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No sympathy for Moat

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PC David RathbandCase brought out best and worst in people

This is a picture of PC David Rathband, the policeman shot at almost point blank range by Raoul Moat as he sat in his police car in Newcastle, I make no apologies for including it here. PC Rathband was quite sure he was going to die and asked paramedics to tell his wife and small children that he loved them very much, let us remember now that he was a family man like many others of us in the north-east, he was only doing his job, a job which serves the public and carries, at times, enormous risks. Moat cared not a jot for PC Rathband or his family, just as he neglected any feelings at all for his former girlfriend Samantha Stobbart when he blasted her with a shotgun,  nor her new boyfriend Chris Brown who he shot dead with two cartridges in a callous deliberate act of murder.

Along with many others in South Shields I watched events play themselves out in Rothbury last Friday evening in a very public stand off covered by television news channels hoping that Moat might see the sense in giving up his weapon and delivering himself to the police, but alas events took a different turn, in a way that some had predicted when the felon discharged the weapon at his own head.

The whole episode since his release from prison saw variously the best and the worst in people from the north east and the sections of the media reporting the news, which amplified some of the tensions already existing between the public and the police. It was the actions of neighbourly well spirited people which gave the police the leads that they needed to track Moat down from Vigo to Rothbury, and it was the responsible journalists who responded correctly to Northumbria Police requests when they needed news blackouts and when they needed additional publicity to generate public cooperation. These actions undoubtedly resulted in fewer people being exposed to Moats fragile state of mind whilst in possession of a deadly firearm.

However, his boastful remarks of being in a war against the police have brought out the worst in others, allowing them to express themselves by leaving flowers at the scene of his death and at the scene of his other alleged crimes, the setting up of a Facebook “sympathy” page has also allowed these deluded people to gather together to create a rather silly looking image for people from the north east. It is no surprise that Prime Minister David Cameron has criticised these moves and proclaimed that there can be “no sympathy” for the callous murderer Moat.  Personally, although I find there is some merit in Simon Heffer’s arguments yesterday, I find the “sympathy for Moat movement” to be demeaning for the people of the north east, embarrassing to witness, and likely to provide the rest of the UK with the stereotypical imaging that they like to use to portray us as “thick northerners” – and nothing could be further from the truth!

Heffer’s somewhat misogynistic views don’t help his case, neither does his description of the folk of Rothbury as being “morally sub normal” (someone needs to educate him that Moat and his small band of followers are almost without exception resident many miles away from Rothbury, and the majority of folks interviewed in the town last Friday were clearly not originally from this region), however certain passages ring true and describe better the life of Moat the monster than the anti hero, especially when recalling the thoughts of another ex girlfriend:

Moat, according to her, engaged in acts that many men and women would not want to include in their domestic lives. He raped her. He would tie her up and flog her with a belt. He throttled her until she fainted. He hit her on her spine with a baseball bat. He kneed her in the face. She described him as “a living, breathing monster”. I for one would not seek to disagree with her.

Come on folks, do you really want to belittle this region by sympathising with someone who behaves like this?

Heffer touches on a note of dissatisfaction with our police forces and he may have a very salient point after the thirteen wasted years when greater and greater volumes of legislation have been dumped upon the heads of Chief Constables, who somehow have to manage their men and women in the prosecution of laws, many of which are more difficult to understand. The pressure built during the Blair and Brown years when public services became target driven led to a different type of police force than we were earlier used to, as they became more remote and too many beat officers were tied up behind desks completing mountains of forms and paperwork, by the end of the NuLabour regime Neighbourhood policing had become a “buzzword” in some forces, and in others this community aspect was carried out by volunteer uniformed “replacements”.

The police are good at mobilising themselves for murderers, rapists, abductors of children and possibly armed robbers. They are exceptionally good, too, at catching people who commit minor motoring offences. For the vast mass of crime in the middle – theft, burglary, mugging, flouting of the drugs laws and so on – they are utterly useless. Their role extends little beyond supplying a crime number to a victim so that a claim may be made on the victim’s insurance. That part of the operation might as well be privatised and sold to Lloyd’s. It is much easier to sit in a layby and catch someone driving over the speed limit than it is to retrieve the precious possessions of a family that has been burgled, so why try? That is how the public see the police, and it won’t do.

There is much to acknowledged there, and Heffer may well have caught the public mood, perceptions are often worth more than the realities, yet the reality is that our police forces have been driven off course by the battering of new legislation and target achieving, they no longer have the time or will to build rapport and community cohesion and have been weakened by top down pressures that have resulted in better figures but poorer reputations. Cameron and May have decided that there needs to be a bonfire of vanities in respect of some of the laws passed by NuLabour, something which is long overdue but will play but a small part in the rebuilding of trust between the police and the public, a trust that can only flourish with fewer simpler to understand laws which allow police men and women to get out of stations and into communities.

Perhaps then, all together, we can begin to relearn some common values of what is right and what is wrong and help each other to become “self policing” in a manner than does not require much more than common sense and common purpose. The Home Secretary and the Prime Minister along with Nick Clegg and his websites, face a huge challenge in finding those common moral values, as a quick read through the comments to Heffer’s article reaffirms that incidents such as this really have brought out the best and worst of people.

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  1. The media now drop such issues into our living room. Perhaps we need to reflect that this was a now rare event, as such, it attracted a good deal of media attention. The media did not always act responsibly in this matter and I feel that Northumbria Police Press Office allowed this to become a media circus that could, or even may have, portrayed events negatively. You are right to ensure that people are reminded, that this was a cold, callous killer, who was no modern day ‘Robin Hood’. I understand he had a long record of being arrested, had served an 18 week sentence for assaulting a child. I wonder how many model citizens would be able to gain access to shotguns and ammunition. He may have had personality problems but it is clear he knew what he was doing.
    I’m not sure that there was any great deal of tension between the public and the police. We are truly fortunate in the Northumbria area to have a force that works hard with other agencies to meet and work with the public. Don’t forget our police officers and their families, are members of the public thus members of the community. They do a difficult job, believe me many people would not want or be able to do.
    The Conservatives introduced many of the targets, bureaucracy, and legislation that hamper the police, in the mid 80’s. It was the Conservatives, who used the police as a political weapon, in the miners’ strike. This did more to harm police public relations in the northeast than anything else did! I wonder how the police and the other agencies will manage to continue to deliver their efforts towards making our society safer, with their 25% cuts, inflicted by the conservatives. The northeast now relies on the public sector for its employment; I cannot see the private sector being able to employ all those about to be made redundant. A rise in unemployment and lack of money may equate to a rise in anti social behaviour and crime in our area. An area being neglected by the government, who do not seem to care.
    I am sorry, I wanted a change when the conservatives got in, all I see is old-fashioned Thatcherism, and a bunch of turncoats in the LIbdems. The cracks in the coalition will expand and ultimately they will see each other for what they are. Trust me; the current government will deliver another death knell for the northeast.

    Kevin

    July 15, 2010 at 9:28 am


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