The issue at the heart of this affair concerns politicians, not the police

'If Paddick lost his job, it would only confirm the impression that the Met is full of prejudice'
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The Independent Online

By now, the whole subject of Brian Paddick and the drugs policy he introduced in Lambeth has become so complex that it is almost impossible to discuss lucidly. The policeman's personal conduct, his personality, his private life, his views, and his professional life have involved so many seemingly disparate subjects of controversy. What, really, is the "topic" of the Paddick affair, as historians say? Drugs? Homosexuality? The relationship between the private and public conduct of policemen? Political correctness? Cheque-book journalism?

Who knows, any more? The only absolutely sure thing is that the multiplication of possible subjects means that anyone trying to discuss the affair will be frustrated by an interlocutor insisting that, of course, the real issue here is not cannabis, but hard drugs; not hard drugs, but the way a gay policeman is protected by political correctness; not the political correctness of the Met, but its overwhelming hostility towards the minorities in its ranks; not that hostility, but the hostility and unscrupulousness of newspapers prepared to spend six-figure sums to gain a political end...

And in the end, the impossibility of even agreeing what we are going to disagree about means that the argument runs into sand, and everyone takes up mutually incompatible positions on completely different subjects. It is no good. And yet it ought to be possible to consider all these matters quite separately, and come to some kind of conclusion. As it is, none of us is getting anywhere.

It all started with drugs policy in the capital, with a nasty running subtext about opportunistic bigotry in newspapers and the police. Paddick's policy in Lambeth was to downgrade the seriousness with which his force would treat the possession of cannabis, in order to deploy his thin resources more efficiently. A substantial and densely-populated part of south London is covered by an incredibly overworked force, and anyone who lives there will have a story of the inability of the police to do anything much after a burglary; everyone has perceived how worryingly few are the police on the streets, and, until quite recently, how thick on the ground the crack dealers were in Coldharbour Lane.

The general perception, I think, has been that Paddick's initiative had various beneficial effects. Accepting that there were more productive things for the police to be doing with limited resources than chasing dope-smokers and the weekend raver with a gram of coke in his pocket, the police started to make some inroads into more serious matters. The apprehension of drug dealers on the streets rose somewhat – something that had made parts of Lambeth very uncomfortable – and it is to be suspected that if the street dealers disappear, their clients, who tend to be at the indigent end of the drug-taking spectrum, will go too. A consequent fall in street crime and burglary is highly plausible.

Of course, it is not the job of the police to pick and choose what laws they will enforce. But given the limited resources, it is probably sensible of them to pay less attention to crimes with no particular consequences, and more to ones which damage the whole fabric of a community. Zero tolerance is all very well, but it needs the political will to enlarge police resources considerably; and in the end, politicians are aware that most people don't actually want to live in Singapore anyway.

Paddick's mistake, however, was in making this effective strategy public. Nothing was to be gained by doing so. At one level, it had the effect of making a lot of rather naive people suppose that it was perfectly legal to light up a spliff in the streets of Brixton, with decidedly comic results. More seriously, Paddick made himself look like someone who was trying not to enforce the law, but to change it. The Lambeth initiative looked, and perhaps really was, an attempt by someone of strong convictions to bring pressure on politicians to change the law itself, by altering the police agenda in a highly public way.

That, I think, is probably unacceptable, however successful the strategy proved. Just as unacceptable, however, was the response by an unholy alliance of some parts of the media and, without doubt, sections of the Metropolitan Police. What they wanted to prove was that Paddick himself was a habitual drug-user. That couldn't quite be done, but there was something almost as good to hand, and they went to town on the subject. This one could not be bettered; because Mr Paddick, it turned out, was a homosexual.

There was a certain wry amusement to be had, for a few days, out of the contrast between different pages of the same newspaper. Just as Paddick was getting into deep water, all the tabloids were rushing to assure their readers that they loved homosexuals, so long as they looked like Mr Will Young, the winner of the ITV talent competition Pop Idol. How empty these assurances were was demonstrated by the treatment of Paddick. He was homosexual; he went to "seedy gay clubs" in Soho like the Shadow Lounge.

He had had boyfriends in the past (as well as what sounded like a hilariously eccentric and enraged ex-fiancée, now safely in Canada). One ex-boyfriend was a model; another was a shop assistant, just to add a touch of class rage to the bubbling mixture. One of these was paid £100,000 by a newspaper, in return for which he said that he and Paddick had smoked marijuana together – a claim which immediately started to look only partly true and perhaps not true at all. Moreover, when they had started their relationship, he had been on bail, and Paddick had failed to inform the Met of this fact.

Leaving aside the question of the value of information received in exchange for so substantial a sum, these are probably quite grave allegations. And it is right that a policeman under suspicion of misbehaviour should be suspended while investigations are mounted. A policeman of that seniority must be above suspicion. But it seems to me that the investigation must conclude that they are relatively small offences against propriety.

Paddick has certainly done some questionable things, and he should be questioned about them. In the end, however, if he lost his job, it would only confirm the impression that the Met is full of prejudice, and that it is allowing itself to be run by newspaper campaigns. I hesitate to say "The real issue here is" – but the real issue is probably not what policeman have or haven't done, but what politicians are going to ask them to do. About that, we haven't heard a great deal.

hensherp@dircon.co.uk

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