Some time back I saw an episode of 24 Hours in Police Custody and was amazed to see one of the Detectives say “Of course, when we have someone in custody, I want them to be charged.”
There was no concern over whether or not the person is actually guilty. The presumption was that, if they were in custody, they must be guilty, and so should be charged. This is a presumption which pervades the entire criminal justice system in Britain.
The police arrest you and presume you are guilty so they want you charged. The CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) only review the information they are given by the police and therefore will charge and prosecute wherever possible. The media seem convinced that if you have even been accused then you must be guilty. The general public believe what they read in the papers. The juries, made up of the media influenced public, have to decide the case on the basis of the evidence presented in court. The courts lean heavily in favour of prosecution barristers over counsel for the defence resulting in distorted presentation of cases and leading to a large number of wrongful convictions. And the prison service say that they have to act on the basis that the decisions of the courts are right and correct, regardless of any other factor.
Far from having a system which presumes you innocent until proven guilty, our system presumes exactly the opposite. And this all comes about because of the inherent bias of the police. The fact is, it isn’t the police’s job to draw conclusions as to innocence or guilt. Their duty is to investigate impartially and to gather all available evidence. However, my personal experience is somewhat different. Some time ago an incident in prison was investigated by the police and, as part of these investigations, I was interviewed as a suspect. I informed the police about a number of pieces of evidence which would show that I was not involved at all, including CCTV evidence of me in another location, recordings of my telephone conversations which would confirm that my account was correct, and even eye witnesses. The police spent a number of months gathering as much evidence as they could against me, but they did not follow up any of the lines of enquiry I had given them. They did not check the CCTV, they did not check my telephone recordings, and they did not speak to the witnesses. The only evidence they attempted to gather was anything they thought might incriminate me. As it happens, I was eventually cleared of any involvement anyway, but this was despite the police investigation, not because of it. They were so sure that I must have been guilty that they didn’t even bother to investigate anything which might prove them wrong.
So when I read in the news recently that police in Swindon have informed shop owners that, from now on, they will not be sending officers to deal with shop lifters, it drew my attention. They are now saying that it is the shop owners responsibility to take the names and addresses of suspects and to post any CCTV footage to police by recorded delivery. I’m split on this. On the one hand, it is clearly ludicrous that a shop keeper (who might not have a big enough shop to justify employing security guards) might have to apprehend, search, question, and potentially detain a thief, receiving advice by telephone but not having the benefit of any police officers actually attending the scene. But on the other hand, at least if the CCTV is posted directly to police headquarters they can’t ignore its existence.
The police aren’t the only problem within the British criminal justice system. They aren’t even the biggest problem. But the problems which arise further down the chain could be hugely mitigated if police did what they are duty bound to do and investigated cases fully and impartially, without making presumptions as to innocence and guilt.