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Our obsession with crime is crushing our freedoms

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Henry Porter
London Observer
Sunday, Sept 7, 2008

Between talk of broken society and ever-increasing powers of police surveillance, there seems to be a competition between politicians to make us miserable

The story of Milly, an eight-year-old cat who disappeared out of window in Whitstable two weeks ago, has much to tell us about the petty-minded forces that have come to replace proper policing in this country. Her owners, Stephen and Heather Cope and their son Daniel, 13, searched high and low for Milly, then, failing to find her, did what any normal person would do: put up posters to see if anyone had seen her. The next thing they heard was from one of the local council community wardens, who rang the telephone number on the poster and threatened them with a £80 on-the-spot fine for antisocial behaviour.

Seldom can there have been a more officious, twerpish enforcement of the law, but this kind of action is now one of the established parts of this dreadful government’s legacy. As the police retreat from the streets, we are prey to every type of snoop, informant, busybody and vindictive martinet, all of them licensed by the government’s accreditation scheme so that they may demand our names and addresses, photograph us, check car tax discs and seize alcohol, issue fines for truancy, rowdiness, graffiti and dog fouling.

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In Colchester, litter wardens are taking pictures of alleged offenders to publish them in the local paper. One local council has been reported as using officials to check car numbers outside homes to see who is sleeping with whom, for God knows what purpose. Children as young as eight are among 5,000 private citizens across the country recruited as paid ‘covert human intelligences sources’.

The speed with which our dear, familiar democracy is vanishing under the weight of totalitarian pettiness is appalling and one wonders when this easygoing nation will rise against the trends set so blithely by that authoritarian basket case Tony Blair and continued by mediocrities such as Hazel Blears and Jacqui Smith.

Even police officers have doubts about the blurring of lines between uniformed officers of the law, whom we know to have received standard training, and these upstarts and busybodies wearing red-and-white prefect’s badges. Peter Smyth, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation said on the BBC recently that the public would not understand why someone with a ‘small badge was telling them what to do’. He added: ‘I think it’s going to lead to confrontation.’

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This article was posted: Sunday, September 7, 2008 at 3:49 am

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