Bureaucracy: we burglars are drowning in it

'The police made me stand feet apart with my hands against the wall. Then they drove away very quietly'
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The Independent Online

I was driving down the street the other day when I was flagged to the side of the road by a pair of police officers. Frankly, I was surprised, because I had fastened my seat belt and was driving carefully and observing the speed limit. Not only that, but the car had passed its MoT. And I was dressed in a suit and tie, too. You can't be too careful, especially if you're off to commit a burglary.

I was driving down the street the other day when I was flagged to the side of the road by a pair of police officers. Frankly, I was surprised, because I had fastened my seat belt and was driving carefully and observing the speed limit. Not only that, but the car had passed its MoT. And I was dressed in a suit and tie, too. You can't be too careful, especially if you're off to commit a burglary.

One of the policemen signalled to me to wind my window down. I did so, being careful to keep the door locked.

"Would you read this, please, sir?" He held up a card on which was written: "We are stopping you in a random search operation. Do you agree that you have been stopped by genuine members of the police force? If so, please sign here. This does not affect your statutory rights."

I was startled, frankly. The last time I was stopped by the police, they did not stand on ceremony but bundled me out of the car and made me stand against the wall with my feet apart and my hands placed flat against the wall, high up. Then, unbeknownst to me, they drove away very quietly. I didn't dare look round for 15 minutes. You can't accuse the police of not having a sense of humour.

"Do you have any proof that you are a police officer?" I said.

As if expecting this, he drew another card from his pocket and held it up, somewhat wearily, to my view. The card said: "May I introduce myself? I have been unable to find work in the Nottingham area and am now travelling house to house in this part of England selling produce door to door..."

"Nottingham? Selling produce door to door?" I said. "What's all this about?"

The policeman looked at the card. "Sorry," he said. "That's one I use in my plainclothes work. This is the one."

He showed me his police ID.

"It seems in order to me," I said.

"Fine," he said. "Then if you could just sign this form saying that I have shown you my ID, and you were satisfied with it."

I signed.

"Thank you," he said. "Off you go, sir."

"Just a minute. Aren't you going to search me, then?"

"Blimey," said the policeman. "I almost forgot! Just a quick shufti, then."

He had a rummage round the back seat, then I signed another form saying that I had no objection to his opening my boot, and he opened the boot.

"This crowbar and torch and pick and shovel and bag marked 'SWAG'," he said...

He was making up the bag marked 'SWAG' but the rest was true enough.

"I can see that it looks suspicious at first sight, officer," I said, "but I can explain everything. You see, I am going to help a friend who has to arrange a funeral. He is an agnostic and doesn't want a normal Church of England service, so he has devised a humanist burial. Having back trouble himself, he asked me to help dig a hole ..."

"Never mind about that," said the policeman. "Can you prove that this set of tools is your property?"

Of course I could. I always carry receipts for everything I have on me. Everyone should do so these days, but for a burglar it is of paramount importance.

"Looks in order," he said reluctantly.

I handed him a form.

"Then I hope you won't mind signing this," I said politely. "It just confirms that the policeman who stopped and searched me found nothing irregular."

He read it twice, and then signed it.

"Right, you can go now, sir," he said, "after you have read this Search Validation Form that Mr Blunkett wants us to show you."

Search Validation Form? What on earth was that? Only one way to find out. To read it. It said: "Home Office regulations now demand that we should inform you of the reason for stop-and-search operation. Reason: we think you are off to do a burglary."

"Do you really think that, officer?", I said, trying to sound plaintive.

"No, I don't as a matter of fact, sir. If you were off on a job, you would be holding your Burglary Permit."

"My what?"

"Your Burglary Permit. Haven't you heard? Mr Blunkett has decided that the way to crack down on crime is to overload the criminal with bureaucracy, just as he already has done with the police. So before you commit any misdemeanour, however small, you will have to fill in the necessary paperwork and apply for the necessary permission."

I looked at him. He looked at me.

"You're joking," I said.

"Am I?" he said.

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