I’ve been mulling this over for some time and I feel a sudden urge to get up on ‘Speakers’ Corner’, though I realise my ideas may be controversial. It’s a complex subject where black and white are muddied with many shades of grey, but this is the gist of my probably simplistic thoughts on rising crime. There isn’t just one victim when there’s a bag snatch, a burglary, a rape, a murder, or any of the other crimes, minor and major that occur every minute of every day in the UK.
Whilst it’s obvious that friends and relations of victims are affected by such actions, as well as sometimes deep psychological effects to the victim themselves, it’s perhaps not so obvious that every crime affects us all.
Let’s look at the psychological side first. It’s about loss of trust, really. If you can’t trust your fellow humanity, how can you sleep at night with an open window on a hot night? While criminals are out thieving and causing mayhem, the law abiding toss and turn in their beds. How can you leave things you value in your garden? Chain them up? Lock them away in a shed? Learn not to value anything? How do you go out for the day, or on holiday, knowing the house is empty? I daren’t leave my dog in a car to enjoy a meal out for fear she gets dog-napped. I daren’t walk down the street alone at night. Then there’s the hate crime, bogus phone calls and e-mails scams from people intent on getting hold of cash that may have taken you years of hard work and sacrifice to put by for a ‘rainy day’. And insurance defrauders who put up the cost of premiums… I could go on.
Fear of crime is ruining the lives of the law-abiding. It is we who live our lives in cages of their making, not those who flout the law, think nothing about the consequences to others, and escape prison with lenient sentences. And then there’s the pervading feeling of a lack of true justice – of the punishment fitting the crime. Is it any wonder we are all stressed? Is this the Britain our menfolk and womenfolk fought two world wars for?
I wonder too what the cost is of, say, a police chase after a drunk/drugged driver. No victim, you’d think, if there’s no serious accident, but not so. Tot up the costs of the police wages, the provision and maintenance of police cars, the possible involvement of a police helicopter, the possible assistance of ambulance crews, their wages and vehicle maintenance, the cost of running and maintaining police stations, the unnecessary load placed on the NHS by violence and illness caused by drugs and alcohol… the cost of a court case, the cost of prisons or probation services. The list goes on and the mind boggles.
Crime takes resources, huge chunks of resources from where they are desperately needed. The financial problems of our health service and social services, care homes, social housing, children’s services, schools, local council services etc could all be solved if the criminal element didn’t steal from the system and so from each and every one of us, including their own families and themselves. Underfunding by government also has a knock-on effect on economic confidence, which shows in lack of investment in jobs, and pushes our youngsters, now deprived of school and parental discipline by modern law, into crime so inducing a downward self-perpetuating spiral.
(Good intentions aren’t always the best legal modifiers. To introduce a law against smacking children before you have educated parents in good parenting techniques is shortsighted. Raising the next generation is the most important job in the world and yet parents have no training to tackle it. A parenting course should be mandatory for every new parent. My own children turned into good adults by pure chance – I hold up my hands and live with the guilt; I wasn’t a good parent and a parenting course would have been of huge benefit to me and to them, as children learn by example. We are now into our second generation of undisciplined youngsters which is possibly one reason we’re seeing so much crime.)
What’s the answer? I wish I knew, but the problem of crime, exacerbated by alcohol and drugs, it isn’t going to go away. It’s a truism that laws are only obeyed by the law-abiding: criminals ignore them – laws act only as a framework for punishment.
I do think that the whole spectrum of law-breaking should pay for the cost of the entire process. Going back to our drunk/drugged driver, shouldn’t he or she pay the cost of calling out the police, the helicopter, the ambulance, and compensation to any injured party as well on top of court costs? And if they can’t pay, then maybe their friends and family should foot the bill in the hope that peer and family disapproval will dissuade them from further crime. We have to do something, surely, or there’ll be no society and no freedoms left. There’ll be mob rule.
Now, I firmly believe that we all do stupid things at some time in our lives, I certainly have, and maybe most of us deserve a second chance, or at least a chance to put things right. So how about a points system?
Twelve points and you’re out. Personally, since the only way to save much-needed money to fund essential services is to remove the twelve-pointers from the planet, I’d stick them in a box and stop feeding them. Too harsh? Well, I’d feed them long enough to allow a twelve-month stay of execution for appeal, to try to ensure any innocents didn’t accidentally get the chop. Two hundred years ago, we exiled our criminals to the other side of the world for even minor crimes, but unless we build a Moon base or colonise Mars, we no longer have the option of exile open to us. So we have a choice – we spend billions of pounds keeping them alive… or we don’t. Keep them alive, that is.
I’d give murderers, rapists, child abusers, and drug-dealers twelve points; the damage done is too severe to warrant risking further infringements. Fraudsters might get six points, lesser crimes perhaps three points or even one. The important fact here is, repeat offend and you’ll eventually hit twelve points. It would reduce the need for prisons and act as a deterrent, and it would remove the worst and repeat offenders from society permanently. I know some might say criminals need help, and there is a case for that, but sadly, the funds aren’t there to help them because of criminal wantonness. There’s some perverse karma in that.
It would have its down side, of course. Someone has to live with making life and death decisions, and that wouldn’t be easy. Another argument against capital punishment is that criminals would carry guns and knives, and we would need to arm our police. I’d hate to go down that road, but weapons are already being used in crime. I know of a couple who ran a post office and were robbed at knifepoint. The robbers didn’t get away with much money, about thirty pounds, I think – it was a small rural post office and not a pension day – so not much harm done.
Oh, so not so! That couple’s lives were destroyed. They gave up their post office, and in the process lost their livelihoods and their home of many years. But it wasn’t just the fear of being robbed again, and having run a post office I know how that plays on your mind, that harmed them. The shock of the robbery triggered early-onset Alzheimer’s in the wife and she died as a result. Now, to my mind, that robber committed murder. He may not have intended to commit murder, but he instilled the fear of death by carrying a knife. He might just have well have stabbed her through the heart. I see any crime that leads to a death as a twelve-point crime. If you don’t intend to stab or shoot someone, don’t carry a gun or lethal knife.
The points’ system will never happen, of course. Criminals will continue to bleed our country dry and keep us imprisoned. We’ll continue to underfund our police as well as every other essential service. My nearest hospital, five miles away, is closing it’s 24-hour emergency department. Our nearest alternative A&E facility will be 70 miles up the coast-road or, traffic willing, an hour and a half to two hour journey inland. And they talk about the ‘golden hour’ in which to get treatment for the best chance of survival? There’ll be deaths, maybe mine or someone I love, and I lay these avoidable deaths firmly at the feet of those who scam the system and think there are no victims, if they think at all.
There is no such thing as a victimless crime.