Yesterday my #31DaysLive broadcast covered an issue that comes up regularly. That of complaints when police close roads and the inconvenience it causes.The live broadcast can be viewed here.
During the broadcast I made reference to a pathetic article written by Richard Littlejohn along the same lines and how it had been pulled apart, piece by piece in a blog by NathanConstable who was on Twitter at that time.I’m pleased to say that NC has been in touch and shared his blog text with me. It is reproduced below and all credit to a to NC for the work.
For a number of years Richard Littlejohn has been barracking the police response to a range of incidents from the safety of his study and sharing his views in the pages of the Daily Mail. Mr Littlejohn is a great hater of “political correctness” and “elf n safety.” His typical themes are that the police have either sprung into total inaction because of some bureaucracy or that they have completely overreacted to something which could have been sorted out in seconds if anyone had applied common sense.
A while back he was barking loudly about the “heavy handed” response to a male claiming to have a device strapped to himself. The picture on his column showed a balaclava wearing officer with “not one but two” pistols and body armoured up to the eyeballs. Mr Littlejohn wanted the Commissioner’s head on a plate over this. He claimed that this officer looked like something out of the Spetsnaz and wanted it made quite clear that this simply isn’t how we do things in Britain. As I recall the article went on to criticise the entire operation because it was apparently obvious that the individual with the “device” was just some harmless loon. The inconvenience this caused in the name of “public safety” was unnecessary and complete overkill. What was required was for a beat copper to walk in and tell the man not to be so stupid. Wrap it up in thirty seconds and crack on.
His latest column on the inconvenience to motorists following the tragic incident on the motorway on Christmas Day takes him to a new level of low.
It starts of sympathetically enough with a few paragraphs of seemingly genuine sadness but then the real crux of the article kicks in. Tragic as it all was it was completely selfish of the police to close the motorway for hours on end for “no apparent reason” thereby stranding thousands of motorists and interrupting their Christmas plans.
Mr Littlejohn states that the carriageway was clear and so a couple of lanes should have been opened to let people pass and get on with their day. It “all points to a tragic accident” he says. There was only one vehicle involved so why the need for all the hassle.
The police just don’t think about law abiding innocent motorists.The picture in the column shows the covered vehicle being lifted onto a flat bed truck with half a dozen “blokes in hi-Vis jackets” stood around chatting. The implication being that everyone was pretty much hanging around, doing nothing and wasting everyone’s time.
The arrogance and ignorance it must take to write something like this simply staggers me. Firstly – the first hour at least of this incident would most likely have involved the frantic efforts to save life. Air Ambulances were required and they landed nearby. Having had personal experience of a fatal road collision involving children I know that everyone tries just that little bit harder. Even when it seems obvious that all hope is gone.Whilst this is happening – frankly – everything else in the world can wait. It’s not just a case of screening off lane one and letting everyone pass by. With the Air Ambulance present a lifesaving roadside operation could be taking place. Anything could be happening.
When it becomes obvious that first aid simply isn’t going to work you have to somehow put that behind you and get on with investigating what happened. It is quite likely that the first few cars in the now huge queue will have witnesses on board. They will quite possibly be traumatised as well as having important information to share. You don’t just wave people on and hope they think to call in later.You see it’s not “just one vehicle involved” – the witnesses and other motorists have just watched this horror story unfold in front of their eyes and most will not have the desensitisation that the emergency service people have. And emergency service people aren’t as tough as you think either.
The half dozen blokes stood around doing nothing may well have been giving CPR to a dying child an hour ago. They may have witnessed things close up and personal that nothing can prepare you for. So it’s not “just one vehicle involved” is it Mr Littlejohn? Emergency service personnel don’t just pack up and go home for tea and medals.
In the incident I dealt with six months ago I went home and cried and I am about as cynical as they come. And even if it was “just one vehicle involved” we still need to find out how and why this happened. Was another driver driving dangerously? Did they perform a manoeuvre so dangerous it was criminal? Is someone else responsible? Have the mechanics of the car been tampered with? Is it murder? Is it suicide?
You see – its not as simple as saying that “everything points to it being a tragic accident” within an hour of getting there. Science will need to be brought into it. Skid marks analysed, evidence sought.
When the Air France Concorde crashed in Paris the cause was tracked down to a tiny piece of metal which had been dropped by the previous take off. The Concorde wheel hit it – sent it directly into the fuel tank – it ruptured and the rest is tragic history. No-one said “well it was just one plane and it looks like a tragic accident”.The crash site was forensically examined – as was the runway. The cause was traced to a this one, tiny piece of metal because of painstaking investigation. As a result of this another airline was put up in court for negligence. No-one just rubbed their hands and said “well these things happen.”
Do the victims and family of a fatal road accident deserve any less? Of course they don’t. You simply cannot put a cost on even a single human life as Mr Littlejohn wants to do by dismissing these events as simply inconvenient to others.
Yes – the police have a responsibility to try and divert the massive queue and ensure the welfare of the other drivers who are delayed but turning people on a motorway is no easy task. You also have to factor in the unfortunate human trait of rubbernecking which either causes further delays or, as I have personally witnessed, more collisions.
About a month ago I was caught up in a three hour delay on the M5. All I knew was what I could grab off the Highways Agency app which was telling me it was a collision involving multiple vehicles. I moved about two miles in those three hours and whilst it was “inconvenient” and it made me very late I had enough faith in the police dealing with it to accept it for what it was and know they had a more important job to do than whatever it was I was trying to do.
Mr Littlejohn’s article is a poor-taste cheap shot at the police which, despite its apparent sympathy at the start, simply criticises the police for the sake of it. It is a horrible article. Mr Littlejohn’s armchair expertise qualifies him perfectly to attempt for direct entry into the police at Superintendent rank. Perhaps he would like to command such an incident with the benefit of his infinite wisdom. I would be very interested to see if he adopts the same attitude to a suspicious package in a shopping centre or unexploded ordnance in a garden of a row of terraced houses. His kind of leadership has no place in the police service as it inspires carelessness and callousness. He is entitled to his opinion but he can keep it. Because its wrong – utterly wrong. Given that three people, two of them children, lost their lives in tragic circumstances on the way to a wedding (again – it’s not just “one vehicle involved” is it?) and that a family is now devastated by the loss of their youngest generation it should make you realise that – frankly – if the worst that happened to you on Christmas Day was that you were late for your turkey – you got off pretty lightly.
Further debunking of Mr Littlejohn’s article can be found here. This link is to a blog by Michael Rawlings – a press photographer at the scene. Well worth a read.
I would also commend the blog by Councillor Jon Harvey who widens the debate into how we address problems with perceptions of the police