Deborah Orr: How Barrymore and Pete Burns serve to show all that is wrong with our police

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The Independent Online

The saddest victims of Celebrity Big Brother are not in the house at all. They are the tortured parents of Stuart Lubbock, who have had to watch their son's death discussed on television as if it was important only as part of the tragic phase in Michael Barrymore's own dissociated narrative. The final straw for them has been the extraordinary decision by the police to seize the alleged gorilla coat of Pete Burns, while their civil action against Barrymore cannot be served until the show is over.

What Lubbock's parents quite reasonably crave is an explanation of what happened the night their son died. It is clear from his ramblings and mumblings on the programme that Barrymore himself cannot furnish them with such a thing, although it remains repugnant that so little could be pieced together of this young man's final hours when there were so many witnesses.

I can't help feeling, though, that the contrast between the two police inquiries - into the death and into the coat - tells us a lot about what is problematic about the police force today. It sometimes seems that the police are interested only in the crimes that are served up to them with garnish on. Actually discovering what has happened, rather than having it fed to them, is no longer of paramount interest.

A messed-up man boasting about the imagined provenance of his mangy coat, a group of disgruntled fathers fantasising in a pub about kidnapping the Prime Minister's son, several challenges to "homophobia" that suggest that finding Graham Norton annoying should be a capital offence - what all these have in common is that they are judgements on rash or prejudiced or boastful things that people have said.

Somewhere along the line, the police force sometimes appears to have fallen under the impression that they are there to set or make examples, to give moral direction and to chart the limits of appropriate behaviour. No doubt some of this stuff is hard to judge - if a member of the public made a complaint about a kidnap plot against Leo Blair, then it ought to have been checked out. But why it wasn't dismissed locally as idiocy within an hour or two, instead of being relayed to Downing Street and The Sun, we'll never quite know.

All of it smacks of a tendency to take things utterly at face value, as if the concept of "detecting" has long been abandoned. The police appear to have become literal in their thought patterns, and hopeless at prioritising cases. If there's time to poke about in the wardrobe of Mr Burns, then there's time for anything.

* Likewise, I find disturbing the story of Robert Imlah and the misogynistic messages that he has sent out using his high-toned City employer's computer. He is going to be fired for his Neanderthal attitudes, because they are not acceptable to his firm. Which is fair enough, except that the man is surely only acting out the cues given to him by a society - within the City of London and more widely - that seeks to objectify women more blatantly, and with a worrying level of collusion from some women. No doubt his sacking is supposed to "set an example". Sadly, the message sent out is not "Don't be a repulsive user of women", but "Don't get caught".

Judgement day for Ms Dynamite

When did it start to go wrong for Niomi McLean-Daley? Was it during the month or so when Yummy Mummies in Guildford all took to playing her debut album on the school run? Was it after that, when she shocked a nation complacently expecting Ms Dynamite (pictured left) to challenge "ghetto values", by deciding to put her career on hold while she became a young mother? Or was it later, when she became the only black woman who hadn't nearly died of starvation to take to the stage at Live 8?

Anyway, whenever it was, it has still been a shock to observe the breathless anticipation with which the possibility of Ms Dynamite doing a spell in prison has been greeted. Before the beak for losing her temper late in the night and slapping a police officer, Ms McLean-Daley pleaded guilty and explained how regretful she was for her lapse. This was not good enough for the press, who gleefully pointed out that she had "previously campaigned against violence". But it was good enough for the judge, who fined the musician and sentenced her to 60 hours of community service. Which will probably be a triumph.

Boy Wonder fails to show respect

I'm not very excited by David Cameron's plan to sack "poorly performing" police officers. Since we've now established that police officers who pump bullets into the heads of blameless commuters are not "poorly performing", I can't imagine how such a policy is going to prove efficacious.

I can't, to be honest, imagine how any of his other ideas are going to be magically transmogrified into workable policies either. Watching the boy wonder giving a speech at the Centre for Social Justice this week, I was struck by how accurate his critique of Blairism's failure has been, and how similar his own rhetoric was to that of this government when it first came to power.

It was weird, hanging out with the party that in 1979 began the process of callously discarding those members of society unable to contribute to a service economy, as they explained, with spooky accuracy, why the social problems linked to poverty have become so intractable.

It was less weird, though, when it became apparent that beyond praising some successful volunteer groups, and giving a shining endorsement to the institution of marriage, these guys obviously had no idea at all what they were actually going to do to tackle them.

Cameron says that he is going to "make work, work", by which he means getting people off benefits, presumably by cutting benefits even lower than they are at the moment.

When he starts saying that he's going to "make work, work" by raising the minimum wage in recognition that those doing the unskilled jobs deserve our respect because they are doing the best they can, instead of our contempt because the best they can isn't quite comme il faut, then I'll know he's changing his party. In the meantime, like Blair, he sees respect as something you demand from people, rather than offer to them.

* Kelston Phipps, poor lad, has emerged as a poster boy for ideological wrangling. Initially he made the news as Britain's most disturbed youngster, out of control at six, suspended from school again and again and recently diagnosed with a rare behavioural disorder that will get him that holy grail, a statement of special needs. Aha! argue conservatives. It has emerged that his mother was 18 when she conceived the child, and that the father (who is hanging on in there) is a former habitual dope smoker and man of violent tendencies. So is Kelston ill or is he just the victim of bad parenting? Or to put it another way: is it somebody's fault or nobody's fault. Or to put it yet another way: is there someone to blame here? Can I just plump for the explanation that keeps his family onside and gets him the help he needs? Can we all do that?

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