In response to Stan Fichele's comment on twitter, retweeted by Chris Boardman, saying that there is a lot to do to get Britain Cycling when the police think it is OK not to prosecute/warn the thug, West Midlands Police referred to their press release which (to my mind) rather glosses over the fact that the victim wanted a prosecution. Reference is made to Home Office Guidelines which mean, they claim that 'the offence would not have been put before the Courts'. The victim is reported to have accepted from the police that they (the police) were not to blame because of the government guidance.
These guidelines are the same ones that I was told meant that Timothy Denman could not be prosecuted for assaulting me in December 2010. I wrote to my MP and to the Home Secretary about the application of this guidance but got nowhere with responsibility being shunted back and forth between the Home Office and Lord Chancellor's Department. Subsequently there has been a promised review of the cautioning of offenders and, very recently, some embarrassment now that it has come to light how frequently the police settle for 'local resolution' in cases of violence (see today's BBC news.)
I fear there is a strong element of our law enforcement authorities seeking to do as little as possible whilst at the same time bombarding us with press releases and twitter feeds designed to reassure us that they are doing much and, indeed, everything they can.
The Home Office Guidelines that are said to tie everybody's hands are the Gravity Factors Matrix which ACPO drew up in consultation with the CPS but which are not openly available. A Criminal Justice Service booklet compiled by the MoJ/Home Office and CPS expressly refers to the ACPO Gravity Factors Matrix under the rather important question of 'offence suitability'. Certainly these guidelines require much greater scrutiny than they receive. It is all too easy for those deciding not to prosecute to rely upon guidance that 'outsiders' know nothing about.
When I complained about Denman's caution to the Thames Valley Police, I was shown a copy of the guidance by the Inspector who came around to my home to apologise. It was very similar to the Matrix used for Young Offenders which Kent Police have made available for download here. From this it can be seen that an assault occasioning actual bodily harm (bodily harm that is not trivial) gets 3 points. If there is any aggravating factor then (unless balanced by a mitigating factor) the score gets to the 4 which should 'normally' result in a charge. The way then to get around the inconvenience of having to charge somebody is to say that an assault which in fact occasioned ABH should actually be treated as a common assault which scores only 2 and so (under the counting system as I understand it) cannot get to the magic 4.
Such a mechanistic system is bizarre and bound to lead to unacceptable results. That is why the Police and CPS are at perfect liberty to depart from it when they feel the circumstances warrant it. The Matrix itself confirms that:
15.2 Discretion does exist to deviate from the normal response, as indicated above, but only if the circumstances justify this, and the reasons for such action would need to be fully recorded by the decision maker.
For example as I pointed out in 2011, a leaked police document indicated that no person had been cautioned for offences arising out of the inner city riots notwithstanding the fact that many of the offenders arrested would have qualified for a caution under the Matrix. Equally Hate Crimes involving assault are singled out as meriting an award of 4 and therefore likely prosecution.
There is a simple answer here. The Government wishes to encourage cycling in furtherance of the public interest. Assaulting a cyclist because he is on a bicycle should be characterised as a 'hate crime' and should result in prosecution. I fully recognise that there are issues of choice here that distinguish race, gender and sexual orientation from transport choice but the evil of being attacked for what you are and what you represent goes beyond these factors to cyclists, 'Goths' and transvestites (and quite possibly others). Let us label them all 'hate crimes', get ourselves away from the absurd and discredited Gravity Factors Matrix and get prosecuting. Where the Police and/or CPS decide not to prosecute they should be required to explain why not without vague reference to guidelines that are too often used as a excuse designed to be incomprehensible to the victim.
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