As an occasional visitor to Benenden I’ve come to quite like the place and particularly the Bull public house. So it was a shock to read the news last week and see the headlines:
“A man wanted over the suspicious death of a mother of four has been arrested as police confirmed they are treating the incident as murder.”
Kent police said they made “extensive searches” to locate the 54-year-old man after they discovered the body of Caroline Andrews, 52, at a property in The Street in Benenden on Thursday.
It soon became apparent what these “Extensive searches” entailed as trains and platforms as far across the Network as Dover, Faversham and Gillingham were stopped and boarded by armed police.
Now, I don’t have an issue with a massive manhunt for suspected murderer. Nor the deploying of armed police for a potentially hostile fifty four year old IT manager.
But… Here is the big but, the manner it was conducted was more akin to some kind of third world police state than the Britain I know. We have always had armed police. That’s a fact. They are a necessary part of the job. However, maybe out of respect for an imagined Dixon of Dock Green past, we have tended to keep them out of sight. (As an aside even ten years ago the decision to issue police large handcuff carriers, instead of easier to use small ones, was taken on the basis that the public might feel threatened by seeing the cuff openly hanging on an officer’s belt. )
We’ve moved on a lot in the last few years, to the point that those in power feel it’s proportionate and reasonable to flood a train with paramilitary looking armed police and detain several hundred people for ninety minutes. Working on the principle that To detain is to arrest, I would be happy to argue in court that the police were guilty of wrongful arrest and imprisonment.
Up to 30 officers carrying guns piled onto the train as it pulled into Gillingham station and searched it for around an hour and a half.
Passengers looked on as armed officers checked under seats and in bins in their search for clues as part of a massive manhunt.
Since when did British Police start covering their faces? It’s something I can understand when it’s done by the Italian Anti-corruption units or the Brazillian Anti-gang units, but allowing UK police to wander around with their faces hidden is a step too far. I could possibly excuse it for anti-terror police, but for searching for a fifty four year old IT manager it seems a step too far.
In the UK, when a Police Officer searches someone it is a legal requirement they identify themselves. This part of the PACE codes of practice and every officer is taught this. While covering their faces may not be against the strict letter of the law it is certainly against the spirit of PACE. More worryingly it is evidence of a growing trend of measures that are setting the Police and the policed apart. It is alienating those serving from the people they are supposed to serve.
It seems the Peelian Principle of policing by consent has been well and truly ditched in favour policing by coercion at the end of a gun barrel.
I have to ask the final question, directed mostly at that officer on the train. Why in the world would you want to go to work looking like a member of an Honduran Death Squad?
(Picture taken from this article in the Daily Mail)