It’s funny how you say sometimes you will try not to do something and then a friend rings you, possibly even two of them, and you end up doing exactly what you said you wouldn’t do. That might sound confusing to some of you, but to others , and especially my close friends, this won’t sound confusing. So what’s this all about you may ask yourself? Well please allow me to elaborate. And please note that I am giving a completely none-bias opinion regarding anything I write within this article – well, to be honest, I’m going to try.
Recently a dear friend’s sister in North Wales had the bailiffs turn up upon her door step demanding payment regarding an outstanding seat belt fine. This fine was nothing to do with her and was actually to do with her boyfriend who is not registered at the address and actually owns none of the property at the address. My friend’s sister called him (her brother) and he came to the house whilst the bailiffs were there and by this time the police had been called as well. As far as I am aware the boyfriend was in her car when he was allegedly caught not wearing a seat belt and obviously the fine had risen by this time from the standard £30 to many hundreds of pounds – plus of course the bailiffs fee’s. My friend politely informed the police that their presence there that day was to prevent a breach of the peace and nothing more and they could certainly not aid the bailiff’s in gaining entry to the premises, or aid them taking his sisters property. What actually happened was far different and the police took on a ‘private enforcement role’ on behalf of the bailiff, even at one point forcing entry in to the premises on behalf of the bailiff. My friend inquired of the bailiff ‘do you have a signed warrant?’ to which she replied I have one on my Blackberry mobile phone in PDF format. My friend asked if he could see it and the bailiff showed it to him, but it was completely illegible because of its size. He asked if it would be possible to in large the image on the screen, so he could ascertain if there was a signature or not, to which he was told – it is not possible! I have a Blackberry mobile phone myself and I know that I can in large anything upon the phone I wish too. But maybe the bailiff had a newer/older model that was not capable of this.
My friend rang me whilst this was all going on and asked me if there was anything he could do to stop this from happening and explained, not only what was going on, but why it was happening. I said to him ‘ask one of the constables if he can in fact enforce an unsigned warrant.’ As far as I can make out he asked this many times and was at one point going to be arrested for obstruction, until he backed off. The grass verges outside the house are part of a nature reserve and come under strict parking regulations which explicitly say ‘no one can park any type of vehicle upon the grass at any time. The police had parked their car upon the verge. When my friend pointed out to one of the constables that they had parked in a restricted place, he was met with a torrent of verbal abuse that amounted to ‘that does not apply to us and again he was threatened with arrest for obstruction. The police also had blocked the road causing an obstruction to the highway and again when this was pointed out, that this was not a life or death matter, my friend was threatened via a torrent of verbal abuse. This story goes on and on and will be coming out soon with video footage of the whole event, but for now that is all I need to say about the matter.
This morning (Wednesday 13th July) I had a call from a friend who lives in London regarding his brother who has been evicted from his club by bailiffs and the police. He told me the police forced entry on behalf of the bailiffs and subsequently all his brothers belongings were thrown into the street. This again, is about an ongoing legal battle that my friend has been pursuing on behalf of his brother and had made significant head way with, within the judicial system – the courts. Even though my friend is legally trained he asked me a question. ‘Can the police enforce an unsigned warrant’? I found this quite strange regarding his knowledge of law, that he would be asking me such a thing. I replied as I have been told by numerous police constables, including Sergeants, Inspectors and CID, that the police cannot enforce an ‘unsigned warrant’. But as I know legislation changes by the minute, I would ring the house of commons and find out if there had been any changes to police powers under any act, or statutory instrument we were not aware of. I decided to keep my question as simple as possible and decided on ‘Can the police enforce an unsigned warrant, and if so, where does it say in legislation they can’?
So I rang the commons and was put through to enquiries. Even though both the woman and man I spoke to where quite pompous, they were still reasonably polite, but they could not answer my question and gave me the number for the home office. I rang them and a man answered, who sounded like he was losing the will to live and abruptly asked me if he could help. I asked the question which he didn’t seem to understand so I said ‘I am simply trying to find out has there been any changes to police powers via any new legislation’? He said quite pompously that he would have to put me through to the home office enquiries team. It must be something about the way I speak, as they were all up to this point, certainly talking down to me, even though I was very polite at all times. The man said ‘putting you through’ and I heard a ringing tone and then a woman answered ‘home office inquiries team’. Again she sounded as though she too was losing the will to live, in fact, I felt like asking was she ok, because she did sound incredibly down. Again, I asked the question, to which she replied ‘I am sorry I cannot answer that and I will need to put you through to someone else’. The phone line went quiet for a few seconds and then the woman said ‘the man you need to talk to is in a meeting at the moment, so could you leave your name and number and I will get him to call you’. I agreed and gave the woman my name and number and told her I was a reporter for an online news outlet called the tpuc, which she took a second to write down. I quipped at the end, I do not expect him to ring me back, as government departments are renowned for not returning calls, which actually made the woman laugh, which, to be honest I did not expect, but was very pleasant to hear – and because this is the case could I have the gentleman’s name who was going to call me, supposedly, back. His name was Andy Derwent and just to let you know, before I carry on, he didn’t call me back, but a man did on his behalf who saw a note left on his desk – more on that a little later.
I then decided that the next port of call would be the police themselves, so I rang police headquarters at Welwyn Garden City. A lady answered phone suffering from, what only could be described as, acute abruptness – this must be in the training they receive, because to be honest, they all seem to suffer with the same infliction. I asked her politely the same question and she asked me in what it was in regard too. I explained about the incident in Wales, some weeks ago and about the one in London that morning. I got the usual answer I have been given on numerous occasions that in the case of the police being called by bailiffs regarding enforcement of warrants, the police are there simply to prevent a ‘breach of the peace’ and they cannot enforce unsigned warrants – but I could not ‘quote her’ on that. So I explained that the police constables that attended both incidents had in fact ‘forced entry to the premises on behalf of the bailiffs’. Her answer to this was that ‘she couldn’t possibly comment’ and that I would have to seek ‘legal advice as that was something she could not give’. I explained that I was not asking for legal advice, I was simply asking where it is stated in legislation that the police can now act as a ‘private security service for bailiffs’ and when it changed from them just simple ‘up holding the peace’ – I simple wanted to clarify this point for myself? Her answer was that she could not tell me. I asked if she was in fact a constable. She answered by telling me that she was civilian staff employed to answer the phone. I said politely that it was obvious that I needed to speak to someone who was a constable, who could possibly answer my question. At this point she became quite enraged and told me very abruptly that this would not be possible. So again, very politely, I inquired was that a refusal to allow me to speak to a police constable regarding this matter. She became quite agitated and stated quite clearly that, no, it wasn’t a refusal, it was just not possible at this time. I said well surely that amounts to the same thing, a refusal. She then accused me of putting words in her mouth and said she felt quite harassed by my manner. I said, well that is not the case as it can be logically concluded that it is a refusal. You have told me I cannot quote you, you cannot give me legal advice and I cannot speak to a police constable, also you have given me advice and you are not even a police constable. At this moment she became very worried and I could quite clearly here it in her voice. I did not set out to upset here and after a few moments I seemed to calm her down by telling her this was not aimed at her personally, I was just trying to get to the bottom of this matter. She then agreed to ask a sergeant to ring me at his earliest convenience and I agreed that would be fine.
In that conversation I heard three very specific ‘mantras’ used, that I have heard many times before. It seems these are used when you put them in a corner they cannot get out of. Excuses it seems, when they cannot tell you the truth of any matter, because they don’t actually know what that truth maybe. It also has the ability of sending the questioner on a merry dance around the houses, never actual getting a simple answer. The mantras are:
1. I could not/cannot possibly comment on that
2. I cannot give you legal advice
3. You cannot quote me on that
These mantras seem to be very significant within the civil service specifically and I have heard these used on many occasions. If you do still watch TV, then listen out for these, because you will hear them or derivatives of, amounting to the same.
I then decided whilst I was waiting for the police sergeant to call, I would now ask the court service the same question, so I rang Watford magistrates court. A man answered the phone and to be honest, he was the most pleasant man or woman I spoke to that day, he was quite jovial. I again asked exactly the same question as I had the other departments I had spoken to and he metaphorically scratched his head and said he did not know. He advised me that I would have to talk to another department called ‘warrant enforcement’ and promptly gave me the number to call. I said goodbye and proceeded to ring the number he had given me, only to find they must have been out the office as no one answered. Time for a coffee and a fag….
Not very long after this I received a call from sergeant Bilsbon from Hertfordshire police who at first was very polite, even though there was a element of complacency in his tone. I again asked the same question, to which he replied could I tell him where this had happened. I said ‘Wales, some weeks ago and London this morning’. ‘Not in Hertfordshire’ he said, to which I replied ‘not recently’, ‘well then’ he said ‘I couldn’t possibly comment on something that has happened outside of Hertfordshire’. I inquired to why not, ‘as surely the regulations and legislation regarding the police and how they conduct themselves must be uniformed across the nation’? He told me they ‘were not’ and went on to talk about ‘extenuating circumstances’ and without knowing the true account of the events that went on he again could not comment. ‘Wait a minute’ I said, ‘are you telling me that there are ‘different rules for different areas’ and why are you talking about ‘extenuating circumstances’, as there wasn’t any, as I have given you a true account of events. He said to me ‘things do change from constabulary to constabulary and being in Hertfordshire I cannot access the files regarding the events you have spoken about and is there anything else I came help you with. I said, ‘yes as a matter of fact there is’, realising he did not want to talk about this matter anymore I decided to try another tact. I said ‘in Hertfordshire would constables in the same position be able to do the same and help bailiffs force their way into people’s homes’? Again he spoke of ‘extenuating circumstances’ and he would need an incident in Hertfordshire so he could look into it. To be honest we were getting nowhere and had probably been chatting for over 20 minutes by now, so I asked ‘why could he not just give me an opinion based on what I had told him, or even more simply tell me where the legislation is written down so I could see it for myself? He ignored the last part and told me he could not give ‘legal advice’ and I must admit, I realised I was flogging a dead horse, but then he said something quite interesting after I asked him another question. I asked ‘how was it that the people the law affects the most i.e. us the public are the last to hear about the changes and even though we may be completely unaware of any changes, we cannot plead ignorance to them, and more to the point most of us are still fined regardless? He replied by saying ‘well they are in the public domain’, to which I said ‘come on, to be honest with people having such busy lives to keep their heads above water, how could they possibly have the time to read the new changes in the law daily, because to keep abreast of it, that is what they would have to do? And also the way it is wrote down leaves it very open to interpretation and of course many do not understand the language being used, and more to the point why are so many changes needed?
His answer was that the law was fluid and had to adapt to its circumstances to which I replied why? Again he would not comment, but to be honest I was not going to let this one go and pursued him for an answer. Finally he said quite abruptly that as society changes so must the law, to which I said are these changes really needed or are they based upon precautionary principles that handsome revenue can be gained from as it seems the police are nothing more than a private political army doing the complete opposite to what they profess they are doing. This did not go down well and to be honest he did at this moment express his own opinion, even though it was just to say he didn’t agree with me. I added well I’m sorry, but to a growing number of us this certainly seems the case. So I asked him more about this fluidness in the law and the fact it changes. He replied it was by stated cases or case law, in other words precedent set by judges. So I said if this was the case then it could be easily presumed that there are times when no one actually knows what the law is and if this is the case, which it is, by what you have just told me, how can there not be a plea of ignorance to the law? He said if there was such a plea then rapist and murderers would be using it by saying that didn’t know that such things were against the law. I am sorry I said but this is not a good enough answer, because this negates discretion and the ability to look at each case upon its own merits as each case is completely individual. The law should be simply black or white with the judges holding discretion over each case upon its own merits and not decided by previous cases where the circumstances and events surrounding the case would be completely different. I also added that it is obvious that rape and murder and such like are against the moral laws we all naturally carry and to give such an answer was more of an excuse to allow a no win situation for most of the public. He asked why this was and I said that if you have a system where you cannot plead ignorance to a law you couldn’t possible know about, then the law writers are on a win win situation, that seems like a beautiful money making scheme to me. His answer, I couldn’t possibly comment on that!!
To be honest the sergeant was getting very fed up with my questions and I could tell this by his voice and he said ‘is there anything I can help you with regarding an incident in Hertfordshire, as we had exhausted this conversation’. I said there would probably be many, but I have none to hand at this moment. He said if I could come up with one for this area he would look into it for me. Then the strangest thing happened. He said to me could he now sign off the URN allotted to this matter? I then remembered the last thing the lady said to me, after she had calmed down, the URN for this call is 281137. I replied to the sergeant ‘yes of course’ as it was obvious that he could not help me with my question. I expressed that it was nice to speak to him, thanked him for calling me back and thanked him for his politeness, which I added ‘seems to be a thing of the past the police being polite to the public’. Again he didn’t comment. We said goodbye. After I put the phone down I suddenly realised that they had allotted a special number to my call and all I had done is asked a very simple question. And more to the point he had to get me to say that I agreed it could be closed, interesting! Oh and one thing I didn’t mention was the fact that I was also told by the sergeant that I would have to write to their legal services if I did require more information, but again, this would have to be case related and area related i.e. in Hertfordshire. On the whole I was spoken to very politely by the sergeant, but the lady before was abrupt, ignorant and rude and if this is the response the public get when they call the police, there is no wonder their image and the respect for them is at an all time low. Maybe Hayley should be reminded she is the public’s first point of contact and maybe a little politeness and ‘tact’ is needed.
Much later in the day I got a call from the home office by a man who didn’t actually give me his name. Anyway no matter. Again I asked the same question. After 20 minutes or so of the man trying to advise look a bailiff legislation, I finally got him to realise that my question was in fact about police legislation and not bailiff legislation. He said this was out of the home offices control as what the officers do is under the discretion of the chief constable. He finished up by saying the home secretary does not have operational control over the police and the home office issue more guidelines such as PACE. To be honest I was quite amazed at this and said ‘so basically the chief constables have a complete free reign over daily operations and if they decide that their constables can basically act as a private security service for bailiffs, then that is ok? He couldn’t comment on this. He told me that the home office had never had this and it had always been this way, to which I replied that now makes absolute sense and is quite worrying. He inquired to what I meant, which I answered by saying well for a long time the police seem to do as they please and do you not find the fact that they can worrying, because where does this end, especially if the home office have no control over this? Again he could not comment! Again the man I spoke to from the home office was very polite, but with a very abrupt attitude, which seems to be the norm with all the people I spoke too that day. I thanked him for his time and the fact he had rang me back and that was where we left it.
What I found quite interesting was the fact that no one I spoke to could answer my question, or even point me in the direction of where I could find the answer for myself. Moreover they seemed absolutely oblivious to the real reason I was asking, because in all honesty, what I was asking was for as much their benefit as it was mine, as it is everyone’s. It certainly seems that anyone working within these environments are absolutely scared stiff to form an opinion of their own and will always stay with the ‘companies’ mantras. If I was under any illusion that this didn’t actually happen, then I am certainly not now after the series of phone calls I made that Wednesday. I have done this many times, but never to this extent and never have I wrote about as far as I am aware – please let me know if I am mistaken. What I have discovered here is very self evident so I am not going to finish by explaining it all. If you cannot see what I am getting at, then maybe it is time to stop reading and go and do something far more interesting like watching TV. All I have been doing throughout this article is stating the obvious, something many of us already know, but seems to be something that eludes many, or they simply just don’t care. I feel very soon we will all have to face these facts and many more, whether we like or not.
Over the past few years I have talked and written about the police many times and even though much of what I have found out is very negative, I still feel there is a very positive side to the police, which is actually causing a division in their ranks. To many I know this fact might be worrying, but please don’t worry, it is something that has to happen and it is not only happening in the police!!
In Hertfordshire I will still maintain that the police cannot enforce a unsigned warrant, but after what I was told I cannot say this about the rest of the country, maybe if you need to know, then ask your local constabulary and let me know, then we can build a list up and publish it. I will in due course be writing to the chief constable of Herts. constabulary to ask for confirmation of this in writing, but I won’t be holding my breath for an answer, But if I do get one it will be published.