Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tin pot tyrants

Camilla Cavendish is spot on here. Although I suspect that Britain has always been a haven for jumped-up little Hitlers (the ARP wardens had a pretty bad rep, for example) there does seem to have been a general national genuflection towards petty officialdom and jobsworthness.
A week ago a senior businessman whom I know was shocked to be treated like a criminal by British Transport Police at the Gare du Nord in Paris. Clutching a business-class Eurostar ticket but unable to find the right queue, he ducked under a barrier. The CCTV chirruped. “Sit down!” screamed a policeman. “Give me your passport!” My friend tried to explain. No one listened. “You have no right!” shouted a hatchet-faced woman, also British, in an unreadable uniform.
Five minutes later the officer returned, all smiles. My friend's knighthood had done the trick. But, as he says, it shouldn't have. Such people should never be so rude to any taxpayer who pays their salaries...
Often, the first thing I've seen when visiting tyrannies are unpleasant and swaggering officials trying to impound my passport. I don't want to see them at the Eurostar.
When I returned to Zimbabwe in 2001, after having left in 1998, I was unpleasantly struck, on arrival, to see the sort of arrogant and menacing officials that I had previously associated with the DRC or apartheid South Africa. In a lot of Africa there is a sense that the uniform demands not merely respect, but obeisance. When someone can be pepper-sprayed, and thrown naked into a cell for not telling a polic officer his name - in his own flat, when he had committed no crime and had no reason to allow the police access to his home - we're surely getting to that point here.
Officers arrived and said Cocker was initially co-operative but became 'aggressive' when they asked his name and tried to shut his front door.
He was eventually disabled with parva spray through the gap and arrested.
There is no reason that he had to let the police in. Nor was I aware that it was now a crime not to tell the police your name.
Cocker, of Blackburn, Lancs., pleaded guilty to resisting a police officer and was given a conditional discharge for six months following the incident on May 20.
Resisting a police officer. I would love to know what the specifics of that crime are. If you can be charged with it for not talking to a copper when he interrupts your evening, it must be pretty widely worded.

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