Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Britain: UK police practice of engaging minors to commit offences - justifiable or dangerous and morally wrong?

We live in age where young people are exposed to more harmful or negative influences than previous generations. Hardly a day goes by without the media making reference to the decline in moral and educational standards of today's youth. Much of this criticism is unwarranted - much of it sadly true.

We as adults want to help keep the children of today, the adults of tomorrow, on the straight and narrow. Parents, educators, police and child protection agencies charged with the duty of protecting the moral welfare of young people have a legal and moral responsibility to protect minors from dangerous and illegal situations.

But they don't.

In fact, British police actively contribute to the delinquency of minors by deliberately placing them in potentially dangerous and volatile environments to engage in illegal activity.

Would you send a 13 year old girl to twenty-two bars and clubs at night? Yes, that's right - twenty two in one night. A night when it was known that the bars and night clubs would be full of people celebrating a big occasion, and no doubt a large proportion of revelers having a few too many for their - and others - own good?

You probably wouldn't. I doubt very much it would come within the bounds of "responsible parenting" even though such bounds have apparently been redefined to suit Yummy Mummies.

However, that is exactly what Leicestershire Constabulary did.

" Operation Test Purchase" involved sending a 13 year old girl out on A-Level results night, to twenty two bars and night clubs in Leicester city centre, to attempt to gain entry and buy alcohol. Only two premises refused the youngster entry and two establishments sold her alcohol.

It is illegal for a minor to attempt to buy alcohol.

Not only did the police actively enlist her to commit an offence, they placed her in environments that were dangerous and undesirable for a person of her age.

Leicester police have assured me the young girl was closely supervised and that a risk assessment was carried out prior to the operation. In other words, they knew there was a potential risk to her well being. Home Office figures demonstrate the degree of risk. In July this year the Home Office reported that a fifth of all reported violent incidents took place in or around a pub or club, and almost two-thirds of these happened at night.

She could have been approached by a drunken male, a fight could have erupted. A 13 year old girl was needlessly exposed to the kind of danger she should be protected from.

Jim Gamble, head of the UK's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), made a name for himself through his curious battles with Facebook to install a panic button for use by youngsters who felt in danger online. Yet a minor was placed in a real life hazardous environment for the sake of two bar staff potentially receiving an £80 fine! It would be interesting to know Mr. Gamble's views on a situation where the moral welfare of a minor was compromised and endangered by those charged with the protection of minors.

Another aspect that concerns me is the "sexploitation" of a minor. Let's face it, the young lady used in the exercise would have had to look the part of a 13 year old trying to get served in bars - dressed and made up older for a night on the town. If she had been sent to bars looking like a 13 year old, the operation would have had little point.

I am sure that under different circumstances, Leicestershire Constabulary would take a dim view of those who dress, or allow young girls to be made up and dressed to look older than their years. Rightfully, it is not something society approves of.

The child used in the Operation would also have been faced with another situation she would not normally find herself confronted with. With no disrespect to the security industry, bar and club doormen are not generally known for their tact and diplomacy. Did she face hostility when attempting to gain entry to licenses premises? If so, should she have been placed in such a situation?

Don't get me wrong, under-age drinking is a huge problem and needs to be tackled. However, you can not convince me that engaging a minor to commit an offence for the sake of two people possibly getting a token fine, is either justifiable or a solution to the problem.

Were the moral, physical and financial resources spent on conducting Operation Test Purchase, justifiable? Are there not other areas involving the welfare of minors where these resources could have been better utilized?

If legislators are genuinely concerned with tackling under-age drinking, they need to look at the root causes - and review the penalties for both staff and establishments who serve alcohol to minors. I understand the Home Office has proposed a fine of £20,000 for those found consistently selling alcohol to underage.

Surely closer liaison with licensees and improved monitoring, surveillance and intelligence funded by increased fines, (providing of course the courts do their part and support police by handing out sufficiently severe penalties) would be a more effective and responsible method of tackling under-age drinking.

I would like to thank Leicestershire Constabulary for their cooperation in answering my concerns. I would like to point out they have informed me that such operations involving minors are carried out by other British police forces.

Home Secretary Therese May, should urgently review the apparently common practice of police engaging minors in illegal activity for the sake of what would generally be perceived as little more than an ineffective window dressing exercise.

By Mike Hitchen
Copyright 2010 Mike Hitchen, i On Global Trends