Heather Brooke: We don't need new terror laws

What is the point in creating new laws when the old ones are not enforced?
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The Independent Online

Trustees at Stockwell mosque in south London have said they tried getting police help two years ago when an extremist group tried to take over. The police did nothing. The closure of a guinea pig farm in Newchurch came after years of sustained harassment.

Many complain the police do too little too late, if they show up at all. A damning report on police services by the think-tank Politeia released this week states that, given the "sheer difficulty of cutting through bureaucracy and getting the police quickly to the scene", many people have given up reporting crimes.

Politeia's director Sheila Lawlor said: "Policing suffers from low-quality recruits, poor leadership and a structure of divided authority. Both training and employment lack direction, and even a sense of fundamental purpose, with confusion about what the police are employed to do and how well they do it." Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair would do well to tackle these problems before he demands further powers.

It must be said, however, that final responsibility for the decision to prosecute rests with the Crown Prosecution Service, and so it must be the CPS who shoulders blame for the general feeling that there has been a breakdown in justice, particularly from the victims' viewpoint. It could even be argued that the CPS' feather-soft approach to prosecution has led to the rise in direct action and violence in the UK, particularly among religious and protest groups whom prosecutors fear offending.

Are there other mosques trying to have hate clerics prosecuted and not succeeding? The CPS recently announced it was dropping all charges against Abdul Muhid, an imam accused of using a loudspeaker in a London shopping centre to urge the slaughter of British troops and for all homosexuals to be thrown from clifftops. Despite witnesses being prepared to give evidence, the CPS said magistrates or a jury would not be sure it was he and not his associates shouting the abuse.

It wasn't a lack of laws that led to his case being dropped. The more likely culprit was the Code for Crown Prosecutors, a document weighted heavily against the victims of crime. It makes clear that Crown Prosecutors do not work for the victims, many of whom are lucky if they even get a meeting with the prosecutor when the decision is made to drop charges against the accused.

Exactly how many cases are being dropped? Here's the real travesty of justice - no one knows! Not even the Crown Prosecution Service. And even worse, they are not interested in finding out. "We don't keep any of those statistics," said a CPS spokeswoman. "And in any case there's no particular reason we would want to know, for example, how many burglaries are coming to us each year."

She did add that "if it's something in the public eye then we can monitor it". Racial and religiously aggravated crimes are monitored, yet rape, violent assault and violent intimidation are not. There is no excuse for this omission. Detailed figures would reveal where things go wrong in the trial process such as witnesses not turning up, mistakes in police statements or a lack of evidence.

The raw data is particularly useful because it gets behind the spin of government performance targets. The CPS has a remarkably high success rate in court - 89 per cent plead guilty or are found guilty in Crown Court and 98 per cent in magistrates' courts. But there is a danger that in chasing high conviction rates, prosecutors will only take forward the cases most likely to win.

When the CPS drops charges it means the public are not protected from criminal activity. It means others are encouraged to commit similar crimes knowing they will most likely get away with it. And the message trickles down to police who will not want to waste their time on crimes they predict will be thrown out. Tough action is needed in the courts and CPS to make the system work - not just for defendants but for victims, too.

Heather Brooke is the author of 'Your Right to Know' (Pluto Press £12.99) www.yrtk.org

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