There isn’t a government in the world that doesn’t promise to do something about the soaring crime rate. Most of such promises fall by the wayside, only to be renewed close to the next election – with the same effect.
Not so in Britain. As a British subject, I’m proud of my country for leading the world in crime-fighting ingenuity.
As a nation prone to intellectual inquiry, the British first established a philosophical premise. It started with a question: What is crime? Many answers are possible, but the logical British mind boiled them all down to a crystallised essential: Crime is doing something illegal.
Neither you nor I would know where to go from that seemingly self-evident definition. But then neither you nor I possess a keen legal mind with a philosophical bent. Our powers that be are so endowed, which is why they came up with an idea as simple as most inventions of genius appear to be at first glance.
If nothing is illegal, then, as follows from the above definition, there is no crime. Or put another way, there are no lawbreakers if there are no laws to break. Hence the solution to the delinquency problem offers itself: legalise crime.
Now, legalising all crime would be a bit extreme. Murder, for example, has to remain outside the law, for now. But practically everything short of it can be classified as ‘low-level crime’ and left uninvestigated, unprosecuted and unpunished.
Fine, if you insist laws against such crimes can remain on the books, no harm in that. But as long as those books remain unread and indeed unopened, they are left gathering dust on the shelves. They have nothing to do with real life.
In real life, only 3 per cent of assaults without injury result in criminal charges, 1 per cent of thefts from vehicles, 2 per cent of thefts of vehicles, 4 per cent of burglaries, 1 per cent of bicycle thefts – and so on, ad infinitum.
Victims of such crimes no longer even bother to report them: they know the police have more important things to worry about, such as hate crime, saying something someone takes exception to, as reported by The Guardian. First things first, eh?
Such reticent resignation is understandable. Last summer, for example, 751 bicycle thefts were reported to Hampshire police alone. Criminal charges? None – even though the thieves mostly cut through bike locks with angle grinders in broad daylight.
Also in Hampshire, 288 people were pickpocketed. No charges. During the same three months, Thames Valley had 340 cases of blackmail. No charges. Gwent reported 391 cases of non-life-threatening arson. No charges. Warwickshire, 66 burglaries. No charges. So why waste time reporting ‘low-level’ crimes? No reason at all.
If you cast your eye over the list of crimes our legal minds regard as low-level, you’ll see they are all committed against the person or against personal property. That’s basically the same thing: crime against property are actually crimes against the owners of property.
One would be justified to conclude that the government is lackadaisical about enforcing criminal laws in general. Yet I can refute that conclusion with two words: Boris Becker.
Last April the former tennis champion was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison after being found guilty of four charges under the Insolvency Act, hiding assets in a bankruptcy case. Becker served eight months in HMP Wandsworth and Huntercombe Prison, where he was “surrounded by murderers, drug dealers, people smugglers”.
“The British justice system is brutal,” complained Becker. In no way condoning what he did, one has to agree, especially if one were to compare his transgression with burglary, theft, assault and arson that have for all intents and purposes been decriminalised.
Becker left out a crucial word. He should have said that “the British justice system is selectively brutal”. It decides which crimes are low-level, to be left unprosecuted, and which are high-level, to be punished with maximum severity.
Hence stealing a bike from a man who might have had to save up for a year to buy it is just a little innocent fun. However, anyone withholding funds from the Exchequer, be that tax evasion or violating the Insolvency Act, will be pursued to the ends of the earth. He’ll then be thrown into prison, where he may or may not survive contact with “murderers, drug dealers, people smugglers”.
And now the real conclusion: our state’s justice system is increasingly designed to look only after number one, which is the state. Originally instituted to protect the individual, the state has evolved to protect itself – first and foremost.
In 1948 Vittorio de Sica made the film Bicycle Thief, about a poor man who can’t look for a job because his bike has been stolen. He goes to the police, who tell him there is little they can do.
De Sica gets top marks for prescience. What’s going on now is a striking case of British life imitating Italian art.