Letter: Police and the public

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The Independent Online
Sir: The judge's decision to exclude from a murder trial a secretly taped confession by the defendant in the case of Keith Hall ('Judge allows taped murder 'confession' to be made public', 11 March) should provoke important debate about public expectations of police work.

There is an awkward contradiction between two commonly held views about desirable police powers and practice. In the face of growing crime, escalating fear of crime and a perception that many criminals are able to escape justice by remaining silent under questioning, a section of the public wants to give the police greater powers; the police should, the argument goes, be less hamstrung by codes of conduct which afford too much protection to guilty suspects. Such views support clauses 27-30 in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill which undermine the defendant's historic right to silence.

On the other hand, in the wake of numerous appalling miscarriages of justice resulting from police malpractice (and worse) in the interrogation of suspects, many people would like to see the current regulations governing police conduct and confession evidence retained and even tightened. A nationwide poll of public opinion conducted for the Police Federation last year found 28 per cent of respondents would be 'concerned at what might be going to happen' if they were stopped by the police.

Yours faithfully,

GARY SLAPPER

The Law School

Staffordshire University

Stoke-on-Trent

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