Bill Carmichael: No offence South Yorkshire Police, but why not fight real crime?

SOUTH Yorkshire must be a wonderful place '“ no 11-year-old girls gang raped and trafficked into prostitution, no murders or shootings, no stabbings or muggings or theft, no cars stolen, no sign of any drug dealing and not a single burglary in the entire county. It is a crime-free paradise on Earth.

South Yorkshire Police's controversial new initiative.

Well, that’s the only possible explanation for the extraordinary decision by South Yorkshire Police this week to launch a campaign to encourage citizens to report “non-crime hate incidents”.

In what was quickly dubbed the “hurty feelings hotline”, the police asked people to ring in if they were upset by “offensive or insulting comments” – even if no actual law had been broken.

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The only logical explanation for the police devoting huge amounts of manpower and money into investigating things that are not even crimes is that all the actual crimes in the county must have already been solved. Right?

Er, well, not exactly. Crime in South Yorkshire rocketed by 30 per cent last year with huge increases in sexual offences (up 24 per cent), violent crime (up 57 per cent) and robbery (up 30 per cent).

And the infamous Rotherham sex abuse scandal, involving more than 1,400 children exploited by Asian gangs – which South Yorkshire Police entirely ignored for over a decade – continues to this day.

In short if police in the south of the county wanted to spend a bit of time investigating real actual crime – the sort that ruins people’s lives – rather than fretting over people being rude to each other on Twitter, then they have plenty to be going on with.

You have to feel for the ordinary bobbies on the beat who have to deal with a tsunami of violent crime, while their senior officers turn their force into an international laughing stock with this fashionable lunacy.

My guess is that when young men and women dream of joining the force they imagine themselves collaring villains and protecting the public, not sitting in front of a screen waiting for someone to make a mildly disobliging comment on Facebook.

The South Yorkshire force defends itself by arguing it is only following national guidelines, which only makes things worse. It means this idiocy is more widespread than we imagined, only most forces aren’t stupid enough to advertise the fact.

South Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, gave an astonishing interview this week in the wake of a security alert in Barnsley at the weekend relating to a stabbing for which a woman has been charged with attempted murder.

What really upset Dr Billings wasn’t so much the violent incident itself, but the nasty online comments that followed it. He even appeared to suggest that the people who were offended by such comments were as much victims as anyone who is chased and stabbed. This is completely bonkers.

He went to say that police should investigate “non-crime incidents” because they may “feel” like a crime to certain people.

But surely the police should be dealing with objective reality and not subjective impressions? Either a crime has been committed or not – and if no crime has been committed then what exactly is the police’s role?

Besides the monumental waste of valuable police resources there is a more important point at stake here, because what we see is a deeply sinister and authoritarian mindset at work – and a deliberate chilling of free speech.

The police say “hate will not be tolerated in South Yorkshire”. But if no crime has been committed what are they going to do about it? Will officers begin harassing people who have broken no law? Will people who have committed no crime be sacked from their job, or evicted from their home, or shamed and exposed to their friends and neighbours?

And remember, none of these allegations would ever be tested in court because no actual law has been broken. We would be looking at extra-judicial punishment entirely outside the law and this would be a gross abuse of police powers.

People have a right to express their opinion – even if you disagree with them, or if they are unpleasant, or if someone somewhere is offended by their views.

Being offended once in a while is the price we pay to live in a free country. Dr Billings and South Yorkshire Police should get back in their box. What people say – as long as it is within the law – is none of their business.