Automatic trust in the police used to be a hard-wired Conservative value. Appreciation of the majority of officers – who risk their lives on a regular basis to keep us safe – still is, but the trust in the institution has been starting to wobble of late.
Let’s take a few examples.
- Andrew Mitchell is still tangled up in various court cases arising from, yes, his own intemperate behaviour but also from a plot to “lie and falsify statements” against him. He is now being sued by a police officer for suggesting that accounts of the alleged incident might not be completely accurate.
- South Yorkshire Police’s account of the BBC having pressured them into allowing coverage of the raid on Sir Cliff Richard’s house has just been flatly contradicted before a Commons committee by Lord Hall, who claims the corporation has documentary evidence showing it not to be true.
- In the Rotherham abuse scandal, local police stand accused of not just ignoring reports of widespread rape of children, but of arresting fathers who tried to rescue their daughters. Last week’s official report also said that serious, well-founded internal reports of horrendous crimes and a huge scale were discounted, ignored or covered up.
- Regardless of your views about the medical wisdom of Aysha King’s parents, Hampshire Police should not have treated them like criminals. Issuing a European Arrest Warrant despite an unwillingness to specify their alleged crime, having them cuffed and locked up in Spain, leaving the little boy without any access to his family and all the while denouncing them for taking him from hospital “without consent”, despite consent not being legally required in the absence of a court order. Interestingly, they appear to have since deleted their statement making that claim, while the CPS has now conceded the arrest warrant had no merit and ditched it, belatedly.
Each of these cases is troubling. Together they are downright disturbing. The vast majority of police officers, of course, have no involvement in any of them but such stories chart a troubling course which will inevitably affect the public standing of the Police Force as a while.
Policing by consent is the foundation of our law enforcement. That consent requires huge trust – with a warrant card comes extraordinary powers of force, imprisonment and so on, as well as special protections under law, which we only give on the basis that we believe they will be used carefully, responsibly and proportionately. Every time they are misused, that trust crumbles a little – and with it, our society becomes harder to police effectively.
Cases like the four listed above are individually unjust, but they are also attacks on the credibility of the rest of the police, making their lives and jobs harder as a result. It is in the interests of police officers themselves, as well as anyone who values law and order, to work out why they have happened and how to prevent a repeat. When are we going to hear from the Federation or ACPO or some other body about their enthusiasm to ensure they never happen again?