This is the official blog of ex-Sgt Ellie Bloggs. I was a real live police constable then sergeant for twelve years, on the real live front line of England. I'm now a real live non-police person. All the facts I recount are true, and are not secrets. If they don't want me blogging about it, they shouldn't do it. PS If you don't pay tax, you don't (or didn't) pay my salary.

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Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Vocabulary Lesson

When reporting on matters relating to the police, I have often noticed journalists using the wrong terminology to describe incidents. Therefore here is a handy guide to assist our friends in the media:

If someone's found guilty of assault police, they should be described as "a violent yob". If their conviction is overturned and the police officers who arrested the person are under investigation, the phrase used should be, "highly regarded war veteran".

If there is no controversy over the arrest, you should say that "police apprehended a male for drunk and disorderly conduct". If the incident has provoked a Crown Court judge to fury, instead say "police set upon a male following a jolly night out in an unprovoked and despiccable assault".

If the police officer is cleared of all wrong doing by an independent investigation, you should say that the force and officer are "institutionally racist and corrupt". If the same police officer later becomes a figure of public sympathy, you should say that he was "cleared of all wrongdoing".

The story of three police officers savagely beating up heroic Lance Corporal Mark Aspinall for apparently no reason is all over the internet and media this week. Never mind that the footage being pored over by every criminal justice expert in his or her front room was shown to a courtroom of magistrates who found no problem with the police's actions before convicting the same hero of assault police. Magistrates have no love for the police, but they deal with this kind of petty street violence far more often than Crown Court judges.

CCTV only tells half the story. Something you would think Judge John Phipps would know. Then again, this particular judge makes no bones of the fact he prefers his justice served up warm and cosy, and not out on the alcohol-fuelled streets of his city. Perhaps fraudster Robert Barwick summed him up perfectly...

Maybe one or all of Mark Aspinall's detainers acted unlawfully, even brutally. Maybe his hands and teeth were doing things that the camera couldn't see, and all force used was with a legitimate aim. Either way, let us at least make some attempt to learn from our mistakes, and not create another PC Mulhall.

Believe it or not, police officers know which parts of their towns are covered by CCTV, and most of them wouldn't risk their job, family and liberty for a five second scrap with an abusive drunk they will never see again.

"Distraction strikes in order to place the male in handcuffs" or "savage repeated blows to the head"... you decide?

'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Nein Nein Nein

We get at least three or four "silent 9s" calls a day in Blandmore alone. This is when someone has dialled 999 but not made any requests or spoken.

It's down to the operator to decide whether the call is one of these, or one of these. Quite often it's a child playing with the line, or a mobile dialling in someone's pocket. Sometimes it's a drunk teenager with nothing better to do. And sometimes it's someone tied up in the back of a rapist's van, praying that the police will triangulate their phone and rescue them.

999 operators (or an automatic system) can request the caller to "press the keypad" if they need help. But this doesn't sort out the hoaxers from the genuine calls. Usually we won't respond unless there is something heard, even if just a slight scuffle, whisper or disturbance, or if the phone number is known to us as a regular victim of domestic violence. When we do decide to respond, we very often have no idea what address to attend - unless the call is from a landline, which most of them aren't nowadays. Triangulation can narrow it down to a few hundred addresses, which is not that useful.

Hannah Foster, aged 17, was strangled by her rapist and her body dumped, before the attacker went home to his wife and kids.

Her mother said of the girl:
"Some 17-year-old girls are feisty. They would have been screaming, they'd have kicked out, they'd hurled abuse at him, they'd have made it really hard for him.

"But Hannah was absolutely totally unable to deal with the threat of violence, raised voices, she would have just turned to jelly.

"I knew my daughter so well, she'd have had nothing left to fight with. That's what tortures us, she just did not even have a chance."

Perhaps it's a consolation that Hannah did fight - she made a 999 call under what must have been incredibly dangerous circumstances, but when she was unable to speak to the operator, the call was cut off by an automated system. If a person had been listening, they would have heard this conversation between Hannah and her abductor. Would they have realised this wasn't a normal accidental 999 call, or would they have cut it off all the same?

There are some jobs that computers just shouldn't do.

'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Things Are Getting Serious

One of the nice things about writing this blog is that it causes me to get phone-calls from the media inviting me to offer my opinion about this or that breaking police story. Like most bloggers, I do like offering my opinion and I guess I see it as a way to speak publicly about the things that cause me - and my colleagues - to insert our faces into the confidential document shredder on a daily basis.

I just spoke on James Whale's show. He asked me whether I agreed the police were rubbish at investigating crime, whether we enjoyed standing on streets pulling over innocent motorists, whether my Chief Constable is after an OBE, and whether I wrote my blog during work-time. The answer to the last is no, by the way, which can't be said of the other questions.

I quite enjoyed the interview: whilst I do tend to field the same questions when standing outside Blond Nightclub in Blandmore on a Friday night, at least this time the person asking them wasn't halfway through his twelfth Bacardi and Coke and was unlikely to wander off and start a punch-up if I said the wrong thing. At least, I hope so.

Mr Whale seems to reflect the general public's view of the police, and I can't blame him or the public for it. Over the last ten years the police have consistently failed to live up to expectations, and it should be no surprise to anyone that we are now as incapable of detecting violent crime as we are burglary, auto-crime and criminal damage.

I don't think anyone really cares WHY this is: how crime recording standards have forced us to record within 24hrs crimes that the victim has forgotten about within 2; how a racist tit-for-tat between two drunken neighbours is given greater importance by the Home Office than a spiralling culture of cannabis factories and drug-dealing; how front-line police officers are being propelled faster and faster through taller and taller piles of paperwork...

All people really care about is that when they pick up the phone and dial 999, somebody comes to help them. Or that if they can't pick up the phone, we try to help them anyway. If we could just do that, we might be forgiven the rest.

Unfortunately, going out and helping people is at the bottom of the list when it comes to government targets, if it even gets a mention at all.

'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

P is for Past

Baby P died in August 2007, so why is it November 2008 that we are discussing it?

Simply, it is now that the people responsible have been found guilty, the court case meaning that the entire horrible truth has been aired in public and reported on.

This kind of time delay is fairly common, but often goes unnoticed. When something awful and obvious happens, such as this police pursuit gone wrong, it is directly in the news; if the police don't put it there you can bet the dead's relatives will. But when a friendless infant is tortured to death, the only way the public will get to hear about it is if someone goes on trial, and if a reporter happens to stumble into the courtroom that morning and realise he is onto a good story.

I have some sympathy with Haringey Council. Sharon Shoesmith (head of child protection) did not kill Baby P, and she has probably lost more than a night's sleep wondering whether she could have done more to save him. But I do ask whether internal investigations or actions were undertaken in the immediate aftermath of the baby's death, or are they just starting now because of the media attention?

There are some benefits of failing to publicise internal cock-ups. Apart from the hope that they might never become public at all, you can rely on one of the following never-fail statements if they do:
  • The person responsible has since left the Council.
  • Since then, measures have been put in place to prevent this kind of thing ever happening again.
  • We have already undertaken our own enquiry and sacked a lot of people. There's really no need to hold anothe enquiry. Really. No need.
Speaking as someone who visits addresses daily and has to make decisions on whether I am looking at a Baby P or a Baby Stewie, the kind of errors made in this case are made on a daily basis. Doctors miss injuries, parents lie, legal advice is given, and children are left in situations where their death is just a mis-timed punch away. If the child doesn't die, and no one is ever prosecuted, these cases never make the headlines. In fact, the decision-maker most likely never knows they got it wrong.

I can also tell you that numerous kids are taken away from their families who shouldn't be, and I have been the next police car over from one containing such a child that was being followed by six angry relatives trying to ram it - and their baby - off the road.

Either way, it's a tough call, but you do have to rely on doctors and legal advice for your decisions, and they rely on each other, and on you.

I predict another series of knee-jerk measures as seen in the wake of the Victorie Climbie tragedy (which was also on Haringey Council's watch). I predict more guidelines, policies and laws that will lead to more children being removed for no reason. I predict more Baby Ps, and more Jason Owens, and more Cannot Be Named For Unknown Legal Reasons.

I predict more time delays, cover-ups, accusations and political point-scoring. And I predict more distraught members of the public, pointing fingers and grieving in the face of an evil they cannot comprehend.

'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Don't believe it?

It seems some readers weren't sure that too many people really do live like the picture in my last post.

Here are some examples that prove they do, but don't click the links unless you take perverse pleasure from (a) feeling sick (b) eating your words...

1. A child rescued in California.
2. A couple prosecuted over animal cruelty.
3. Squatters in Reading.
4. Tenants in a Council house.

There are specialist cleaning companies like this one, who take on the most unpalatable job of cleaning some of these houses, but unless the residents die or ask for help, they are mostly free to continue living like this.
'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Purloined Ipod

If you read detective fiction, or watch TV, you might imagine that criminals hide stolen/illegal goods in cunning cubby-holes and behind trick floorboards. Occasionally they do, but more commonly drugs and stolen goods are hidden in full view, but surrounded by layers of such unsanitary possessions that any self-respecting police officer would rather not find it than root through them.

A typical example, although this one is rather clean (there are no smudges on the walls or cooker).

Here are some ways to hide your booty, all used by criminals in Blandmore in the last six months:

  1. If there are children in the house, their clothes can be put to good use in the following way: when the clothes have been worn, they go in the laundry basket. When the next set of clothes have been worn, they should go in another laundry basket. When seven laundry baskets are full and overflowing, the children can start to wear the clothes from laundry basket 1 again. At no stage should any of the clothes actually be laundered.
  2. The same can apply to bedclothes. If any of the children (or adults) wet the bed, the soiled sheets should be stuffed into cupboards in such a manner that they will unfurl rapidly on top of anyone opening the cupboard. If you run out of bedclothes, the children should just sleep on a bare mattress, or the floor.
  3. Never wash up a plate, knife or fork. Instead just leave them in opportune places around the house, such as: under your duvet, on a chair, at the bottom of a heap of laundry (see 1, above).
  4. Never clean the floor. After a year or two you will develop a comforting layer of fluff and filth that no one will want to search through.
  5. Buy a dog and don't take it for walks. If it fouls in the house, just tread the mess into the carpet and you'll get used to the smell within a day or so.
  6. If you use drugs, just litter the place with your by-products. Needles should be discarded two or three deep. Foil and scorch marks should cover every available surface, including the ceiling. Indeed, if drugs are your thing, you can even strip the place of all furniture and soft furnishings, and just decorate with drugs paraphernalia.
  7. If you have something really illegal, hide it in a lockable cabinet with a kitten. A few weeks after the kitten dies, no one will go near the cabinet.
These are all things my colleagues and I have come across this year. It isn't a small proportion of houses we visit that are like this, it is about half. The How Clean Is Your House brigade wouldn't even step over the thresholds. People who live like this have lost all sense of proportion: they can no longer see the dirt, or smell it. For some reason, their kids never grow up with lung cancer, never stick themselves on needles, never starve to death. They are used to the filth and do not even notice it.

Social Services know these kids are being brought up in surroundings like these. But the social workers have seen it so many times that they barely notice it either.

'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.


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