Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Occasional feature - The John Prescott award for murdering the English Language -

I am introducing an occasional feature on this blog, name in honour of Lord Prescott, for murdering the English Language.

And appropriately in an ironic way, the first people given the award for a savage assault on the English Language is a police spokesman - the one who described the jogger who accidentally bumped into David Cameron while on his way to the gym and was promptly bundled away by anti-terrorism officers as having been subsequently, quote "de-arrested."

What a ridiculous and unnecessary new made-up word.

You don't need to put a negative prefix in front of the word "arrested" when English has a perfectly satisfactory and much more natural sounding word, which is "released."

But try telling that to the spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers who told the BBC that being de-arrested is not the same as being released without charge and the key difference in terminology is whether the person is taken into custody and processed.

The spokesman went on to say that normal procedure is that an arrested person is brought into the police station to a custody sergeant, to whom the arresting officer explains the case details. If the arrest is valid then that person's belongings are taken and filed away. The person is put into a cell, interviewed and then potentially released within 24 hours (unless a 12-hour extension is sought), according to the police spokesman. But if at any point before that processing stage it becomes apparent there's no case to answer then it will be a "de-arrest" rather than a "release without charge", he says.

I might just have bought this if the ACPO spokesman was saying that "de-arrest" meant that there would be no record kept or that it was accepted that the person should never have been arrested in the first place, but he specifically disavowed that interpretation.

It is quite worrying that it should be necessary to point this out to a spokesperson for any part of the police service, but in this country the law is supposed to regard people as INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY.

If there is a case to answer against someone, and the appropriate authorities are proceeding with the case, then you should avoid making judgements about their guilt or innocence until charges are dropped or a court finds them guilty or not guilty. If there isn't a case to answer they must be PRESUMED INNOCENT.

Quite apart from the assault on the English language I find it potentially worrying that there should be multiple categories for describing different variants of "There was no evidence against him so he was free to go."

A little while ago I took part in an appeal panel for an organisation which I will not identify to protect the innocent party involved. The individual whose appeal we were hearing had made false allegations against another member of the organisation, which were sufficiently serious that they resulted in the victim of the false allegations being arrested and held in police custody.

The police officers who investigated the case found conclusive evidence that there was no possibility whatsoever that the allegations could have been true, and an innocent man was released and exonerated.

The point about this, which is a lot more important than a minor matter of language, that sometimes through no fault of the arresting officers or the system, innocent people find themselves accused of offences and arrested. When those people are subsequently released, it is wrong, morally and in terms of fairness, to make any distinction between an innocent man (or woman) who is released after being held in police cells for a day, and an innocent man who is released after ten minutes because it became apparent almost immediately that there was no evidence of wrongdoing.

We absolutely do not want or need different classes of innocence.

And that is why we only need one expression for people who the police have let go because there is no case to answer against them. "Released without charge" will do perfectly.

4 comments:

Jim said...

If we do ever get a method of recall thats workable do you think John Prescott will want the term to be "De-Elected"

Chris Whiteside said...

He probably would, though we are hardly short of words like "fired," "dismissed" and "sacked" to describe what a lot of voters would like to do to Lord Prescott.

Chris Whiteside said...

By a great irony, five minutes after writing the above comment I left my office to get a cup of tea and found my family watching "Top Gear" featuring Lord Prescott himself, who displaying considerable courage if nothing else, had gone on the programme to be interviewed by Jeremy Clarkson in front of a car-mad audience.

I may regard him as one of the most disastrous ministers ever to hold office, but I won't deny that "Two Jags" has guts.

Jim said...

If it was a new edition then it would be his second appearance on Top Gear. He has
been on before to do a lap in the reasonably priced car.