This is the official blog of Sgt Ellie Bloggs, a real live police sergeant on the front line of England. It's not the official opinion of my police force, but 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 pay my salary.


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Monday, July 19, 2010

Do Drink and Drive: You Might Get Away With It









Of all the offences for which I have arrested people in the well-over-half-a-decade I have been in the police, the one that brings out the human propensity to wriggle, crawl and grasp for survival at all costs is drink-driving.


Your average sloshed Blandmore driver will weave from side to side as I follow them with blue lights flashing, pulling over several times to wave me by before coming to the realisation it is them I am trying to stop. They then park considerately on the small kerb surrounding the Keep Left sign in the middle of Blandmore's largest traffic light junction and fall out of the car at my feet with empty cans of cider strewn around them.


The roadside breath test will consist of me firmly explaining how to blow correctly into the tube, followed by five minutes of my first saying, then shouting, phrases such as "BLOW not suck", "You're not blowing", "No, blow until I say stop", "No, harder". Eventually the threat of being arrested for failing to blow into the machine prompts sudden understanding of the process.


At the station, the custody sergeant will find him/herself presented with someone who speaks not a word of English, despite their earnest claim moments before that they are the best friend of Sir William Willough-Ponsonby who can vouch for their sobriety.


Several minutes of "What language do you speak?" will follow, lists of foreign languages waved before the drunkard's eyes to no avail. Finally the offender will point at a language and say "Swahili/Punjabi/Romanian/French" (in English). Ten minutes later, after three attempts at getting interpreters to communicate with the person, they will capitulate and experience a miraculous recovery of the command of English. Sadly, this will shortly be followed by a massive brain haemorraghe causing them to fall on the floor and twitch in silence.


An ambulance, two sets of tapes, three different signatures and a variety of medical/mental ailments later, including a repeat performance of the inability to blow correctly despite having done it once already, the culprit will utterly fail to provide any kind of breath specimen on the big machine and will be escorted to their cell in disgrace, where the grasp of English may once more desert them until they want a cup of tea.


With any other prisoner, the custody sergeant would have enough after a few minutes, but with the drink-driver, any deviation from procedure will result in the loss of the case at court. So we are locked in battle trying to preempt the most unlikely defences, in a ludicrous process where a tick in the wrong box sets an alcoholic maniac free back onto the roads.

The worst injustice I ever heard of was a colleague who arrested a local publican for driving home pissed one night, who then failed to provide a specimen of breath and was charged. In court some months later, the publican had become a builder, had a Portuguese interpreter sitting with him in the dock, and was a devout teetotal. Evidence was presented to show the person speaking good English in custody (albeit with an accent) and providing "quick-test" readings later on that night well over the drink-drive limit. Moreover, the officer actually attended the guy's pub the week before court and had a few beers with a mate, the publican happily chatting away in fluent English with him. Plus, as it happens, the officer was fluent in Portuguese anyway.


The Magistrates threw the case out because "they couldn't be sure he had understood".



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28 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The law, made by lawyers FOR lawyers.

19 July, 2010 22:54

 
Blogger English Pensioner said...

I have a Welsh acquaintance who won't speak to the police, or any officialdom, except in his native tongue (unless he wants something).

19 July, 2010 23:29

 
Anonymous ParkiePlod1980 said...

Of all the drink drivers I have arrested in the last ten years I have not had one who has got off, all of them have been convicted. I put it down to covering all the points in the evidence each time, the bottom line is solicitors/ lawyers will do anything to get their clients off and its our job to make them look silly and ridiculous by doing a through investigation at the scene and then ensuring we write it up correctly

20 July, 2010 08:23

 
Anonymous NottsSarge said...

I have never lost a drink-drive case either. Really, what happens at the roadside becomes irrelevant once they are in custody, where the simple solution is to make the demand for a sample of breath on camera (especially good for belligerant refusers) and read from the MG/DD A verbatim. We also have a nice system for non-English speakers, with a tape deck in the intoxilyser room and LanguageLine on loudspeaker. Difficult to squirm out of that one really...

Apparently there is more case law for drink drive legislation than for anything else. Just goes to show there has been a lucrative market for defence solicitors over the years.

20 July, 2010 08:33

 
Blogger Kaela said...

It is time surely, to make the descision. No Alcohol in the blood when stopped driving. No alcohol!

Bit harsh maybe, simple yes, and if you look at countries already doing it, simple to implement and maintain.

That is, if you wanted to stop drink driving! If you want to perpetuate authorities mindless grasp on assumed reality and generate a withering income from hapless drunk drivers, let it continue, and complain about it.

KS

20 July, 2010 09:18

 
Anonymous DJF said...

It's a bit depressing but drink drive cases are often more fiercely/better defended than 'serious' crimes because they're usually a lot more lucrative.

kaela, I sort of agree.

A zero tolerance approach makes sense for a number of reasons; i) it would (arguably) be easier to administer/less procedurally cumbersome? ii) members of the public would know precisely where they stand, iii) alcohol tolerance differs from person to person - so the provisions in place at the mo are pretty arbitrary.

BUT (always a but!) what about someone who has consumed alcohol, say, the previous evening? The present alcohol limit does, at least, factor this in.

Also, the big factor in excess alcohol (when it comes to punishment) is the amount you're over the limit... So even with a zero tolerance approach there'd still be a lot of red tape for the police to go through to ensure the readings, etc, were correct for sentencing purposes.

On another point (sorry to bleat on about this one) still think it a bit weird to hear police officers talking about "winning" and "losing" cases - what about that stuff about being neutral investigators?!

20 July, 2010 10:18

 
Blogger English Pensioner said...

I wrote in my own blog Here about a friend who has to attend court as a witness to a serious road accident involving a driver wearing a burka. It seems that she now claims that she cannot speak English and will require an interpreter.
My friend has now discovered that the other driver involved is Polish, and according to a friendly policeman, he was so "B.... P...ed off with the way she was being treated, more as a victim than the person (apparently)responsible for the accident, that he too has decided that he needs an interpreter".
With my politically incorrect friend as a witness, there are time when I feel sorry for the magistrates!

20 July, 2010 12:13

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://www.thisiskent.co.uk/news/PC-denies-making-incident/article-2362591-detail/article.html

20 July, 2010 20:18

 
Blogger Minty said...

Seems the entire justice system seems slanted to make it really hard to actually bring anyone to justice!!

20 July, 2010 22:06

 
Anonymous ginnersinner said...

The reason why drink-driving is fought against so strongly is simple. It's because, unlike most other crimes, where the defendant is usually Johnny Slagpants who is up for his 12th burglary, the people charged with drink-driving are more often than not Mr Law Abiding Citizen, who a) has much more to lose and b) suffers from the well-documented 'them and us' syndrome, where 'they' are criminals and 'we' are the law-abiding public who need protecting from them. If they were convicted of drink-driving, that would paint them as a criminal, and they're not one, so therefore they must fight it. Also, because they're a 'law abiding citizen' they somehow think they don't deserve to be convicted, so they argue. They delude themselves that the question of guilt or innocence comes down not to wether they did it or not, but wether they 'deserve' to be convicted - much like speeding.

20 July, 2010 23:36

 
Anonymous Po Po said...

Minty, although I like to always stay positive, I have to agree with you. It has gotten to difficult to bring people to justice these days.

21 July, 2010 02:03

 
Anonymous R/T said...

ginner - words right out of my mouth! They also think that neither the rest of the RTA nor the C&UA apply to them either. My last guilty was a countback/post incident job. He bleated from the moment we entered his house to the moment he was let out after charge.

21 July, 2010 08:24

 
Blogger Hogday said...

This sounded similar to my very first breathalyser arrest, just off Trafalgar Square, 197....It was an off duty DC and although he spoke English, he'd done his homework and delayed the procedures to the limits, just long enough to allow his liver to do its job, eventually coming back under. And to those who say they aren't really criminals, in 30 years I never arrested a burglar who'd killed anyone, but I encountered lots of motorists who, through their drinking and other negligence, had.

21 July, 2010 09:46

 
Anonymous Sarf Lunnon said...

There is always another story to counter this one.
Recently in Suffolk my wife was driving us home late at night (it was her turn to be DD). At a deserted roundabout (going straight ahead) she didn't exactly follow the lanes but half crossed the white line lane division.
She was immediately blue lighted. Female officer driver arrogantly and rudely demanded a breath test (my wife never having been stopped by the police before in 50 years driving all over the world had no idea what a breathalyser was). The officer obviously thought she'd got her target, but then became even more bad-tempered when my wife gave a perfect green result.
I was standing to one side chatting to the other (male) member of the crew whose remarks and body language showed how intensely embarrassed he was by his colleague's behaviour.
I am a Neighbourhood Watch Coordinator and member of several police panels.
Recently the IPCC told us that half of the 32,000 complaints about the police they get every year are nothing more than complaints about rudeness.
As I said to a senior CO19 officer recently, any officer who uses a four letter word while on duty should be put on a disciplinary. It would do wonders for their relationship with the public.

21 July, 2010 11:29

 
Anonymous ParkiePlod1980 said...

So are we expected to say to people excuse me awfully Mr Gunman would you mind putting that gun down I see !!! I think you'll find shouting at him Put down the ****ing gun has more effect and is a valid distractionary tactic.

21 July, 2010 12:24

 
Anonymous ParkiePlod1980 said...

and yes whilst I ll agree there are rude officers there are also rude members of the public who refuse to comply with lawful instructions because they feel it is beneath them to do as asked

21 July, 2010 12:27

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Parkie, not sure what the link is between arresting someone who has not injured or stolen from anybody but is over the "limit" with dealing with an armed individual.

If that is your vision of the world, I wonder how you ever became a policeman (as I assume you are).

The problem with drink driving offence is that it has to do with "potential" danger, not having actually done anything to anybody. Why not then start arresting all the people you know who are going to commit a crime?

I understand that it is a factor in some accidents, but why not then have some proper punishment when that is the case. It would probably be a lot more effective as a deterrent.

21 July, 2010 15:15

 
Anonymous DJF said...

On another point... A charge decision is due tomorrow on the death of Ian Tomlinson.

Wonder if that will lead to an "injustice" equal to the one PC Bloggs mentions at the end of this post? (..is that really the greatest injustice you've seen?!)

Really hope due process is allowed to run its course in this case... I note (as with Jean Charles de Menezes)the Met started a bit of a smear on Mr Tomlinson almost as soon as he hit the deck.

Not trying to be imflammatory but do officers here believe charges are warranted?

21 July, 2010 15:28

 
Anonymous ParkiePlod1980 said...

Anonymous I made that point because Sarf Lunnon referred to CO19 in his post, in case you are not aware they are the armed respnse unit and tactical team of the Metropolitan Police so deal with firearms incidents, this is the quote from his post

"As I said to a senior CO19 officer recently, any officer who uses a four letter word while on duty should be put on a disciplinary. It would do wonders for their relationship with the public."

Can you not see the relationship between the two and yes I am aware there is a difference between armed incidents and drink/drive incidents however given that I have been threatened with a knife whilst stopping a drunk driver before it might be wise to consider that any incident can end up in an armed or dangerous incident.

And yes I am a police officer of 11 yrs service, thanks for critising my view of the world might be something to do with the amount of human misery I have seen inflicted on others by bullies and cowards including colleagues who have been shot and stabbed because they let their guard down. Something to think about perhaps

21 July, 2010 18:02

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was always appreciative of the support given by the public when dealing with incidents such as drink/driving. Once stopped a local due to his manner of driving and required a breath test (these were the days of the Lion SL2). He then kicked off and it resulted in the two of us rolling around on the ground as I tried to "detain him according to Home Office Guidelines" while he was trying to poke my eyes out and kick my goolies into the next street. As we were having such fun, I felt a nudge in my back and looked up to see a local resident who told me, "My daughter is trying to get to sleep and your noise is keeping her awake. If you don't quieten down, I'll make a complaint." And he did. I'm so glad I'm out of it and pity those who aren't.
Plodnomore

21 July, 2010 21:43

 
Blogger MarkUK said...

Some people have a natural level of blood alcohol. It is not dangerous to anyone, as they passed their driving test with that level! they are not only well within the current limit, but would be inside the limit anywhere in the world. (I believe Saudi Arabia has provision for this.)

Kaela seems to think that a complete absence of alcohol (ethanol) is necessary. The 80mg/100ml limit was set by scientific research and socialogical data gathering. Anyone under 80 mg/100ml should be able to control a motor vehicle provided they could do so at 5 mg/100 ml.

A zero-alcohol level would bar many perfectly safe drivers.

21 July, 2010 23:19

 
Blogger Nicholas said...

One reason Drink/Drive offences are fought so often, is that the punishment can have far reaching effects on the culprit's life. Loss of a license will requently lead to loss of job, which in turn can lead to loss of house, marriage, etc. While certainty of a severe sentence on conviction may be needed as a deterrent for an offence which is rarely noticed, there should be not surprise if otherwise law-abiding citizens try hard to avoid the consequences.

22 July, 2010 10:37

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PC Bloggs you claim that a mere drink driving case thrown out of court is.... "The worst injustice I have ever heard of?"

I suspect this is your waspish sense of sarcasm, or maybe the start of memory loss, selective or old age, or maybe both.

You are taking the Micky PC Bloggs!

23 July, 2010 05:12

 
Blogger PC Bloggs said...

I thought it was apparent I meant: "the worst injustice... IN RELATION TO DRINK-DRIVE" as that is what the post is about...

23 July, 2010 12:39

 
Blogger Rhoderick said...

"The problem with drink driving offence is that it has to do with "potential" danger, not having actually done anything to anybody. Why not then start arresting all the people you know who are going to commit a crime?"

A 'crime' strictly speaking is an act you have already committed. Preemption is hard for a police officer in any country to get away with. Conspiracy laws, etc, are hard to prosecute suspects with even if the evidence is above circumstancial.

And the lawyers can have a field say, saying "This was just an intellectual exercise. My client has a right to freedom of thought. He might have planned to do it, but thought is not a crime and my client has a right to think or plan whatever he wants. It is unjust to arrest somebody on a hunch." - That's what they would say and the judge would exonerate the accused.

24 July, 2010 03:34

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There have been worse cases, where drivers have killed people, including children and were given pathetic short sentences of 12 months, or whatever. That caused a public outrage, and a media campaign against the injustice of the disregard of drunk drivers KILLING people. The laws were changed, I believe, if my memory is correct.

But of course, you may actually be too young to remember that shameful episode in British "Justice" PC Bloggs!

25 July, 2010 03:34

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

TOMLINSON

25 July, 2010 07:59

 
Blogger Trainee Exile said...

Your all barking mad...
A good proportion of my drink drive arrests came from the driver of the vehicle currently embedded in the Central Reservation. Or the Driver who apparently thinks that a wheel either side of the that broken white line is not a problem.
As for swearing you talk to a person in language that they might understand. Speak reasonably first and then up the anti if necessary.
Off duty I once commented on a gentleman's attempt to put some rubbish in the bin.
He told me to F' off.
I introduced myself and he became more co-operative but asked me to stop shouting at him.
I pointed out that I had spoken to him politely but then he had sworn at me.
Unfortunately police officers are members of society and reflect that society. If it is acceptable for Magistrates to turn a blind eye, TV and films to casually use expletives in an attempt to portray gritty realism, why aren't we surprised when it filters through to the ranks of the Police.

As for the farce of drink drive laws... let be less reasonable about the whole thing. Don't care if your English isn't spoken with an Oxbridge accent tough.
Couldn't be bothered to learn sufficient English to get by, on your bike

07 August, 2010 15:07

 

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