The Magistrate's Blog (2005-2012)

This blog has migrated to www.magistratesblog.blogspot.co.uk This blog is anonymous, and Bystander's views are his and his alone. Where his views differ from the letter of the law, he will enforce the letter of the law because that is what he has sworn to do. If you think that you can identify a particular case from one of the posts you are wrong. Enough facts are changed to preserve the truth of the tale but to disguise its exact source.

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Location: Near London, United Kingdom

The blog is written by a retired JP, with over 30 years' experience on the Bench.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Crime Figures

At election time law-and-order is inevitably near the top of the politicians' agendas, and that brings up the perennial question of whether crime is worse than it used to be, or better, or just different. The accepted wisdom seems to be that the British Crime Survey, although not perfect, is about as near as we can get to an indication of how things are going. Nevertheless the parties will grab at any statistic that seems to bolster their own case.

I grew up in the Fifties and Sixties, which some now see as a golden age where old ladies walked the streets in peace, the village bobby might clip you round the ear for scrumping, and the Krays imposed the kind of rough justice on their East End patch that the paramilitaries now administer in Belfast. The law, policing methods and political sensibilities have changed immeasurably since those days, and there are so many variable factors that I believe it to be quite impossible to reach a meaningful conclusion.

Just to mention a few of the variables that have affected perceived crime rates over the last generation:-

* The explosion in recreational drug use. From a bohemian minority pursuit drugs have become one of the largest industries in the country and account for a huge percentage of the workload of the police and the courts, while consumption continues to rise and social approval, or at least indifference, increases. Vicious turf wars are killing scores of people every year. Some very nasty people indeed have access to millions of pounds of drug money, with the power that brings them.

* Prosperity has increased across all classes which is reflected in property crime and theft. Few homes, even middle class ones, had many portable goods of any real value in the Fifties and Sixties. Ironically, the recent fall in burglary may have something to do with the flood of cheap imports from the East, making stolen goods hard to sell for a worthwhile price.

* Men would routinely beat their wives and the Police were not interested in 'domestics'. Now the Police treat all such assaults seriously and the CPS prosecute even when the woman has changed her mind, summoning her to court if necessary. One woman on my patch called police fifty times in twelve months, and they attended every time. That's fifty crimes of violence for the politicians to wave about.

* If two men settled their differences outside the pub at closing time, nobody would call the police - it was just what men did. Nowadays, it's more violent crime in the stats.

* Armed robbery, by the old-time 'blaggers' rapidly dropped off when the police started to shoot back. Nowadays credit card and financial fraud pays better and is safer. There were no credit cards in the Fifties.

* In real terms drink is as cheap as it has been for a century or more, and practically anyone can afford to drink himself into a stupor whenever he chooses.

* The number of cars has vastly increased - more theft of and from cars, more dangerous driving, more road rage.

* The loss of deference right across the social scene has left many of our citizens convinced that they have the right to do what they want when they want, a problem that has even spread to schools and to hospital A & E departments.

* Relatively few people had their property insured - with no prospect of an insurance payout many crimes went unreported. Nowadays the Crime Number is all-important so the statistics go up.

These examples only brush the surface of the problem. The only thing of which I am sure is that nobody knows how much crime there is, or how much crime there was in the old days. If anyone tells you that they do know, you know that you are listening to nonsense.