Media Driven Double Standards?

Peter Barron (Editor) - The Northern EchoDid you notice these two stories in the NE news this week? They were actually unconnected incidents at the time however; by the very nature of their circumstances and subsequent (media induced?) public interest, they have now become inextricably linked…

News Item #1 BBC: “A Durham Police driver is disciplined and has his police driving licence suspended after a prisoner he was transporting reported him for driving at speed.”  The officer was apparently transporting a prisoner from Leeds to Darlington last December when the alleged offence took place.

Thanks mostly due to the media and political pressure; Durham Police have subsequently referred themselves to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Despite the fact, any decision about possible formal legal proceedings against the officer would have been made by the Crown Prosecution Service, not the police.

After the growing (again media induced?) criticism about “failure to prosecute the officer” (see here), Durham’s Police and Crime Commissioner and the local MP, were both quick to wade in and criticise the police decision. I wonder how much of that angst was based upon the circumstances of the incident, as opposed to seizing upon a convenient political PR opportunity?

An MP has described Durham Police’s decision not to prosecute an officer who drove at 140mph as “incredible” as calls continue for the PC to be charged…(

The Darlington MP Jenny Chapman had assumed that a “criminal prosecution would inevitably follow” after such high speeds however; because that  did not happen “it sent out the wrong message” she said.

The police need to deal with this in a way that garners public confidence because if they don’t it will look as if the police are protecting their own…(Jenny Chapman MP)

In a way she is probably right, at least at face value. The sanctions handed out in the incident above and the one below appear different. A clear-cut case of one rule for them and another rule for us – or is it?

144mph Morons!News Item #2 Northern Echo: “Two men have each been given four-month jail terms suspended for 18 months, and banned from the roads for three years after being caught racing on a North Yorkshire road at 144mph.”

(At least Peter Barron appears to be planning on giving them a similar bashing to the one he’s metered out in the first case.)

These men, both from Leeds, were captured by a North Yorkshire Police mobile safety camera, driving at 144mph on the A19 southbound carriageway near Crathorne in November last year.

Yorkshire PostThe two men were condemned as “adolescent, selfish and dangerous” by magistrates who banned them from the road for three years and handed them suspended prison sentences. Police and road safety campaigners said the “appalling” driving could have had catastrophic consequences and led to a fatal crash.

The video clip (below) shows the moment thew two drivers hit “utterly astounding” speeds of 144mph as they raced each other on a public road.

As I’ve already pointed out, the two articles although unconnected at the time, have sparked something of a small public debate in the North East, if not further afield but why? Is this really an example of ‘double standards’ being applied to sanctions given out in an ‘identical’ set of circumstances or offence? What skills/capabilities/experience did each driver posses? What were the possible/probable risks, to the public and/or vehicle occupants involved in both incidents?

If the argument revolves simply around the fact that all three drivers were (allegedly) breaking the speed limit, which is against the law (in most cases), then the law should be applied in exactly the same manner to all three, within the current legal framework and with the same rules of evidence..

I am not saying that the police officer is (or should be) exempt from any traffic laws, or any other law for that matter (apart from the legally recognised ones). I’m also not suggesting that he should be exempt from any sanctions imposed for contravening service rules, regulations or standards and guidelines.

I am however of the opinion that; any police officer should have the same rights and be subject to the same legal burden of proof standards applied to any other citizen. Be that criminal law standards of beyond reasonable doubt or, the civil law standard of  balance of probabilities. It is wrong to formulate any opinion of guilt, and apply subsequent sanctions, based upon public opinion and/or political interference.

We can probably thank the media for most of the ensuing ‘public interest’ in these cases but for how long? I’m one of the few that would much prefer the media to report facts alone, without any emotive, salacious or mischievous opinion and assumptions.

I’m not particularly interested in what some journalist thinks about any given set of circumstances, unless its clear that what he/she is offering is their personal ‘opinion’ and not ‘news’ reporting. I’m old enough, wise enough and educated to a level which allows me to adequately form my own opinion thanks. That said, today’s news is generally tomorrow’s fish and chip papers to many!

Finally I would ask; as a society, are we totally happy that so many of the decisions which get arbitrarily made and then unilaterally applied to police actions/inactions, can often be attributed to media contrived public opinion and/or politically motivated PR opportunities?

I for one would hope not because if we are; we are then content in allowing a lynch mob mentality to be the driving force of our legal system.