyway?

First things first, the Crown Prosecution Service is the department responsible for prosecuting the criminal cases that we police officers present to them as a result of our investigations.

They give advice on the cases that we’re putting together, make sure cases are in a suitable condition to be put to the courts and it’s the CPS lawyers who present said cases to the court itself.

As a condition of their employment, all Crown Prosecution Service employees have to wear crowns whenever on duty as a sign of their legal authority.*

The CPS has been operating ever since 1986, prior to this date police forces would prosecute their own cases.

When it comes to ‘going to CPS’, whether we have to do so or not depends on the type of cases that we’re working on.

For simpler jobs, such as a minor assault or low value criminal damage, we police can make the decision about whether there’s enough evidence to take a matter to court and so don’t need to consult with CPS beforehand.

More serious offences, or anything involving a domestic or hate crime element, usually require us to ask CPS to have a look at the circumstances of the report and the available evidence as only CPS can authorise us to charge someone with said offence.

So, we police are allowed to decide to charge people with low level offences whilst CPS have to check serious crime cases before they’re able to go to court, what does the process itself involve?

Like with many other areas, each force will have different procedures but in the West Midlands, we have a program called Electronic File Build (Battlefield 4, eat your heart out!) which links in with our own custody computers.

When we need advice, or in any case if we’re charging someone to go to court, we can upload much of our evidence electronically to the File Build program and then zap it straight across to CPS.

This means CPS get an outline of the case along with copies of statements, exhibits and the like within minutes of us sending them and then can reply to us in the same fashion.

Prior to using this electronic system, we used to fax paper documents (children of the 1990s, see here) or if the fax machine wasn’t working, even read out whole statements over the phone which you can appreciate took a lot of our time so the electronic system is much more efficient.

Once the documents are sent, we’ll then pick up the phone and speak to a CPS lawyer at one of their call centres who may ask a few questions about the case and then will give us a decision.

If you hear in the news that police have ‘submitted a file to CPS’, this is usually what is meant, although the exact mechanism varies and for complicated cases officers will meet with CPS representatives in person to discuss the evidence.

Having CPS oversight is useful as particularly in serious cases, the law can be very complicated hence why it is necessary for a legal professional to review the case to ensure that we have the best chance of getting a conviction in court.

So there’s the process of how and why we have to get CPS advice in as simpler terms as I think I can manage.

If you fancy some bedtime reading, you can take a look at the Director’s Guidance on Charging but if not, simply take away that CPS are the legal experts who work with us to help ensure the cases we investigate arrive at the best possible result.

* Okay, this bit may not be true although what the CPS lawyers wear whilst working in their call centres is a matter for themselves!

Communications breakdown…

Another excellent bit of twittering from Solihull Police. How are the CPS advising decisions be made when social media is misused though? What would be a realistic approach?

As you may have noticed if you’re a regular reader of these here words, the police use of social media is a subject that is of great interest to me and so one that I periodically return to whenever a relevant story pops up in the news.

I believe the last time I visited the subject was when I resorted to using Cher Lloyd lyrics for a blog in August shortly after Tom Daley suffered some ‘trolling’ on his Twitter account.

Reflecting my own experience using social media as a member of the 5-0, I’d suggested that the police can’t be expected to police people’s usage of social media.

Rather, social media sites themselves have a responsibility for offering tools to block and flag inappropriate content so that misuse is addressed before it gets out of hand and that care needs to be taken ‘offensive’ content be evaluated in its proper context.

This wasn’t to argue that offences can’t be committed using social media, nor that there aren’t occasions when the police might need to intervene, but simply to say that in many cases it’s neither appropriate, practical or necessary to do so.

Today the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, has published interim advice for prosecutors on how they should make decisions on whether suspects ought to be charged in relation to an allegation that they have misused social media. This advice can be summed up as follows:

  • Communications that may constitute credible threats of violence, harassment or a breach of a court order ought be ‘prosecuted robustly’
  • Communications that don’t meet the above criteria, for example offensive posts, will be subject to a tough ‘Full Code‘ test, this is whether there is a substantial offence and it is in the public interest to prosecute
  • For the first part of the test, the threshold for ‘grossly’ offensive content will be that it is more than simply shocking, satirical or unpopular
  • For the second part of the test relating to the public interest, it’d unlikely to be right to prosecute if the suspect had swiftly moved to remove the content in question, if they hadn’t intended the content to reach a wider audience or if the content could be seen as ‘tolerable or acceptable in an open and diverse society’

I think this is some very sensible advice which helps address the concerns I’d expressed previously that if social media isn’t properly understood and misuse tackled in a manner appropriate to the medium, the criminal justice system would quickly find itself inundated with cases that shouldn’t really be finding their way to court in the first place.

Taking the above tweet from @SolihullPolice as an example, it was quickly forwarded on by 22,000 other users. That’s 22,000 people who went on to republish the content through their own Twitter accounts, not to mention on other sites and networks.

Imagine now that rather than being a witty update, the same tweet was offensive in tone. Take this tweet from the BNP with the headline ‘Savage Muslim jailed for life‘ as an example.

I like most people find this content absolutely abhorrent, some may approach the police saying as much.

A tough decision then would have to be made as to whether the legal system represents the right tool for addressing the offence caused.

I’m confident that the tweet is indeed offensive but is it ‘grossly’ offensive, particularly considering the publisher and its intended audience? Unfortunately not.

Again, in terms of it being in the public interest to prosecute people for publishing such unpopular sentiments, it’s unlikely that an argument could be made that it is.

Furthermore, were it to be the case that 22,000 people were to forward on the same tweet it obviously wouldn’t be any sort of realistic prospect to be looking at 22,000 separate crime reports with 22,000 offenders to be arrested, interviewed and charged.

An extreme example admittedly but it goes to show how unless there are some tough tests for which cases are appropriate for trial, investigations could quickly spiral out of all sensible proportion.

As impractical as such an occurrence may seem, it was only last month when during the Lord McAlpine scandal, there were suggestions that the police look at investigating over one thousand Twitter users who had wrongly named him as connected to a sex abuse allegation, alongside a further nine thousand who had retweeted the same messages.

I think it’s fair to say that social media and the way it is used is always going to evolve faster than the law can keep up with it. The amount of people using it though and the related potential for issues to arise likely to involve criminal law mean that social media will always have to be kept under review so that the application of the law is appropriate to the medium.

With half a billion tweets being sent daily, the DPP’s advice is a timely reminder that if we don’t try and tailor the law to circumstance then the consequence can be that it is quickly rendered unsuitable for protecting the public it is designed to serve.

For a little more on the application of the law in relation to the Tom Daley case, have a look at this interesting Guardian article from July by Joshua Rozenberg.

Tell em’ what the master has done…

Making a report of domestic abuse isn’t an easy step to take, unfamiliarity with the police shouldn’t be a barrier though.

Whilst tapping away at the keyboard yesterday writing about the Justin Lee Collins case and the issue of domestic abuse, I reached a certain point in the article where I suggested that one reason domestic abuse is under-reported is because victims are unfamiliar with the police and the justice system.

No sooner had I capped the suggestion off with a full stop, I thought the following – might it be helpful to look at the likely steps taken after a report of domestic abuse is made to ourselves?

I think it would and so what follows is a brief overview of what you might expect to happen after making such a report.

It can only be a general guide as each investigation is tailored to individual circumstances and outside the West Midlands, different forces will have different procedures but still, hopefully it’ll help clarify what us police will be looking to do and why.

In the first instance we’ll be looking to gather as much evidence as we’re able. Usually this will mean taking a statement which is simply a written account of what’s been happening.

Sometimes rather than taking a statement we’ll instead sit down at a police station and conduct a video interview – the result is the same as taking a written statement but rather than ending up with an account on a page, we’ll have it on a DVD.

Alongside the evidence from the statement, we’ll look to gather as much supporting evidence as we can.

If it’s a recent incident we may look to do some house to house enquiries, check CCTV, and with the victim’s permission possibly approach friends and family to see if they can provide statements too.

If appropriate we may also look to gather any medical evidence we can, again to help build up a case and strengthen the chances of a successful prosecution.

Inquiries such as these are carried out in a sensitive manner and with both the consent and understanding of the person making the report. The officers attending will happily answer any questions – building up the case is a process designed with the victim in mind and should take place at a pace they’re comfortable with.

An important part of the role played by the attending officers in the early stages will be making a referral to our Public Protection Unit (PPU) – a team of detectives who specialise in domestic and sexual abuse investigation.

On receiving a summary of a domestic abuse report, a member of the PPU will likely contact the victim by a pre-arranged method and can offer further support, perhaps also involving partner domestic abuse agencies who too are there to help victims in anyway they can.

A particular concern of the PPU will be the safety of the victim and so they can discuss safeguarding options as appropriate including the fitting of bleep alarms, relocation and a range of other possibilities.

Once the available evidence has been gathered, officers will then look to make an arrest, although this can happen at an earlier stage if it’s thought that there’s an immediate risk.

I’ve written before about the custody procedure but can sum it up by saying that just as taking statements or gathering forensics evidence, it’s another important part of the investigation.

If necessary forensics samples can be taken, if not when the officers are ready they’ll sit down and interview the suspect to get his or her account of what is alleged to have happened. The evidence will be put to the suspect and their responses recorded on tape.

With an account obtained from the suspect, the next stage is probably going to be for the officers to consult the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) who will evaluate the available evidence and decide what is to happen with the case.

The CPS are responsible for making charging decisions in the majority of domestic abuse cases and if they feel that the evidence is strong enough, they can authorise us to charge the suspect. This means they’ll be required to attend court and answer the charge.

Once a suspect has been charged, we then have to consider whether we are going to keep the suspect in custody until the court case (to ‘remand’ them), or to bail them, releasing them from the cells under the requirement that they attend court as instructed.

Past history, risk of further incidents and the severity of the report all will affect the choice as to whether to remand or bail but should a suspect be bailed, conditions will be applied meaning that the suspect has to comply with certain rules that we’ve set.

Common bail conditions include having no contact with the victim and staying at a certain address etc. If these are breached, a suspect can expect to be promptly rearrested.

Either way the officers investigating the report will keep you updated and you should be provided with a reference that you’ll be able to phone the non-emergency number, 101, and quote should you need anything.

The first hearing will be at Magistrates’ Court and usually happens within two weeks or so of being charged. The suspect is asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty, if they plead guilty they will be sentenced whilst if they deny the charge the court will probably reconvene at a later point for a full trial.

Out of the whole process of making a domestic abuse report, it’s the court process that is probably the most daunting but it’s important to remember that the courts offer victims all the support they are able to so that the process is as easy as it can be.

Charities such as Victim Support will update victims throughout the case and offer trips to the courts to help people familiarise themselves. The courts themselves likewise can offer a series of ‘special measures’ to make it easier to give evidence, be it having screens in the court so that the defendant is hidden or supplying testimony over a video link.

As I stated, the above can only really be a rough guide but suggests some of the directions in which a domestic abuse report can go once it is received by ourselves.

It’s also worth a reminder that whilst it’s possible that a report will go as far as court, this isn’t a given outcome and much depends on whether the CPS believe the evidence is strong enough to give a reasonable chance of a successful prosecution.

The best advice I can give is that should you or someone you know be thinking of confronting a domestic abuse problem and are unsure about anything, ask us or one of our partner agencies as we’ll be more than happy to help.

Finding the courage to make a domestic abuse report is one of the hardest things that some people will ever have to do – hard it may be, but confusing it shouldn’t be.

You can find more information on the court process and what’s involved in giving evidence on the websites of Victim Support, the CPS and Directgov.

Rubin could take a man out with just one punch, but he never did like to talk about it all that much…

Assaults: Fine if you’re in a boxing ring with a moustache but what if you’re elsewhere? What does the law say?

A few weeks ago I’d been forwarded a question on Twitter from someone curious to know what the difference is between the various levels of assault set out by our good friend the law.

Whilst I’ve written a couple of blogs previously about assault in reference to specific incidents, namely spitting and those happening on the sports field, I realised that I’ve not yet written anything explaining what separates one assault from another in any particular detail.

As assaults are one of the most common reports that we come to investigate, here we go then – a whistle stop tour of the four main types of assault that you might here the news presenters talk about from time to time.

Starting off with the least severe form of assault, we have common assault which comes from S. 39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.

As you may have gathered if you’ve read my blog on how spitting could be considered an assault, for a S. 39 assault you don’t even need to have made contact with your victim. That you have caused them to ‘apprehend the immediate infliction of unlawful force’ is enough.

Had contact been made, a S. 39 assault would still be appropriate to record if the victim hasn’t suffered any pain or injury, for example they’d been pushed.

You’ll begin to see that the main factors that separate the different offences covering assault are level of injury and then, as the assaults become more serious, the intent of the offender.

The second form of assault we refer to is S. 47 of one of my favourite old, old laws – 1861′s Offences Against The Person Act.

This one is usually referred to as ‘actual bodily harm’ and means just that, that the victim suffers some physical injury as a result of an assault. This injury can be psychological and doesn’t have to be permanent so that a victim has experienced pain then we have a S. 47 assault.

Getting more serious now, we move up to grievous bodily harm without intent which comes from S. 20 of the Offences Against The Person Act.

The difference between S. 47 and S. 20 is the level of injury caused. The S. 47 we might be looking at unsightly bruises, grazes and red marks but for a S. 20 it’s more likely that we’ll be facing cuts, broken bones and other gory disfigurements.

Beyond S. 20 we have the worst type of assault, the S. 18 which refers to grievous bodily harm with intent. It’s the intent of the offender that makes the difference between S. 20 and S. 18 and as such it’s what we call a crime of ‘specific’ intent.

The difference between S. 20 and S. 18 is that in a S. 18 the offender is believed to have intended to cause grievous bodily harm – they’ve not only caused someone to suffer a serious injury but they’ve specifically meant to do so.

The intent may be proven during an interview or from the circumstances under which the assault has taken place. Was, for example, a weapon used, were there prior threats or was it a sustained assault? All of these factors point towards some intention to seriously injure.

As a slight curve ball, the ‘intent’ can also be to resist or prevent an arrest so if an officer was to, say, suffer a broken arm because he has been kicked by someone he is trying to lawfully arrest then that person has added a S. 18 assault to whatever offence they were already accused of.

So the above of the four levels of assault that we commonly deal with, now to confuse things slightly by mentioning CPS Charging Standards.

Certainly for the more serious levels of assault but also in any lower level of assault that is domestic related, it is the Crown Prosecution Service that makes the decision of whether there is sufficient evidence to charge a person and if there is, what they should be charged with.

To help prosecutors make a decision, the CPS publishes Charging Standards which set out the signposts that point towards it being more appropriate to charge one level of assault over another.

The Standards sometimes confuse police officers as much as they do anyone else but help ensure that when people are charged, they are charged in a proportionate way.

What does this mean? Well, take the definition of a S. 20 assault as an example. If you somehow gave an annoying colleague a paper cut then technically you’d have inflicted grievous bodily harm as a cut, no matter how minor, is the result.

The word ‘grievous’ though implies that the wound is serious, whilst any wound is serious to the victim, to the law it wouldn’t be sensible to charge someone for grievous bodily harm if the harm is a paper cut, hence the Charging Standards adjust things slightly.

According to the Charging Standards then, common assault can include grazes, scratches, bruising, superficial cuts and swelling. Actual bodily harm refers to ‘serious’ harm so cuts requiring stitches, minor fractures and lost teeth whilst grievous bodily harm is seen as meaning broken bones, blood transfusions and permanent disability.

So there we have it, the four types of assaults and what stands between each one. If this has interested you, you’ll be thrilled to know that there are further laws covering assaults on police officers, on emergency workers and the reasonably frequent ‘assault with intent to resist arrest’ which villains sometimes fall foul of when they lash out at us.

Whilst it isn’t uncommon for assaults to be reported, thankfully the most serious types of assault are relatively rare.

Being assaulted isn’t a nice thing to happen to anyone but when it does happen the law has provided us with a decent toolbox to ensure that we can bring offenders to justice.

As further proof that the Offences Against The Person Act 1861 is one of the best, it also includes offences of ‘Impeding a person endeavouring to save himself from shipwreck’, ‘Assaults with intent to obstruct the sale of grain, or its free passage’ and ‘Not providing apprentices or servants with food etc. whereby life is endangered’.

Weak become heroes…

Gary Dobson and David Norris - today sentenced for the murder of Stephen Lawrence

Yesterday David Norris and Gary Dobson were found guilty of Stephen Lawrence’s racially motivated murder in Eltham in 1993. Today they have been sentenced to life imprisonment – Norris for a minimum of fourteen years and three months, Dobson for a minimum of fifteen years and two months,

I wanted to use this post to reflect on both what the case has meant for me as a police officer about to end my first two years in the job and also a little on what the legacy of the trial ought to mean.

In the wake of the murder, the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, led by Sir Macpherson, branded the Metropolitan Police to be ‘institutionally racist’.

The damning conclusions reached by Macpherson suggested that because of racist attitudes within the Met, they had been unable to conduct an effective investigation appropriate to Stephen’s murder and that justice had suffered as a result.

A major change in attitudes was clearly needed.

As a direct result of Stephen’s death and the campaigning of his family, changes for the better have been achieved and continue to be achieved.

In legal terms visible examples include the overturning of the double jeopardy rule and the passing into law of the Race Relations Amendment Act which places upon public bodies a duty to eliminate discrimination and promote equality.

In terms of police training, much of the legislation we are taught when we first join the job is set against a background of how in the past errors have been made and what the lessons are.

Showing how importantly this consideration – the desire to learn from history so to avoid its repetition – is taken, the first week of the eighteen week course is dedicated to looking at issues surrounding diversity and discrimination.

Past cases are discussed – the Brixton Riots, Toxteth, Lawrence, Climbie, Baby P to name a few – and the learning points discussed so that new officers understand the consequences of previous failings.

One of the most important things I’d taken away from looking at such tragic examples was a stark reminder that when I applied to be a police officer, I didn’t apply to offer protection to only some members of society. I didn’t apply join a service in which public confidence in ability to do our job varied according to the colour of someone’s skin, their background or where they come from.

Appreciations about racist and hate crime of course don’t end with the finish of training school and actively permeate throughout the police force, be it in the regular training inputs available or in the practical way in which we tackle crimes involving a hate element.

Hate crimes in particular attract specific attention from specialist evidence review teams whilst cases are still with the police to ensure the highest quality of investigation and then once they reach the courts, a perception of a hate motivation qualifies for the passing of tougher sentences.

As for the legacy of the trial, it’s taken eighteen years to bring those responsible to justice. The strain on Stephen’s family who had campaigned tirelessly ever since his death is unimaginable and it may be tempting to see the conviction of Norris and Dobson as ‘case closed’.

This I think would be the worse possible outcome – Stephen’s legacy is something that lives on, that continues as a force for positive change and that is, and always will be, an important lesson on how we police.

As Mark Easton writes on the BBC News website, “Problems still exist but Britain is much more at ease with its racial diversity than it was two decades ago. And that tolerance, in no small part, is the legacy of a teenage boy: Stephen Lawrence.”

These are my twisted words…

CPS have charged Terry with a Public Order offence but how have they reached this decision?

There’s been lots of talk in the news recently about someone called John Terry being charged by the Met for something he’s alleged to have said to a guy called Anton Ferdinand.

I may as well start off my admitting that when it comes to football itself, I have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about. If you’re reading this post hoping for some insight about how the charge will affect Chelsea’s hopes of winning the Football Cup, you may be disappointed.

What I do know you a little about though is what the reports of the CPS looking at Terry’s ‘file’ and making a charging decision mean. In this shortish post I aim to explain a little about the process through which the Met will have gone to put Terry in front of the Magistrates.

Terry had been accused of using racist language towards Ferdinand during a Premier League game at the end of October this year. A member of the public had overheard him using what was perceived to be unacceptable words and had made a complaint to the Metropolitan Police. The suspicion was that the words used may amount of a Public Order offence.

The Met had looked into the allegation, no doubt referring to Loftus Road Stadium‘s truly exceptional CCTV system, and on the basis of the evidence officers conducted a voluntary interview about the matter at Terry’s home.

Having completed their investigation – gathered all of the available evidence and obtained an account from Terry himself under caution – officers then had to refer the matter to the Crown Prosecution Service for a charging decision.

Who is able to make a decision to charge a suspect with an offence – that is to say that it is appropriate to send someone to court to answer an allegation – depends on the type of offence.

For fairly straightforward cases involving relatively low level crimes – thefts, criminal damage and the like – the police can usually make the decision independently as to whether there is sufficient evidence and that it is in the public interest to send a person to court.

More complicated/serious matters or those with a domestic, racial or hate element require the CPS to review the evidence before authorising the police to charge.

Because the allegation made against Terry was that he had used racial abuse, the matter had to be submitted for the attention of CPS.

When reports were made of a file being handed to CPS, this would have meant copies of the statements collected during the investigation and possibly any visually recorded evidence such as that collected by television cameras and pitch-side microphones, had been sent for CPS to look at.

Having this evidence in their possession, CPS then need to consider The Code and decide firstly whether there is sufficient evidence to allow a realistic prospect of conviction and secondly, is it in the public interest to put the matter before the courts – the combination of these considerations being referred to as the ‘Full Code Test‘.

Once the strengths and the weaknesses of the case have been assessed, CPS will then advise the police if they think the suspect should be charged or not.

In Terry’s case CPS have made the decision that he should be charged with a racially aggravated S. 5 Public Order offence and so he will now be summonsed – told he has to appear at court – where the matter will go to trial and he will be asked to enter a plea.

The use of racially abusive language – on or off the pitch – is clearly unacceptable and if Terry is found guilty the fact that the offence is racially aggravated will inform the sentence passed. The case has been provisionally scheduled for February 1st and I’ll be very interested to see how both the courts and The FA deal with the allegation.

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