In my job, you have to deal with all levels of society, and all degrees of offending. The result of these interactions is sometimes a decision to prosecute the offender – if you have the evidence, the resources, the backing of the CPS and a following wind.
On the occasions that things get to court (usually for more serious crimes or traffic matters) you then have to run the gauntlet of proving your case and obtaining a satisfactory punishment.
The odds of achieving the final goal decrease at every stage due to a number of factors:
- Having enough officers left outside the custody centres to complete an acceptable investigation and gather the evidence needed to proceed (if, in fact, there is anyone available to respond to the call in the first place!)
- Securing evidence from witnesses that are
- a) Willing to speak to you.
- b) Willing to provide a statement.
- c) Willing to go though with a court case
- d) Not so well-known or involved with the suspect that their evidence would be laughed out of court.
- Getting the compiled evidence past the in-house quality assurance team and the dreaded CPS
- Getting the bench or jury to believe that the Police have not been incompetent or immoral in their investigations despite the best efforts of the defence to show otherwise
- Having Magistrates or a Judge willing to pass down a sentence that doesn’t make a complete mockery of the whole process.
With the ever tightening financial noose around the neck of Police Authorities, the chances of getting to the end of this process (or completing the first stage in many cases) gets smaller every day. It’s a shame, then, that when we do succeed in all the pre-trial elements that the final hurdle still causes us a such huge issue.
This is Fleetwood Close in Newbury. Home to 22-year-old Emily Harbour who, earlier this month, left her two children aged 4 years and 14 months home alone for an hour and a half while she visited her boyfriend, some five minutes away by car.
The children were found after entry was forced to the house in Newbury. They were surrounded by bags of rubbish, soiled nappies, blood-stained blankets, a sex toy, bottles of bleach, urine and human excrement. The baby was lying in a cot with a dirty curtain over his face, and the older child was hiding under a duvet in another room.
Mummy says I am old enough to look after myself.
Mummy will be home in the morning.
These were the responses of the 4-year-old child to questions from the attending officers. Concerns had already been raised as the Health Visitors had not been managed to see the children since they were a few months old, and there had been previous reports in 2007 about the children being left home alone.
Harbour, who receives £900 per month in benefits and lives in a three bedroom house, excused her actions saying that she had left her children in order to go to her boyfriend’s house to use his computer to look for a new home as they were being evicted in a matter of days.
Despite the appalling nature of these offences, Harbour was allowed to walk free from court after being given a six month jail sentence suspended for two years for the child cruelty offences. Her children have been living with their grandparents since the incident.
This level of sentencing is an absolute disgrace. It may well be within the strict guidelines set down for the courts, but it shows absolutely no regard for the serious nature of Harbour’s actions. Those children could have died in that house (in fact one of the attending officers thought initially that the baby was dead) and provided she does nothing wrong for a couple of years, Harbour will effectively have been unpunished for her crimes.
I only hope that she never gets sole custody of those poor children again. Think of the future implications for them, growing up in the belief that what they have experienced is “normal”. It’s behaviour like that of Harbour that has eroded a lot of the decent values in our society. She is a human catalyst for the slow slide into ruin that is enveloping the nation….unpunished by the State, it will surely continue.