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Bonkers Blog September 2011

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7 September (Part 1) - Crime and Disorder on public display in the council chamber

Yesterday evening saw a meeting of the Crime and Disorder Overview and Scrutiny Committee, a special one called following the fourth fatal stabbing of a young person in the borough in the last five years. Representatives of outside bodies had been invited; the Fire Brigade, Youth Council, Neighbourhood Watch, the Church, the Probation Service, someone from Charlton FC, Bexley’s director of Youth Inclusion and Colin Knox, father of Rob Knox killed with a knife in Sidcup in 2008. Among the regular attendees was the councillor who went on national TV a month ago to announce her view on crime and disorder “Councils must find a way around the law” and police Commander Stringer who will have to do a lot to persuade me he is not guilty of perverting the course of justice by putting a stop on my Freedom of Information request within hours of becoming aware of it. The meeting was well attended by councillors, most of whom have never before merited a mention on this website, however neither the council leader nor her deputy saw fit to attend.

I can see the need for such a meeting to try to convince residents that the council is doing something about knife crime but I fail to see what it achieves other than a mention in next week’s News Shopper. Residents don’t seem to be very interested. Faces that didn’t belong to councillors, invitees and council staff were fewer than a dozen and seven of those belonged to people I had suggested attend myself plus a couple from the local press. The reason I believe the meeting will have achieved nothing practical is that reasonable questions were asked, mainly of Commander Stringer, and the answers, when one was given at all, revealed little. The recent murder is sub-judice. At the end of it no one was going to charge off and implement any new and worthwhile initiative.

Not all questions were reasonable, some weren’t questions at all. Councillor Craske (Blackfen & Lamorbey) spent five minutes honing his waffling skills, praising every aspect of the council’s response to the recent murder in Welling along with the police and voluntary bodies, but no ideas on what could be done to prevent further loss of life. Not even a simple question to the Commander.

Councillor Val Clark (Falconwood & Welling) did a lot better, she reminded the Commander that the Prime Minister had said every knife carrier should expect to go to jail and wondered why they did not and some only got a caution. Commander Stringer replied that that was incorrect and said that everyone carrying a knife gets charged. I can feel a Freedom of Information Request coming on to see what the statistics reveal.

Councillor Steven Hall (East Wickham) asked several intelligent questions, among the subjects was school bus patrolling and what action is taken to control parents who have no interest in their children. We learned that Commander Stringer was very active in seeking the withdrawal of Oyster cards from travelling miscreants and the director of Youth Inclusion said that parents could ultimately be made to sign parenting contracts, be subject to parenting orders, or have their children put in care.

Councillor James Hunt was also interested in buses, referring to the considerable number of children who came to Bexley’s schools from Bromley and Greenwich and asked how the police bus patrols were tackling that. Commander Stringer said that the way the patrols were tackling it was “pretty good” which was both illuminating and reassuring.

Councillor Katie Perrior (Blackfen & Lamorbey) told us that for crime and disorder Bexley was “the envy of the rest of London” and for evidence of how important that was to Bexley people pointed to the public gallery saying “look at the turnout”. All ten of us were duly flattered. Katie then launched into an impassioned speech about how thoroughly awful some parents are. They are “a disgrace” and she is “staggered by what she is told”. Some are “scared of their own sons” and “parenting classes are costing millions”. I’m sure she is right; I’m sick of hearing young mums around the shops near where I live pushing buggies effing and blinding at two year olds while dropping cigarette ash on their heads. Ms. Perrior went on to say our “social services are fantastic”. So fantastic that a mother of my acquaintance faced with a misbehaving seven year old snapped and slapped him on the calf and for her attempt to control a possible future rioter Bexley council sent in not only the social services but the police too and then temporarily placed her child with a carer. The child now knows exactly how to get his own way in future. But full marks to councillor Perrior for injecting a bit of life into the meeting, her Sky TV skills served her well.

The Fire Brigade Commander, Cyril O’Brien, asked what standards of behaviour were expected at schools these days. Was there anything written down? No one seemed to know, so councillor Chris Ball (Erith), a teacher by professions, chipped in with the answer. Every parent of every child signed a behavioural contract with the school. That's OK, then. No school will ever burn down.

It was said about school heads that some felt they had nothing to learn from outside bodies because their own schools had no gang or knife problems. Since the recent Welling murder a bit more realism had been noted.

Councillor Maxine Fothergill (Colyers) thought some youngsters lacked respect for authority or indeed anyone. Commander Stringer disagreed. Councillor John Fuller (Lesnes Abbey), who I believe referees youth football teams in his spare time, mentioned the abuse heard at football games by both sent off youngsters and their parents. He clearly had concerns about the lack of respect too.

Councillor Hall came back with another interesting question, he wanted to know, with obvious allusions to the recent riots, what Commander Stringer was doing to combat the “rumour mill”. The Commander admitted that rumours about impending doom and destruction for Bexleyheath after the night of rioting had circulated via Twitter and admitted that there was no mechanism in place to circulate accurate information. But there is now. Councillor Philip Read (Northumberland Heath) had a question about rumours too. This one was about the claim that there had been a stabbing at the Danson Festival. He said it had spread following a comment by Richard Barnbrook, the Greater London Assembly member, at a GLA meeting and was entirely without foundation. It was said that Mr. Barnbrook had apologised to our local member, James Cleverly but there had been no public apology. Mr. Richard Barnbrook was elected on a British National Party ticket but resigned the whip due to alleged financial irregularities in the party as a result of which he was expelled by its leader Nick Griffin. Councillor Read’s introduction of the subject was probably politically motivated but it was a fair enough point that needed to be cleared up nevertheless.

Councillor Clark got in on the act again by mentioning the plight of elderly people who are in fear of crime; they won’t go shopping at school turning out time for example, and lock their doors at six o’clock. Commander Stringer agreed that elderly people could get anxious when confronted by half a dozen noisy teenagers on a street corner but no one suggested what might be done about it - so maybe I should do my bit to help.

As a grey haired old fart who vaguely remembers clamping his hands over his ears in an air-raid shelter, may I say that travelling on a bus at school out time is perfectly OK so long as you are wearing ear-defenders, that teenagers on street corners are not interested in old people wandering by beyond asking them if they can let them have a fag but not opening the front door after dark is probably a good idea unless you wish to talk to someone trying to flog cheaper energy.

Knife archCommander Stringer while bragging that reported crime was down 12% spoke up in favour of ‘knife arches’ and implied, if not said, that he was going to stick some up in Bexleyheath Broadway. Councillor Ball thought this would do wonders for Bluewater as local shoppers ran in fear of their lives. A young man from the Youth Council, Robert Smith, said that knife arches at school entrances would increase the fear of knives among pupils.

Councillor Malik (Thamesmead East) asked if the budgetary reductions were going to affect Crime and Safety. Commander Stringer said it was hard to say. Increased poverty could conceivably increase domestic violence but it could equally well reduce alcohol induced crime. As for his own police force, he was going to lose five sergeants and gain five constables so there was no change to police numbers.

Colin Knox, the founder of a charity devoted to fighting knife crime spoke at length. He tried to explain what the impact of losing a child on family life is, devastating and something that will never leave you for the rest of one’s life. Let me quote from his website…

We feel that stiffer sentences need to be put in place to halt the senseless carrying of knives. There is no need to carry a knife about you when walking the streets of the UK. A knife is a weapon, and weapons should not be allowed to be carried, and ultimately used. What we are seeking is a minimum six months mandatory custodial sentence for anyone carrying a knife in public.

Mr. Knox went on to say he had met many politicians, he had spoken at many of their meetings but “although they were present, they were not there”. I think I know exactly what he means. When my family met Hazel Blears (Home Secretary in 2004) because of the murder of the private eye, Daniel Morgan, she clearly did not absorb anything at all. She said afterwards that the police investigation of the late 1980s was “up to the standards of the time”. An investigation which has more recently been acknowledged by the Met as “One of the most deplorable episodes in the entire history of the Metropolitan Police Service" and “a disgrace”. Maybe given the way our local police investigates certain crimes, Hazel Blears had a point.

One of the councillors present mentioned in passing that he had experience of being apprehended by the police and subjected to a stop and search. In the absence of evidence to the contrary I shall assume he was entirely innocent and I have no intention of starting unjustifiable rumours, hence no name, but he said, to considerable amusement around the chamber, that when he identified himself as a councillor, the police changed their tune and offered him a lift home. That is exactly how I would expect Bexley police to behave in any investigation involving Bexley council.

The Youth Council has been busy conducting a survey of young people’s attitude to crime in Bexley and had published their findings based on 45 of them who attended a conference in Bexley. A further 55 were allowed to comment on-line. I doubt that self-selecting sample would be approved by any polling organisation but the results were interesting none-the-less. Graffitti was reckoned to be the most “problematic” crime in the borough with drugs being rated not a problem at all. The conclusion was that there is no drugs problem in Bexley - on the other hand it may mean that young people do not see drugs as a problem - which is not quite the same thing. Nearly 20% (the graph does not show a precise number) of the young people surveyed had been arrested which seems a staggeringly high total to me. But then I grew up at a time when the police were looked upon as allies and commanded respect. Now our Commander can’t be bothered to investigate a crime properly, not even interviewing the prime suspects because they are his friends. Respect is a distant memory.

Notes : Mr. Richard Barnbrook of the GLA is not related to and should not be confused with Mr. Michael Barnbrook who sometimes makes contributions for this blog, although it may be fair to say that like most people he has no time for Richard Barnbrook’s (ex) party leader.

The questions and answers presented above are not in the original sequence and I had to leave the meeting as it was winding down. I doubt very much that I missed anything significant, the question session had finished.


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