Sunday, October 02, 2011

A Loss of Confidence

I don't like to criticise our police, who at the best of times, have a difficult and often thankless task to perform with dwindling resources. However despite my admiration, today, I was unimpressed at action, coordination and initiative and this is why.

A little earlier, I decided to cycle my regular time trial along the seafront to Reculver towers.

Being a fantastic morning, one could see for miles and shortly after entering the sea wall beyond Minnis Bay, I saw a plume of smoke rising from the nature reserve.

I sped along in that direction and found three other cyclists trying desperately to put out a freshly started and fast spreading blaze.One cyclist was on the phone to the 999 operator trying unsuccessfully to describe where we were. I asked him to pass the phone over and had the same problem as a couple of weeks ago attempting to explain a position in space that did not have a post code or a road name and offering her the GPS LAT/LONG coordinates weren't much use either. 'Hopeless' would be too kind a word to use and I have to confess I was abrupt with the poor operator who had no idea where Birchington or perhaps even Thanet was and could only work in postcodes and not geography.

The people at the scene told me that they had seen three teenagers, a girl and two boys emerge from the fire and cycle off towards Minnis and their description tallied with three that had passed me in the opposite direction earlier. So after exhausting my pitiful water bottle on the leaping flames and fruitless efforts to beat out the accelerating fire with the others, I called the police and told them that I was going to cycle-off after them and would meet the fire engine at the Minnis Bay car park.

At Minnis Bay, I gave the details of the fire and the three suspects to the fire crew that had just arrived and four police officers, two on bikes and two in a car. I also said I would be getting after the suspects. One of the policeman offered to come with me but as he was much older than me by many years and his bike about 15mph slower, I said I would use my better speed, try and locate them and then call his number or 999.

Cycling hard, I luckily managed to catch-up with the three by Westgate golf course. The policeman's mobile wouldn't answer and so I called 999 and had to go through the long process of giving all the necessary information that the police need these days.

I won't bore readers with the details but I made three or was it four further 999 calls along the route which finally took me to Fort Hill. Each time, starting all-over, explaining who I was, where I was and where the promised police car should stop to intercept the suspects. On the way along the seafront, one of the three, the largest, managed to crash outside Pav's cafe in St Mildred's bay attempting a wheelie and had to be helped back to his feet by bystanders. It's also where I picked-up an old friend, Mike W. on his bicycle and we followed the three teenagers, together towards Margate, finally stopping until on the promenade below the police station at Fort Hill and despairing of the authorities actually doing something, I decided to leave my friend and cycle-up the cliff slope to their front desk, while Mike said he would stop the kids for 'a chat'.

At the police station in Margate,the nice lady once again took all my details and told me that I had recently reported a fire and made at least three 999 calls, 'No kidding.' When my information I finally been typed in, once again, I asked if there was such a rare commodity as a police officer at the station who might come outside and collect the three suspects. The desk clerk managed to raise the desk sergeant, who was quite concerned that Mike might have laid hands on them. "I've no idea' I said, but 'why doesn't the sergeant come outside and ask them?'

Perhaps someone was in danger of being oppressed or a Human Rights issue was involved, I've no idea but what followed was more bureaucratic 'umming' and 'ahhing' and finally and after nine minutes at the police station front desk, I declared that I "had lost the will to live.' From where I stood, the 'police were clearly uninterested in catching the suspects', who had probably gone by now and I was quite worn out after fifteen miles on my racing bike. So I left.

Outside, there was no sign of Mike or the suspects and I've come home to write this.

The final irony is that the police just called me at home and wanted to know where the suspects are, as a car has now been tasked to follow-up. That was at 11:40. The Incident took place at around 10:15 about a mile short of Reculver.

A decade or so ago, I might have had the energy to cycle on a bit longer in the direction of Damascus or even Ramsgate but at 55, fifteen or twenty miles at a  20 mph pace on my Roberts Racer, leaves me crashed in a small heap for the remainder of the day waiting for the evening and an ice-cold lager.

I plan to complain to the Area Commander in the morning. Perhaps I should have asked the three suspects to follow me to the police station for a chat to make it all easier for everyone involved in this 15 mile chase?

And Mike, if you read this, what happened next??


mingles4all said...

Now you know how we ordinary citizens feel. I gave up reporting crimes to the police a while ago - it gets you nowhere. Your comment regarding the desk sergeants concern that your friend hadn't touched the scrotes pretty well sums up crime and justice in 21st Century Britain - and I hope you're not holding your breath waiting for action regarding the drug dealer.

Peter Checksfield said...

Unfortunately this is the real reason why crime figures are down... I too have run into similar incompetence & couldn't-care-less attitudes with the police. Best of luck with your complaint.

One point: why didn't you or Mike take a photo of the suspects when you caught them (assuming you had a mobile phone or something with you capable of doing this)? Probably better than just giving a description.

DrM. said...

As readers know, I normally have a camera on my belt at all times but today, my daughter borrowed it to go to the Globe theatre in London, which explains why I don't have any photos of the fire or even the suspects. It's called the 'Law of Sod' I suppose.

Anonymous said...

I had a very unpleasant experience of three teenagers constantly knocking on my door 'demanding' to wash my car. They knocked 14 times in half an hour and repeated the same line "Want your car washed ?". This was a game to them, to me, it was intimidation. I refused to hand over the obligatory £5.00 fee and eventually they tired of the game and went away. I took a photo of them, sitting on someones' car up the road and when I spoke to the police, they told me I had broken the law by photographing the boys !
I went from 'intimidated resident' to 'potential paedophile' in 10 seconds ! It was pointless speaking to the police, it just means paperwork for them. Is it any wonder that some youngsters are out of control.

Nora Batty said...

This is why the toilets are vandalised. Kids do these things because they CAN, there is no-one to stop them and no punishment if they are caught. It means nothing to them, times have changed and we live in a society that is devoid of respect. If there is no conscience, then society falls apart - welcome to broken Britain.

Michael Child said...

Simon living in the middle of one of the Thanet town centres where the grip on normal law and order is at the best tenuous, we seldom get an undisturbed night’s sleep, if we are going anywhere we tend to check the car to see if has been vandalised about an hour before going anywhere and have strategies for avoiding trouble when getting in and out of the building in the evening.

Last time I called the police a group of young men were smashing up a car outside the shop, I tried to explain to the operator that I needed to put the phone down to photograph this going on, but had to go through the questions instead.

I would say there are about five incidents a week where in a normal civilised society one would call the police, however since most of them take place when I am in bed, I just check to see if any of the shop windows are broken and go back to bed.

The alternative, calling the police usually costs another hour or two of lost sleep, while they, ring you back after half an hour to ask if the trouble is still going on, ring the doorbell an hour and a half after calling them, to ask why you called them, or any other thing that comes to mind.

So now when say the windscreen wipers are all mangled up, I don’t bother to call the police, the drive to Halfords and fitting the new ones takes very little time, I report broken shop windows, but usually the morning after and that is about it.

Oddly enough apart from the hanging about while procedure occurs, I invariably have an officer appear a few days later offering me victim support who often has to queue with the other customers in the shop and then explain which particular incident the support relates to.

I don’t know what the solutions are here and guess you don’t either, but policemen who live in the place they normally police and therefore know what is going on would be a start.

DrM. said...

The photographing of the boys was certainly NOT against the law. This comes up again and again with over zealous police officers and PCSOs with a limited grasp of the law and they invariably use it to harass professional photographers.

You can take photos where and when you want but in a nutshell, you can't take photographs on government property, such as MOD land, where it is displayed as prohibited and in the event of taking photos of children, you can only be arrested and / or prosecuted if these are in some way related to the publishing of sexual material after the event.

Thus, schools which prohibit photos at plays and sports days for so-called legal reasons are not interpreting the law properly.

I think I have written about this in some detail a few years back but let's remind ourselves that we do not live in a police state where the authorities which include police and local government can dictate where and when we can take photographs in a public arena.

Peter Checksfield said...

They were talking rubbish anon. It's not illegal to photograph anyone (of any age) in a public place.

Michael Child said...

Interesting thoughts on the photography in public places, however this begs the question as to what is a public place.

I suppose I take and publish online more pictures of Thanet than anyone else, I normally use a large and conspicuous 35mm camera so that people are aware that they are being photographed, this gives people the opportunity to duck as it were.

I have had several run-ins with security guards over photographing places where the word public when applied to a place is open to interpretation, the most bizarre of these being Westwood Cross, which has what I can only describe as its own private police force and rule of law. I would have accepted this more easily had there been any signs banning photography, or were there any clear demarcation of the boundaries of this not so public place. I am also interested in the consequences relation to photographing some incident like a crime or accident there.

Photography isn’t allowed in the upstairs exhibitions at the Turner Contemporary at the moment, this is for copyright reasons and I have no argument with the ban. I do however feel that the signage should be more conspicuous.

Anyway Simon with Westwood Cross I would be interested in your take on the situation there and if you consider it to be a public or a private place.

DrM. said...

Michael.. I am not a lawyer but as a keen amateur photographer I can only offer a personal view that in a public space within a privately owned building or area, unless the public are specifically informed that photography is prohibited as a condition of use, then the security guards have no authority to prevent such. I am however only offering an opinion

Michael Child said...

Simon have to admit that before I had the responsibilities of children I would have taken this one much further and would have carried on to see what they did. Phoning up the school to say you can’t pick up your children because you have been arrested isn’t really an option.

Interestingly when the developers stopped me from photographing the reconstruction of Ramsgate Library, one of the excuses they came up with was that it was because of proximity of the girl’s grammar school and that the school authorities objected to photography there.

I forwarded the correspondence to the headmistress who was as astonished as I was.

Anonymous said...

Presumably to have the witness details and continuity of evidence for the three youths you followed? If not your efforts were wasted. Do you suppose the police sit around doing nothing all day? Wonder how the prisons got full to bursting?

DrM. said...

I'm sure you are right but then i was told to expect a police car and was repeatedly asked for he suspects location and description. Should I simply have have given up? Perhaps the police could have saved me the exercise by stating they were unable to offer any assistance?

Let me ask you a question in turn. If you witnessed a serious crime and followed the suspect, keeping the police informed, would you expect them to take immediate action to support you or wait for a hour or so to intervew witnesses first?

Anonymous said...

anon again!
Just how do you get a highly paid Public Servant to do his/her job in a correct and orderly manner?
Lower their wages until they start to scream?
Arson is an awful crime and used to be punished by death or many years in the 'nick'.
Now, it seems, it's an unimportant crime to have to be dealt with because of the warm weather.
Teenagers, these days at least, seem to have the knack of getting away with murder or worse, and nobody, not even the cops, are interested.
The Prisons are full up, so what/where can you do with them?

Anonymous said...

anon again!
@ new Marlowe Theater opening, interlude, just speaking to a fairly high Police man. Mentioned this predicament, he said it was all down to Government Cuts and available manpower because of these.
On consideration, he's right of course!