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A different voice with original insights on law enforcement

PC Rob Banks!

Police spending cuts are no laughing matter of course, but ITV viewers chuckled yesterday at the name of the Avon & Somerset officer being interviewed on the subject. Seriously, Rob has thought of quitting the force.

https://www.itv.com/news/westcountry/2019-01-18/the-worlds-greatest-name-for-a-police-officer-revealed-by-west-country-viewers/

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Don’t miss Russell Bishop programme tonight

Essential viewing this evening is the 9pm BBC2 documentary The Babes in the Wood murders: The Prosecutors, about the conviction of Russell Bishop for the sex killings of nine-year-olds Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway in the Wild Park, Brighton, in 1986.

There has been such a mountain of publicity about this case, that I avoided covering it at the end of last year, but it has enormous resonance for me. My family lived in the next street to Bishop, and his partner, Jenny Johnson, was the sister of Sue, with whom I went to primary school.

I attended some of the trial at Lewes Crown Court in October 1987, when Bishop was acquitted, and also attended some of the trial at the Old Bailey at the end of last year, when he was convicted of the same crimes, 31 years to the day later, after forensic progress was apparently made.

I will have more to say later – yes, there is more to say, despite all the coverage.

Real Crime closes

I was sorry to learn today that Real Crime magazine, published by Future,  has folded after 44 monthly (four-weekly, to be accurate) issues.  Editor Ben Biggs commented: “It’s a crime that a fresh and dynamic title like this is being killed off, but that’s the cut-throat reality of publishing today.”

It had a mixed and multi-national agenda, for example covering crime gangs more than other titles did, and didn’t hesitate to give stories eight or ten pages, lavishly illustrated. Real Crime will be missed.

The True Crime Museum, Hastings

I had always been intending to visit the True Crime Museum, ever since it launched. Its fourth birthday last week proved the ideal opportunity, as email supporters were let off the £7.50 entrance fee and were even given a slice of birthday cake!

I was not disappointed by the visit. The publicity blurb advises allowing an hour to cover the exhibition: I stayed rather longer than that! Although not large, there is plenty to look at.

The exhibits cover Sussex cases such as the executed Acid Bath Killer, John George Haigh, and the acquitted Eastbourne doctor, John Bodkin Adams, who received 132 legacies from his deceased patients, after he allegedly “eased their passing”.

There is, inevitably, a Jack the Ripper section, again covering a local suspect, Hastings barber George Chapman. Also unnerving were filmed interviews with serial killers such as Fred West, the Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez, and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer. The science of finger-printing is also covered, among much else from all over the world.

I would definitely recommend a visit when you are anywhere near Hastings.

Of course, the public are not allowed to visit the Crime Museum (formerly the Black Museum) at New Scotland Yard, though I have attended it, twice in fact. The first time was when I was Deputy Editor of the Metropolitan Police newspaper, The Job, and the second occasion was when it went “on the road” to the London Museum a couple of years ago. See my posts from April 8, 2016 and March 23, 2015, for a reminder.

 

‘Police don’t understand Facebook’

A regular reader of this blog, who wishes to remain anonymous (which, given the view expressed, may seem paradoxical or hypocritical!) has sent this opinion.

A passing remark in a letter to The Sun from “Name and address supplied” struck a chord with me and seems worthy of further discussion.
He/she says police asked: “Why are you looking on his Facebook page?” after a suspected car vandal was reported with a Facebook picture added as evidence. This apparent incredulity and implicit reproach appears to betray a basic misunderstanding of how Facebook works, users’ freedom to view any material set to public, and the website’s increasingly integral role in normal day-to-day communication and research.
Similarly, in conversation with a police officer a couple of years ago, I was surprised and concerned by his seemingly tenuous grasp on this utterly standard modern communication method. This was not an out-of-touch old fogey, but a youngish constable. He appeared not to realise Facebook has largely supplanted letters, phone calls or email as a means of contacting or introducing oneself to strangers as well as friends or family, and seemed to barely even understand users could post pictures – even though millions do so every day.
Of course, may police forces do grasp social media, and many could indeed be considered to go too far the other way – using Twitter or Facebook for frivolous or over-jokey announcements. But, in today’s digital society, some police workers’ sketchy knowledge of social networking is bizarre. As in the letter-writer’s case, it could hamper investigations and make crime victims feel slighted and under-served if they are rebuked for pursuing perfectly legal, entitled online research which may well speed up an enquiry and directly trace culprits. 

 

Cop a load of this – a brouhaha in Broummana

The town of Broummana in Lebanon has hired a group of young women as auxiliary police officers for the summer – and dressed them all in shorts.

With their male colleagues still wearing long trousers, the issue has caused a stir, reports the BBC News website.

“Everyone is happy”, says the morose-looking mayor, who admits it is largely a publicity stunt.

Surrey Police under fire for using free photographers

Journalism and photography bodies have slammed the Surrey force for encouraging free work from keen amateurs.

An advert on Facebook seeks volunteers to take publicity pictures at community events. But trade bodies believe this is taking bread out of the mouths of working professionals, calling it “inappropriate and disrespectful”.

The force’s Facebook post, read: “Are you a budding photographer looking to gain some experience? We have an exciting voluntary photographer role.”

It said the photographers would be expected to “identify, capture, edit and deliver images in a timely fashion. Volunteer photographers will help to maintain and improve Surrey Police’s corporate photo library”.
Press Gazette, the online magazine which I used to work for, quoted Chris Eames, chairman of the British Press Photographers Association, calling on the force to withdraw the advert, saying it had offended “many photographers, including former police staff”.

 

And Pamela Morton of the National Union of Journalists, said if a picture was good enough to use, it was good enough to pay for.

Quite right. Thousands of middle-aged journalists and press photographers have had to turn freelance in recent years – including this police-supporting blogger!

Let’s hope Surrey Police change tack before other forces are tempted to follow suit.

 

 

 

Farewell to a great campaigner

I was sorry to learn of the death of crime author Bob Woffinden earlier this month. Bob had a great track record of supporting those he thought had been wrongly convicted of major crimes.

After beginning his journalism career on the New Musical Express, he switched metiers.  His ground-breaking book Miscarriages of Justice has been on my bookshelf since 1989. It largely featured the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six IRA bomb cases and the James Hanratty A6 murder case, along with lesser-known examples.

The more recent book The Nicholas Cases: Casualties of Justice  (2016) was a fitting finale to his career.  I know he had latterly been working on the Free David Ferguson campaign.

Cancer has ended Bob’s life at the age of 70. The genre will miss him.

My chat with Butch

Sorry to hear of the death of former Chelsea, Manchester United and England footballer Ray “Butch” Wilkins.

I chatted to him once at a security industry awards dinner several years ago. He was a guest of his brother-in-law, who ran a security installation company in Sussex, which envious rivals claimed Ray financed.

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