Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 2nd July 2019

SIR Brian Leveson, our most senior criminal judge, probably has better things to do with his time than watch those harum scarum police chase programmes on the box where criminals and joyriders put lives at risk and public servants are assaulted. If Sir Brian does watch, he’ll be acutely aware of the incredibly soft sentences offenders get when their cases go to court, not always the fault of the judges, more likely due to the limited range of options open to them.

Community service for a 90mph joyrider doesn’t spell reassurance for the public or acknowledgement for the work of the cops who bring them to court. Police and even ambulance staff have become fair game to criminals who know they will get away lightly if they are arrested and charged.

Lord Leveson reflects a widely held public view when he expresses “grave concerns” that citizens who suffer wrongs do not obtain redress through the criminal courts. Crimes are not being detected and not being prosecuted.

Home Office figures suggest nine per cent of reported crimes result in charges or summons, the lowest detection rate since 2015. Justice Secretary David Gauke believes in abolishing prison sentences of less than six months. Is that about sound justice or reducing numbers in our over-crowded prison crime factories?

There is some value in restorative justice, where offenders meet their victims. But sometimes, says Lord Leveson, judges have to say to repeat offenders “enough is enough”. Maybe telly shows us the worst examples of the lawlessness that puts police and public at risk, but taking that into account the public, and particularly victims, must feel the legal system is all too frequently failing them.

HE DOES WHATEVER A SPIDER CAN

AS a youngster I remember seeing lots of hedgehogs snuffling about in our back garden in the evenings in search of food. Once I put some food out for our missing cat and, half an hour later, there was a prickly chap scoffing the lot out of the saucer.

I once picked one up and carried it into the house to show my mother. She was horrified. The hedgehog was totally unconcerned, but not so my mother who pointed out it was crawling with fleas.

It had been some considerable time since my last sighting of a live hedgehog, but sure enough there was one making its way across a car park the other day. Once a regular sight, now a rarity that had me watching its progress in childlike wonderment.

One can only wonder how much influence Rory Stewart’s impassioned plea in the House of Commons in 2015 for the future survival of the hedgehog had to do with the latest roads signs featuring an image of the creature.

We already have signs warning of deer, badgers and squirrels, even otters in some remoter regions of Scotland, and now a triangular sign featuring a picture of a hedgehog is to appear on UK roads to warn motorists of the potential hazards caused by small wildlife.

The Department of Transport says it wants to prevent accidents and reverse the decline in wildlife numbers. Recent estimates suggest that the hedgehog population of England, Wales and Scotland is one million compared with 30 million in the 1950s. The loss of hedgerow habitats has been blamed, but a lot of animals are simply squashed on the roads.

The Penrith and Border MP, long before he became a candidate to lead the Conservative Party, first came to the attention of many of his fellow parliamentarians with his remarkable 13 minute speech about hedgehogs which prompted Deputy Speaker Eleanor Laing to describe it as “one of the best speeches I have ever heard in this House.”

Stewart spoke, apparently without reference to notes, about the historical, cultural and scientific significance of the hedgehog, explaining how the ancient, “magical” creature had undergone an extraordinary revolution and citing Thomas Hardy, Shakespeare and Gaelic translations in support of the animal.

What the Tories have lost as a potential leader, the British hedgehog clearly has gained as an ally. But then again, nothing surprises about Mr Stewart, not even the suggestion in one quarter last week that he is Spiderman. Rory does not fill the eye as a superhero, but superheroes never do. It’s only when there’s a damsel in distress and they don their cloak that they acquire superhuman powers.

Tory councillor Charlotte Leach told her Twitter followers of the time she and Rory Stewart occupied offices in London. Rory came knocking on her door having locked himself out of his office on the fifth floor. He strode across the room and climbed out of the window, somehow scaling the side of the building to break into his own office via the window.

An astounded Ms Leach was petrified that her neighbour might plunge to the ground, but in true Rory Stewart style he pulled off the daring feat. “He’s not a spy,” she announced with reference to Stewart’s alleged role in MI6. “He’s Spiderman.”

My bookie is now offering odds of 200-1 on Rory being the next Dr Who. Is there no limit to the man’s talents?

PITY THE EXISTING CUSTOMER

I’M a bit like that poor bloke in the TV advert who has his wig ripped off and is carried away in his chair by two toughs for what we can only guess is some unspeakable form of torture, simply for being that most reviled of creatures, an existing customer. He only wanted the same deal they were offering to new customers.

It has become routine for too many businesses to exploit the loyalty of existing customers. We used to implicitly trust professionals, the bank managers, our energy suppliers, people managing our savings, but so many of those relationships have become dysfunctional.

Unless you are constantly on the alert you risk being let down, perhaps earning a meagre return on a deposit account or failing to be informed about an investment. It’s been estimated that loyalty costs us £4 billion a year because of our misplaced decisions to stick with firms supplying broadband, cash savings, insurance, mobile phone contracts and mortgages.

Most of us will have seen tempting offers to new customers while we are tied in to expensive deals. The Competition and Markets Authority has highlighted the price we pay for being faithful, but it remains to be seen what they intend to do about it.

I’m hopeless when it comes to switching. You could be saving hundreds of pounds a year if you spent a few hours looking for better deals, everyone tells me. But there is it, I’m old fashioned when it comes to trust and self-confessed lazy when it comes to sorting my finances.

Yes, I should be burning the midnight oil looking at price comparison sites. But I guess I’m just the bloke that gets carried off in the chair for more torture.

FOOTBALL’S NEVER BEEN AWAY

IT used to be around the end of July when the local papers went along to take photographs of the town’s football team, clad in heavy tracksuits, plodding round the cinder track around the pitch, on their first sweaty, beery day back for pre-season training.

Now there’s no break between seasons. Some are already back, others away on foreign training camps or playing friendlies. Penrith opened their season with a game against Richmond Town last Saturday. “The first match of this and probably any other season,” said a football fanatic journalistic colleague who, despite earlier protestations, couldn’t stay away.

He blogged to say that seven minutes in a Penrith player, who had just fouled an opponent, went on to abuse the referee, traduce his opponent and startle the scattered spectators. Plus ca change, as they say. “Welcome back football,” commented my friend.

They are introducing an experimental “sin bin” — it’s actually just a 10-minute sit down in the dug out — in Penrith’s league this season. On that evidence it will be crammed with offenders.

As some of the top clubs set off for lucrative matches on the other side of the world, I await the first moans, round about November, that players are tired. The Bonny Blues, by contrast, I expect to be fighting fit and taking the Northern League by storm — lest their sins should find them out.