Crime in Britain

Let’s talk about crime in Britain.

On June 14, the newspaper carried two crime-related stories. The first took place on the Scilly (pronounced, yes, silly) Isles.

You have to understand that if Cornwall’s rural, the Scillies are not just rural but cut off by a whole lot of water. The only way to get there is to take a ferry or a small plane to the largest island. From there, you can take a boat to the smaller ones. None of the islands have much in the way of crime, so it made the news when someone slapped a phony parking ticket on a rented golf buggy and upset a tourist. I think a golf buggy is a golf cart in American, but I can’t swear to that because of my sports allergy, which is too severe for me to get near a golf course, never mind learn the vocabulary. Whatever it’s called, it was being used as transportation because forget bringing a car onto the islands. And it was parked, but not illegally.

Irrelevant photo by Ida Swearingen, who's a better photographer than I am.

Irrelevant photo by Ida Swearingen, who’s a better photographer than I am.

The police say they consider the ticket a malicious communication, which can lead to a six-month jail sentence.

First, though, they have to find the culprit.

What else have the local cops been up to? A seal pup had wandered onto the main street (that’s the high street if you read British). They let it go with a warning. They also broke up a drunken fight between two chefs. It was about whether rock salt was better than sea salt.

Tough neighborhood. If you visit, don’t leave your wallet in your back pocket.

Those of you who aren’t British and followed the link may have been struck by the hats. People who want to be cops in Britain have all sorts of personal reasons, but I’ve never understood how they could get past the hats. I know one serving and one former cop and I’d ask them but I can’t think of a diplomatic way to word the question.

But someone will tell me why the hats are great, and that’s what makes a horse race, so let’s move on.

In Islington, a man was arrested for charging his phone from a socket on the London Overground Trains. He was handcuffed, hauled off to a British Transport police station for abstracting electricity, and then also arrested for unacceptable behavior and becoming aggressive. I’m not sure if this second arrest involved a second set of handcuffs and if the additional charge won him a third set, but I’m fascinated by the idea that they didn’t just throw extra charges at him, they rearrested him—presumably before they’d let him go in the first place.

Abstracting electricity carries a maximum sentence of five years. It’s enough to make a person think the phone isn’t all that important, y’know?

The culprit—sorry, the alleged culprit was later de-arrested. Give me back all those handcuffs, you malefactor!

As far as I know, nobody here uses the word malefactor, but the police really, honestly do use the word villain. With a straight face. It’s just, y’know, what they say. So they arrested the villain for abstracting electricity.

And here we should pause and consider the word abstracting. I know you can’t see electricity, but it seems real enough to my untutored mind, not abstract or theoretical or anything. But I didn’t go to law school, so what do I know? I still get thank-you letters from the schools I might have applied to because my grades were good and they just might have had to accept me.

Well. I apologize for not giving you a link to this earth-shaking article, but I read it in the print edition and can’t find it online. If you rely on electronic media and you can spend your life in ignorance of the things that matter. And maybe that means it really is abstract.

In a different week I might have skipped over both articles, but not long before I read them an expat website sent me a survey about crime “where you live.” I think they meant Britain, but since I live out in the country I told them what it was like literally (and I’m using literally in the literal sense of the word) where I live. I don’t usually answer surveys—it’s hopeless; give me two choices and I’ll pick the third—but for some reason I answered this one.

I wrote that a lot of people in our area leave their doors unlocked. Not everyone, but more than a handful. I know people who leave their keys in the car. It keeps them from wondering where they left them. Them being the keys, not the cars, which are still there in the morning. Except for the time two people who shall remain nameless (especially since I’ve forgotten who it was) decided they were too drunk to walk home so they’d have to drive. They’d walked to the pub, but they knew someone nearby whose keys were always in the car. I won’t get into either the wisdom or the ethics of that—they’re too obvious to bother with. Everyone lived and the car was returned.

That’s not the full list of crimes in the village. I’ll write about them another time.

101 thoughts on “Crime in Britain

  1. I served with Her Majesty’s Finest for seven years and a big part of the attraction was the hat. I still have it, in fact. I was quite into protecting the vulnerable and such like too, but you know me and bowler hats – I just can’t resist. I don’t think I ever called anyone a villain, we always referred to them as offenders and we would never, ever use the word ‘victim’. Injured Party (or IP) was the rather officious term in use. Ah, I do miss the fights but not so much the scraping bits of person off the road after a traffic incident.

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    • That background may account for how you can wear a bowler hat with such style.

      It’s our friend the retired cop who uses the word villain. I was struck by the word from the first and without noticing the assumption assumed he was typical. Absurdly enough, I still hear echoes of the medieval word villein (which I believe–another assumption–is the origin of villain) when he says it.

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      • Thank you for your kind words about my bowler-wearing abilities ;)
        It is a super word, I must say. Although not in typical use among ‘the fuzz’ (wonderful British nickname for the police) I think it really should be!

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        • About villains: You’ll want to take a look at Ian Cross’s comment, which is either above or below–I’m looking at a different page layout so I can’t tell. My best guess is that the cop got off the phone and laughed as hard as Ian did, but we’ll never know.

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        • “Fuzz” is an American term for the police. As in “Cheese it, the fuzz!”

          Also, although I’m sure that you are a fine person (seriously), the Irish, as well as Black youth and other immigrant groups, do not share your high opinion of British cops. I’m just saying.

          Let’s not get too sentimental here.

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          • Although I’ve heard fuzz used for police in the U.S., where I grew up the word that followed cheese it was always cops. Who knows why.

            The British cops I’ve known (and it’s only a few) have surprised me by not fitting neatly into my stereotypes. But I’ve known them socially–I haven’t been on the wrong end of an argument when they were working. But a quick browse through the papers tells me that the problems generated by, say, stop and search policies (I could haul out other examples but let’s stick with one) are very real.

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            • The problem, I think, comes from the fact that they have a lot of power, and a certain number of people don’t do well with that. Some, in fact, seem to think it should be absolute and unquestioned. (I’m thinking particularly about a video I saw of a cop in the U.S. who basically arrested a black guy for challenging the cop’s right to stop him for no reason. It was like watching a soldier from an occupying army stop a civilian because he’s from the occupied country.) And some are raving racists, or aren’t but buy into a lot of stereotypes they’ve been fed. And some, as you’ve said, are just people doing a job, like anyone else. As a society, we haven’t found workable ways of overseeing that power yet, and we need to.

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  2. There is a reason for the hats…

    I think I used to know it, but I don’t now so I am not that much help.

    I think we accept them easily because they are familiar and just what police hats look like :-)

    When I was at uni I used to leave my keys in the outside of my door…not on purpose but often. Noone broke in and stole me :-D

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  3. A lifetime of reading Agatha Christie mysteries has lead me to believe villagers in the UK are always murdering each other. I’m disappointed to see they’re just leaving nasty notes on golf carts and charging their cell phones where they shouldn’t. Anyway, get Miss Marple on it.

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    • The electricity–and I should have been clearer about this–was abstracted in London. And we did actually have an attempted murder in the village, but it’s a little hard to make jokes about that. I’ll try when I come back to the topic. If you don’t see any mention of it, I failed.

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  4. About ten years ago, as a GP in Leicester, I was driving down a street in a run down area on my way to visit a sick patient at home. The houses at the side of the road were Victorian houses, sadly left to go to ruin. Someone threw a plastic milk bottle at my car and it hit the windscreen. It was dangerous, so I reported the matter to the police. The officer told me: There are some villains in them villas, sir. I put down the phone as I couldn’t stop laughing.

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  5. There is not a lot of crime around here but people tell me it is getting worse. “It’s all those people from The Cities,” they say.

    “Hey, I’m from The Cities,” I tell them.

    “We know,” they say, “and we are keeping an eye on you.”

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Abstracting electricity… bear with me because I’ve just been to the pub… you know how you abstract water by running a hosepipe to your neighbour’s well during the night and syphon some off… well… the pipe is the wire, and the ‘water’ are the negatively charged ‘free’ electrons that ‘run’ through the pipe/wire to your device to make it work. So ‘abstract’ is a well chosen word.. and very magisterial when put on an arrest warrant…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nice one on the pronunciation. The first time I came to the U.K., I remember being struck by the policewomen’s hats–and not in a good way. More in an are-you-sure-you-shouldn’t-sue-someone? sort of way. I still don’t like them, but I think they’ve modified them since then.

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  7. “And maybe that means it really is abstract.”

    I was furiously scouring my brain for a witty turn of phrase, but your delivery was much better than mine would have been. I yield to you on that one.

    On a different note, the picture of the cops reminded me of the amusing movie Hot Fuzz. I might have to watch that again this weekend!

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    • I wouldn’t swear to it, but I think the guy was on the platform. Whichever it was, though, the fine print explained that the socket he used was marked for the use of cleaning staff anyway. Clearly a felon, then.

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    • ‘why do they have sockets…’
      For the cleaning staff.

      I was talking about the abstracting story on the Guardian’s website, and the consensus was that the problem wasn’t the guy stealing electricity… we suspected that the guy got into trouble by being cantankerous… and certainly on the railway that I use, the staff turn a blind eye to electricity abstraction on the few trains that haven’t been rebuilt with sockets for customers use…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Someone in the story (and I wish I’d been able to find a link so I’m not drip-feeding it) commented that the community police officer who kicked off the incident was being over-enthusiastic. But the guy may well have been cantankerous as well–hard to say. It is absurd, if some trains have sockets for customers, to argue about someone assuming it’ll be okay to plug into one that isn’t meant for him.

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  8. Love this, Ellen. I also think I have the same allergic condition you do…sports allergy….I hadn’t heard of it being declared an official condition, but since you’ve named it, I’m hopping right on that wagon! But truly….golf a sport?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I dunno. It sets off my allergy, so I’m guessing it is. It’s good to meet a fellow sufferer–although I have to say I stopped suffering the minute I got out of school and away from gym class. Now it’s just a condition, not a problem.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I was going to say that most of them are out of date, then I got to those Smoky the Bear hats and–well, yes, you have a point. And those all-leather-looking, I’m-tougher-than-cement uniforms? I could do without them.

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      • Mostly I like American cops. They’re courteous, intelligent, and seem genuinely interested in preventing crime and accidents rather than catching perps. Every now and then, though, I encounter one who has CLEARLY been boning up too hard on Law & Order…

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’ve also had some good experiences with American cops, but they depend heavily, I think, on how they see the person they’re dealing with. Good citizen: serve and protect mode. Potential bad guy (or perp, or villain, or whatever): confrontation–got to get ahead of a bad situation before it actually is a bad situation, thereby, at least some of the time, creating one.

          But let me tell you a largely irrelevant story, because it’s funny and because it’s so New York: A friend’s father had MS, and in one of the New York blackouts he and his wife were in, I think, Penn Station. She was trying to get him out of there, it was dark, people were zipping every which way and probably panicking, and he didn’t move well by then. She saw a cop, thought her problems were solved, stopped him, and explained the situation. To which he said, “Get out of my way, lady. I gotta help the people.”

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    • It would. Sadly (except on Scilly), they’re not. But although I do know of some serious crimes in the village, it’s still–from what I’ve heard–still safe to leave your door unlocked.

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  9. Love this post!!!! My Grandfather was a Constable and he always used to carry his lunch tucked up in his hat. You should see the boots the California Highway Patrol motorcycle cops wear. They look like they should be in some kind of strip show. They are very fancy and very shiny. And as far as abstracting things, water seems to be the issue here right now – Tom Selleck (Magnum P.I.) just got into hot water (no pun intended – or maybe a little bit) for taking water – was in the news just recently.
    PS. Found your post from Suzie’s Blog Party!!!

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  10. I enjoyed your “crime” stories. I do not understand why British TV show detectives are so smart at solving murders. Do they read about them in books? I shall go watch the news now, and see whom my steadfast (American) law enforcers shot down for sport today.

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  11. Re “abstracting electricity.” When I grew up in England in the 40s and 50s, the judicial system had a problem concerning what they charged you with if you made phone calls without paying (e.g. by using foreign coins in phone boxes) – after all, you didn’t seem to have stolen anything. The solution was to charge you with “stealing a quantity of electricity, the property of the Postmaster General.” (The phone system then was nationalised, and run by the Post Office, head of which was the PMG.) There is now I believe a specific crime for making unpaid calls. I rather miss the quaintness of the old offence.

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    • You have to admire the creativity of that charge. It never occurred to me that nothing was actually stolen in that kind of–what should I call it? Effort? When I was a kid, we all traded rumors about what would work is subway turnstiles instead of the tokens they sold. The most popular rumor was a particular size washer. I have no idea whether it really worked since I didn’t try it, but I could make a phone call with a nickel (worth five cents) instead of a dime (worth ten).

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  12. Pingback: Crime in Britain, part 2: the village edition | Notes from the U.K.

    • Thanks for stopping by.

      One of the things I noticed when I was still living in the States is that the fear of crime, in some areas, outran crime itself. A student of mine–she’d have been 18 or 20–once said, with a kind of horror, “Oh, I’d never take public transportation.” What on earth did she think would happen to her if she stepped on board? I’m not saying that crime isn’t real, only that the fear of it can be paralyzing.

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