Bernard Ingham: Chasing headlines is no part of a policeman’s lot

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LIKE the Israelis, the British police make it very difficult for their friends. Too often they do not help themselves in a world that makes them ever more necessary for our protection.

Take the Police Federation, the policeman’s union, now under heavy Home Office pressure to reform. It has done nothing in recent times to boost our confidence in the way policemen conduct themselves.

Then latterly there is the South Yorkshire Police admission that they tipped off the media about their search of Sir Cliff Richard’s house in Berkshire in connection with an alleged – and vehemently denied – sexual assault of a boy in 1985.

Let us leave aside whatever reservations we have about the pursuit of well-heeled celebrities for milking in compensation for unproven historic sex crimes.

Instead, let us quite simply condemn the leaking of the raid on the singer’s house (without so much as a word to the man himself) in such good time as to allow BBC TV to station a helicopter above the property.

It was, to be blunt, monstrous. We viewers can survive without TV pictures of a casually dressed police posse walking into gated grounds.

South Yorkshire’s justification that people have come forward with information since the raid – as they would have in any case once the news was out – is as preposterous as then complaining about the BBC acting on a tip-off, or negotiated leak.

It is time South Yorkshire Police decided whether they are in the serious business 
of investigating crime or choreographing TV news broadcasts for their greater glory.

It is this sort of nonsense – as well as Chief Constables dressing up their forces to look like over-burdened aliens from outer space – that all too regularly gets in the way of a sober look at the growing burden the police have to bear in modern Britain.

They are expected to provide a vast array of social services, maintain communal law and order in an indisciplined and increasingly fractured and alien society, cope with an alarming rise in information technology fraud and protect the citizenry from death and destruction in a hostile world, with home-grown terrorists practising their violent trade in the 
Middle East.

As the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe clearly fears that we may yet reap this terrorist whirlwind.

The police are having to face this exacting challenge with around 16,000 fewer policeman – their contribution (over 10 per cent) to budget deficit reduction over the past four years.

It is clear that they have a very tough job indeed.

It is made no easier by bureaucratic demands, ridiculous health and safety laws and the certain knowledge that if something goes wrong they will be investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Coppers are just as much at the mercy of ambulance-chasing lawyers and gold diggers as ageing celebrities.

I imagine that the average police station is pulled from pillar to post when they should be providing reassurance 
through street patrols and nabbing ne’er-do-wells.

We saw recently the value of coppers on the beat when the Met Commissioner abandoned a street media interview to chase yobs who had bilked a taxi driver and collar one of them.

As things stand, we are, as is the way of the world, mostly fed a diet of police bungles or the sort of excessive caution that caused rail disruption in London when they chose to try to coax a misguided individual down from a tree in the interests of his safety.

It needs leavening with success stories. And there is one astonishing success 
story that, if you think about it, tells 
itself: our remarkable security from terrorism even with reportedly 700 British jihadists causing mayhem in the Middle East.

None of us – and least of all the police – can be guaranteed safety from these murderous fanatics.

But our protection up to now is surely testimony to the effective co-operation between the police and the security services who pit their immense courage against evil to protect us.

As one who for all I know owes his life during the IRA-torn 1980s to the police, I find it hard to criticise them. Yet all too often they offer themselves up for it. They need all the friends they can get today. They must go out to win them.

We need a new determination in our 43 forces across England and Wales to match the blinder they play on security with a domestic confidence-building campaign founded on service to the community... we should not find it hard to be their friends.