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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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Two, Three, Four Persons' Words

I've blogged before about how the Crown Prosecution Service are loath to send anything to court if the evidence consists of "one person's word" against another. In this case of Robbery, the judge threw it out because the victim was "too believable". In other words, she had no reason to lie, therefore the jury was likely to believe her, and this therefore made the trial unfair.

In this case, there will have been other factors that brought the robber to court, for example how did he come to be arrested in the first place? He was near the scene, matched the description, had stolen property on him? Was he named by an anonymous caller, was there CCTV, did his mother bring him in, did it just match his modus operandi? The victim had a broken nose, and her car will have been smashed - these things are both independently verifiable pieces of evidence. Somebody robbed her, and she has picked out this offender, out of a video ID parade. Just to clarify, we don't do video ID parades unless the person has been arrested for some other reason first, and the suspect is then one of twelve similar-looking faces shown to the victim some days or weeks later. The chances of a false-positive identification are minimal under this system.

It concerns me greatly if we can't take cases to court under circumstances like these. If the jury cannot be allowed to hear the victim's testimony and make a decision, we may as well say goodbye to an adversarial court system and try things based on whether or not there was CCTV. If a victim has no reason to lie, on the face of everything seems credible and honest, those are all things that the jury can legitimately use to find the defendant guilty.

How should police officers respond to this kind of decision? Most of my job consists of assessing one person's word against the other. We go to a domestic: "He hit me", "I was defending myself", we have to make a decision who to arrest: both, neither, either? To some extent every crime is the same, and the point is to weigh up one side against the other and come to a conclusion. But there are now half a dozen people to convince of the suspect's guilt between 999 call and court. It is no longer a case of: we think he's done it, let's see what a jury of his peers thinks. Each crime now has to pass through the threshold of the attending officer's view, the custody sergeant's opinion, a Gateway officer's assessment, CPS's scrutiny and a judge's decision. If there is a scrap of evidence missing, a minutiae that doesn't add up, a speck of doubt in one witness's statement, someone along the way will spot it and put a stop to things before it has a chance. This kind of rigour is nonsensical in real life. Crime isn't cut and dried, it's fast, furious and confusing, and if on the face of it the case seems deserving, it should have its day in court.

The Daily Mail is up in arms about the above robbery case, but the fact is that it merely represents the state of the Criminal Justice System now. Crime and Punishment no longer reflect the values and beliefs of the British public. Mrs Dawson should console herself that even if the youth had been found guilty, he would have been back out in a few weeks none the worse for his ordeal.

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


Anonymous Captain Slow said...

Great Post. In my own experience, the CPS will only run a one v one allegation with no admission if it involves some kind of hate crime or domestic violence. Even in cases where it's been a Police decision to charge, I've had the file sent straight back to me by CPS saying they won't run it for X Y and Z reason.

And they wonder why officers are reluctant to waste their entire shift dealing with something where they know the offender will smile smugly as they walk out of the nick having been told no further action will be taken?

14 January, 2009 19:38

Anonymous timfg said...

But the problem is... there is ample evidence that people, with the best intentions, fail to correctly identify the 'criminal' correctly, despite being absolutely certain that they have done so. This is the basis of R. v Turnbull, which is almost certainly the precedent under which the judge dismissed the case: It is unsafe to allow a conviction in these circumstances, because there is a significant chance than an innocent person will be convicted.

I'd rather see guilty parties walk free than have courts convicting people on an evidential basis which is known to be flawed. It's the job of the police and the CPS to ensure that cases are not put before courts with evidence that is not adequate for a conviction.

14 January, 2009 20:00

Anonymous Dee said...

Since when did motive mean anything?

Either y'dunnit, or you dint dunnit.

14 January, 2009 22:52

Anonymous BDZ said...

Have to disagree with this one Bloggsy, despite the angle the tabloids are going for, the main reason this evidence was dismissed was because the ID of the suspect and the R v Turnbull elements were too weak.

15 January, 2009 07:13

Blogger Virtual Supply said...

Nice post Ellie, I see your starting to find reasons now for not doing the job you signed up for, are you another county no-balls mounty, are you going to lord out your days in HQ cut and pasting policy, or are you going to swan around in a car claiming you have a right to drive without two's n blue's in case you alert the bad guy?

It not your role to place guilt or blame on either the courts system, nor the crims not even the poor besodden effing victims, its not your role to define which mop's are muppets or which toe-rags are legging it from a pick up at Sainsburies. Your job is upholding the law, catching criminals and helping the residents enjoy a low crime solution to their every day lives, try it some time and get back into the game you signed up for. If that means you have to 'look' for evidence, or find 'facts appertaining to guilt' then thats what you have to do. If you have forgotten how to, do try chatting to the NPIA, they have lots of courses on policing, or nip up north to places like Tyne and Weir where they police in a manly style wearing wet kecks, or even North Wales, the Cymru Kissers, learn how to catch speeders and find Chief Constables on Snowdonia.

Or just keep bleating on how bad it is for poor wee ellie, hard done by copper in tights.

15 January, 2009 07:23

Blogger uniform said...

Yes BDZ is correct, ID witness alone must always have a severe warning from a judge, and else you could just ID anyone you thought looked like the person who did it.

No other evidence appears in the article such as forensics or compelling circumstantial evidence.

You will be well versed in the scenario of several people at the same incident, with apparent unobstructed views, who offer multiple views, they are death to a prosecution and the defence, quite rightly really, raises this as a weakness.

A fleeting glance is what this judge rules about, not the honesty of the complainant.

It is Daily Mail story, and should have the same warning as R v Turnbull.

Virtual supply: why don't you and your crappy avatar just do one, are you ever going to make a decent point, or just continue your sexist drivel?

By the way ,114 views of your "world's worst blog " which means your are deeply unpopular , but you knew that didn't you , despised in real life and now hated in cyberspace , where to go next ?

15 January, 2009 10:24

Blogger PC Bloggs said...

My point is that this case should not have been dismissed based on R v Turnbull, because the victim had proved her three second glance at the offender was enough for her to pick him out of twelve similar-looking people. In video ID parades they cut and past distinctive marks like moles, stubble, etc, so the witness truly has to pick out the person they saw. The chances of a mistake, just happening to guess and pick out the same guy who has been arrested and identified for other reasons, is minimal. If this was a random ID parade PRE-ARREST or any identification of offender, I agree it isn't enough. But I don't think that was the case - he was already identified by other means first.

15 January, 2009 12:23

Blogger Auntie Jane said...

I wonder if 'Virtual supply' has ever bothered to read your little note that comes up under 'Leave your comment'? I do hope he isn't policing in my area... I would hate to come across him for any reason. IMO he's a rude egotistical male chauvanist ***!

Bystander wrote about this subject too. It does make me wonder how honest you have to be in a similar situation. Seems to me as an MOP, that I would have to invent a witness if I were in a similar situation.

Years ago, a large man tried to mug me as I was walking down a street in south London with a GSD (German Shepher Dog), I had at that time. The man came up behind me and nearly pushed me to the ground. My dog turned round and got him in the crown jewels... He ran off holding himself between the legs. It really shook me up.

I didn't report it and had no witnesses to hand. So, even if I had been badly hurt, I doubt anything would have come of it. It really does make one feel that it's not worth reporting a crime.

Nowadays, I just don't walk down a street without a dog on a lead beside me unless I am with hubby or someone else.

15 January, 2009 12:41

Blogger tag said...

Virtual Supply:
Awesome combination of vitriol and twisted logic.
I see your starting to find reasons now for not doing the job you signed up for
A clever misunderstanding of the post that then sets you up for the rest of your rant. You follow this with a good quality side sweep at police management cleverly associating Bloggs with their misdeeds.
Next a nice use of the word "swan" and an allusion to police driving - always a good one for the tabloid readers.

You develop with an excellent paragraph on "the police role" which cleverly avoids any reference to actual police work and allows you to unleash a few of your prejudices.
I do like the ironic way in which you are able to juxtapose the phrase its not your role to define ..which toe-rags are legging it from a pick up at Sainsburies with the apparent contradiction Your job is upholding the law, catching criminals
A particular favourite is the phrase a low crime solution to their every day lives it conveys just what you want it to say without actually making any sense.

You then appear to get on to a little hobbyhorse about looking for evidence and "find facts appertaining to guilt" cleverly tying back to your original assertion that It not your role to place guilt or blame on either the courts system, nor the crims
Then an intriguing mention of the NPIA to show that you too can use the internet and google "police training" without really understanding the training provided and available to officers. A nice little aside at "Tyne and Weir (sic)" and North Wales which whilst irrelevant to any of your earlier "arguments" allow you to air a little more of your prejudices.

Finally (phew!) a clever little sign-off that manages to be patronising, sexist and unoriginal all in one well thought out sentence.

Do you actually have any views on the the Judge's action or the court case in question?

15 January, 2009 15:49

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The judge's decision to dismiss the charges make sense when taken in isolation, the actual hard evidence against this guy is minimal, a three second look at his face in the heat of the moment, So it probably came down to the word of some semi-literate pondlife against a articulate well educated professional who from the picture is also rather hot. I can easily see how his honour though that this might not be a very fair trial.
Even so I think not letting this go to trial was a bad idea, the perp hasn't been proven innocent, he's got off on a technical point of law which may all be well and good from the point of view of the judge and various legal experts. However as well as punishing miscreants the law has another function in putting the fear of consequences into any would be evil-doers in this case it hasn't, the perp and his mates have no doubt walked away convinced of their invulnerability. Whilst the Daily Fail certainly has it's own agenda to push here there can't be much doubt that this is yet another blow to public confidence in the courts and the legal system and will further discourage people from co-operating with it. It should have gone to trial if he got convicted and his lawyer could have appealed if he was able to show grounds.

15 January, 2009 16:42

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anybody know how many previous convictions this person had.

If he was up in court it is unlikely that this was a first offence.

Are judges under political presssure to reduce the number of convictions in the run up to a general election?

15 January, 2009 18:09

Anonymous SaddenedAgain said...

Anon, 18.09 15 Jan.

I can confirm that this individual has a notable list of precons.Having said that, the jury wouldn't have been told that anyway.

The point is, they should have had the chance to hear the evidence. This is the premise of Criminal Justice in the country. We are already fighting a CPS who play judge and jury even before a charge is reached.We do not need any more judges with God complexes.

16 January, 2009 10:35

Blogger PC Bloggs said...

The point is, how did this guy come to be in the line-up to start with for the witness to pick him out? Unless it was a "showing of photos", which is not how it has been described, he was identified via other evidence too. So the case should have gone to trial with the appropriate R v Turnbull warnings for the jury. Three seconds can be a long time to look at someone's face. A "glance" would be under a second - this witness was face to face with him and was sure of her identification. She had a one in twelve chance of guessing correctly - I wouldn't bet my dinner on those odds.

16 January, 2009 17:00

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's all about what you consider to be a reasonable doubt. Most of the time there are too many factors to actually put a number to it but in this case it appears simple: 1/12 or 8.3%. There is a chance that she was wrong where do we draw the line?

Personally I think that most victim's would be better off taking their cases to civil court. Sue him for the damage to the vehicle and the personal injury.

In fact I can see an argument for joint verdicts in criminal cases based on both the civil burden of proof (Balance of probabilities) and the Criminal (Beyond reasonable doubt). Give judges and magistrates the power to award damages based on the lower balance of probabilities and prison sentences based on reasonable doubt.

17 January, 2009 12:14

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 12:14
That (damages and punishments available as outcomes of the one trial) is actually a scarily good idea, since one of the core problems of the criminal justice system is that it does not benefit the victims. But there would have to be much more effective means of collecting the damages.

18 January, 2009 09:00

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know exactly how this vicitm felt. Whilst on plain clothes patrol in a lovely hamlet in S London I had to search one of the local dealers for drugs. 10 minutes later the tool approached me and offered to supply me class A, it was only after talking to me for 5 minutes that the idiot realised who i was. He was then nicked for offering and taken in.

In interview the bloke claimed he'd insulted me during the earlier search and I'd nicked him as some sort of revenge. What a load of rubbish most people would say...oh no not the DI. He NFA'd it saying that it was my word against his and that there was no independant witness so the case could not be proved.

Bascially it was decided that the word of a crack and heroin addicted career criminal with 30 YEARS worth of convictions which include sexual offences, who is currently on bail for obstructing drugs searches was more believable than a police officer with 12 years unblemished service.

It really makes you tear your hair out, and if I feel that way how are members of the public supposed to feel when they find out that the word of a scum bag is worth more than theirs!

19 January, 2009 01:03

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