PCC Blog 142

The matter of the small boats crossing the channel and bringing refugees and asylum seekers into the country should concern us all.

It has consequences in every part of the country, not least for policing.

We saw that recently in Manvers when a hotel used by the Home Office to house these  migrants attracted demonstrations and counter-demonstrations – groups opposing immigration and groups supporting the people in the hotel. It required a large police presence to ensure that the verbal clashes did not escalate any further, and that was a costly operation to mount. Every pound spent on this was a pound not spent fighting crime. Every police officer at the protests was a police officer not tackling crime.

The exponential rise in the numbers coming in small boats over such a short period of time is astonishing:

2018 – 289

2020 – 8,466

2022 – 45,755

The Home Secretary said that at the present rate, 80,000 could cross in 2023. If these numbers were realised, it would mean that there were as many people coming into the country in small boats as there are inmates in all our prisons. That is a lot of additional accommodation that is going to be needed and a lot of objections from local residents to overcome. And the cost of the asylum system is already running at £3bn per annum.

The Illegal Migration Bill, which is currently before parliament, will see all those who arrive illegally in small boats detained and then deported ‘within weeks’. Those who are deported will not be allowed to come here in the future or be given British citizenship. It is thought that this latter will be a big deterrent.

The accommodation where they will be housed is yet to be determined, but will not be hotels. The countries to which they will be deported, apart from Rwanda, are yet to be found. Rwanda can only receive about 400, so more places are going to be needed quickly. The rhetoric in which the policy has been framed is tough, but we don’t know yet whether it is a workable solution. We don’t even know whether it is legal. In the meantime, if the boats keep coming, we can expect more protests and more police overtime.

If we look at this growth in numbers over recent years we would have to conclude two things. First, every government initiative to stem the flow has so far failed. Second, every initiative has had the opposite effect to the one intended: numbers have gone up, not down. This strongly suggests that each initiative is not new but is somehow repeating the same mistakes. This falls into Albert Schweitzer’s definition of madness: repeating something in the expectation that next time the outcome will be different.

What the successive approaches have had in common is a primary focus on the people coming, the asylum seekers and refugees. In the case of the new bill, they will be criminalised on arrival, sent away and told that acquiring British citizenship – their ultimate dream – is now impossible. That may work. But past experience suggests that these desperate people will still keep trying to come – for obvious reasons: they are more fearful about life in their country of origin than anything that may subsequently happen to them; they have family or friends already here; they speak English; they believe they could make something of a life here, and so on. But since they don’t fear death by drowning – which you might think was in itself the ultimate deterrent – none of the deterrents are likely to work.

A workable ‘stop the boats’ plan needs to have the primary focus elsewhere: namely, on the boats – those who manufacture them, those who sell them, those who buy them and those who lure the migrants into them – not the migrants. This is what the police understand as disruptive activity. We need boats to have identification so that we can know where a boat was made, who sold it and to whom. Then we can start to disrupt this supply chain. This would require close co-operation with the French, something that was lacking from 2019 until recently.

There are people making money – legitimately – from the manufacture and sale of boats. If there were penalties, sanctions, for aiding trafficking and people smuggling by selling boats to the criminal gangs – which would require boats to be identifiable – that might bring more success than attempting to penalise people who are simply too desperate to be deterred.

Dogs again

In last week’s blog I spoke about the high number of dog bites we seem to have in South Yorkshire and some of the dreadful scenes that police officers encounter when called to incidents. One of those who read the blog and responded was an Area Safety Representative for the Communication Workers’ Union. He has knowledge of incidents affecting those who deliver the mail in those areas with an S post code – Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley and Chesterfield. He sent me some additional pieces of information.

It seems that in the S postal area there are between 45 and 55 serious dog attacks each year. Some of those attacks are so aggressive that they leave people with life changing injuries. The S postal area has always been in the top ten for attacks on postal workers in the United Kingdom and twelve months ago it was number one.

A partnership has now been established between the Royal Mail, South Yorkshire Police and the Communication Workers Union to consider what might be done to reduce the number of attacks. I look forward to meeting them to see what further progress can be made. We should not be sending anyone to work in the knowledge that they could be seriously injured from something that is surely preventable.

Giving back to the community

The last time I was in Hexthorpe, Doncaster, I was taken aback by the sheer amount of litter on the pavements and in the gutters along the main shopping street. It seemed as if the moment people came out of the shops, they discarded all paper and packaging immediately on the street outside. I made a mental note that this would need some hard work of sweeping and cleaning to make a difference.

Hard physical work is what the Probation Service’s Community Payback scheme is all about. Probation officers are responsible for finding work for those offenders who have to give back a number of hours to community service as part of their sentence. On this occasion I joined two groups of about a dozen men who were taking brushes and shovels and cleaning up this part of Hexthorpe.

Sometimes people talk about community service as a ‘soft option’. It isn’t. On the day I went to see the scheme in operation it was icily cold with a bitter wind. Sweeping and shovelling was backbreaking.

One of the men told me he liked to look down the street and see what a difference he and his colleague had made. Small steps in helping offenders to have a different attitude towards work and to change their way of life.

I have now seen offenders giving back to the community in many ways – gardening, re-building walls, street sweeping, litter picking, painting a community hall, and so on. If your community or any of the organisations you belong to could benefit from this kind of labour, let us know and we will put you in touch with the Community Payback scheme. The labour is free. You would only need to provide any materials that might be needed.

Seeing the wood

Sir Mark Lowcock, who was asked by Sheffield City Council to review the way the council implemented its Street’s Ahead road and pavement improvement programme, reported last week. The policy had become controversial because it led to the felling of a large number of mature trees that were not dead nor diseased nor dangerous. Before the tree felling was discontinued it had led to street protests that in the end had required a considerable police presence to maintain law and order and the Queen’s peace.

I gave evidence to Sir Mark. I said I thought the issue was a political matter, a dispute between the council and some of its residents, that should and could have had a political solution. If it had been handled more carefully – having an agreed way of determining which trees should come down and which remain, consulting people in affected streets – there would have been no need to have the police drawn in. In so far as they were, they had to maintain a difficult balance. They could not prevent people exercising their right to protest. But they also had a responsibility to enable people to go about their lawful business, and felling the trees was part of the policy of street renewal that had been democratically agreed in the council. I explained how I had used my Independent Policing Protests Panel to observe and report back on police actions.

Eventually, a common-sense political solution was found. But not before the council had dug its heels in and failed to see the harm it was doing to the relationships between council and citizens.

If I dare to say so, it got to the point where it couldn’t see the wood for the trees.

Stay safe