Mark Rowe

Observations on Angiolini

by Mark Rowe

Further reflections by Mark Rowe on yesterday’s publication of part one of the two-part Angiolini Inquiry into the murderer of Sarah Everard.

If Britain is a surveillance society, it is not a thorough one. As part of one of his cases of indecent exposure against women, years before the murder, his car was captured by automatic number plate recognition (ANPR); only for police not to act, or in the jargon no criminal justice ‘outcome’. But if the murderer had not been a police officer, but a binman, a dentist or a vicar, would the ‘outcome’ have been any different? For in case after case we see that only when the most serious crime is done – usually a murder – the criminal does not come out of the blue, but has built up over many years, without much done, including if the criminal is in a workplace with occupational or professional checks. And to take only two examples in healthcare – the nurse Lucy Letby and Dr Harold Shipman – it seems that you can kill numerous times, in Shipman’s case hundreds, before a stop is put to it.

Or rather, our surveillance society is patchy; contrast all that with the daily experience if you are an installer in a van, or the driver of a cash in transit vehicle, running the gauntlet in any town or city of double yellow lines and traffic wardens.

That those in authority – whether professional bodies that rule on whether someone is allowed to continue working, or in criminal justice – find it so difficult to collar and prosecute wrong-doers, matters profoundly. Because if so much wrong-doing goes unrecorded or unprosecuted, and as a result people don’t bother to report crime – whether sexual harassment, fraud or a night-club assault – how can we come to a truthful conclusion about how crime-ridden our society is? To assess, in a word, the risk, to the vulnerable – children, the elderly, lone women? It matters in terms of public policy. The trend among liberals has long been to deplore that prisons are full. Yet should far more people than the roughly 100,000 or so at any time, ought to be locked up?

As the Lanpac (Lancashire Partnership Against Crime) conference heard only on Wednesday, as part of a useful talk by Supt Patrick Holdaway of the National Business Crime Centre (NBCC), the Criminal Justice Bill going through Parliament includes the presumption that 12-month prison sentences or less, unless there’s a breach of a court order, or some violence, will be a sentence ‘in the community’, that is, not prison.

One further reflection, from the debate in the House of Commons, after Home Secretary James Cleverly made a statement on the Angiolini Inquiry part one publication. BBC Radio 4 PM news described Mr Cleverly’s Labour shadow Yvette Cooper’s reply as ‘scathing’. Let us leave aside the fact that the vetting failings in the case of Sarah Everard’s murderer began in the 2000s when Labour was in power besides in the 2010s when they were not. In other words, this ain’t a party-political question. Note also that of the two ‘victims’ leads’ for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, who made a joint statement on Angiolini yesterday, one was Labour (Sophie Linden, London) and one Conservative (Caroline Henry, Nottinghamshire).

Note also the final words of Yvette Cooper in the Commons yesterday, from Hansard:

‘The first women’s safety march was on the streets of Leeds nearly 50 years ago, and we are saying the same things about our daughters’ safety today. I am sick and tired of nothing changing. I am sick and tired of women and girls who face abuse and violence not getting support, while perpetrators get away with it. Enough is enough. Let us have some urgency in the Home Secretary’s response. We cannot stand for this any more.’

This in tone and content echoes another Labour front-bencher, Emily Thornberry, speaking at the session on crime and security sponsored by Mitie Security, by the think-tank the Fabian Society in London in January; as featured in the March print edition of Professional Security Magazine. Even some of the phrases were the same – Thornberry also said, ‘enough is enough’. The sense, then, among a cohort of politicians, is that (to refer to Thornberry at the Fabians’ event) ‘why are we still having this debate, continuing to discuss this terrible situation, whether it has got marginally better or worse, why are women of my age having to hand over the crisis of sexual violence to my daughter’s generation?’.

This – assuming that Labour take power at a general election later this year – will have public policy implications, if Labour indeed makes violence against women and girls a priority (VAWG). Inevitably if one thing is a priority, other issues though also pressing and worthy – countering fraud, drug addiction, to name only criminal justice examples, never mind pressing issues in healthcare, education, the green agenda and so forth – get less attention, even if dutifully labelled as ‘priorities’ too, until the term ‘priority’ loses meaning.

A cohort of politicians – of both main political stripes, to repeat – evidently has passion for the cause of VAWG. It’s personal. Let us leave make no judgement about whether VAWG would be the proper priority for incoming Labour, or indeed whether, if VAWG were made its priority, successful ‘outcomes’ would follow, whether (to return to Yvette Cooper’s words) raising the feeling of safety among women, or the managerial matters of adding to capacity in the Crown Prosecution Service, courts and prisons (at a cost, always) so that perpetrators don’t ‘get away with it’, or vetting that leads to more decisions against hiring (with consequences; the Met Police is having difficulty recruiting already).

Twice in February in conversation with private security people the name Alex Norris cropped up – he’s the Nottingham Labour MP who’s shadow minister for policing. While it’s welcome that Alex Norris is making contacts, time is running out for Labour to do its thinking (what needs doing most, or first – to recruit more prosecutors, or female cops – does it require more, or more jazzy, adverts?! If one policy is chosen to make the difference, such as recruiting more women, will it run aground because of some foreseeable logjam, such as a need for practical things like body armour that is designed for the female body?).

Once in government, ministers won’t have the time to do such thinking. (In fairness to Alex Norris, he was only appointed the shadow in September 2023.) A Labour Government can draw on that passion among parliamentarians for ‘urgency’ over VAWG; but to get things done in politics takes more than passion.

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