Bruce Anderson: The toxic waste created by our broken society

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The Independent Online

As we age, we become hardened. Outgrowing the generous illusions of youth, we accept that suffering is endemic to the human condition: that perfectibility is not attainable in this world. But sometimes, the carapace of world-weariness is shattered.

Last week in north London, a young girl was raped, and not only raped. It would appear that science teaching has not entirely died out in inner city schools. To try to eliminate the traces of her five assailants' DNA, acid was poured over her. What miracle would be required for that child to lead a happy life?

Nor is she the only victim. One's first reaction is that hanging is too good for her attackers, who should be condemned to lifelong forced labour, plus a monthly flogging. But the five rapists are also youngsters. Can we be sure that they were all born to be monsters? Is it not more likely that some of them were turned into monsters by an upbringing designed to produce feral anthropoids, not human beings. It is probable that those young males never knew love and discipline, and that the vacuum was filled by the brutal bonding of a street gang. If infants are nurtured by wolves, they are unlikely to turn into Romulus and Remus.

The rapists must be held responsible for their crimes. But they cannot be blamed for their childhoods. Modern Britain did not only fail the girl. It failed the five youths. That crime did not have one victim; it had six. As the rapists will come to understand during their long years of captivity, the criminal usually ranks high in the list of his principal victims.

There is a similar story from Warrington in Cheshire. Garry Newlove, a loving husband and father, remonstrated with some hooligans who were violating the peace and threatening vandalism. Three of them have now been convicted of kicking him to death. A choking anger wells up, only to be assuaged by the thought of a choking on the gallows, or at least by the chain gang and the lash. But anger is not enough. We have to find out why those young men turned into beasts; what led them to destroy another life, and their own.

David Cameron has set himself the task of "mending a broken society'". If he can surmount that challenge, he will be a great prime minister. Let us hope that his phrase does not follow Tony Blair's "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" into the rhetorical junk yard.

But there is an interim objective, much easier to achieve: coping with the toxic waste produced by a broken society. As well as two-legged beasts of prey, a further factor links the London rape and the Cheshire murder. In both cases, the gangs involved were well known in their neighbourhood, as one might expect. In each case, they had been terrorising the neighbourhood, forcing decent residents to live in the shadow of fear. In both cases, there had been complaints to the police, and in each case the response had been the same. Nothing. It would be wrong to describe the police as useless. They were worse than that. In both areas, law-abiding citizens would be well advised to think again before co-operating with the police, for even if the forces of law were unable to deter the gangs, the gangs had no difficulty in deterring those who informed against them.

They may not be raping or murdering – yet. But gangs of feral youths are running amok all over the country. Yet this is a rich country. The government spends over £10,000 per head per year for every man, woman and child in the country, so let us not hear any cant about lack of resources.

We need three types of policeman. First, an equivalent of the FBI, to deal with the most serious crimes: the role which Scotland Yard used to perform in the crime fiction of yesteryear. Second, our current police forces, performing their present duties (if their members were good enough, they could be recruited to the FBI). Third, a large constabulary, whose primary role would be patrolling the streets: boots on the ground. Its members would know their locality and its inhabitants. They would know where trouble was likely to start, and would be there before it did. This force would include part-timers, the current Special Constabulary, soldiers in the Territorial Army: all with proper training. It would not include community support officers who would stand and watch while a child drowned: another reason for unmitigated anger.

The new force would provide chief constables with a strategic reserve and enable them to impose zero tolerance regimes on young offenders. If that had been in place, who knows? A girl might not have been raped, a man might not have been murdered, a family might not have been fatherless, eight youngsters might not now be facing decades in jail. If we cannot police this country properly, we are not a civilised society.