Heads on beds

This is the  third in a series of posts about children in care meeting the criminal justice system. The first, by @TooManyBlueys, is from the perspective of a police station representative, and can be found here. The second, is from a custody sergeant and can be found here

This post is from @Avers7, who is now a police officer, but was a residential social worker and it is from that perspective she writes. Children in care are referred to by the local authority as ‘looked after children’. Looked after is often the last thing they are. 

Heads on beds.

I arrived at my new unit two weeks after my 20 min interview; a clean CRB check all that was required to get the job. They had phoned me before I was even home from the interview to let me know it was mine pending checks. So that was me – a new residential social worker, to undertake 48 hour long shifts, looking after children in the care of the local authority.

On my first day I only met one of the young people staying there, an angelic looking lad who, I was reliably informed by the manager, was a “bloody nightmare”. His first comment was “Good Luck”.

The unit (as I was now calling it) was bleak in décor; it was trying to appeal to so many different ages but ultimately ended up looking like a doctors surgery.

Notices were hung up all over the place and locks were common – from the DVD cabinet to every door in the building, including the bedrooms.

I spent the rest of the day looking at the files of the young people living there. By the sixth one I was beginning to get an idea of what I’d let myself in for. Most of the current residents were on their fifth or sixth placement; no one had been at the unit longer than a year. There was a mix of residents both male and female with ages ranging from 7 up to the oldest at 16 years.

All had been in the system for some time and their stories were heartbreaking.

Parents who couldn’t cope, or had alcohol/drug issues, abuse issues and abandonment made up the mix. Suddenly I was feeling out of my depth, I had never dealt with things like this before, how was I supposed to relate to them?

There is no formal training for this role; you are given first aid training and basic health and safety. The only training we had which actually dealt with the young people was the conflict resolution training, and that involved learning how to restrain a young person when they kicked off.

I was told the part owner of the company which owned the unit was a serving police officer in another force; it was he who conducted the conflict resolution course. I now know the methods taught are the same legal restraints used by police officers; he even gave the same spiel as I was given when I joined the police force.

Discipline was the most difficult task of all. Each unit had a pocket money fund with a set level of money being awarded to each child depending on their age.

If a young person failed to keep to good behaviour requests and coming in times they would receive less pocket money.

Without fail every Friday would involve tears and kick offs. The pocket money was our only leverage to try and induce good behaviour but more often than not we had our bluff called, after which we had nothing left to bargain with. That was when you had to rely on your relationship with the YP and your ability to hopefully talk them out of the tantrum, and the impending bad behaviour that always followed.

It was a carrot and stick way to deal with things and I felt that the standards were set were too high, constantly setting the young person up to fail, and initiating a spiralling pattern of behaviour that ultimately was detrimental only to the young person.

In time I got noticed as a good communicator and was allowed to go case conferences and multi agency meetings. My first meeting was so confusing, I didn’t understand half of what was said, and it didn’t appear that anybody was actually doing anything. I remember thinking if it was like that for me, what was it like the young people and their families.

My second case meeting was about a young person who was being sexually exploited outside of the unit. I assumed the plan would be to move her to a place that was safer and out of the city, but when I asked about this I was told by the social worker that they didn’t have the money to send her to a unit out of the area.

I asked how much more it would take. She replied about another £1500 more a week the than the £1000 we’re paying your company. This was my first realisation of the “business side” of children’s care – the private companies charged a lot more than the local authority units, and they were all full.

Getting a bed for a young person going into care was difficult and more often than not it led to a young people being placed into a unit that wasn’t suitable for their needs.

I will never forget a young girl being placed on a unit I was at. She was in dire need of a mental health assessment and was a severe self-harmer. There were only two of us on duty upon her arrival; we were only told she was an emergency placement and that they were unsure of how long she would be staying. It didn’t take much for us too work out we were the only unit with a spare bed.

She arrived and was quite subdued. I had made sure that there were no sharp objects lying around and I spent the first hour just chatting to her, trying to build some rapport. I left her in her room when she asked to go to sleep and went downstairs. I left her room feeling unsettled, although my conversation with her had been okay, I felt that something wasn’t right.

I went up 20 minutes later to check on her using the pretence of some hot chocolate. Her door was locked and she didn’t answer. My colleague suggest we just leave, but I couldn’t shake the bad feeling. I unlocked door to find her slumped by the chest of drawers with a ligature around her neck.

I screamed at the senior worker to get scissors a knife, anything sharp and I ran to lift her up. I tried to get my hands inside the ligature but it was so tight. I looked round for the other worker to find he had frozen in the doorway, unsure what to do. I remember yelling at him again to move and he did. I tried to undo the knots around her neck with my teeth. I could tell she wasn’t breathing, and she was turning blue.

It felt like a lifetime before the staff member did come back and I cut off the ligature and started CPR. She came back with little gasps of breath. The ambulance ride and the hospital were a blur after that.

It turned out that she had been sexually assaulted just prior to being moved to our unit and it was an unspoken conclusion that having a male staff member on duty when she arrived had possibly set something off. We couldn’t have known that but maybe someone else did, I’ll never know.

I never saw her again but the incident led to my first stint in counselling, it too had triggered something in me.

“Heads on beds” was a phrase that I heard a lot, and I was aware of some local authority social workers withholding potentially dangerous information on their clients in order to get a unit to take them on; it didn’t happen often but it did happen.

In many respects, although we provided the basics for the children, our hands were largely otherwise tied in terms of looking after them. We couldn’t, for example, stop anyone from actually leaving the unit; if they wanted to go, they went. Once, when trying to stop a young girl at risk of exploitation from leaving, I had a TV thrown at me, and she then broke a large window and climbed out. The manager bollocked me and said that I should have just let her go, as it would meant less damage to pay for. The fact that I could actually see the males waiting for her parked in a car down the road was dismissed.

More than once we had the local drug dealer, who routinely preyed on the kids staying at the care home, kicking off at the unit saying they were owned money. In some units the staff actually paid the YP’s debt, rather than call police to chase them off.

We couldn’t stop then bringing things onto the unit either and they always found ingenious ways to bring in drugs or alcohol knowing that we couldn’t search them. Many evenings were spent driving around looking for YP’s that had failed to return home. I learnt how to write out the police missing reports long before I ever joined the police.

We had to report the “missings” but since this was happening every night the local police soon became frustrated by the frequent visits to the unit, so it became the norm for the them to attend in the morning to collect the report if the young person hadn’t returned in the night.

Police interaction at the unit could sometimes be a frustrating situation, some staff were quick to pick up the phone for the slightest thing, and the officers who attended in the majority were reluctant to arrest the young person for what was something they felt could be dealt with in house.

It was here I saw the beginning of the criminal system taking over from the care system; it was like we were washing our hands of them and just passing them over, more than once I was frustrated by the actions of a colleague which had led to a young person gaining a criminal record, for something that could have been easily managed by the staff team.

I spent a lot of time in police stations and court rooms with young people, acting as the appropriate adult but more often that not feeling anything but.

I remember one of my colleagues having a young person arrested for having a very small amount of cannabis that had been found in his room. The police were called and the YP reluctantly arrested. I had to attend the station, and duly received a very stern word from the duty sergeant for not dealing with it by throwing it in the bin. The YP was still charged as they felt there was nothing else they could do.

I got the same “stern word “ from the judge who wasn’t impressed we had called police, but he still gave a conviction. Inside I was gutted each one of them had the opportunity to stop that process, but they didn’t.

I know I’m painting a bleak picture but that’s the way it was a lot of the time.

It became easy for some people to just pass the buck. They didn’t realise the process they were starting, or the impact their actions would have on the child later on.

I worked at several units and wish I could remember all the children I worked with,the truth is I cant , there were so many of them.

Building a relationship was often hard, we had little time to try; a normal family would have years to build these kind of bonds, we sometimes only had six months. I tried my best with everyone and sometimes you did make a connection and it’s those ones you remember most of all.

There were the two African asylum seekers who came to the unit just before Christmas, they had never had a Christmas and didn’t really know about presents or Christmas trees. I remember being the only staff member who didn’t have family locally so I opted to work the Xmas eve and Xmas day shifts. I went crazy and did all the things that I had done when I was little and now took for granted. I showed them carol services and helped them put up the decorations, I remember (hysterically) trying to explain about reindeer’s and Santa and leaving out the milk and cookies.

I will never forget the look on their faces on Christmas morning when I showed them their pile of presents that staff had bought secretly and hid. Or their first experience of snow, it was strange that something we took for a nuisance and a good reason to not go to work could produce such wonderment in others, the ensuing snowball fight was epic and wonderful. It was, for a brief while, magical to them and me.

I also remember a young boy who loved Manchester United (as did I), and when a kind friend offered me 2 tickets to a game I was able to take him. Its something special watching someone see something they love for the first time, possibly their only opportunity to ever do that.

I have the utmost respect for those who take on the role of a residential care worker, for me it ultimately proved too much, I wanted to try be in a position to prevent harm and felt that joining the police was a good way to do this.

Unfortunately I’ve found that the out dated and inflexible laws that govern children in care are still the same in the criminal system and I’m overwhelmed by the young people I now see falling through the cracks of the care system only to land in the criminal system.

It is a tidal wave of massive proportions that can only result in what I call a lost generation of our young, the impact of which is only just being felt. I highlight the recent riots in our cities as a possibly example.

The care homes that I see now on my divisional area now are mainly staffed by agency staff along with few experienced staff. Many of the agency staff do not have English as a first language and I’ve found that they are simply not prepared to deal with the behaviour or issues the young people had. This has led to a breakdown in communication between the staff and young people, making an already hard situation, in my mind much worse.

One incident I attended not so long ago involved several young people in the unit “running riot” whilst the two agency workers had locked themselves in the staff room. The young people had taken all the money and caused damage around the unit. Only one of the agency workers could speak English and upon police arrival both females promptly left, leaving no-one but myself and my colleague in charge of the unit.

I know that what I have written about doesn’t happen in every residential unit; these are only my experiences I’m writing about. I know that there are units and homes out there trying hard to make a difference to the young people that have been put in their care but I sometimes feel they are few and far between, and they have little or no support from the government.

I along with many other colleagues and care staff, will keep trying to do the best we can but in my heart of hearts I know we can’t stop them all falling through the cracks.

Missing

Continuing the kids in care meeting the legal system theme started yesterday by @toomanyblueys here, this piece is from @TheCustodySgt, who is a custody sergeant at a 30 cell custody suite. 

Missing

I rang the doorbell and was invited in. The front door opened onto a beautifully tiled entrance hall that opened out on the right to reveal a huge staircase that hugged three sides of the square stairwell before reaching the first floor. This was a grand old house in the leafy and well heeled suburbs of the city. A very sought after location. Yet there was a smell to the place redolent of my primary school many years before and the decor had a tired look about it. To a degree this house was cared for but it wasn’t loved. A rather butch “no nonsense” lady directed me into a small room. The door was reinforced and had several high security locks fitted to it. Inside was a small desk, a large cushion upon the window-ledge on which to sit and a noticeboard smothered with local authority memo’s. This was no grand family home. This was a children’s home in the heart of the city suburbs.

I muddled my way through my first missing report. The social worker knew how to fill the form in better than I did. “Any idea where she will be?” I asked. “You’re new aren’t you” she replied in a half mocking tone. “She’ll be in the city being pimped by some drug dealer. There’s no hope for this one. We’re just going through the  motions of what the law requires of us.”

I nodded in a sage manner as though I understood, completed my form and left. I could have walked around the corner and brought up my dinner quite easily. This young girl was thirteen. She had been in care since she was 4 but after several failed foster homes she finally found herself in permanent local authority care. She was a regular MFH report and had been on the game in the city for at least 12 months. I couldn’t even begin to imagine the type of lowlife that was willing to abuse this young girl.

I searched high and low without success so I took a drive into the city and spoke to the regular prostitutes. None would tell me anything either through fear or just a plain dislike of the police. A call on my radio some 6hrs later advised that Carly was back at the home.

I returned to Avondale and met Carly*. The photograph on the MFH report had been taken on a good day. A pretty girl with tidy hair and a pleasant smile. The reality was somewhat different. Carly had lank, greasy unwashed hair, was stick thin and had a gaunt face with sunken eyes and very pale complexion. Her voice was harsh and she spoke with arrogant conviction that she was the only one in charge of her life. I sat and chatted with her though this was somewhat a one way conversation broken by the odd sigh, tut and being told to “fuck off.” I didn’t get through to her this night… or any other.

Over the years I attended that same office and took countless reports for Carly and other residents. She never changed but after many chats it was her eyes that gave her away. She had suffered a horrible childhood and had built a huge barrier around herself but even in the depths of her arrogance and determination there was a glimmer of pain and sadness. It pained me to think that everyone was letting this girl down, she was crying out for help but couldn’t hold out her hand.

As the years progressed her younger sister came to Avondale too. She began to follow Carly’s path into prostitution and drug abuse. What was good for her big sister was clearly good enough for her. Carly was eventually old enough to be thrown out of local authority care. She was big enough to stand on her own two feet. She didn’t know how to get somewhere to live, how to get benefits, how to cook, budget or anything. She was simply thrown to the dogs and the local authority gladly washed their hands of her.

I don’t know what happened to Carly. She probably got locked up a few times and ended up in prison. She probably got pregnant and had kids. She could be dead. Time has moved on but Carly sticks there in my mind even now on how far off the rails we allow some kids to get. So far that we write them off as too much hard work to get them back on track.

They say history repeats itself. I sat at the charge desk booking in Susan. She was 14 and for all intents and purposes a right royal pain in the arse. Violent, aggressive, obnoxious and a habitual self harmer. From a custody perspective she was high maintenance. I tried to risk assess her but was getting nowhere. She was drunk and I was the biggest pain in the backside ever to have walked the planet. I gave up and was glad to see the back of her as my team dragged her kicking, screaming and spitting to her cell.

In the quiet hours when all was still I found myself comparing her to Carly. She wasn’t on the game but she was definitely in the local authority’s “too hard to do tray.” Over the next few months she visited custody regularly. I never really engaged with her. I simply went through the motions of booking in, charge and remand. The same cycle so many of these youngsters face and cannot break free from.

Then one evening she landed in front of me again. She was sober but angry. I booked her in and sent her to her cell. She promised me she no longer self harmed so I offered an olive branch and gave her the benefit of the doubt. She kept her own clothing and was not on close proximity observations but understood she was in a camera cell.

Around 11pm things slackened and in my head I was being told to go and talk to her. As she was awake I went down to see how she was. For the next 30-45 minutes I sat on the cell floor and chatted with her. We chatted about life both past, present and future. She seemed to really open up to me and I unearthed a sensitive, caring and deeply hurt young lady. We discussed many things and I gave the advice I can only expect to give to my girls as they get older. I’m no expert but I told her what I thought and how she was in control of her destiny.

The buzzer for the van dock called me back to the desk. She smiled, a lovely warm smile that lit up her face and melted away all the pain and tension normally written across it. I wished her goodnight and to try and get some sleep.

I left work the next morning before she went to court. I returned to work the following night. A colleague going off duty approached me. “You must have made an impression on that snotty cow Susan last night”. “Why” I asked. The answer was a piece of paper he handed to me. “She made a right fuss about this before going to court this morning.” The paper was folded over several times and stuck down with sellotape. She had apparently been most insistent that she stuck it down herself and nobody saw what was inside. The instruction was then to hand it to me and me alone.

I slit the tape and unfolded the paper. My colleague peered over my shoulder and said “Stupid cow will be back later” before turning on his heel and leaving. I stood motionless. The usual din of the office faded to nothing. I had a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye as I read two simple words … “Thank you.”

I haven’t seen or spoken to her since. I made a few follow up calls over the next few months to care home staff. Susan had been moved to a smaller unit but they had reports indicating she was studying hard at school, had changed her direction completely and was well on the path to a better life. I hope and pray to God she finds it.

I don’t propose to have any solutions to helping so many lost children. As the police we tend only to deal with the sad cases. The child who goes into care, strives to do well, gets fostered and adopted is unlikely to come to our attention. This can engender within the police a false view of the social care program for children.

These children are often rebelling against any authority be it a social worker, a foster carer or a police officer. They often won’t listen to those close to them but are often turned by a “miscellaneous other”. Each child has a key and we must never give up trying to find it.

*names have been changed

Where are the parents?

During the recent rioting, we saw many politicians and police forces asking where the parents were of the younger trouble makers. Much was heard of a lack of discipline, and many were critical of parents not knowing where their children were and what they were up to.

We have an often forgotten section of youth; those who reside in the care system. Discipline, as with many other things, is different for them. When the state is your parent, it is the state, via its courts, that are used to discipline and punish this often troubled young sector of society.

This post is written by @TooManyBlueys, a law graduate and post-graduate student, who is a probationary police station representative, often dealing with the vulnerable.

Where are the parents?

His eyes caught mine as I walked into the room and I was immediately struck by their innocence.  Baby faced but broad shouldered, he was not what I had been expecting.  Disclosure had painted a picture in my mind of a pock marked slovenly teenager with an attitude problem, a nasty sharpened face and a world weary air.

Instead I was, well, I shall not say greeted – more grunted at – by a boy I can only poorly describe as a normal, pleasant looking young man.  The investigating officers had let me know a little of his background, their description of him merely as ‘definitely not cautionable’ prompted rather more probing questions on my part.

These revealed by return a chaotic history of violence and despair with some pretty hefty pre-cons littering his record, miraculously achieved in the minimal time he had spent directionlessly meandering between Young Offender Institution detention periods.  His speciality was dishonesty but there was some violence and criminal damage thrown in for good measure, of course.

Just fifteen years of age, this young man had not been in a family environment for over eight years.  Foster home to prison to foster home, detention orders, cells, solicitors. I knew he would have had more experience of the youth criminal justice system than I, but I was the professional so I would treat him as if he had never met a lawyer before.  Little was he to know that at merely four years older than him, I had never met a young offender before in a professional environment myself.

He looked me up and down and appeared to have made up his mind before I even sat down, as he smirked smugly.  I had the unenviable task of telling this young man that he was about to be shipped away again as a result of the offence he had been arrested for; damaging something inside his foster carer’s home.  I knew telling him it would not be easy so decided to leave it a while.  He however, had other plans.

Slouched in his chair, avoiding eye contact and doing his very best to exude nonchalance, his act dropped away as soon as I began explaining why he had been arrested.  His eyes were pleading and his posture unwrapped sharply to that of someone who genuinely cared about the situation he was in.  “Where am I going to go?” I knew he would have no time for flowery language or beating around the bush, so I levelled with him, telling him he would be off somewhere far away, pre-arranged since his arrest by the youth offending service or back to prison if his solicitor – my boss – in court in the morning could not argue for the former successfully.  He sank back into his chair, the charade of indifference falling down between us like an invisible shutter.  “Back to prison”, he replied.  “I’ll just go back then.  Fuck this shit. Fuck it all.  I liked him, as well” he was referring to the foster carer who had taken him in post release.

The same foster carer who bizarrely had called the police and then footed his charge’s legal bill through an existing private client agreement.  Was I to tell him this? I negated to do so for fear of breaching privacy.  We chatted briefly and again his demeanour softened.  He told me his life story from his point of view, though when it came to the more serious offences he deftly flicked my fountain pen between his young fingers and averted his gaze, clearly ashamed.  I must admit my heart melted a little for this boy.  Though his choices were his own, his true self had been cloaked by a protective outer layer he had been forced to self-construct.  The death of the only decent parent he had as a youngster had forced him into care where his life had spiralled rapidly into a pattern of offending behaviour.

Each time he offended he soon found he was not welcome, and was swiftly moved on to the next place.  “No-one loves me.  Do you know how shit that is?” He was not looking for pity, that I could tell.  It was an up yours to me; you hear it often from clients, phrases like “yeah you don’t know what it’s like for me, you take the money and go home to your nice house” are banded around at you in various forms for most of your working life.  It is supposed to let you know your place, when in fact it merely has the result of you mentally chalking up another score on the scoreboard of how many times you have heard it.

Remanded into custody and moved to a new foster home in the morning, he really left me thinking.  In this modern day state where foster parents cannot discipline the children they take into their care to any sufficient degree in order to be able to instil any sort of fear or respect the way a real parent would, what is happening to these youths?

If every time they misbehave their carers must cause the Police to open an incident file and add another offence to their already vast criminal record, how can they ever ‘break the cycle’ and make a new life?  Of course I understand that if they commit a violent offence, cause other foster siblings to fear for their safety or go on a rampage of destruction in a home, then calling the Police is warranted, but some of the offences coming before the courts then, as now, are truly trivial.

I have not the answer, just the question.  Perhaps it is time to allow foster parents to parent, rather than simply house?

Naming and shaming kids: Taking away their future

Since the recent rioting, the Crown Persecution Prosecution Service has recently altered its guidelines to Crown Prosecutors in respect of applications to have reporting restrictions of the convictions of youths lifted.

Despite noting that ‘Parliament has long acknowledged the special position of young people accused of crime and has imposed duties to ensure their privacy and welfare are taken into consideration when they appear before a court’, the guidance (here) states that where there is a strong public interest in favour of lifting restrictions, the prosecutor should make an application that the court should do so. It gives the examples of where the applications should be made as where there is:

significant public disorder where the public will rightly need to be satisfied that offenders have been brought to justice and there is a need to deter others;

serious offences which have undermined the public’s confidence in the safety of their community;

hate crimes which can have a corrosive impact on the confidence of communities.

This of course has absolutely no nexus with the Home Secretary saying publicly that child rioters should be named and shamed.

Not only does the CPS and the Home Secretary clearly require reminder lessons in why we have these protections in the first place (can we spell c-h-i-l-d-r-e-n Mrs May?) they also need reminding of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, and in particular the provisions on when convictions become spent; and the internet.

It is always hoped that young offenders will turn their lives around and become contributing members of society. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act assists them in that – depending on when they were convicted, and the offence they were convicted of, convictions are likely to be ‘spent’ by the time they start looking for work, and therefore they will have no reason to declare them to prospective employers.

However, in what is clearly news to Government, we live in a digital age, one where not only do newspapers publish stories online, but also one where it is entirely usual for prospective employers to undertake an online search of their candidates.

Whilst it would fall foul of employment law provisions for a prospective employer to reject a candidate on the grounds of a spent conviction ascertained through an internet search from an old story ‘naming and shaming’ that person; no employer is going to be daft enough to mention that in his or her rejection letter.

Undoubtedly, once the dust settles in respect of the recent trouble, we will no doubt discover that one of the reasons for it was that there exists a pool of people who feel excluded from society. In naming and shaming the children caught up in it, all we are doing is further excluding them from being able to be included in society in the future. Way to go.

NB: To defence solicitors, David Banks (@DBanksy) has effectively written out your skeleton argument for you in his piece on this for Guardian Law here.

Apples, oranges, rioting and Godwin’s Law.

Have you heard of Godwin’s Law? Basically, it is the observation that:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1 (100%)

I propose an equivalent for sentencing, plotting the correlation between the publicity a sentence receives and the chance of it being compared to (an often fictitious) sentence for rape: that is, the more publicity the offence and sentence receive, the probability of a comparison to a sentence for rape approaches 100%. In addition, the speed at which a comparison is made is also directly linked to the volume of publicity, and at the highest end, is practically instantaneous.

I was going to call it ‘Vagina Law’ but quickly realised that Godwin’s Law would in all likelihood come into play, in invoking an assumption that I refuse to acknowledge that rape is not a crime limited to women due to a personality flaw. On that basis, as a working title, I will call it ‘Wiggy’s Law’ (which will also no doubt still create such a nexis given that I am having the audacity to name a law after myself).

Why is this an issue? Well, firstly the sentence compared is often fictitious. Should you ever question a person who claims to have heard of the mentioned sentence for rape, they claim to have read it somewhere. Well, that’s super, but I once read somewhere that the sky was about to fall in; however, empirical evidence suggests that (*checks outside*), yup, it is still up.

More importantly it is simply wrong to compare sentences for one crime with another, as that is not how sentencing works. It is rather akin to comparing apples and oranges, in that they share some similarities, but are individually unique.

So, sentencing. How does it work?

Section 170 (9) Criminal Justice Act 2003 says the Sentencing Guideline Council may issue definitive guidelines for criminal sentencing, which they have done for a range of offences. Section 172 CJA 2003 says  that the guideline has to be used where there is one. The Sentencing Council rather helpfully has a site where all the current guidelines can be viewed here.

Given a lot of the sentences currently being publicised are for burglary from a non-dwelling arising from the recent riots, it makes sense to look at that offence (which is being referred to as ‘looting’). The guideline for the offence can be viewed here. Page 9 goes through the decision making process; Annex A is the standard aggravating and mitigating factors.

In paragraph 2 the guideline states:

In relation to harm, in general, the greater the loss, the more serious the offence. However, this is subject to the considerations set out in the rest of this paragraph. The guideline is based on the monetary value of the amount involved but, the monetary value may not reflect the full extent of the harm caused by the offence.

It goes on to specify the following elements:

any harm in the form of public concern or erosion of public confidence

offenders operating in groups or gangs

It is those factors that are particularly important at the moment. We are seeing huge amounts of defendants being brought before the magistrates courts in respect of offences relating to the riots. The maximum sentence a magistrates court can impose is 6 months, hence many are being sent to the Crown for sentence, where, in respect of this offence, the maximum sentence is 10 years.

While 6 months for stealing water from Lidl may seem harsh taken alone, one has to put it within the factual and sentencing matrix for like offences, with one eye on personal mitigation. If it still seems harsh, appealing the sentence is an option available, the research for which will include looking at cases of the same offence which share a similar factual make-up and looking where the case in question lies, remembering how personal mitigation can affect a sentence. What one doesn’t do is trot out a trite comparison against other offences which share no other like qualities save for being a sentence.

Fruit salad, anyone?

*****Update*****

The Recorder of Manchester today handed down his first sentences for offences relating to the rioting in Salford and Manchester. The document is well worth a read, and can be found here.

Responsibility

Elsewhere on this site, on a locked down and password protected post, is something I have written about the police.

It arose from a tweet I saw from a serving police officer on Sunday morning, which seemingly encouraged the officers on the ground in Tottenham to use violence. I was appalled by the tweet, and the others like it in this officers’ timeline, and wrote a post containing the screenshots I took, and a screenshot of a private conversation between the two of us. The officer has apologised for his tweets here.

My original concern was whether this was a daft bobby getting over excited, or whether it was an indication of a mindset pervading the police. I posed it thus:

And this is my concern. Was this a bobby being stupid on a Saturday night in the heat of the moment seeing fellow officers under attack, or is this an indication of something more – an attitude that has maybe pervaded down through the ranks, and that actually, when police and public meet, the public meet the force. Literally.

The post troubled me. I can’t quite elucidate why it troubled me, but when I trained, we were taught that if something felt wrong, it probably is wrong.

I have a certain sentimentality about the police. My overarching view is that the vast majority of police officers are good eggs. They do an often difficult job, in often difficult circumstances, and most do it to the best standard they can achieve in any set of circumstances. However, I am not so blind that I refuse to acknowledge there are real difficulties within many forces. It is easy to say that every institution has its bad apples. But what sets an institution apart is how it deals with those bad apples. When the mindset of the bad apple becomes wide-spread, it affects the actions of the institution, the institution becomes complicit, and it then becomes unfit for purpose.

One of the things that stopped me publishing that post was the condemnation the original bobby received from fellow officers. That condemnation said to me that they dislike the bad apples as much as we do, that his mindset, if indeed his words were demonstrative of a mindset, is not a pervasive one.

My original post, especially when passions are running high, was not a responsible one. Publishing it, I feel, would have put me in the same bracket as that officer. I do not want to stand there. I want to stand shoulder to shoulder with those officers who quietly condemned him, and who get on with their jobs. They seem pretty good at dealing with bad apples, whether within the force, or outside it.

Condemning individuals for the acts for which they bear responsibility is one thing. Condemning a whole group for the acts of an individual is another. Lesson learned.