I suppose I could have headlined this one as “Police in financial scandal shock! horror!” – but too many shocks in one blog are definitely not good for the blood pressure.
So i didn’t.
Besides, i don’t actually think the police have been doing anything overtly corrupt. But they are starting to sail a bit close to the wind, and for that we have a systemic piece of legislative populism – put in place by New Labour, natch! – to thank.
What IS she going on about? A couple of weeks ago, Luton Crown Court saw sense and didn’t convict a Ms Claire Finch on the criminal charge of keeping a brothel. Just as well, you might think, as she was well known to local police and, by all accounts, hardly a menace to children or horses.
Now this is NOT an argument about sex work. It happens. Its dangerous and – despite the glamourisation of some high profile Madames such as Belle du Jour – its not an ideal career choice. The real issues are about making sure that there are adequate exit routes for those who wish to get out – whilst not making life for those who remain that much worse.
Unfortunately, measures based on the principle that if you hit offenders hard enough with a large legal truncheon, they might just decide to start their life anew, rarely seem to work.
That’s where this latest prosecution fits in. Over the last few years, the police and authorities appear to have been clamping down. Representatives for the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) and the International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW) are adamant that this follows on from a generally more intolerant, more puritan line from central government. However, it has been given an added twist in recent years by “Proceeds of Crime” legislation.
This embodies the outwardly admirable legal principle that crime should not pay – and that the state should be able to lay its paws on any monies that appear to have been earned from crime. Oh. And Police and CPS get to divvy up around 50% of the proceeds between them.
Given that the amount targeted for Proceeds of Crime confiscation in 2009 was £250 million, that’s a lot of Divvying!
On the plus side, the arrangements are not quite as piratical as they sound, although police forces do now benefit from what they can rake in. That does create the risk that, given the choice between a crime with loads of associated finance and an outwardly easy slam dunk of a prosecution, and one for something less profitable, like street violence, there is now an inevitable incentive inside the system to go after the one with the financial incentive attached.
Again, both ECP and IUSW believe they are now seeing a trend along these lines: there are also reports of police removing cash and valuables from the homes of alleged offenders. No receipts are given – and it is not always clear that everything gets returned.
In the case of Ms Finch, she risked having her entire living declared as “proceeds”, leaving her homeless and penniless and …either dependent on the state, or forced into far greater criminality to make ends meet.
Was this sensible? Did this in any way support government objectives of helping individuals out of sex work?
And does the link between prosecution and police benefit really do the police any good? Or are we now seeing the start of yet another of those issues – like the policing of photography – where over-enthusiastic insensitive policing eventually leads to a failure of public confidence?
Watch this space.
P.S. A slightly shorter version of this blog apepars in this week’s Private Eye (p.29). I am assured they didn’t edit the sense too much!