Well, we might have known that the day after posting a story praising the police, we'd come across one showing them in a different light entirely. This sad and silly tale was contributed by S**** P******** - our thanks to him.
Mr Steven Booth works nights, delivering fruit and veg in Bolton to support himself, his wife and his child. As you can imagine, the job does not pay a great deal, but he gets by. Because of the time his shift starts - about 2.30 a.m. - he has a car to get to and from his workplace.
One morning, driving to work in his fully-insured and legal car, he was stopped by the police. The car had shown up as uninsured in an APNR check. This is a system where number plates are mechanically read and checked against a national database. For some reason the system made an error, and Steven's car came up as illegally driven with no insurance.
So Steven was turfed out on the pavement and had to leave his car and make his way to work by other means while the police arranged for his car to be towed away to the local pound. He insisted that he was insured, and told them who with, but they would have none of it - they were, in Steven's own words, "unbelievable". They said that he might have stopped the payments, in which case he would be charged with deception as well. So his car was to be towed away and that was that.
Later that day his wife took the AA Insurance Certificate to the police station. She was given a form to reclaim the car from the pound which was of course run independently by a local firm. They, however, wanted £105 before they would release the car, and said the price would go up £12 for every day it remained there.
Naturally, Steven refused. He couldn't spare £105 just like that - let's face it, there are plenty of people even in this day and age who just don't have £105 lying about. Besides, he had done nothing wrong, so why should he? If he had been able and willing to pay up his family wouldn't eat that week, and he also knew that it would take heaven knew how long to get the money refunded while it earned interest for someone else.
So the car was crushed.
A spokesman for the Car Pound claimed he had signed a disposal notice, but he insisted he hadn't - "'I have not signed anything" he said.
Ian Crowder of the AA confirmed that Mr Booth was indeed fully insured, and added "We think the police are behaving in a cavalier fashion. As far as we can tell, he is not in the wrong and he and his family have lost out. We shall be investigating the case."
The police, however, defended their decision. The database they use is kept up-to-date by the insurance companies, and it said he wasn't insured. They "only have to believe that an offence has been committed," they said. "Officers should not, however, rely entirely on the database to constitute reasonable belief. The insured driver of the car in question signed a document on 8th January advising the company in question to dispose of the vehicle. GMP received no request for reimbursement following the seizure of his car."
This very sad and annoying story brings up a few interesting points …
First, the police play no part in the upkeep of the database, but they use it anyway
Second, this is what is wrong with Tony Bliar's obsessive surveillance: one error and you're stuffed. It's reported in the papers today that already the NHS database has lost thousands of vital medical records. If a database containing simple information like "is this car taxed?" and "is this car insured?" can produce stupid results, imagine the chaos and injustices that will ensue when the government forces us all to carry ID cards with all our personal and private information entered in a national database!
Third, why were the police so rude to Mr Booth? Why did they refuse to take him at his word? When he didn't just roll over and say "Yes, guv, it's a fair cop, you got me bang to rights!" they threatened him with a charge of deception. It's an offence now to claim you're innocent? Nice.
Fourth, why did Mr Booth have to pay up when he had committed no offence and his car was taken - some might say, "stolen" - in error? And why, when once again he had the temerity to assert his innocence, did they take their revenge by crushing his car?
The GOS says: And please don't tell us all about the 2 million drivers who are on the road untaxed and uninsured. We know about them - you probably read it here first. The fact that lots of people do something wrong doesn't give the police carte blanche. It doesn't absolve them from their responsibility to make sure they've got their facts right. It doesn't release them from their obligation to behave with courtesy towards members of the public. And when private companies act as contractors and run parking schemes and car pounds, they are acting on behalf of the authorities and should feel themselves bound to same obligations of fairness and good manners.
Arguing that any measures are justified if the problem is really difficult, is the refuge of the thick, the second-rate and the jobsworth. As William Pitt said, "Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants. It is the creed of slaves."
It's also the justification of the terminally stupid, and sadly it's becoming more prevalent these days, when in a supposedly educated and informed society it should be dying away. Rape is terrible and it happens all too often - but does that make all men rapists? Child abuse too - but does that mean all adults must be suspected and children taught to avoid them? A few lamebrains sniff glue and make themselves ill, but does why does that mean respectable old buffers like me have to be prevented from buying stuff in B&Q? Once upon a time some bearded lunatic left a little bomb in a waste-paper bin, but does that automatically mean every railway station in the country should be covered in litter because there's nowhere to throw anything away? A few people drop their chips and fag-packets in the street, but does that automatically mean that council officials should be hounding little old ladies because the high point of their day is feeding the pigeons in the park?
Look, common sense, right …. it's …
Oh, sod it. I give up.
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