BBC BLOGS - Guy Smith's Met Matters

Archives for September 2010

Would you be a have-a-go hero?

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Guy Smith | 14:29 UK time, Friday, 24 September 2010

Britain's most senior cop says we should all celebrate "have-a-go" heroes.

At a meeting with crime reporters, Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson warned that we should not become what he termed a "walk-on-by-society".

"We should encourage civic minded people, those have-a-go heroes," he said. "We know there are risks but we should celebrate it. People have to make judgements and people will feel more confident about doing it if cops are passionate about patrolling the streets."

Yet he admitted it would be difficult under these constrained financial times to maintain a highly visible uniformed presence.

"That's why I have made single patrols the default position (in London)," he said. "That's why we've increased the special constabulary with close to 4,000 specials now. I am also absolutely committed to safer neighbourhood teams."

Would you step in and stop anti-social behaviour or indeed a crime happening in front of you? Or is it often unrealistic and putting yourself in danger?

Despicable allegation lands handyman in jail

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Guy Smith | 19:27 UK time, Thursday, 23 September 2010

I've just finished editing a TV story on a school caretaker maliciously accused of being a paedophile.

It's one of the worst allegations anyone could face and very difficult to disprove. As they say, mud sticks and all that.

But 62-year-old Eddie Thompson was framed by his colleague Neil Weiner.

And subsequently, Eddie suffered for the next four years. People on the street would name call and even spit on him.

This was an extraordinary case and the judge revealed his utter contempt for Weiner's actions by jailing him for 12 years and putting Weiner on the sex offenders register for life.

Judge David Paget's comment, which you can read here, are clear.

Yet it could so easily have gone the other way and Eddie Thompson could now be languishing in prison.

Met must 'think smart' to beat effects of cuts

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Guy Smith | 18:54 UK time, Thursday, 16 September 2010

What will be the cost of cutting police officers and staff?

I've just been to a session at City Hall examining just that and what impact the Government's spending review due in October could have on the capital's police service.

London Assembly members were picking the brains of four experts.

There was much discussion about what Londoners currently expected i.e. bobbies on the beat and how to maintain confidence in policing in the face of challenging economic circumstances.

One of them was Dr Tim Brain, former Chief Constable of Gloucestershire.

After the meeting, he said the worst-case scenario would be the Met potentially losing up to 13,500 police officers and staff by 2015.

He was referring to a post emergency budget briefing by the well-respected, independent think tank, the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

But he stressed: "It is important to follow the logic through. The IFS in their briefing said that over four years the country would effectively go back to levels of public spending last seen in 1997-8."

"In 1998, the Met had 39,692 full time equivalent posts, both police officer and civilian. This compares to 52,934 now."

He believed that the full impact of the cuts in staffing would be felt after the London Olympics in two years' time.

Yet he then added there was "no certainty" that this is how it will work out."

He said the best case scenario would mean the loss of around 3,000 full-time posts, through a combination of a recruitment freeze and natural wastage.

"In any event, the number of officers will fall from next year. It will be difficult for the Met to convince the public that front line policing will be unaffected. However, we don't know yet whether the overall savings will be closer to 25 or 40 per cent. "

It will be difficult for the Met to convince the public that front line policing will be unaffected.

Staffing costs make up around 80 per cent of the police budget so it's unlikely Scotland Yard's top brass will escape an inevitable restructuring of the workforce.

That will mean the Met will shrink, most probably from support roles like admin and clerical staff.

This though would have a knock on effect because uniformed officers would then have to take up the slack and that would mean less time for them on the beat.

But the police authority chairman Kit Malthouse recently said: "It is not about headcount. It is about what police officers are doing with their time."

In other words, the Met has to think smart. Officers are already being told to patrol alone rather in pairs to increase the uniformed presence on the street.

Today, Bernard Hogan-Howe, former Chief Constable of Merseyside and currently Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary for the Met, said patrols would have to focus on where large numbers of people congregate including schools and railway stations.

He said it was important to patrol around schools where officers could build up a relationship with parents and children, and in turn increase confidence.

There are difficult times ahead. Your thoughts are welcome.

An enterprising solution for tackling gang murders?

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Guy Smith | 17:29 UK time, Tuesday, 7 September 2010

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There's little evidence as to who struck the fatal blow.

A gang of youths is involved.

And no one's talking.

So how do you solve it?

Well, it's a problem all too-often facing London's murder squad detectives.

But since 2008, more than 350 defendants have been prosecuted in just 116 murder cases.

The centuries-old law called Joint Enterprise has been applied in all of them.

It allows entire groups of people to be charged with murder despite having played very different roles in a killing.

Today, the Met officially launched an online interactive campaign called "Who killed Deon?" on Facebook and YouTube.

It's a first for Scotland Yard and is aimed at 13 to 15 year olds, highlighting the risks of getting involved in weapons and gangs.

Derek Bentley

Many might remember the most famous example of Joint Enterprise.

In 1952, Derek Bentley was convicted of shooting a police officer even though he didn't pull the trigger.

He shouted: "let him have it".

His accomplice who actually committed the murder 16 year old Christopher Craig escaped the hangman's noose because of his age. The older Bentley didn't.

More recently, Joint Enterprise was successfully used in the murders of 16 year old Kodjo Yenga in Hammersmith in 2007, teenager Ben Kinsella in Islington in 2008, and Shakilus Townsend in Thornton Heath in the same year.

In all three cases, multiple defendants were prosecuted and convicted.

I've just spoken to the mother of Shakilus.

Nicola Dyer was shocked by the savagery of her son's killers but was not surprised when seven defendants were jailed for murder.

"It's hard to get your head around one person being responsible for the death of your child," she said.

"But when it's seven people and you're not really getting the truth about what happened. You're getting seven different stories. It's very hard to deal with."

Normally, the Crown Prosecution Service has to prove that the defendant either intended to kill or cause serious bodily harm.

Yet the law of Joint Enterprise is much looser.

It enables someone to be prosecuted for murder if they were present, had knowledge of or acted in a way that lead to a killing.

There is a concern though, this may lower the bar and could lead to people on the fringes of a group being prosecuted.

What do you think? Is it fair? Are the police scooping up too many people and "throwing the book" at them?

Or is it the only effective way of cracking down on teenage murders in the capital?

Criminal masterminds?

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Guy Smith | 17:18 UK time, Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Yohan Clarke, 31, and his younger brother Yamani, 23, were part of gang which raided a Costco store in Croydon last September.

Yohan Clarke, left, and his younger brother Yamani, in the photo that incriminated them.

NOT.

This pair might have got away with a robbery but for this picture.

It was found on a digital camera when police stopped them in a car in Redhill, Surrey, just days after the hold-up.

Yohan Clarke, 31, and his younger brother Yamani, 23, were part of gang which raided a Costco store in Croydon last September.

During the robbery, a shop worker was shot but survived.

The masked men escaped with jewellery valued at £70,000 including the large stolen ring, which you can see on one of the brothers fingers.

It incriminated the men.

And "Clarke the elder" received life in jail with a minimum of 10 years. His brother on the right got 40 months after he admitted handling stolen goods.

Three of the gang are still on the run.

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