From the archive: An open letter to Richard Littlejohn on police cuts

Chris Hobbs /   January 1, 2015 at 8:39 PM 2,932 views

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On Christmas Eve, in his regular column in the Daily Mail, Richard Littlejohn wrote a story entitled ‘Ten coppers to catch a flipping seal! And still the police moan about cuts…’ With insult now added to injury by virtue of Tom Winsor being awarded a knighthood, Chris Hobbs, a retired Metropolitan Police officer, responds with an open letter to Littlejohn.

[Editor’s note: Chris’s post received 11,000+ views on the previous iteration of Guerilla Wire, which is not reflected in the page views recorded here. Apologies to the author.]

Dear Richard,

Like many serving and retired police officers, I assiduously read your column and thoroughly enjoy your acerbic criticism of the absurdly politically correct or ludicrous ‘elf n safety.’ You frequently criticise police yet all too often your criticisms of petty bureaucracy and appalling leadership are not only justified but applauded by rank and file officers who regard you as a champion of good policing and a friend of the frontline.

So what went wrong this time? I’ll be quite honest; it looked as if you had written this in the immediate aftermath of sinking one over the eight or in the midst of the world’s worst hangover.

The criticism of the Merseyside police officers who attended the scene of the rescue of Dumbledore the seal was especially hurtful. These were Merseyside police officers who, just days previously, had had a colleague brutally murdered, reportedly for simply being recognised as a police officer. Like Theresa May and the Home Office you stayed very quiet on that one Richard. Could you not, if you felt they were wasting their time, just simply put in call to the Chief Constable and had a quiet word. Was it really necessary to publically humiliate them complete with photographs?

I suspect that the police who turned up were members of a Merseyside PSU who patrol in a carrier, rather like the Met’s Territorial Support Group. I’m sure you know their role Richard. They are the ones who are in the frontline of riots or other serious public disorder. They are the officers called to attend the most dangerous situations to deal with the most violent. They are the officers deputed to search for missing persons including children or those who get down on their hands and knees to search for clues after serious crimes.

So what probably happened on this day Richard? It was a quiet morning just before Christmas and on hearing the call and having no calls or incidents to deal with, they probably decided to go to the scene and see if they could help. That’s what police officers join for Richard; they actually want to help, although sadly some become a little bitter and twisted not just from the danger and abuse they endure in the course of their work, but from armchair critics and politicians eager to hit on an easy target. All the time they were helping Richard, they would be listening to their radios ready to rush to any situation where they were more urgently needed.

And what of Dumbledore, Richard? In addition to the police, the fire brigade were also present. Should they have been or should they have been reserving their skills for real fires or pulling people out of road accidents? And of course, as it seems Dumbledore has some unpleasant injuries as a result of his exploits, should the emergency services have even bothered to turn up? The emergency services refusing to help a stranded seal who eventually dies a slow and agonising death in a farmer’s field would be a master class of PR wouldn’t it? I can just imagine the scathing comments from your media colleagues.

And let’s discuss the other incident you have decided to heap your venom upon. Are you seriously suggesting that officers listened to a call that stated that schoolgirls were illegally recording a cinema film on their mobiles and turned on their sirens and blues and twos?

Let me tell you what may well have happened. The operator takes a call from the cinema and in the background can hear screaming, shouting and the sounds of a disturbance. Was that operator right to err on the side of caution and get officers to the scene as quickly as possible in case the incident was a serious one, say involving a maniac going berserk in the cinema with a machete. Should that had have been a life threatening incident of this nature, you know full well that those same officers you disparaged would have put their lives on the line to resolve the situation.

Obviously you have a bee in your bonnet about traffic police Richard and you’ll be pleased to know, as will errant motorists, drunken drivers and car thieves who put other road user’s lives at risk, traffic police numbers are getting fewer and fewer because of the cuts you imply are not a problem. Traffic police are not even popular with their own colleagues who refer to them as ‘black rats’ but believe you me Richard they are a welcome sight as they arrive at the scene of the mangled wreckage of a car accident where chaos, destruction, serious injury and death are the hallmarks.

Given the horrendous sights that they see and the death messages to distraught relatives they have to deliver, perhaps they could be forgiven for being a tad impatient when dealing with motorists whose antics put others at risk.

Now, I’ll surprise you here Richard by agreeing with you. It does take too long for broken down vehicles or vehicles involved in minor accidents, to be removed from the scene, but that’s not the fault of the police. Have a word with the Highways Agency here, Richard, not the traffic cops. As for serious accidents, where there is a chance of death, any accident scene is to all intents and purposes a crime scene. As soon as the road is opened, that scene is lost. If it was one of your loved ones Richard, wouldn’t you want answers and any guilty party brought to justice? I rather think you would.

I am aware Richard that once a year you a welcome guest at a CID dinner and that you also spent a day with the Met’s SCO19 armed police unit when you came away quite impressed with the professionalism you found. Can I respectfully suggest that you ask to ‘ride along’ with a traffic unit, perhaps for an early morning tour of duty, so you can actually attend some of the accidents we all hear about on morning radio news bulletins. Or perhaps a night duty and the joy of dealing with an accident in the pitch blackness of a busy motorway.

You obviously have strong views in respect of cutbacks and indeed many rank and file officers may well agree with you on certain points. Some would dearly love to get their hands on high speed BMWs as their own clapped out vehicles are held together with little more than string but your comment on helicopters defies belief. It is course far easier and safer to control a police car chase using a helicopter than to have police vehicles actively having to maintain close contact with the ‘bandit’ vehicle and not infrequently having to let the bad guys get away on ‘elf and safety’ grounds.

Searching for escaping criminals in either urban or rural conditions, it’s the helicopter every time. Looking for missing children or other missing persons, where searches need to be made of countryside, park or wooded areas, send for the helicopter. Getting an overview of rioting or other serious public disorder that still occurs in the vicinity of football grounds so that police can be directed quickly to the heart of the trouble before anyone gets seriously hurt, yes it’s that wretched helicopter again.

For chief officers of police to put their knighthoods, peerages and future post retirement government linked consultancies at stake by saying the cuts are going too far surely must tell you that matters are lurching into the red danger zone. Sounded a bit like you there Richard didn’t I?

Yet, to be fair, and I have to say to be rather fairer than you were, your article does contain points that the hard pressed rank and file would agree with. No they are not comfortable with the war being waged against journalists which ensures that any police contact with the media is controlled in a way that would delight North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. Equally, of course the rank and file are less than happy with many journalists who delight in highlighting any police transgression whilst ignoring the dozens of acts of bravery, kindness and compassion that take place on a daily basis.

Yes, the rank and file agree that suspects can be kept on bail for far too long and of course it can be the police officers themselves who are kept in limbo regarding criminal proceedings. Then if the CPS say ‘no case to answer’ officers then are likely to have to wait for more agonising months while the police disciplinary procedure takes its snail like course.

Equally it must have been hell for those innocent celebrities yet of course the problem lies with the fact that many were not and police are being slammed for not investigating the likes of Jimmy Saville until it was too late. What has occurred with celebrities may well pale into insignificance when details of establishment figures involved in child abuse emerge into the public domain, if of course they ever do. You haven’t said anything about these investigations Richard; are they justified or not?

Yet, Richard, life is not like you see it on the telly where detectives have the luxury of dealing with one case at a time and get their forensics dealt with the same day CSI or NCIS style. The twenty eight days maximum bail duration proposed by Theresa May falls flat on its face by virtue of the fact that forensics will normally take two to three months to come back. Experienced detectives of the sort you meet every year are a dying breed. Those that are left are being diverted from their usual investigations of burglary, serious assault and drugs dealing to cope with the increased threat of terrorism, historical abuse cases including the huge cloud that hangs over the establishment.

Also requiring urgent investigation are current abuse allegations including domestic violence, elder abuse, female genital mutilation and slavery to name but a few. To make matters worse detective and other training is being cut to the bone with its inevitable consequences. Make no mistake Richard, such is the caseload of many local CID officers it is inevitable that ‘things will fall through the cracks’ and guess who will get the blame? Yes, Facebook and Twitter abuse investigation can be both irritating and trivial Richard but what do you say to the parent that finds his or her child hanging in their bedroom because police refused to deal with the abuse that their child had to endure via social media?

The frontline would also agree with you Richard that community policing is being wiped out in large swathes of the country as reluctant officers are forced back into response, administration and crime investigation roles to cover shortages. Make no mistake proactive, community based patrolling will soon be consigned to history.

Talking of social media, Richard, you might like to know that police chiefs loathe it simply because officers who are brave enough can expose shortcomings in policing. It is from social media we learn that 999 calls are being stacked up and frequently going unanswered as there is ‘no unit to deal.’ Some police officer tweets make horrendous reading as individuals bravely state their sheer frustration at not being able to help those who need it.

As for Lincolnshire being some sort of backwater Richard, you should again perhaps request a Friday or Saturday night ‘ride along’ with officers who attempt to keep the ‘lid on’ in places like Boston, Skegness and Lincoln. If I were a schoolteacher Richard, which thank heavens I’m not, I would order you (can teachers ‘order’ these days?) to rewrite your piece leaving out the red herrings of the unfortunate Dumbledore and possible schoolgirl misdemeanours.

If you concentrate on the real issues which concern both the frontline police and the public you might find officers still willing to buy you a drink at the next CID dinner. And finally Richard, please don’t stick the boot in by congratulating Tom Winsor on his knighthood in your next column.

Kind regards Chris Hobbs (Metropolitan Police 1978 to 2011)

Courtesy of Chris Hobbs

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