The police tell us they are being forced to make tough decisions about how to allocate resources – what crimes to investigate and what to ignore. Sarah Thornton, chair of the National Police Chiefs Council, says there is a need to “return to basics”, that officers should be tackling burglaries and violence rather than misogyny, including minor offences like offensive tweets and posts on social media, wolf-whistling and catcalls in the street. The leader of the Police Federation agrees and says the police “are not social workers”. Metropolitan Commissioner Cressida Dick also backed Ms Thornton, claiming her focus is on “traditional values and prioritising violent crime, from terrorism to sexual offences, child protection, street violence and domestic abuse”. Ms Dick says she has been out meeting the public on the streets of London for two half days this week, and that is what they want.
Recorded crime has risen by 9 per cent, and the force has lost 22,000 officers. This is at a time when ministers are seeking to extend the laws relating to hate crime to include misogyny (hatred against woman and girls) and verbal abuse of people aged over 60. At the moment hate legislation applies to people with “protected characteristics” including ethnic minorities and religious groups. Last year over 80,000 hate crimes were reported to the police (an increase of 29 per cent on the previous year), but there were only 2,856 successful prosecutions. Is there really a huge spike in incidents requiring police investigation and possibly an arrest, or are we just more sensitive to everyday rudeness and low level abuse? It is true, for example, that on the street and on public transport, many people are abrasive, loud and upsetting – but should the police be our guardians?
On the BBC South East news, two officers in Sussex said they were expected to act on reported incidents of abuse on social media which, given the appalling clear-up rate for burglaries and the rise of country lines drug dealing in seaside towns along the south coast, is mystifying. Nationally, the clear-up rate for burglaries has fallen to just 3 per cent. There has been a sharp rise in violent crime but only 15 per cent of prosecutions result in convictions.
This carefully coordinated campaign about “difficult choices” from our leading police officers is designed to enlist public sympathy and attract greater funding. The police tell us they stand against misogyny and respect equal rights, that they are extremely keen to improve their conviction rates in cases of rape and sexual assault, that they respect women and want more to join the force.
Bad timing then, as this week the public have discovered from a disciplinary hearing, that a large number of women (mostly police officers) who worked for Cleveland Police force have endured 14 years of inappropriate behaviour, grooming, sexting and sexual assault at the hands of one man, without him ever being brought to account or reprimanded in any way. It beggars belief. A misconduct hearing has finally culminated in Detective Inspector Simon Hurwood losing his job – but not 25 years of his pension.
In my mind, how could one man operate openly in a climate of fear, where the female officers he worked alongside were said to have been too scared to tell anyone how they were pressurised into performing sexual acts for their boss, how they had to endure daily taunts about their underwear and private lives? How he apparently threatened to “rape” them? Why did senior officers not notice or reprimand Mr Hurwood for his alleged activities? Ironically, Hurwood worked for the force’s Professional Standards Department.
After an anonymous tip-off last January, he was arrested and suspended, presumably on full pay. A total of 21 women came forward, providing their detailed statements about Hurwood’s appalling behaviour. The women were asked to sign confidentiality notices, apparently to “preserve the integrity of their evidence” – notices which ensured that the public had no knowledge of what was allegedly going on within Cleveland Police Force.
The potential victims say they were “terrified” of Simon Hurwood, and when one of them was brave enough to complain to a senior officer, she said she was summoned to Hurwood’s office where he berated her. It was said that he coerced women into performing oral sex, and sexted them constantly. Following an internal investigation, it was decided there was not enough evidence for the CPS to bring criminal charges. Hurwood resigned in September, and did not attend this week’s misconduct hearing which finally ruled that he should be dismissed. The panel heard how he had spent months and years apparently grooming his potential victims, threatening the women with their jobs if they refused his advances or told anyone.
If the police cannot investigate 21 different women making allegations of inappropriate behaviour (out of 1,250 officers) that happened right on their doorstep, there’s not much hope for women walking through the front door of their local station to complain about domestic abuse or sexual aggression. Cleveland Police has refused to allow the victims who made allegations about Hurwood to speak to the press – so much for transparency. Following the findings of the misconduct hearing, the force say they are launching a new independent investigation into Hurwood’s behaviour, which might possibly result in charges.
When it comes to investigating misogyny and delivering real justice to victims, the police might want to turn the spotlight on themselves. It’s frankly unbelievable that they – who we are supposed to trust above anyone else to protect us from such alleged behaviour – still haven’t got their house in order.
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