NEWSPAPER reporters of a certain age will be more than familiar with the rituals of the magistrates’ court: the backside-numbing press benches, the court clerks who have to be kept onside, the local worthies sitting in judgement and the gentle rhythms of the day.
One of these delights was the classic ‘policeman giving evidence’ cameo – a performance accurately parodied in innumerable comedy sketches. The pompous opening of the notebook, the ponderous delivery of the evidence, the strange and stilted language used: “I was proceeding in a westerly direction…”. Indeed, so limited was the vocabulary of police officers in the witness box that some specialist court reporters developed their own version of even-shorter shorthand to keep a contemporaneous note – a sort of Pitman for Plod.
What was also a constant factor in proceedings was the unquestioning acceptance of this evidence. If a policeman is reading something out of his notebook, then it must be true. Consequently legions of local scrotes were found guilty as charged despite their desperate pleadings of innocence. Now I knew, the police knew, the magistrates knew and every man and his dog knew that occasionally this evidence might have been, shall we say, ’embellished’. If the facts didn’t exactly fit at the time of the offence, they certainly did by the time they were being read out by a stony-faced stalwart of the constabulary. And if our local scrote decided to challenge the system by bringing along his own solicitor with the intention of questioning this evidence, a second policeman would then be produced to read out exactly the same words from a notebook of his own. And justice, by and large, was served. The only people getting fitted up were those who undoubtedly deserved it, and the policeman’s word was law. I’m not sure we can say that today.
If you want an accurate indicator of the middle-class Middle England mindset, you must turn to the Daily Telegraph. Not to its leader article or its columnists, but to the pocket cartoons drawn by the genius that is Matt Pritchett. And in yesterday’s newspaper/website/tablet/phone app whatever, Matt put the boot into the cops with some venom. “He says it’s half past two, but he’s probably lying” isn’t the funniest of jokes (the man himself sets the bar so high) but for a 10-word condemnation of how we now view the constabulary, it’s devastating.
The simple fact is that we can no longer trust the police to be truthful. They lie, not to get baddies sent down as they used to, but to suit their own political and practical purposes. We shouldn’t really be surprised by this. Anyone who has travelled to a football match as an away fan or who has attended a political demonstration knows how the rules are routinely bent to punish the innocent but inconvenient. And then there’s the utter scandal of Hillsborough, the killings of Jean Charles De Menezes and Ian Tomlinson, the intimidation of witnesses in the Stephen Lawrence case, the complicity in the Jimmy Savile saga and the whole Plebgate farrago, where the police have been shown to have deliberately lied in an attempt to undermine elected politicians. Fuck me, you’d think this was some kind of banana republic.
So what has all this got to do with me, a mere provincial hack? Well, in amongst this catalogue of institutional criminality are the arrests of at least 61 UK journalists in the past couple of years by officers involved in inquiries into phone-hacking, payments to public officials and computer hacking. Of those, 27 have been charged, 12 cleared and 22 remain on police bail, some of those left in legal limbo for more than a year. Trust me, we’re not talking capital crimes here; just what was normal day-to-day journalism.
I can confidently say that this is a worse scenario than you could find in any banana republic, anywhere in the world. To so openly victimise those who are in a position to call the authorities to account is a tactic of the most evil of regimes. Or of the Great British Police.
The Grey Cardigan has been in newspapers since the days of hot metal and expense accounts. After a lengthy career as chief sub on several regional newspapers, plus a multitude of shifts on the nationals, he was appointed editor of the Evening Beast in 2009 before being ignominiously 'rationalised' last year. He is currently collecting gas in jam jars in case the Russians cut us off. @thegreycardigan