I expect you've all read about the mother who was secretly followed home by an off-duty policeman who overheard her in the supermarket threatening to smack her children unless they behaved.
Six weeks later (yes, six weeks. Why? She might have smacked the little sods to death in six weeks) two officers came to her home and questioned her about disciplining the youngsters, a boy of 11 and a four-year-old girl. To her horror she then received a letter from the local council saying her 'chastisement' of the children had been 'put on record' for at least the next 14 years.
The shocked mother, a trainee manager in a Christian bookshop, said last night: 'It was an amazing intrusion. I was doing what parents should do, and what thousands do every week - setting moral boundaries for how children should behave. If no one stands up to this oppression, this political correctness, parents will lose responsibility for their kids and the state will take over. The local authority have told me they're keeping my family on record until my kids leave school, and my daughter is only four. If she ever falls over and has to be taken to hospital I'm worried about what conclusions they might come to. I feel I'm being kept on record as an abuser, so I will always be looking over my shoulder.'
The supermarket incident happened in August at the Co-op in Woolston, Southampton, near where she and her 40-year-old husband live. The youngsters had been behaving badly all day, because rain had kept them indoors, and she had earlier given her son a 'mild smack' for arguing with his sister. In the supermarket they were rampaging around the aisles and fighting. She made them sit on a bench while she went through the checkout, but they began arguing yet again so she threatened to punish them. The pair apologised and quietened down. Neither was smacked when they got home and she thought nothing more of it.
But more than a month later two policemen knocked on her door and told her a colleague had trailed her to find her address.
She was appalled when a letter arrived from Southampton council children's services department. It said no further action would be taken 'at this time', but added: 'We would like to advise you that we do keep the information on record.' Hampshire Police said: 'It was not an ordinary telling- off. Because of what the woman said and the way her children reacted to it, it gave our officer reasonable grounds for concern.' Nice to know that our policemen are such experts in what is or isn't "an ordinary telling-off". Southampton council said writing to parents who are brought to its attention was 'standard practice', and that it was 'very important' to keep records of such incidents.
It's worth pointing out that (a) the woman didn't smack the children, and (b) it isn't against the law to do so. So both the police and the local authority have, in the eyes of most people, acted outside the law. But hey, what's so unusual about that? It's not just the criminals who have no regard for the law these days, its the authorities.
Of course, a survey this week showed that 92% of "most people" think parents should smack their children. Readers of this website will probably remember being smacked in their own childhoods, and probably smacked their own children in turn - the GOS certainly did, and isn't aware that any physical or mental damage was done. But now a small group of politicians and bleeding-heart activists have decided that they know better, and that they have the right to turn on its head the way in which virtually all societies have raised their children for centuries. Worse still, they persist in this determination in the face of all the evidence that modern parenting is failing and producing schools that are jungles of ill-discipline, streets that aren't safe to walk at night, and children who haven't the slightest idea who to respect.
In a second case this week the police exceeded their authority by reporting a pregnant woman as an unfit mother because she was redecorating her house.
Mary Cooke was visited by police after she called 999 to report that she had nearly been run down by a speeding car. The officer did not mention that she was unhappy about the state of Mrs Cooke's rented house, but after leaving wrote a memo to the social services. Days later, Mrs Cooke received a letter from Staffordshire County Council, warning her of a potential 'referral' for her unborn child. In addition, the council contacted her midwife.
Mrs Cooke who is 12 weeks' pregnant with her first child, said 'The letter made me feel sick. I believe someone was judging me for decorating the house and I can't believe it. I'm in the first stages of pregnancy. I'd never dream of bringing a child home to a house being decorated. I told the policewoman we are moving in February. We've been renting privately and we had started decorating, then a bigger house came up for rent and we decided to take it. But we thought it was only right to finish off what we'd started for the next people who come here. It seems that the police and social services go from one extreme to another, they either do nothing and a little child dies or they go completely over the top. Other expectant couples should be warned: be careful when you let police officers into your homes, because they can be judging you.'
Meanwhile it has emerged that more than 100 rapists have been let off with a police caution. The 111 cases included 66 incidents of child rape. Er, hang on ... 100 rapists, and 111 rapes? So some of these minor offenders had done it more than once?
The extent to which police forces have handed cautions to rapists, whose crime carries a maximum sentence of life in jail, was made public as Justice Secretary Jack Straw announced a full-scale review of the system of punishing crime with cautions and on-the-spot fines. Mr Straw acted after a weekend when senior police chiefs and the Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC called for curbs on the use of out-of-court punishments.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson also condemned the 'uncontrollable increase in cautions' and said that on-the-spot fines, now often used to punish offences such as shoplifting, 'in the public's minds equate to a parking ticket.'
The system of fixed-penalty fines and cautions has been introduced over the past six years as a way to deal with minor crime cheaply and effectively. But the disclosure that cautions have been used repeatedly to deal with rapists is the clearest demonstration that the system is now being used to keep the most serious crimes out of the courts. The figures released to MPs by the Home Office show numbers of cautions handed to rapists after the 2003 Sexual Offences Act became law in May 2004.
Between that date and the end of 2007 there were 45 cases of rape of adults in which the rapist admitted guilt but was released with a caution. In a further 66 cases individuals who admitted raping a child under 13 were freed with a caution.
The figures from the Home Office gave no indication of why police chose to use cautions to punish a crime which, in the case of adult rape, typically attracts a prison sentence of five years, and it's highly likely that some of these cases involved statutory rape, where young adolescents have had consensual sex with each other. There's no denying that it would be a travesty if such cases attracted criminal punishments, but many others clearly do not fall into this category and are genuine rapes. It is deeply disturbing to know that they have been swept under the carpet and kept from public knowledge in this way.
Fixed penalty notices for crimes like drunkenness, shoplifting and similar more minor crimes are also under scrutiny. Half a million were handed out between 2005 and 2007, and in half of the cases the criminal did not pay up.
Jack Straw denies that the Government had encouraged the use of cautions to reduce the prison population. I suspect we all know what to think about that.
The GOS says: The punishment faced by a rapist who admits his guilt and is cautioned is just two years on the sex offenders' register. The mother who didn't smack her children will be on the local authority's register for the next 14 years.
Perhaps our governors and officials might write this definition from the Concise Oxford Dictionary down and pin it up over their desks: "Proportion - the correct relation of one thing to another or between parts of a thing".
To be honest, if I ever found myself in the position of the supermarket lady and received a letter from some petty jobsworth in a cheap suit that criticised my conduct and said "we are taking no further action at this time", my first reaction would be to find out where he worked and give him a punch in the mouth. Perhaps that's what we need these days - not a less violent society, but one where the overwheening and unfair use of power attracts a direct and punitive response from an outraged public.
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