The death last week of Gary Newlove has predictably brought out the worst in our media and perhaps, more surprisingly, from the Chief Constable of Cheshire, Peter Fahy.
Gary Newlove, a cancer survivor and father of three young kids, died when, at night, he confronted a group of drunken youths who, it is alleged, were damaging a mechanical digger parked outside his home. Most of the media described him as a have-a-go hero.
Those responsible for his killing must be arrested, charged, and if found guilty, punished. But I do have difficulty in calling Newlove a "hero". In the circumstances Newlove found himself , the police tell us not to become involved, but to telephone the police,who, after all, are those trained to deal with run of the mill criminal damage. It is wise advice. And advice that should be taken in all circumstances. At school we were taught that it's better to be a live coward than a dead hero.
It wasn't long before the Chief Constable rushed into the tv studios giving interviews. Press releases by the score fluttered down from his HQ .
We must increase the tax on booze; stop supermarkets from aggressive marketing of alcohol; increase the age at which it lawful to supply drink. Had the Chief Constable engaged his brain for a nano- second before sounding off, he would have realised that none of these suggestions would have the slightest effect of teen boozing.
And today here he suggests that if parents continue to ignore their kids boozing care proceedings are appropriate. Mr Fahy has not recently studied the statistics of kids in care or even spoken to has own officers dealing with youth crime. Had he done so he would know that non secure care homes are awash with booze and illegal drugs. The most vulnerable kids are subject to bullying and violence [pdf], and according to the NSPCC,
"Only 12 per cent of children in care gained the benchmark standard of five good GCSEs, which is again considerably lower than the 59 per cent figure for the whole age group. A Department for Education and Skills (DfES) spokesman said that while £1.9 billion had been spent last year on the educational needs of children in care, the current status quo was not acceptable."
The UK does not appear to value kids. We lock more up more per head than any other EU country and, more shamefully, our age of criminal responsibly is much lower. A recent report from the Guardian contained this:
"Children growing up in the United Kingdom suffer greater deprivation, worse relationships with their parents and are exposed to more risks from alcohol, drugs and unsafe sex than those in any other wealthy country in the world, according to a study from the United Nations"
Now back to the Chief Constable.
Listening to him last week, it's hard to believe that over the past decade, the government has shovelled large amounts money in his direction. There more "bobbies on the beat" and Community Support Officers. Police Officer's salaries have risen well above the rate of inflation . New Labour has an almost insatiable appetite to legislate in the criminal justice field, giving the police largely what they ask for. Yet looking at the latest figures available on the Home Office website, his force like all the others in England and Wales clear up about 25% -yes that's a quarter- of all reported crime.
The clear up rate by Fahy's own constabulary between April 2006 and March this year is 26%. But that figure masks considerable variations-77% clear up in what is described as "other offences" (I detect a bit of police statistical spin here) and 13% in theft from vehicles. In fact the clear-up rates are down across the board and, bearing in mind the recorded crime rates are also falling, this must be particularly worrying for Fahy. Mind you, it's hardly surprising Cheshire Constabulary 's clear up rates are so low when their Chief Constable talks such drivel about keeping kids off booze.