Stupid Liars?

Are the British police stupid or liars? I ask this because the police, not for the first time, have been less-than-accurate in a statement to the public.

In an attempt to help trackdown a thief, a shopkeeper in Colchester distributed a poster with his image. It worked – the stolen item was retrieved by pawnshop staff, who also managed to obtain the man’s fingerprint. Yet, despite having his photo and finegrprint, along with sightings in the town centre, the police have so far failed to catch the criminal. Instead, community police officers visited the victim and told him he was in breach of data protection law.

Essex Police subsequently admitted this was nonsense as releasing images to identify criminals falls within the acceptable use of data for CCTV; the only times he would be breaking the law would be if there was strong doubt as to the person’s culpability (for example, releasing images of multiple people who were in the shop at around the time of a theft and branding them thieves rather than witnesses) or if the image were being used to harrass someone (for example, after they were found innocent in court or if it was sent to their employer).

But, that wasn’t the end of it. Besides stating that “The owner of the images is free to do as he chooses with them” (which isn’t entirely accurate, as noted above), Essex Police stated that “We would like to make it clear that only the police have the authority to fully investigate and prosecute those responsible for crime.” The first half is fine, as long as we note the fully (anyone can investigate a crime, but only the police have the powers to legally pursue every avenue – just as anyone can carry out an arrest, but only police have the full powers necessary to pursue and detain a suspect). But, the second half…

“Only the police have the authority to… prosecute those responsible for crime.”? Er, no. This is wrong on three counts. Firstly, it seems that the spokesman for Essex Police is unaware of the Crown Proescution Service, who are the ones who actually prosecute those responsible for crime. (The police can decide not to pursue a case or to fine or caution a criminal, but they don’t prosecute – they refer that decision to the CPS.) Secondly, other government bodies (through the CPS) can bring prosecutions. Thirdly, it seems they are unaware that anyone can potentially bring a private criminal case to court (and, it has been known for the police or CPS to fail to pursue a criminal, only for the CPS to then seize control of a court case once a private criminal prosecution shows signs of success). Indeed, the RSPCA regularly carries out such private prosecutions as, despite the Royal in their name, they are not a governmental body, but a charity.

(Indeed, police officers may institute private prosecutions, either as the victim or as a challenge to a police or CPS decision not to prosecute, but this is a significant deviation from normal practice, showing that that ‘only’ has no basis in reality.)

Thus, the shopkeeper could, entirely legally, investigate the crime and prosecute the person they suspect. It would be more difficult than the police and CPS doing it and there is certainly a chance that mistakes would be made which could scupper the attempt (although the police and CPS seem to make plenty of those these days…), but it is entirely possible.

So, were they lying, attemptingt maintain their monopoly on policing, or perhaps, avoid being given more work to do? Or, can we put this all down to the police being ignorant of how the law and justice system work? Either way, it’s hardly reassuring to the law-abiding public, although the criminal fraternity must be ever-thankful for modern policing.

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