Shocking misuse of police time

Guest blog by Ann Crighton

We all know that if we go home and discover a burglary, there is almost no chance of a Police Officer attending – you will make a report and be given a crime reference number in order to make an insurance claim. Many other crimes we would like to be investigated will not be investigated – reason – not enough Police Officers but is that true? Could it be that the Police we pay for are in fact engaged on revenue raising duties?

I am a direct access barrister and my perspective is that the Police have plenty of time to pursue motoring offences and often for no good reason.

Here is an example of a case that I dealt with a couple of weeks ago.

Pakistani man (‘D’) married to Polish woman with two small children. Both work – he works as a cashier in a curry shop and she works as a cleaner. A disabled customer rang D and asked for food to be delivered to him. D said he would have to wait until the delivery drivers started work. Half an hour later customer rang back and said, ‘I’m hungry, I don’t live far away from you, please do me a favour and drop off the food’. D took his break, jumped in his car (which had fully comprehensive insurance) dropped the food off and then went to Tesco to buy a sandwich. Having bought his sandwich, he returned to his car.

Three Police Officers spent over 2 hours with him questioning him about his insurance and identity (even though he handed over a photo drivers’ licence). They discovered he had fully comprehensive insurance (for which he had paid over £800) but, because they saw he had a food container in the back of the car, they decided to charge him with no insurance on the basis he did not have commercial insurance. They impounded his car, having taken the sandwich out – they said, ‘is that the sandwich you have just bought for your lunch?’ Anyway, they arranged for his car to be towed away but they let him eat his lunch.

The case went to Court and he was found not guilty. I got a Defendant’s Costs Order meaning he will get most of what he paid me to represent him back, but he still will not get back the £250 he had to pay to get his car out of the pound. D and his wife were hugging each other and in floods of

tears when he was rightfully found not guilty – the Court proceedings filled them full of fear.

My point is this – do we really want to pay three Police Officers to spend two hours harassing a man who works for the minimum wage and has saved up to pay for fully comprehensive insurance? Wouldn’t they be better employed investigating burglaries and violent crimes?

Another example – Chinese woman driving expensive car with fully comprehensive insurance which cost far more than £1000. Police Officer stops her and asks her where she is going and she responded, ‘to work’. She is prosecuted for no insurance because her insurance did not cover her for commuting. She had no idea and immediately changed her policy – the extra cost being £15. Nevertheless, she was prosecuted for no insurance and had to plead guilty because no insurance is a strict liability offence. She pleaded Special Reasons and her licence was not endorsed with points. She too was terrified about the Court proceedings and cried with relief when her licence was not endorsed with points.

These cases are typical of the sorts of cases I deal with. Usually the people are working and are strangers to the Courts. They must take time off work to go to Court and they usually spend months worrying about having to go to Court and what will happen to them when they get there.

My point – did the Police really need to take these defendants to Court? There are huge backlogs of cases waiting to be dealt with in the criminal courts. Do we (the public) want our Courts clogged up with cases like this and Police Officers spending time pursuing them?

Wouldn’t it have been a better idea to give the Defendants I have mentioned a warning? I spent 20 years as a prosecutor and can say that if they had been shoplifting it is highly likely they would have been given a warning. Similar if the offence being investigated was e.g. common assault.

Could this be a political decision? Taking motorists to Court raises revenue – they pay fines, costs and victim surcharge. Violent criminals and burglars are usually not working so will not be paying fines etc. BUT is this what we/the public i.e. those who pay the Police doing?

Ann Crighton

Ann Crighton is a barrister with her own chambers, specialising in motoring law

If you would like to know more about Ann, you can read a profile of her career in the law Society Gazette here

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See also: Police take longer to respond to 999 calls

See also: Shoplifting under £50 won’t be investigated by police