Tag Archives: police

Stalking is not just a Women’s Issue

The related legal problems and the ambiguous definition of stalking have been an ongoing issue for victims of such crimes. The Protection from Harrasment Act 1997 has been largely ineffective in prosecuting stalkers, while police still seem to fail to respond appropriately to complaints of stalking.

Forms of harrassment can be very complex issues and can be both direct and indirect. There is also an increasing problem of online harrasment and cyber bullying which can be anonymous, making it difficult to trace the perpetrator. Due to the nature of these crimes they can be notoriously difficult to prosecute. This is not only due to the lack of clear and defined legislation, but also the inaction of the police, who often fail to take stalking seriously.

David Cameron is expected to announce that he will be backing a change in the law, making stalking a criminal offence. He is planning to use this Thursday – International Women’s Day – to make the announcement. The significance of trying to make this a women’s issue seems a little misguided however, as stalking does not only affect women. Women can be both victims and perpetrators in these crimes, as can men. Although women have to deal with safety concerns on a daily basis, stalking should not be labelled as an issue relating to a particular sex.

Clare Bernal

For some this change in the law has come too late. A notable,   high profile case has been that of Clare Bernal,  killed by her ex boyfriend after he had stalked her for some time. She had reported him to the police several times, however nothing was done. Without a change in the law it has been difficult for the police to address stalking as a crime because the only existing statute is unclear. These cases are often underreported, the main reason this particular case hit the headlines was because the murder was carried out in a department store in central London.

It is yet to be seen whether this law will be an effective tool with which to address stalking. However, the police do need to approach stalking as a serious problem and provide support for victims, whether they are male or female. This is not exclusively a women’s issue, it would be absurd to claim that only women were affected. After a long wait, stalking seems to have become a subject for public debate. Making such an announcement on International Women’s Day will bring the discussion of stalking into the public sphere, which is welcome, but it will falsely label it as a women’s issue. This would be misrepresentative of the range of people it actually affects, stalking is a serious concern and it is something anyone could be faced with regardless of their sex.

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Police for Hire!

The Metropolitan Police has come under fire after it emerged Richard Branson’s Virgin company paid the Met  police £5,060 towards carrying out an investigation involving Virgin’s TV boxes.

Richard Branson founder of Virgin

After the convictions of 3 defendants in a recent fraud case, it became apparent that Virgin Media paid the police for overtime to conduct raids in east London. The police raids aimed to prove that viewers were using Virgin television boxes without paying for the channels they were watching. The scam would have potentially allowed thousands of viewers to avoid paying fees, costing Virgin millions of pounds.

The issue here, is not whether fraud was being committed by these individuals, but whether it is correct for investigations conducted by the Metropolitan police to be funded by private corporations, who have a direct interest in the operation. The raids were clearly not a priority in terms of the gravity of the crime, therefore the attention given to the case appears to have been induced by money rather than importance. The police raids, which were carried out in east London in 2008, netted 5,000 set-top boxes and £90,000 in cash. Three men were convicted and imprisoned as a result. However, one of the men is now seeking to quash his conviction on the grounds that the police only investigated him because of the money offered by Virgin.

The private work of public services, at a time when public services are already stretched, is alarming. How common are such practices in the Met police?  This information has come to light at a difficult time for the Met police, which has been facing widespread criticism for its handling of the riots and its role in the recent bribery scandal involving Sun journalists. The cuts to the police force are most likely going to stretch their capacity further, and these practices could be harmful by taking away from the high demand for policing across London. Jenny Jones, Green Party mayoral candidate and member in the London Assembly, voiced her concerns on the issue:

“It’s like private policing and I am really shocked that somebody thought this was OK. The police should not accept huge payments from wealthy companies to investigate crimes on their behalf.”

Jenny Jones

She added that this kind of practice could have a detrimental effect on the role taken by the Met Police in tackling serious crime.

“It means such paid work could take priority over murder, rape or child abuse cases, which would distort the Met’s priorities for London.”

Ms Jones stated that she will raise the issue with the Met Commissioner and the deputy mayor for policing.

A Virgin Media spokeswoman said that the joint operation between Virgin Media and the Metropolitan Police, was in accordance with the Police Act 1996. She also claimed that details of the arrangement were fully disclosed in court. The written agreement Between the police authority and Virgin, also guaranteed the Met a ‘cash donation.’ This would amount to 25 per cent of any compensation awarded to Virgin, following a successful conviction over the fraud.

Civil rights groups have accused the police of being selective in their treatment of victims of crime. Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said:

“Times may be tough but that’s no excuse for turning the police into hired guns for those wealthy enough to pursue crimes against them.”

She added that being motivated by money could affect the way that police prioritise their actions in terms of payment and neglect those in need.

“Taking a percentage of a victim’s remuneration is bad enough but even worse is the thought of those in greatest need of protection being turned away in favour of those who can afford to pay.”

As a public service, should it be possible to hire the police for carrying out investigations on behalf of large companies? These practises open the door for murky behaviour by a service that should serve the public interest and uphold the law. It seems to go against the principles of transparency if you can hire the police, in the same way that companies hire mercenaries in failed states, to act on your behalf provided you can pay them. The police must be entirely independent from the influence of private enterprise, in order to sufficiently uphold the law. The police work to protect the public and keep a degree of order, they are not to be used as cheap labour that carry out specific assignments in the interest of and funded by private corporations. 

The Met declined to comment for legal reasons.