John Walsh: 'Teaching the police hypnosis is the stupidest idea in crime-busting'

Tales of the City

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Picture the scene. There's been a bank heist in Highgate. The robbers have sped away in a Ford Granada, but have been intercepted by the Met's finest on the corner of Finchley High Road. They are now pinned down by police marksmen. The Commissioner steps forward, a stern and noble presence. "Hand me that megaphone, Gordon," he says to his quaking driver, "and the gold half hunter." Thirty yards away, behind the Granada's open doors, the bank robbers steel themselves for a final confrontation. Then it happens. A leather-gloved hand appears over the police roadblock. Inexplicably, it holds an old-fashioned fob watch on a long chain. The watch starts to swing, very slowly, from side to side. "YOUR EYELIDS ARE BECOMING HEAVY," shouts the Commissioner's voice through the megaphone. "YOU ARE FEELING VERY RELAXED..."

Forgive me, but I was tickled by the news that British policemen are going to be trained in the dark arts of hypnotism as an aid to fighting crime. No really. They're being sent on six-day courses, costing £1,500 per person, in which an American "celebrity hypnotherapist" (I know, I know, but he must be kosher – he's been on TV) called Tom Silver will explain how they might extract more information from their suspects. Not, I confess, in the course of actual gunplay in the street and violence in the back of the Black Maria, but during questioning.

That makes sense, doesn't it? The whole point of being a hypnotist is that you get to say,"You are completely in my power" quite soon after your victim lies on the couch, and that you can make them do anything you like. You can make them believe they're a little girl or a champion boxer, a drunkard or an opera singer, and persuade them to make twats of themselves, right there in front of you. It seems an unfair advantage, in the cop/ interviewee relationship, that the former can suggest that the latter gets on the floor and act like a dog, while the latter can't do anything about it but bark and roll over.

Remember the cop-shop scenes on TV, in which interviewees fight back heroically, being cheeky to DCI Hunt, demanding a lawyer, refusing to answer incriminating questions? You can't do that when you're mesmerised. It's hard to maintain a convincing attitude when you're being told by a soothing voice that you're walking down a corridor towards a white light. It's hard to plead the Fifth Amendment when the bloke across the desk is doing that look-into-my-eyes routine from Little Britain.

And what's to stop a wily detective implanting a thought in the villain's brain, one that will surface during the trial, like in The Manchurian Candidate? So that when he hears a trigger word, he'll confess to everything, plus a few dozen other unsolved cases that have been on the Met files since 1971? Sorry, but this is the stupidest idea in crime-busting circles since they began staking out Brazilian electricians. You don't believe me? Ok, look deep into my eyes...

***

If, like me, you can't stand to hear "Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly" on an in-store Tannoy one more time, nor the yapping voice of Peter Kay the ubiquitous northern droll, nor that unbearably sentimental version of "Sweet Child o' Mine" in the John Lewis TV commercial, nor the voices of children asking if you'll buy them a £900 Mac PowerBook, nor the announcements on Tube platforms that the District Line isn't working today and the Circle Line is going sideways – if you've had quite enough of these vexatious sounds, the Orange telephone people have a treat for you. Their Relaxation Line offers frazzled subscribers the chance to switch off for a few minutes. You dial a number and can listen to the sounds of waves lapping on a beach, the pock of cricket on a village green, the crackle of a log fire rising, the twittering of birds in a wood. The Orange people apparently found that listening to the sea for 12 minutes calms you down by slowing the body's stress response, lowering pulse and blood pressure. I can think of something that would work wonders for your stress levels and take only a few seconds: the voice of a newsreader saying, "Due to an unforeseen error in the nation's telephone systems, Mr Simon Cowell will not, after all, make a fortune out of everyone who phoned in votes on The X Factor, he will, in fact, owe the ITV network £250m..." Merry Christmas.

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