Monday, January 14, 2008 

2 million migrant homes, knives and the DNA database.

It's Monday, it's the Express, it must mean it's time for a Diana "exclusive", a Madeleine non-story or a rant against immigrants. How about all three? You lucky, lucky people!

Before we get carried away, the main Express story is based entirely on a MigrationWatch report prepared for a parliamentary committee. Now, I could of course read the entire thing, dissect it and make my mind up about whether it's bollocks, or I could just dismiss it out of hand. After all, their last report, claiming that migrants contributed only 4 pence a week in benefit to the country was completely and utterly wrong. This latest one, which claims we'll have to build 2 million houses just for immigrant workers (not that we are, as the headline misleadingly implies), I'm willing to hazard is also complete and utter crap. I think we'll go with the latter.

On then, to the Sun. The scaremongering stories of today are "Girls age (sic) three hitting puberty", which is based off today's Tonight with Trevor McDonut, and relies on the stories of a whole two girls, while Al-Qaeda 'to blow up Paris' is more concerned about British tourists in the Scum's parochial way than the French, who you would think would be more in the line of fire.

The Sun's latest big "exclusive" is that it's wrangled an interview with Gordon Brown, which must mean his polls are down again. His main promise is a "huge crackdown on Britain's knife crime epidemic", which is the biggest surprise since the last one. As ever, rather than attempting to understand why everyone and their mother seems to carrying a knife, the immediate solution is that anyone caught carrying one must be prosecuted rather than simply cautioned. Seeing as there have previously been suggestions that those carrying knives should get an automatic prison sentence of around three years, and the figures accompanying the report state that 8,500 of those caught with knives only received a caution, the implication is that we're going to be sending to prison thousands of youngsters, if this is to be vigorously implemented. Considering we simply don't have the prison places to do that, and also that doing that it well be far worse than giving a caution would, introducing them to the world of criminality by way of the slamming of a cell door, you get the feeling that we won't be hearing much about this until the next time someone impossibly young gets stabbed. Added into the mix is Brown's laughable if they weren't sinister remarks about how he's worried about "video and computer games" and the other reflex, the banning of "hunting" knives if they don't have a "practical" use.

The Scum Says column is slightly sharper (ho ho) than usual today on the matter:

AT last, the knife crackdown The Sun has been calling for.

But why was it so long coming? And why isn’t it tougher?

Last year 9,000 thugs escaped with meaningless cautions for carrying a blade. Meanwhile dozens of kids died on our anarchic streets.

It doesn’t take a genius to link those two facts.

If anything, it suggests that whatever the punishment is meant to be, and remember that the whole of last year was given over to demands for ever tougher penalties for those carrying knives, it seems that the hardcore will pack them regardless. I don't see how anyone can change that just through threats, however harsh the sentence is.

So only the fear of punishment can deter people from bringing them on to the streets.

Which, as the PM rightly says, means prosecutions, not cautions.

What he should have promised was automatic jail terms — but he’s hamstrung by our prisons being full.

Is the Sun really suggesting that we imprison 9,000 people a year simply for carrying a knife? It might give a false sense of security, but then we're back to the problem once they're released of young, probably angrier men, embittered at their lot, possibly thrown into the cycle of crime for a long time to come. There has to be another answer - and whether that involves community work, mentoring, fines or other punishments, such as the delaying of driving licences if they're of below that age, there has to be a better one than imprisonment.

Is that also why this crackdown, while obviously welcome, is limited to 12 crime “hot-spots”?

No one needs to walk around with a blade any bigger than a penknife.

So ban them from being carried in public EVERYWHERE.

It’s not exactly “zero tolerance” otherwise, is it?

Err, it is illegal to walk around with a knife EVERYWHERE. Just that in those so-called "hot-spots" those caught won't be cautioned.

Moving on:

BRITAIN’S DNA database has grown into a vital weapon against criminals.

It holds the details of four million arrested people. Last year it solved 45,000 crimes, among them hundreds of rapes and murders.

Now it’s under threat from . . . guess who? Yes, the European Court of Human Rights. Its judges are ready to rule that our database be purged of the details of anyone not convicted after their arrest.

Hundreds of rapes and murders? Really? Would the Sun like to present some evidence to back up that claim? Dozens maybe, hundreds I don't believe for a second.

Back here on planet reality, it isn't of course anything to do with the judges from the European Court of Human Rights intervening on their own, but rather, as the Scum's article admits, they're being asked to rule on the legality of the matter by err, two Britons who wanted their DNA removed from the database after they were cleared of the crimes they were accused of. The case is more about how fingerprints and a DNA sample are now taken from everyone arrested, rather than just those charged or even convicted. While it would be nice to demand that no one not charged or cleared should have their data entered into the database, a compromise would be in the interests of everyone, including delayed justice. Those who aren't charged should have their data removed after say, two years, which is plenty of time for those working on cold cases to keep searching the database for matches to their own forensic data to come through.

The real issue has long been about creating such a database by stealth. If politicians wanted to be honest with us, rather than gradually building the database through arrests, everyone should have their details entered onto it over a period of time. This though would be hugely unpopular and have massive civil liberties implications, especially raising the possibility for miscarriages of justice. The newspapers and politicians that inform us that if we have nothing to hide we have nothing to fear would quickly blanch at such a plan, but they have no problem with the current situation which is manifestly unfair. One would like to think that my above suggestion was workable, or indeed, that it would be followed through on, but the loss of data scandals and the police's previous lies about removing information from the database only makes you realise how intractable the current policy is.

The Sun continues:

We understand the arguments about a Big Brother state. But Britain is in the grip of an all-out war against rising crime.

DNA fingerprinting is the greatest weapon detectives have been handed in a century.

It would be appalling if it was undermined by meddlers in Brussels.

Except that crime is either stable or falling, and has been now for a decade. All the advances in forensic evidence, CCTV and state surveillance haven't made any change to the feeling of insecurity which manifests itself everywhere, and the removal of such records from the database, whether down to the ECHR or otherwise, which might feasibly stop justice being done in major cases around 100 times a year at a rough guess, will similarly do nothing to either tackle or give rise to everyday fear of the outside world and crime.

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