Recently in Crime Category
by Roshan Doug, guest blogger
I was a sixth former at a local comprehensive when Handsworth was torn by a blaze of communal violence in the summer of 1981.
The idea that the whole country - and indeed, the world - was watching our community and the landmarks in our area on their TV screens, filled me with excitement and fear.
I had no idea what caused such a frenzy of street lawlessness or indeed why it was caused. All I knew was that my tiny suburb of the city was the focus of global news.
We were on TV; we were in the newspapers; we were the epicentre. And our district was an eruption.
But last weekends riots in my city centre, and subsequently in the suburbs, seem a different, almost alienating.
The Muslim Council of Britain issued this statement:
UK Riots: MCB Condemns Riots and Joins Calls to Clean up Our Cities
The Muslim Council of Britain expresses its condemnation of the violence, destruction of properties, looting and disgraceful attacks on the police in various parts of the capital and other towns. There can be no justification whatsoever for such mindless and thuggish behaviour.
There is no doubt that the events that unfolded in Birmingham were extremely damaging for the city and its people.
Innocent shoppers locked themselves in cafes and stores for their own safety and New Street, Victoria Square and Bennett's Hill became a battle zone on the busiest shopping day of the week.
Now we are left to unravel the spin that is coming from all parties involved. Unless you were there, and saw every single skirmish, it is very difficult to establish the truth of the matter.
You can prove anything with statistics. 58 per cent of people know that.
So perhaps it wouldn't be right to read too much into the Birmingham Post's timeline of knife and gun killings in the region over the past year.
But on the other hand, what else is there to go on? And if it suggests anything it's this: gang crime is more of a problem than many people might think in this city.
The legal system is cold, heartless and takes no account of the feelings of victims and the vulnerable.
Thank god for that.
Yesterday the Birmingham Mail newspaper ran the story of a man rushed to hospital after drinking fake vodka spiked with methanol, and warned that 'consumer chiefs' feared 'other bottles of the potentially deadly drink may be on sale in shops across the city'. It told how the police seized 120 bottles of Glens Vodka from Select & Save off-licenses, in Frankley Beeches Road, Northfield, and of those seized bottles passed to trading standards officers; ten were found to be counterfeit.
It is likely that these bottles were sold small scale by counterfeiter's cold-calling smaller off-licenses', but the while this example might seem rare, counterfeiting is increasing. It is part of the sprawling instance of crime that occurs daily in the U.K, but that is so routinely overlooked. For example Birmingham City Council suggest that:
'Trading Standards Departments are increasingly finding inferior, illegally copied and often unsafe goods on sale to the public which have been produced or imported by unscrupulous businesses or individuals capitalising on well-known company names and brands, or the original work of others. The practice of 'counterfeiting' has serious adverse effects on traders selling genuine goods and is prejudicial to companies and individuals whose names are illegally applied to goods or who own the brands or the legal right to reproduce original works'
This is unfortunately a somewhat belated blog on events that unfolded before the high court last Thursday. Unfortunately I have only just had time to turn my attention to the scandalous conduct of our local West Midlands police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) that ultimately came to full light last week concerning the Dispatches programme 'undercover mosque'. On Thursday both groups issued a high court apology and agree to pay six-figure libel damages to company makers Hardcash and Channel 4 who first aired the programme in January 2007.
I know Roshan Doug has already written on the topic, but my focus is slightly different. I wanted to examine not the media, but the abysmal conduct of criminal justice bodies involved.
I watched the programme and found it gripping and shocking investigative journalism. To set the scene for anyone who did not see Dispatches (there is a link in here) had investigated a number of mosques run by high profile national organisations, almost exclusively all where adherents to Saudi influenced Wahabism - a variety of Islam that externally claimed to be dedicated to moderation and dialogue with other faiths, but behind closed doors preached something quite different. It was that which was the film highlighted, showing footage taken from covert filming. The footage demonstrated the most extreme forms of intolerance, bigotry and extremism. Those who watched the programme saw how firebrand preachers filmed without their knowledge told a mainly young male audience that Allah had created the woman deficient and 'needing' to be beaten for not wearing a hijab; that homosexuals should be thrown from the mountain to their deaths; and that the 'kuffaar' or (or non-believer) amounted to little more than dirt. They condemned the idea of integration into British society, painted British democracy as un-Islamic, and praised the Taliban for killing British soldiers.
Today Detective Chief Inspector Mike Neville of The Metropolitan Police has stated what we should already know about crime prevention (but unfortunately seem not to recognise). When it comes to dealing with crime, we have put far too much faith in Closed Circuit Television (CCTV).
Neville actually has suggested that the CCTV system is in a state of 'utter fiasco' - with only 3% of London's street robberies being solved using camera footage. He further suggested that although Britain had more cameras than any other European country, 'no thought' had gone into how to use them most effectively to tackle crime on the streets.
Some 48 hours have now elapsed since Grand Theft Auto (GTA) IV was released. Every breathing person who owns an Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 console knows the significance of this, and many of them who have purchased a copy have probably barely left their console alone. The ultra-realistic and violent videogame has been hailed as a revolution, hyped and speculated on for months in the gaming community.
Yet, mention the GTA series to non-gamers and it will likely be met with a look of shock and horror. For in most of the newsprint press, the tile equates immediately with a rampage of virtual drunken driving, prostitute slaying, police murdering, pro-criminal hedonism, that will, if the reporting is to be believed, propel the gamer on a deterministic route toward their local HM Prison establishment.
Yesterday the Daily Mail announced what they, no doubt regard a victory for their somewhat peculiar brand of 'common sense'. The paper proclaiming its vitriolic view that the result of continual pressure that they exerted on the issue 'Gordon Brown is to take personal responsibility for toughening the law on cannabis'. The same day, the PM appeared on GMTV and spoke on the evils of the weed, hinting as to his returning it to its former Class B status. For the Mail, long campaigners against re-classification to Class C status under Blair's regime some 4 years ago, 'The U-turn' could only be regarded 'a damning admission that Labour's soft policy of recent years was a mistake and will bring down the curtain on a disastrous experiment'.
For the rest of us, however, it might be time to ask whether Daily Mail journalists, and Gordon (the 'clunking fist') Brown for that matter, have been smoking something?
The publication of quarterly police recorded crime figures in January highlighted a general fall in crime, with a drop of some of 9% in overall recorded crime in the period concerned. While crime figures are notoriously unreliable, and should always be read with caution these seemed initially to be showing something positive. Yet these statistics were blemished by a 4% rise in gun crime and a 21% rise in drug offences.
Yesterday we heared that police investigating the murder of Rhys Jones had made a number of arrests. His is but one death in a series of youth deaths and injury's linked to firearms in recent months, which in turn, are often linked directly or indirectly to the drugs trade. Yet the headline grabbing stories of murder and violence are but a tip of an iceberg when it contrasted to the unreported crime involving weapons, and increasingly guns. Last year doctors at Birmingham's City Hospital talked in the pages of the Birmingham Post about the number of cases of violent injury they were treating, but which never make it into crime statistics.
So how do we deal with the problem of carrying weapons? Well for one, we could examine where the firearms come from, and try to prevent young men getting them.
Last week witnessed something of a media outcry accompanying the publication of details regarding a number of prominent MPs expenses. Some clever use of the Freedom of information act by the BBC meant that we, the taxpaying public, were made aware of just what our politicians claim. It made for quite an interesting read. For example one of the headline grabbing facts was that Tony Blair claimed ÃÂ£116 to pay for his Televisions licence fee. He was lucky to have a job where you can do that.
The purpose of the licence fee is to provide income for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) radio and television services - and it seems only fair that Blair should have given the BBC something. Perhaps an apology would be too much to expect, and maybe the campaign for the publication of expenses data was a belated act of payback from the BBC to the former PM given the unresolved issue between the government and the BBC (something to do with the words 'sexed up' and 'dossier' I seem to recall...).
Last Sunday the Express newspaper launched a vitriolic campaign to 'ban the hoody'.
By 'hoody' what the paper actually meant was not the garment of clothing. They were quick to note that hooded garments were quite appropriate when walking ones dog on a blustery day on the local common, braced against a chill wind. What it seemed to me they actually meant was they wanted to ban anyone under the age of twenty-one. More specifically anyone under the age of about twenty-one who wants to follow a contemporary trend and wear a hooded top. So what the Express were actually doing, (Trinny and Susanna style) was determining what is sartorially appropriate attire for young people in contemporary Britain. Beyond that, they seemed to me, to be engaging in one of the most pernicious and lamentable instances I have seen recently of indiscriminately labelling many young people thugs. It seems to have passed the Express by that a lot of kids wearing hoods are not knife wielding thugs.
It has been revealed that the costs of operations by British Armed forces in Afghanistan have risen to more than ÃÂ£1.6bn, a year-on-year increase of 122%. More surprisingly, given a reduction in troop numbers in Iraq, the cost of Britain's military presence there has also increased to some ÃÂ£1.6bn. This costing revealed by the Commons Defence Committee comes not long after the newspapers celebrated the heroics of Prince Harry Wales of England's during his short stint of military service on the frontline in Afghanistan. While perhaps we should rightly be concerned about the financial cost of the war, and the individual sacrifice of our royal. But should we not consider the real cost to Britain, the hidden casualties?
There is the cost of the service personnel whose lives lost should not be forgotten. However, they do get some recognition (never enough, but can there be enough?). Other forces personnel though receive scant attention. There will be a cost though for many forces personnel that many people ignorant of. Serious and debilitating injury is one, and the compensation those seriously injured receive might need serious redress. But the cost is deeper still. Some might expect me now to talk of the innocents and civillians who lose their lives in war zones. While also worthy of attention, that is not the focus of this piece.
Today the government announced a fivefold increase in the maximum fine for 'antisocial drinking' in public places and a new sanctions aimed at supermarkets and off-licenses that sell alcohol to underage drinkers. All this comes alongside a 'clampdown' on illegal drinking by young people. That accompanies a Home Office study on the impact of the change of the licensing laws and the effects on crime and disorder that confirms that later closing times have led to a spike in incidents of drink-related disorder between 3am and 6am. In other words, the problems that used to come earlier in the evening when pubs and clubs kick out, now just happen at a different time. In short then changing licensing laws and pub and club opening times didn't stop the problems. But then again, it was never going to.
If you actually think about it, there is no real shock to be found here. Yet we should avoid any calls to go back to the previous licensing laws.
Suicide is a difficult subject to write about. Now that the media concern surrounding Bridgend and the suicides of young people in that area has declined slightly, it might be an apt time to reconsider the media reporting.
In documenting the alarming suicide rate in what some in the tabloid media daubed 'Britain's bleakest town', it was quite common for newspapers to talk of social networking sites and suicide pacts. Rightly, some of the less responsible reporting has been condemned. Yet not all of the press coverage has been bad. Indeed, it might also have a positive effect and change policy.
There is clearly a story to cover when large numbers of young people take their lives, and it is right that we ask questions about how we might respond. I would also like to think that the media reflect the public interest, and that that is not simply ghoulish, but more driven by a true feeling of concern and empathy for the young people who ended their lives and their friends and families.
The conviction of Steven Wright and Levi Belfield for murder has seemingly re-opened one of the most popular of criminological debates, particularly among the red top newspapers: Should we bring back the death penalty?It seems to periodically re-surface when the more extreme cases of homicide come to light. In many ways it is a discussion that I feel inclined to avoid writing about, preferring to believe that as a society we have moved beyond narrow retributive in terms of punishment and entered into a more considered and enlightened phase. I have little sympathy for individuals the likes of those mentioned above. I
I have sympathy with the families who have lost their loved ones. But I have little sympathy for the death penalty either, because, ultimately however we dress it up the issue of the death penalty is one of revenge - no more.