Britain's police "descending into obvious madness."

The Policing Pledge - UKOn Christmas Day, police in the U.K. rounded up tourists taking photos of the royal family at Sandringham church and confiscated their cameras. At The Independent, Dominic Lawson's dismay subsides to confusion: Britain's police are "descending into obvious madness," he writes. " ...Their explanation of their behaviour is usually much harder to understand than the errors they seek to mitigate." In his view, the many similar absurdities (also recently arrested was a man who took photographs of a chip shop) are united by a simple and apolitical motive. Lawson puts it thus:
If the innocent citizen reacts with the outrage of the genuinely guiltless, the officers involved may well take a special pleasure in humiliating him - and it is this which makes most people meekly accept official behaviour, even if they might strongly suspect it is the police who are behaving illegally.
Brits have a term for these sort of officials: jobsworths. The police know that they're harming what they ostensibly protect, but haven't been ordered to give a damn. And the result of that is far worse: "none of us can feel safe: exactly the inverse of what our masters' policies are supposedly designed to achieve." Illustration: Pip R. Lagenta


  1. Can someone confirm or deny something I heard about through an email listserv? Apparently the police in GB will not respond to domestic violence cases, according to this person…

    If this is true, I feel sorry for y’all.

    1. “Will not respond” may have been true in the ‘bad old days’ (Up to the late 1980s? I don’t think I could call a line on exactly when the police stopped treating ‘domestics’ as beyond their purview). Most services have pretty commendable policies on domestic violence nowadays, though obvious disclaimer policy and reality may not match up in every case.

    2. It used to be the case that police in the UK could not progress a Domestic Abuse case unless the homeowner themselves reported it. I personally called the police to a domestic abuse incident that I was unfortunate to be present at – but as a visitor to the house, the police could not progress the complaint because the bruised, tearful victim was unwilling to say that anything had occurred for fear of reprisals.

      This is no longer the case due to exactly the issue above. The police now have powers to intervene provided they suspect a crime has been committed.

      1. Just something to consider, when it comes to domestic abuse cases:

        Children are a priori considered to be legally incompetent; to some extent, they’re all wards of the state, and governments have accepted the moral responsibility of intervening whenever a crime is suspected, and charging the abuser even if Johnny still loves Uncle Chester the Molester. We expect due process in these situations, and sometimes Child Protective Services can go too far, but overall this is a good policy.

        Women, however, until such time as they have been found Legally Insane in a court of law are autonomous citizens – for us to presume domestic abuse when the wife refuses to press charges is to state “Women are inherently irrational, and unable to govern their own lives.” As awful as the Stockholm syndrome often seen is, I don’t see that we have the right to intervene against the woman’s wishes (the subtler approach, providing protection and shelters is brilliant, however).

        If we prosecute ‘every’ domestic abuse case, then we’ll be putting perfectly happy S&M couples in prison. Intervention is one thing – settle the situation, give the woman a chance to press charges – but if she elects to go back to Drunken Joe, there’s not much we can do without undermining women’s autonomy.

    3. It might be true, I’m not from GB but our police here in the states (California) are doing something similar. They do not respond to any calls that are not life threatining. They say its because of budget cutbacks that came after the credit crisis of 09.

  2. @#1: Not true. They’re obliged to respond to all reports of domestic violence and ‘racial’ crime (it’s racial if the aggrieved construes it to be so, by whatever chop-logic), over and above other crimes. They generally also have another, ever-changing priority crime in their area.

    The Bobbies are unfortunately infested with political apparatchiks and bureaus of goodthink commissars. Anyone above Inspector rank (Lt would be the US equivalent) is so out of touch with street policing and governed by diktats handed down by the Home Office as to be living in a dream world.

    Many of the street cops /know/ they’re working for a dysfunctional institution more interested in social engineering than catching villains and keeping old dears safe, and they HATE it. One of them (Nightjack, Orwell Award winner outed by a Times hack in search of a scoop) called it “being a Vichy cop” (shut up, and watch the job go to hell; or whistleblow, and lose your job/pension/freedom).

    There are a lot of good Brit cop blogs out there. Inspector Gadget, Nightjack (saved and mirrored after his outing), Ellie Blogs, and Area Trace No Search are all good starting points.

  3. So I suppose the authorities will go ape shit the next time the Google Van takes to the streets?

  4. Once someone has power, or has discovered a shortcut to doing their job.. it become very difficult for them to adjust back to the harder way of doing things.

    More than likely this will take a crack down to re-adjust the attitude of the Police.

  5. One wonders what kind of response the police expect.

    “Aw, you got me, officer! I really am a terrorist and I was totally going to blow up that cute little decorative fountain my wife is standing in front of. But without this picture, there’s no way I can do that now. Well played, sir, well played.”

  6. One thing I have wondered about since we started hearing about this madness a couple of years ago is, where do the courts stand?

    In the U.S., when the police and other authorities misinterpret or abuse their powers, the courts eventually set them straight. Admitedly, it sometimes takes decades of mistreatment, as in the Miranda case that gave us “The right to remain silent,” but I’ve heard nothing about civil actions or criminal defenses challenging the behaviour by the British police.

    1. hallpass the right to remain silent comes from the 5th amendment. Miranda is merely a reminder of that preexisting right.

      1. @13 Not so much a reminder as a codification and clarification. “we’re going to spell it out so nobody is confused”.

    2. The problem is the courts only come into play when brought in. It’s not like the courts are just waiting to jump on cases like this.

      In order for this to go to court someone would be willing to TAKE it there, that means challenge the police’s behaviour to the point where charges would be laid or not.

      In all likelihood even if a copper would want to go down that route, crown council would laugh at him and never lay charges, so they are free to continue to do this.

      You can file civil charges against the police (e.g. stolen property, wrongful arrest etc.) but in all likelihood the cops are just going to settle out of court and your lawyer will most likely suggest you accept it because it is faster than fighting your way through the system.

  7. I can safely say that, having seen an objectionable neighbour carried out of his house after assaulting his wife, they definitely have responded on at least one occasion. So, ‘will not respond’ is patently false.

  8. Well, now we know that what appeared to be an ordinary chip shop is actually something much more. Congratulations officers you’ve just blown the cover of one of Britain’s most secret facilities!

  9. Police in the UK will and do respond to domestic violence reports. Most forces and services have dedicated domestic violence units, and the Metropolitan Police in particular have a no-warning shoot to kill policy in place when an apparent victim of domestic violence’s life is reasonably believed to be in danger.

    Victims can and do take out non-molestation orders on abusive partners or family members- the maximum penalty for breaching an NMO (including pestering, harassment, or, in some cases, entering the area in which the victim lives) is 5 years imprisonment.

    My father was a cop in a UK jurisdiction, and he still can’t straighten his little finger since he broke it on a barbecue-fork-wielding wife-beater’s face.

  10. I think it was John C. Dvorak, who put most succinctly: “The British have gone collectively insane”.

  11. Reminds me of the Monty Python skit:

    Policeman: (approaching the girls and getting out his notebook) Hang on. You can’t park here you know.
    Women: (bewildered) We’re not parked!
    Policeman: No parked! What’s that then?
    Women: That’s our lunch.
    Policeman: Right. I’m taking that in for forensic examination.
    Women: Why?
    Policeman: Because it might have been used as a MURDER WEAPON, that’s why! (the girls look at each other; the policeman grabs their lunch) Yeah, not bad. Could be worse. (to the reporter) Beer?

  12. So for those of you just tuning in, British Police: tough on domestic abuse, and amateur photography.

  13. this unfortunately vindicates their policy of hassling photographers…
    “A terrorist attack on London was averted because two beat patrol officers stopped a man who was acting suspiciously while filming with a mobile phone, police claimed yesterday.

    The Algerian man said that he was a tourist, but when his phone was examined it yielded 90 minutes of footage of stations, security cameras and shopping centres.

    Police took the unprecedented step of releasing the “hostile reconnaissance” video to counter criticism that they are using anti-terrorism powers to question tourists and photographers. “I’d much rather justify what we did do in stopping someone than having to justify why we didn’t do it against the backdrop of a burning building and a terrorist atrocity,” Detective Superintendent Chris Greany, of City of London Police, said.

    He admitted that his officers did “get it wrong sometimes” but said that they were acting in the public interest in stopping people. He added: “We don’t just stop people for a laugh – we’re trying to make London safer.”
    [end quote]

    PS, what “codes” can I use to quote something with?

    1. Interesting story mbm. Funny they didn’t end up charging them with terrorism offences, given how sure they were that they were going to bomb public places with help from All Kaydya. All they got was two years! Glad they’re loose, lol!

      I take pictures of surveillance cameras quite often, including ones in subway stations. Record the recorders, and all that. Good to know it makes me a terrorist. Well… then again, I am a white Canadian boy, not some suspicious looking Algerian with a record of fraud. We’d do you no harm unless you give us hockey sticks, eh.

      1. What? You a Canadian? Only Canadians can think up pranks like that and get away with them. Such recklessness. Canada truly is “The bestest country in the world”

        A White Canadian Mom

        1. You mean to quote or indent something without the big red quote mark appearing next to each paragraph? You can’t.

          You mean to get <blockquote> and </blockquote> to appear without causing blockquoting? You have to type &lt;blockquote&gt; and so on.

  14. Actually, the police MUST prosecute any case of domestic violence they find, as long as the injuries cross the line into Actual Bodily Harm, and hospitals are obliged to report any suspicious injuries to the police, regardless of the patient’s wishes.

    This seems fairly sensible until you take consensual BDSM into account; it is totally possible for someone to seek medical treatment for an injury sustained during 100% mutually consensual rough-play and, despite the wishes of everyone involved, for the police to be forced to press charges as a result.

    Note especially that consent can be a defense against ABH in certain cases; so if you’re a soldier setting fire to a new recruit’s bedclothes while they sleep that’s ok, because hazing is an expected part of being in the military, or if you injure someone whilst doing sports, that’s fine, but BDSM between two consenting adults is never ok because of “the need to protect abused spouses”.

    Far from “not responding” to domestic violence, the UK police’s response is actually far too heavy-handed.

    1. Policing “domestics” is no fun at all. When I was in the specials, we heard of cases where one woman would make a complaint, then refuse to be a witness “cos he was just drunk, he didn’t mean it, and I love him”, so the CPS would decide that they couldn’t get a conviction due to lack of evidence, and drop the case. After the same woman has done the same thing several times, it gets pretty old for the local police.

  15. @manicbassman – I’m afraid that instance doesn’t vindicate the British police’s general attitude. Its one thing to question someone on the suspicion of a crime, ‘terrorist activity’ included; its another to confiscate equipment and generally behave like idiots when its clear nothing illegal is occurring.

  16. @manicbassman “Although held under the Terrorism Act for 14 days the brothers were charged with fraud offences.”

    So they found something to charge them with. Yeah, that justifies everything.

    1. Sounds like thought-crime to me. Goes right along with preventive striking at loud-mouthed presidents (other presidents) Is sketching a crime too? Or just plain sightseeing? How about finger-pointing? Hasn’t that been outlawed since I was a child?

  17. Much as the BB collective and Dominic Lawson (ha! google his sterling work on climate change to see his agenda) might like to think that the British police are going mad (it’s all the fault of political correctness and health and safety you know) this is not the “police’s general attitude” – go on flickr and see hundreds of photos of police officers, chip shops, MOD buildings, you name it. A tiny minority have overstepped the mark (like they have done for the last 150 years – really people have short memories) and people think this is some sinister new direction. Please tell me somewhere where cops are flawless.

    1. “this is not the “police’s general attitude” – go on flickr and see hundreds of photos of police officers”

      If it is not the Police general attitude, then please pray tell why the leadership felt compelled to tell the coppers to tune it down.

      They know they are abusing the public, but they are not taking the issue seriously enough. One or two high profile disciplinary actions against coppers that are over stepping the mark (not difficult to find, and very often documented) would send the message that is badly needed.

  18. As a Brit, I really wish they’d actually ask the majority of the public what they want rather than pandering to these shrieking health and safety banshees and Orwellian dystopia masturbating labour fruitcake MPs because I for one am MORE than happy to accept the occasional terrorist bomb going off if it means the other 65 MILLION of us and the wonderful tourists who come to visit our fair land can take sodding photographs without being arrested.

  19. I’m pretty sure it said in the news a few weeks ago they WERE ordered to give a damn, and to knock it off, and they still haven’t. I’m not sure what’s up with that.

  20. It’s exactly this kind of behavior that got England kicked off of American soil some 200+ years ago. Sad to see such behavior among English officials becoming popular again.

  21. I am pleased and honored (and gobsmacked) to have Boing Boing choose my satirical artwork to illustrate this article. In addition to making the making the occasional tongue-in-cheek poster in Photoshop, I also like to make short musical videos for the YouTubes thing. Here is one:

    1. Well, if you keep going on producing brilliant bits like that, you’ve got to expect it, haven’t you? ;D

  22. So…. how do I type

    without this happening?

    You have baffled me sir.

    That would be with &lt; blockquote& gt; for example.

    Now, try to type that without being parsed!

    1. You just need &amp; to do that. And one layer more of &amp; for each layer of unparsedness. So I say “to get < to appear unparsed, type &lt;” and to get THAT I had to type &amp;lt;. And to get THAT I had to type &amp;amp;lt;, and so on.

      It’s not too hard once you get the hang of it. And they’ve fixed the Preview on BB, by the way; I use it whenever I have HTML more complex than <em>.

  23. The totalitarian tendencies in the UK are getting more and scarier. Sweeping anti-terrorist laws that give the government and the police almost unlimited powers. An unaccountable police force that use these emergency laws whenever they feel like it.

    I am flabbergasted by the fact that the British people don’t protest more. The fight for the right to take pictures in public is a proxy for the defense of democracy in the UK.

    I would urge for massive civil disobedience. Take pictures of police officers all the time. Preferably with long telephoto lenses. Know your rights, refuse to be submissive, argue back, have the phone number to a lawyer at hand, report the arresting officer. If you are arrested, have a friend take pictures of the incident, if he/she is arrested a third person starts to take pictures of the second arrest, etc. If 1000s of people did this all the time the message just might sink in.

    PS. Watch the movie “V for Vendetta” and the documentary “Taking Liberties” (on Google video) to understand the urgency of this.

  24. I imagine the cops are getting nervous about the aging populations and the dramatically decreasing crime rates … i couldn’t imagine how they’d feel about unemployment and no pension … actually i could.

  25. There was a case in the UK where a man’s garage was broken into by 3 teenagers, and they were actually still there when he called the police. However the police responded with “We don’t have any units in the area, but we’ll send someone when they’re available”.

    After a moments thought he called back again and said “Don’t worry about sending anyone round, I’ve just shot the kids so there’s no need”. Within 10 minutes he had several police cars and an ambulance outside his house, and the kids were caught and arrested.

    The police, obviously annoyed, asked him “I thought you said you shot them”.
    He replied “I thought you said you had nobody available”

    True story.

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