Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Is there any limit to British police insanity?

Police are neglecting to tackle serious, violent crimes and focusing instead on more minor offences as they strive to meet government targets, the man charged with shaping the future of policing in England and Wales has admitted. Peter Neyroud, chief executive of the National Policing Improvement Agency, said that over the past five years police had focused on increasing the number of "offences brought to justice". But the former chief constable admitted that this meant that catching a murderer carried no more importance than apprehending someone who had stolen a bottle of milk. "There has been, in the minds of many professionals, me included, a neglect of the serious," Mr Neyroud said. "Because detecting a stolen milk bottle counts the same as detecting a murder . . . you get your points from, not necessarily milk bottles, but certainly in mid-range, volume crime, rather than serious crime."

This is the first time that a senior officer has suggested that the target-driven culture is diverting police from properly investigating more serious crimes. His comments reinforce those of rank-and-file officers at the weekend who said that police were putting more effort into catching burglars than investigating a paedophile ring.

The Government set the criminal justice system the target of bringing 1.25 million offences a year to justice by 2007-08, a figure that has already been exceeded. In the 12 months to June, 1.4 million offences were brought to justice. An offence is considered brought to justice when an offender is cautioned, convicted, had a crime taken into consideration, been given a fixed-penalty notice for disorder or a warning for possessing cannabis.

Mr Neyroud also admitted that the police had failed to improve significantly the detection rate for serious sexual and violent crimes and demanded the development of a national strategy to tackle the increasing number of homicides in England and Wales. Mr Neyroud said in his lecture to the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King's College London, which was sponsored by The Times, that simply getting numbers through the system was not an end in itself. He called for an improvement in the way that police deal with serious violent crimes and sexual attacks. The number of the most serious and violent offences against a person has risen from 14,230 when Labour came to power to a peak of 21,825 in 2003-04 before falling to 19,157 last year. These crimes include murder, manslaughter and causing death by dangerous driving. The number of most serious recorded sexual crimes has also risen from 31,334 in 1997 to 48,700 in 2003-04 before falling to 43,755 last year.

Mr Neyroud said: "For a number of us working in this area, the professional view is that the one area in which we have not improved significantly over the last ten years is raising our level of performance in relation to the most serious crimes." He added: "Levels of detection and levels of performance in that territory have not improved anything like as fast . . . as improvements in detections generally."

Mr Neyroud's call for a sharper focus on dealing with serious crime comes as the Home Office prepares to publish a "violence action plan" aimed at reducing the number of most serious violence, serious sexual offending and domestic violence offences. Ministers are demanding a reduction in the 19,157 serious violent crime offences recorded last year. But they have not set a numerical target for the reduction of serious recorded sex crimes as many go unreported.

Last night Richard Garside, director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King's College London, said: "This is a striking intervention from one of the most senior and experienced police officers in the country. "The public would expect the police to make it a priority to deal with serious crimes of violence."

Earlier, David Cameron called for extra help for rape victims and tougher punishment for their attackers as part of a drive to have more rapists sent to jail. Only 5.7 per cent of reported rapes in England and Wales result in a conviction.


It's good for children to hurt themselves at play, says British safety chief

Health and safety "extremists" are preventing children from enjoying normal play and preparing for adult life, the head of an accident prevention charity said yesterday. Suffering from a twisted ankle or skinned knee should be an everyday part of childhood, according to Tom Mullarkey, the chief executive of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA). He said that overzealous bureaucrats were undermining legitimate concerns about health and safety by applying guidance too literally and failing to use common sense.

In his annual report, Mr Mullarkey said: "People have this perception of `elf and safety' as something that restricts your life, rather than helping you to live fully and successfully. "We do not believe in extremist health and safety ideas which would keep children wrapped in cotton wool. "Our argument is that a skinned knee or a twisted ankle in a challenging and exciting play environment is not just acceptable, it is a positive necessity." He said Britain should be made "as safe as necessary, not as safe as possible", adding: "We need to prepare our children for a complex, dangerous world in which healthy, robust activity is more a national need than ever before."

Accidents at home, at work or on the road kill 12,000 people a year, cost an estimated 25 billion pounds, cause hundreds of thousands of serious injuries and lead to millions of visits to accident & emergency departments.

But Mr Mullarkey said RoSPA was working to dispel fears about excessive safety measures, which gave ammunition to those seeking to ridicule health and safety, and could lead to casual indifference to accident prevention. Health and safety rules should be applied sensibly, he said, and not used as an excuse to cancel events or to save money, for example in situations such as the banning of Christmas lights. He said: "There is no reason they cannot be used for health and safety reasons.

"I also heard recently that a swimming pool would be closed for `health and safety reasons' but in fact it was because the roof was falling in, and they did not have the money to fix it. "It is a concern that health and safety is used as an excuse for cost-cut-ting. We think people should climb mountains, and sail boats and have children - we are trying to help them in a practical way."

The charity is calling for an intelligent debate about health and safety issues. Last week Rospa said there should be an expansion of schemes that teach children about risk, so that they would be better prepared for adulthood. Only about 6 per cent of primary school children participate in a scheme called Learning About Safety By Experiencing Risk (LASER). The project uses realistic settings, such as roads or building sites, to stress the importance to children of taking responsibility for their own safety. Of the 12,000 fatalities a year caused by accidents, the charity estimates that 4,000 people die in the home, 3,200 on the road, 240 at work and the rest during travel and leisure activities.


Poll says Brits want less immigration

More than four-fifths of the public believe immigration in Britain should be cut substantially, according to a poll. A majority also dispute the Government's assertion that those coming into the country have helped the economy. The research, carried out by YouGov for pressure group Migrationwatch, emerged as politicians battle to dominate the immigration agenda.

David Cameron was boosted when another poll suggested he was more trusted to deal with the controversial issue than Gordon Brown. The Tory leader has condemned ministers for "incompetence" and called for an overall limit on immigration levels. He has also attacked the Prime Minister for echoing the BNP with his "British jobs for British workers" slogan.

The latest study found 85% of people thought that immigration was putting too much pressure on public services, with only 10% disagreeing. Some 81% supported the view that the level of immigration should be reduced substantially, while 14% rejected it. When asked if they believed immigration had been generally positive for the UK economy, 35% said it had compared to 54% who thought it had not.

Migrationwatch chairman Sir Andrew Green said: "These figures show that now the scale of immigration and its consequences are now being better understood and people are deeply concerned at what is going on."


British Nanny State on the march

Higher alcohol taxes, halting 24-hour drinking, banning smoking in people’s homes and adding fluoride to water supplies are justified intrusions to improve public health, senior academics said yesterday. A report by the well-respected Nuffield Council of Bioethics concludes that the Government and industry are not doing enough to prevent binge drinking or obesity and should promote healthy lifestyles through stricter measures and deterrents.

The authors, a group of doctors, lawyers, philosophers and other experts, argue that the much-maligned “nanny state” should be replaced by a new, more sensitive idea of “stewardship”. Campaigners described the report as a potential manifesto for a bully state and industry groups bristled at the prospect of tighter regulation.

The council, which considers ethical questions raised by advances in medical research, looked at alcohol, obesity, smoking, infectious disease and fluoridation of water. It identified alcohol consumption as a huge public health problem and said that the Government could do more. “Increasing tax on alcohol and restricting hours of sale have been shown to be effective in reducing alcohol consumption,” its report states. “Yet the Government’s alcohol strategy has focused on public information campaigns and voluntary labelling schemes, measures that have been shown not to be effective.”

Lord Krebs, who chaired the report committee, said yesterday: “People often reject the idea of a nanny state but the Government has a duty to look after the health of everyone and sometimes that means guiding or restricting our choices.”

The central concept of stewardship differed from the nanny state by being “more sensitive to the balances between public good and individual freedom,” he said. The report concludes: “The stewardship model provides justification for the UK Government to introduce measures that are more coercive than those which currently feature in the National Alcohol Strategy.”

Lord Krebs said that ministers should revisit the decision to introduce 24-hour licensing laws in 2005. At a briefing yesterday in London, he said: “The Government should implement tougher measures to tackle excessive drinking. There is also an urgent need for an analysis of the effect of extended opening hours on levels of alcohol consumption, as well as on antisocial behaviour.”

He added: “When 24-hour drinking was introduced, it was suggested to create a continental-style café culture. If you walk down any of the main streets of Oxford at 11 o’clock — one is known as ‘Vomit Alley’ — we all see a conspicuous absence of continental café culture.”

The report, in preparation since February last year, recommends that producers and sellers of alcohol should take more responsibility for preventing harm to health. It also says that the arguments used to justify banning smoking in enclosed public spaces would “also apply to banning smoking in homes”. This would be extremely difficult to enforce, but local authorities and the courts could preside over exceptional cases where children with a respiratory illness could be at such a risk that intervention may be ethically acceptable.

The Nuffield report comes as a coalition of 21 organisations headed by the Royal College of Physicians prepare to form a new Alcohol Health Alliance, which plans to lobby for a 10 per cent rise in alcohol taxes and tighter regulation of the drinks industry. Details of the Alcohol Health Alliance are expected to coincide today with a conference organised by the college on reducing the harm caused by alcohol.

The UK Public Health Association welcomed the report, saying that it represented an evidence-based approach that could counter health inequalities, but Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ lobby group Forest, said: “Politicians should take care not to overindulge in social engineering. Potentially, this report is a manifesto for a bully state in which people are increasingly forced to behave in a manner approved by politicians and evangelical health campaigners who want unprecedented control over our daily lives.”

Jeremy Beadles, from the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, added: “The people clamouring for an increase in taxes and regulation on the drinks industry ignore the fact that alcohol consumption is actually falling. Increasing the cost of alcohol will just hit the vast majority of people who enjoy a drink in moderation.”

Dawn Primarolo, the Health Minister, said that the Government’s strategy to tackle harmful drinking was comprehensive and included an independent review of alcohol pricing.


Brown's 'get fit' towns: Kim Jong-il would be proud

With its new towns that will force people to keep fit, Britain's New Labour is pushing an authoritarian health agenda that will be the envy of tinpot dictators

Gordon Brown's UK government will now try to design urban areas that force us to exercise more - and that's official. To tackle obesity with what he called a `large-scale' approach `across the whole community', Brown's health secretary Alan Johnson has said that he wants to `make physical activity a normal part of everyday life'. (1) So before you go to work, school or your leisure destination, remember that your personal trainer, Alan, has instructed you to walk, run or pedal there.

Johnson's `fit towns', as they have been called, are enough to leave you breathless. Yet although his announcement was picked up by mass media as far afield as China and India (2), it was - like so much of Labour policy - not entirely new. As spiked pointed out nearly six months ago, when Brown announced his plans for five eco-towns, the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) had committed itself to urban growth based on public transport, cycling, walking and a reduced need to travel, `especially by car' (3). Moreover the CLG's July Eco-towns Prospectus registered a desire to `deliver physical and mental health benefits', offer `choices for healthy living', and go about `encouraging healthy behaviours' (4). So what has Johnson added? You could say that he has formally medicalised urban design, annexing it as a Department of Health issue, and you'd be right. But the real novelty of Johnson's innovation is his drive to get us stretching our limbs at Labour's behest.

Barely two weeks ago, Johnson insisted that Britain's potential obesity crisis is one that's on the same scale as the crisis of climate change. That comparison was ridiculous enough (5). Now, he has said that both Labour's eco-towns and other urban areas should be adapted to improve people's health. Through their layout, facilities and construction, eco-towns could also be `healthy towns'. If successful, such an approach `could also apply to areas undergoing housing growth and renewal' (6).

This is a regime for national fitness worthy of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. Not for nothing has Johnson claimed a past allegiance to Stalinism (7). In an absolutely illiberal and inhumane manner, Johnson wants urban areas designed so that people's behaviour cannot at all consist of their own freely decided `choices'. Instead, behaviour will be relentlessly controlled by the state. What the Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov did to salivating dogs, or the stimulus-response experiments conducted by US psychologist BF Skinner did to hungry rats, Johnson wants to do to us. Johnson's view of human freedom is degraded. The confusions within Labour's urban policy, and the logic of Johnson's approach, make his proposal ludicrous and unworkable. But that should not blind us to his authoritarianism.

For some time now, Labour has crammed what few new houses it has built into the same fenced-in urban areas, so as to keep the masses in their place, protect Britain's rural spaces and lower vehicle emissions as a means of saving the planet. And Labour's brownfield brutalism does not stop there. So ludicrously convinced is Johnson that architectural space really does determine physical slimness, we might expect him to contradict his boss, Gordon Brown, sooner or later.

When Brown first floated the idea of eco-towns, he said that their homes, roads and bus routes should be constructed `in the most environmentally sustainable way' (8). But if obesity is, as Johnson says, on a par with climate change, then dispensing with roads and public transport altogether would be the best way to reduce people's waistlines. And why doesn't Johnson decree that the whole of Britain become a TV-free zone, too? After all, TV supposedly encourages us to be couch potatoes, so giving the National Health Service more fatties to treat.

In the walk-to-work office blocks of Johnson's vision, perhaps there should be no lifts. Lifts would only encourage sloth - especially among slackers who are over 60. And surely doorways should be specially narrow, so as to encourage dietary restraint?

In announcing his intellectual breakthrough, Johnson made much of the flab-fighting successes of cities in Australia, Finland and especially France. Yet in fact Obesogenic Environments: Evidence Review, a highly relevant and recent report commissioned by the Foresight programme of the UK Office of Science and Innovation, makes no mention of either Finland or France. The report records that in Perth, Western Australia, there is evidence that, `after adjustment for confounding factors', being overweight is associated with living on a highway and living on streets with no pavements and with a perceived lack of paths within walking distance. Being obese in Perth is likewise associated with perceived lack of paths within walking distance, poor access to four or more recreational facilities, and with a lack of pavements or shops within walking distance. But that's about it. Indeed with regard to obesity, the report concludes that, `influences of the environment are probably small and mechanisms remain unclear. At present, there is scant evidence on whether the environment might have different effects on people with contrasting levels of physical activity and body weight.' (9)

Clearly Johnson can't be bothered with such a careful analysis. His intent, rather, is simply to stigmatise those who cannot afford to eat well and subject them to a kind of sweaty urban treadmill. The government's attempt to make us live zero-carbon, zero-carbohydrate lifestyles squeezes two ridiculous aims into a failed policy - housing. Recently, Labour has engineered a decline in the number of new homes built in Britain; but its ambitions to police us all through social engineering know no limits. The construction of towns around the tyranny of health is a frightening new departure. Yet we have not heard the last of the Johnson doctrine. Britain's 2012 Olympics doesn't just advertise itself as a low-carbon affair, but insists that it will increase Britons' `awareness' of cycling and walking as healthy means of travel (10). In Labour's camp, no aspect of our public or private lives escapes the government guards - or Alan Johnson, the demented doctor.


British A-level successor derided as second-rate

Diplomas are the poor relation of A levels and will not transform the school system, education experts will say in a report today that will be seen as a devastating attack on one of the Government’s pet projects. The 14-19 diplomas, which will be introduced next year, are designed to end the divide between practical and academic learning.

Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, hopes that they will become the “jewel in the crown” of the education system, making the A level redundant. But according to a report by education experts, the diplomas are “the latest in a long line of broad vocational qualifications occupying the ground between academic qualifications and apprenticeship” and would “suffer in the shadow of A levels”.

The Nuffield Review, led by Professor Richard Pring, from the University of Oxford department of education, said that the introduction of the diplomas had been rushed.

When the Government released details of the new diplomas last month there were three academic subjects (science, humanities and languages) but the original 14 were more vocational, raising questions about whether they could compete with A levels. The subjects included hair and beauty, travel and tourism and society, health and development.

Of the first diplomas, the report said: “Such middle-track qualifications have in the past been regarded as an alternative for the less academically able and the review predicts that teachers will view diplomas in the same way — with A levels and GCSEs remaining the more prestigious qualifications. “It is unfortunate that the three new diploma lines will be developed later than their vocational counterparts, as this means the diploma brand will have to forge its identity as a broad vocational qualification.” The Government had to decide now, the report said, whether GCSEs and A levels would run alongside diplomas or be included in their framework.

Ministers scrapped next year’s scheduled review of A levels, announcing instead that all qualifications for 14 to 19-year-olds would be reviewed in 2013. But the report’s authors said that the reform of A levels could not wait until then. Dr Ken Spours, from the University of London’s Institute of Education, said: “The diplomas will not transform the 14-19 system. As long as A levels remain unreformed, diplomas will end up being regarded as a poor relation.”

Diplomas are designed to appeal to employers by giving pupils a grounding in core subjects and practical skills. Several universities said that they would accept the engineering diploma as entry to their degree courses.

The report’s authors, who have been evaluating high school education since 2003, questioned the purpose and role of the diplomas. They also criticised the “lack of genuine involvement of qualifications experts, practitioners and awarding bodies” in the diploma’s development. But Professor Pring said that they did offer some benefits. “There is, no doubt, enthusiasm from many schools and colleges for the opportunity that diplomas may provide for a more flexible approach to the curriculum.”


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