As I’m writing this, the headline to Radio Four’s PM is “The police are in the dock today.” It’s true.
The report on the Stephen Lawrence affair makes grim reading. Police allegedly in the pay of criminals, a grieving family spied on, institutional racism, senior officers either unaware or uncaring... it goes on and on.
None of us have forgotten the death of Ian Tomlinson and Plebgate continues to unravel. It’s a long way from the nobility of Jack Warner’s Blue Lamp.
I have known about police corruption for a long time. In the 1980s I was a columnist on the Today newspaper and working on BBC’s Breakfastime.
I was contacted by a retired police superintendent in a force far from London.
He said he watched me on television and trusted me.
He knew of people who were in prison for offences they had not committed.
If the paper would give him enough money to live in Spain, where there was no extradition treaty, he would tell all.
I arranged for him to meet my editor but his demands were too great.
There was nothing we could do. Some time later I saw him on television in a documentary about an iconic crime.
I often wondered about the people wrongly imprisoned and hoped their sentences had come to an end and then, one evening, I received a call from a young man.
He told me his father had died. The name didn’t register at first. Then he said “I want to know what you meant to my father?” It was the letter writer’s son.
His father had died, he was going through his papers and there was a cryptic letter from me arranging a London meeting.
I told him his father had written to me about a matter of conscience and his complete acceptance of that explanation told me he knew what I was talking about.
That was the end of the episode, except that the phone call made a brilliant first chapter for my next novel.
Corruption and maladministration does not take place solely in the Met.
There are bad apples in every barrel and, as one senior policeman told me, “No one hates them more than we do.”
It’s important to remember that while some policemen and policewomen were abusing the Lawrence family, others were preventing terrorist attacks and comforting people in distress all over London. So it is in every force.
Let us root out the bad apples, by all means. But let us not forget that, when we are in trouble, the words “the police are here” are some of the most reassuring in the English language.
:: Last week the Sage, Gateshead, saw the launch of a CD commemorating World War One, which is being sold in aid of the Army Benevolent Fund.
There’s some wonderful music on it, by Vicky Guillory and others, and some memorable, though brutally honest, poems written by men who served, and in some cases, died in the WW1 trenches.
If you buy it you’ll give yourself a treat and do something to help the men and women who have suffered in this country’s cause in the present day.
Only Remembered has been recorded, produced, and distributed by Northern Lights Music and is available on CD and Digital Download at their online Music Store, northernlightsmusic.biz. The CDs are £10 inc UK postage. Overseas £3 per item postage. Download £8. I promise it will move you.
:: Twenty-two-year-old Samuel Lees has been banned from driving and fined £500 after he splashed children when he inadvertently drove his car through a huge puddle.
As well as the fine, magistrates gave the shop worker six points, which means that as a new driver he will lose his licence.
He will have to pass both his theory and driving test again to regain his licence.
Magistrates also ordered him to pay £90 court costs and a £50 victim surcharge. The loss of his licence means he faces losing his job because he needs to drive the 25 miles from home to job.
The mother of the children he soaked says she was stunned by his sentence. “I am very, very shocked by the punishment he has been given. I think a slap on the wrist would have been sufficient,” she said. Contrast that with another sentence passed in our courts last week. Thirty-nine-year old Balbinder Dhillon ploughed into a mother walking with her daughter.
She threw her child out of the way but couldn’t save herself. Dhillon admitted smoking cannabis and taking sleeping tablets earlier.
He faced 14 years in jail for causing death by dangerous driving but he walked free with a suspended jail term, community service and a driving ban after the judge ruled he had ‘post accident amnesia’.
The victim’s widower is aghast. “The judge said that, if he committed this man to prison, it would be devastating to his family – but what about my family and the devastation it has caused? This just shows how much the British justice system stinks and I have no faith in it whatsoever.”
After comparing those two sentences, I’m afraid I know how he feels.