Thursday, September 17, 2009

'Thought Crime' Britain.
1984 is here at last.

The two Manchester schoolboys accused of plotting to blow up their school were acquitted in 45 minutes, but not before spending months behind bars. I once plotted to shoot my school headmaster, should I be charged,too?

My children are always bringing up the story I told them of when, as a thirteen year old, a gang of friends and I plotted in some detail how we could assassinate our school headmaster; we had even worked out exactly how to steal a rifle and ammunition from our Shooting Club. This teen fantasy evolved from an intellectual game to think up 'the perfect crime'. The crimes involved quickly graduated to murder, and the target promptly became the school head. Each of us would cook up a plot that we believed would be unsolvable by police - and the others would then find ways in which the crime would be detected.

This is a common theme amongst schoolboys, the Hitchcock film 'Rope' and the Sandra Bullock film Murder By Numbers are both based on the same idea.

So the fact that two Manchester schoolboys should be charged with conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to cause explosions, and then held on remand for months for cooking up just such a plan is in my view an absolute scandal, and the jury's decision to acquit after just 45 minutes deliberation clearly demonstrates what a farce this trial was.

Under this Government we have become obsessed with 'stopping' crime happening - with scant regard for the dangers this causes to civil liberty. Common sense and the rights of innocent citizens to go about their business are now clearly second place to the 'possibility' that one might be about commit an offence.

We now have house arrest ('control orders') for people who have committed no crime but who are considered to be 'at risk' of doing so. The Government wanted to increase the amount of time citizens can be held without charge from a few days to three months, and succeeded in getting a longer detention without charge regime than Russia or Zimbabwe. We are one of the few democracies in the world where you can be arrested and held because someone thinks you 'might' be considering committing a crime.

This issue permeates so much of our lives. The need to have 11m adults undergo a CRB check has caused a fuss this week, and is another symptom of the potential felon paranoia - everyone is a potential child molester, and apparently, unless you can prove you aren't one you won't be allowed near children.

The same State suspicion applies to your personal financial affairs, since everyone these days is a potential money laundering terrorist you cannot deposit your savings in a bank, instruct a solicitor or even rent an office without providing proof of identity.

And the whole approach of the inland revenue and customs service has shifted so that the onus is on the accused to prove innocence rather than the authorities to prove guilt, again the assumption being that we are all 'at it'.

The Racial and Religious Hatred Act clearly takes this line, too. It's apparently not enough to have more serious penalties for racially motivated crime; we now need a special offence which again jumps to a false conclusion, that people are prone to racial or religious hatred and with a bit of a prod, we will all become violent bigots.

Perhaps if the authorities focused on respecting and trusting it's own free citizens a bit more it might find that the public reciprocate by respecting and trusting those in authority.

I know being the victim of a serious crime is a terrible trauma, and I believe that any Government has a duty to do all it can to prevent crime. One of the best ways of preventing crime is to make sure that those who commit offences are always caught, and punished in such a manner as to deter others and prevent habitial criminals from repeat offending.

The really frightening thing is, whilst the authorities constrain the civil liberties of millions of innocent citizens in the name of 'the war on terror' or the 'fight against crime' those who really do break the law have never had it so good - crime clear up rates, even after considerable massaging, are at an all time low.

And if and when they are actually found guilty the chances of going to prison are lower than ever. Because the prisons are full judges are under huge pressure to rely on community based punishments in an ever wider range of cases. Even then, when and if a criminal is unlucky enough to actually be incarcerated, they will be considered for parole or early release frighteningly soon.

"Tough on Crime, Tough on the causes of crime'? - Surely one of the most cynical and hollow promises ever made by a modern politician.

No comments: