Still on the downward slope

Mark Guard, a 44 year old man who has spent the past two years filming on the streets of London, capturing shots of crimes as they happened and details of the lives of the homeless as part of a documentary.

Mr Guard was filming a group of squatters entering a disused building in Camden, London, late one evening when the group triggered an alarm sensor. The squatters fled as the siren wailed.

Mr Guard, a former electrician, decided to remain and turn off the alarm so as not to annoy the local residents. So far so good. As there was no forced entry into the disused building, no crime had yet been committed.

Enter nine police officers. Mr Guard explained that he had turned off the alarm, which was no problem, but then he mentioned that he had turned on the electricity in order to see what he was doing. That was it. He was arrested and spent the next five hours in jail charged with stealing electricity! Value? 0.003 pence.

At the first court hearing, Mr Guard pleaded not guilty to the theft of electricity and asked for a Crown Court trial in front of a jury. It was only at the second hearing that the CPS decided to drop the charges. The cost to the taxpayer of this little fiasco, about £5,000. Had the case gone to trial, the cost would have been in the region of £200,000.

Obviously not enough peanuts being spread around. In addition, in common with many people by all accounts, ever more frequent, Mr Guard has been mugged on three occasions in the past and, although the police know the culprits, no-one has ever been prosecuted.

It’s becoming an all too frequent occurrence, victims or people only trying to help are being arrested and detained for the most ridiculous of reasons while the real criminals are being let off with a slap on the wrist or are mollycoddled in case their human or civil rights are violated or in case they fall over and claim compensation.

At the same time, there are plans to give police officers more powers relating to the issuing of on the spot fines for certain motoring offences. In theory, at least, the reasoning is sound. But in practice?

Even the Magistrates Association has expressed concerns that the powers will be misused and many motorists will be forced to pay fines for offences they did not commit. It’s the ‘easy option’ again. Far easier to fine someone for a trivial offence than to detect or solve ‘real’ crime.

And then as soon as targets and league tables are introduced…where will it all end?

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