From the Revd Geoffrey Squire
Sir, — Further to your report on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments on the London riots (News, 9 December): I was amazed when a former member of a youth group told me that he had taken part in one of those London riots, even after he clarified that it was “Only making yobbish noises at the police and kicking rubbish around.”
When asked why he now disliked the police, he told me that “Two of those bastards in baseball caps” had given his brother an £80 PND fine and a lifelong police record for an extremely trivial “offence”, and that it had been disclosed using the term “disorder” in his CRB document, and that in turn had stopped him from following the career for which he had trained for three years. The “offence” was reported to the officers by police CCTV operators.
The UK’s CCTV and other police surveilance is the most extreme the world has ever known. The high level of fines, the frequency of use, the inclusion of often misleading terms such as “disorder”, the lifelong police record, and their disclosures via CRB documents are all far more extreme than in any other EC nation.
Much of this is mainly directed at young people, and every aspect of it is increasing at an alarming rate. Likewise, the rift between the young and the law-makers and the police and other law-enforcers is getting ever deeper as a direct result.
It is not that the young have lax attitudes to law-and-order issues. Many of those who condemn this excessive preoccupation with trivial “offences” and the draconian manner by which the related laws are enforced would be delighted to see far more severe penalties given to those who commit violent crimes or put people’s lives in danger by driving dangerously in order to excape from the police.
Asked if they would accept the Continental system of on-the-spot fines for trivial offences — i.e. a fine of around £20 issued by a properly uniformed police officer with no recording once paid, and therefore no disclosures — a group of eight young people all responded “Yes.” It is the extremism and zero tolerance that is the problem. The punishment no longer fits the crime.
The young will only take so much before real disorder will erupt; so the Government should have an in-depth investigation into this extremism without delay. All it has to do is to observe the situation in our nearest neighbouring countries — France, Belgium, and the Irish Republic. They do not have this extremism in the law and its enforcement in relation to trivial “offences”, and yet they have far less violence and far less real disorder among their young people.
Administrator, Youthlink (England and Wales)
Little Cross, Goodleigh, Barnstaple
Devon EX32 7NR
From the Revd A. John Ward
Sir, — Without endorsing every word, I find myself agreeing strongly with the opinions that Andrew Brown ascribes to Melanie Phillips in his snide caricature of her (Press, 9 December).
Only when the liberal intelligentsia — including Dr Williams — faces up to the catastrophic collapse of parental authority from which we now suffer in parts of our society will we be able to say anything to which the general public as a whole will listen with any respect. During the riots, chief constables and magistrates kept asking, “Where are their parents?” — putting a finger on a question of supreme importance.
A. JOHN WARD
6 Lower Forge
Bridgnorth WV16 5LQ