Law Review Guest Post: The Custody Sgt on drink driving…..and personal responsibility

BY The Custody Sgt – a fellow blogger
If we are to believe in stereotypes then the average customer stood at a custody charge desk is a miscreant of disreputable character, possibly wearing a black and white hooped top and carrying a swag bag? Events this weekend both nationally and locally for me indicate the opposite. On Sunday Rebecca Brooks was arrested and she is not your usual sort of customer. But despite the media sensation she and the News of the World have become over the last few weeks she is not on her own.

On Friday night the buzzer activated and the officers walked in with a young lady. She was well presented, nice clean clothes, tidy hair and spoke with and exuded intelligence. She was anything but the ordinary type of customer. If not for the wholesale sobbing and mascara all down her cheeks she would have slotted in for afternoon tea at The Savoy quite adequately. So why was she here? In between her sobbing and wailing the officer was able to relay to my colleague that she had been arrested for drink driving. She had blown over 2 times the legal limit at the roadside. It’s always very difficult to deal with people like this. Our frequent flyer’s (so to speak) take custody with a degree of equanimity. They know the score, they’ve been before and despite some initial protestations they will soon settle into the regime. Our first timers, such as this young lady, find it very scary. “Why are you searching and taking all my property?” “Will you have to put me in a cell?” “What happens to me now?” All are common questions.

I’m a compassionate sort. I don’t like to see somebody distressed and I am not unsympathetic to the situation they find themselves in. However, as far as this offence is concerned I have zero sympathy. Their demeanour, attitude and manners have no sway at all. There are no two ways about it. Drink drivers kill people. Sadly it is often somebody else… not themselves. We are lucky when we catch these people. We have potentially saved lives… a core function of every police officer. But what makes people do this?

I have over the years come to realise that we have evolved into a blame culture. We have little to no personal responsibility and always look to place the blame for our own inadequacies on somebody else. I believe this is underpinned by a belief in many that the bad things in life that can be thrown at us will hit someone else. An “It won’t happen to me” mentality is engendered that then makes some of us take unacceptable risks. I live in a small village. There are many who travel a long distance to the local school. But there are also those who drive a very short distance too. 1/4 of a mile down a quiet rural lane in the village is hardly the A41 at Swiss Cottage or the Magic Roundabout in Swindon is it? What are the chances of something happening on such a short journey. I remember the advert by Jimmy Saville many years ago.. “Clunk, click on every trip.” This stands so true. Anything can happen and does. Yet people put their kids in cars without seat belts and drive them to school as in their head nothing is likely to happen. WRONG!! It can and will happen and whats more obtuse is that the adult often has their own seat belt on. There is a great advert by the Sussex Safer Roads Partnership.

Almost 14 million views! Maybe the message is getting through?

So back to our young lady. Why would she drive drunk? People take risks. In their head, the logical argument is telling them to get a bus or taxi. Anything but drive. But circumstances, finances or sheer laziness overtake common sense. “But anyway the police won’t stop me. I’m in a nice car and fully insured. They are out looking for criminals… not me.” This driver is in a total state of denial. She knows it’s wrong. She knows it will carry a penalty. She knows it’s dangerous. But she does it because she’s never done it before and won’t again…(apparently) but just this once she’ll be alright. WRONG! This offender will go to court. She will hang her head, she may be published in the local paper in a gallery of shame and she will quietly accept her punishment.

So what a contrast and a great example of how we look to blame others or minimise our responsibility we have in Mr Charlie Gilmour. As a topic it is a whole new discussion but one part of this case illustrates my point quite well. This yob, as he was nothing less that on the day, swung from the Cenotaph and then stood in court and told the Judge he didn’t “realise the significance” of the Cenotaph. He was in denial just as much as our drink driver was.

Ignorance of the law is no defence. I sometimes feel for those who have come unstuck on a very rare and quiet piece of legislation. But no matter how much we try to kid ourselves and in the case of Gilmour the Judge too, there are some matters that are well advertised and well understood. Seat belts, drink driving, theft, burglary, murder, swinging from Cenotaph’s and throwing bins at Royal convoys are just common sense. They are part of a national psyche if you like and known by all notwithstanding class, gender, race or any other group. They are prohibited, outlawed and unacceptable and in the case of Gilmour, when the the book is thrown it hits you full in the face. He can only now stand up and take it like a man. Time will tell.

It’s high time people started to take on responsibility for their own actions.

“My child is dead because you ran a red traffic light, hit us and he/she was thrown through the windscreen.”
No Madam. Your child is dead because you didn’t ensure he/she was wearing a seat belt.

(I am fully aware that each incident is individual and no desire to undermine the grief of any family is implied or intended)

11 thoughts on “Law Review Guest Post: The Custody Sgt on drink driving…..and personal responsibility

  1. On the basis of the trial judge’s own comments, Gilmour was NOT dealt with for anything to do with the cenotaph and yet the judge gave him a lecture about it. Rather odd, I tend to think.

  2. “If we are to believe in stereotypes then the average customer stood at a custody charge desk is a miscreant of disreputable character”

    I’m not sure that’s a stereotype if it’s actually true.

  3. Charlie Gilmour was off his head when he committed his yobbish acts. He is a very young man, almost a kid. The sentence he received was savage and vindictive. Justice was not dispensed by this judge who has done his trade no credit,

    The judge should have considered the reasons for Charlie Gilmour’s self-induced stupor and his consequent behaviour. Charlie Gilmour had been rejected by his biological father. I can understand the inarticulate rage, frustration, despair and devil- may- care response that such rejection may induce. I have experienced a similar rejection by a parent. The anger, frustration and other ineffable emotions is extreme.One feels like an innocent victim whose hurt has the support of the state.

    Although I reacted differently from Mr Gilmour, possibly because of my mature age, I can fully understand his need to “get out of it” (ie to lose consciousness). For this reason, I believe the sentence was way too harsh. Had he burgled someone’s house he would have probably have received a community service order.

    Clearly, the judge, coming from a nice stable family background, has no conception of the extreme and indescribable emotions that caused Charlie Gilmour to behave in the way he did on that day. Similarly, with the majority of the population, a large proportion of which wholeheartedly condemn Charlie Gilmour, many of whom opine that the sentence was too lenient.

    It is not about Mr Gilmour blaming someone else for his behaviour on that day. He hasn’t blamed anyone. It is the state that is doing the blaming by attributing his behaviour to him, and him alone, without taking account of his extenuating circumstances. Savage and vindictive are the words that cross my mind.

  4. I fully agree that drink-drivers are a menace to everyone. They simply do not understand their responsibility to ensure that whenever they get behind the wheel, they drive in a manner that would not make them a danger to others, let alone themselves. Even the slightest amount of alcohol can impair their abilities and irreparably change other people’s lives for the worse.

    What infuriates me even more, is the casual attitude to using handheld mobile phones whilst on the move. Trying to drive one-handed whilst holding a phone is effectively even more dangerous than drink-driving and far more drivers do this. I’m sure that a significant number of road traffic accidents come about because the driver was not paying attention to the road whilst on the phone, or unable to control the vehicle with one hand.

    Frequently on minor local journeys I see a cars being driven one handed and even a lorry once. On that occasion, the lorry was driving very erratically and I only saw the mobile phone when the driver suddenly turned off to the right, still holding the mobile to his ear. The reason that he turned right suddenly, was due to a Police car parked further up the road. The lorry did a U-turn and drove back the other way. I stopped to let the constables know that the driver was on the phone and a hazard to others.

    There have been a number of high profile fatalities due to inappropriate mobile phone use. One of the TV traffic programmes highlighted the case of a young woman whose car was crushed on the motorway by a phone using lorry driver. Some offenders have been even texting as they killed other drivers.

    We must substantially increase the penalty for inappropriate phone use so that drivers realise the dangers they are causing to others.

  5. Agree completely with Custody Sgt. It was interesting to read that a Sunday Times columnist friend of Gilmour`s family yesterday wrote a few hundred words on precisely why nice middle class boys of previous good character should be spared Her Majesty`s hospitalty because his personal unhappiness had made him do drugs ……that said it all. My wife`s best friend`s daughter was killed on M6 by a drunk female disqualified driver [previous driving excess alcohol] using her mobile at time of collision. I have closed ears to most self righteous mitigation for excess alcohol when in company.

  6. Charlie Gilmour was not prosecuted for drink driving. Nor did he kill (or even injure) anyone. I just thought I’d mention this so as to avoid conflation of Charlie Gilmour’s case and drink driving.

  7. I’m not sure we ever didn’t have a “blame culture”. I don’t think people pulled over for driving their horse and cart excessively fast presented both wrists either.

  8. Stephen – comment at 2.52pm

    I’m not sure it’s a safe argument to criticise the judge for not taking Gilmour’s personal background into account and then make a generalisation about the judge coming from a stable family background? How do you know?

    I have not seen any court report. However, I would put money on the defence team’s summing up including many comments of Gilmour’s personal circumstances and how leniency should be considered.

    Nothwithstanding, the overall point was not to discuss Gilmour per se. It was more to identify the idiocy of his personal responsibility (or lack of) in the statement he made to the court. Many people I would have imagine have suffered the same issues as he has but not resorted to such damnable behaviour. Let’s not forget that irrespective of the offence, self induced intoxication is not a defence.

  9. @ Thecustodysgt

    In truth, I have no certainty about the judge’s family background. Despite my lack of certainty, I strongly suspect that he has come from a stable family background. I base this suspicion on statistics which show that successful people are statistically more likely to come from a stable family background. Judges are successful, they being drawn from the ranks of successful barristers.

    Conversely, failures are statistically more likely to come from unstable family backgrounds. Hence the prison population consists of at least 25% of people who have passed through the care system as children. This is a staggering and telling statistic.These people are not believed to be innately criminal, at least by those who hold liberal, western values. They are products of their backgrounds.

    On a more human level, I arrived at my conclusion about the judge’s family background because the effects of rejection by an estranged parent on the rejected party is poorly understood and can evoke profound, seemingly irrational responses in the rejected party. Had the judge himself experienced this type of rejection, or otherwise know about it, he would have taken on board Charlie Gilmour’s state of mind and sentenced accordingly. Judging from the savage and disproportionate sentence he dispensed he did not have either direct or indirect knowledge and I think it is safe to assume that he had no understanding of Charlie’s state of mind.

    I think you are incorrect to assume that many people have suffered the same issues as he has. I do not know the numbers of adopted people in the UK but I believe it to be a low proportion of the population. Some adopted children seek reunion with their estranged biological parents and some of these reunions are successful. Some of these reunions are not successful as in Charlie’s case. Some adopted children (as adults) do not seek reunion – they are happy as they are. Suicide is not unknown in cases of unsuccessful reunion.

    I am not proposing that self-induced intoxification should be a defence. Nor do I believe that Charlie Gilmour committed a damnable crime. Objectivity helps here. He injured no-one, nor did he kill anyone. Neither did he steal from anyone. His crimes were to cause offence at the Cenotaph and to behave violently in the vicinity of royalty. Even the judge said he would be unlikely to offend again so why such a savage sentence? Was it a political sentence? I would have thought a caution to have been an adequate and proportionate response in this case. As William Rees=Mogg once asked in his Times leader, “Why crush a butterfly on a wheel?”

  10. The point about maximising blame and minimising responsibility is well made, especially by someone in a “customer-facing rôle”.

    Do the citizenship classes that are taught in English schools teach the kids about basic law principles like personal responsibility, duty of care, ignorance of the law etc? They are not difficult to understand, are they? Rather than blame the young, expose them to a bit of hard reality and tough love first. I make no apologies for seeming to be a dreamy idealist, I like the idea and it’s all about maintaining a decent society, but don’t know the content.

    And who was the poet who said that if the schools are reformed, then prison reform may be unnecessary?

  11. To repeat the point, the judge said that the cenotaph had nothing to do with the violent disorder for which Gilmour was being sentenced. It is just amazing that people have latched on to that. Why? Because the judge gave Gilmour a lecture about it. The disrespect to the cenotaph also garnered public support for this sentence.

    It is interesting that there are no Crown Court sentencing guidelines for violent disorder.

    Magistrates’ Court guidance discourages them from accepting jurisdiction in any violent disorder case though it mentions the possibility that minor involvement might attract a custodial sentence within Magistrates’ Court powers. Generally, sentencing for violent disorder does tend to be on the heavy side. Maybe it is time for the Court of Appeal to look at this. Obviously, in some cases it should be harsh but that would be where the disorder has resulted in serious injury to persons or serious damage to property etc.

    The CPS website offers further information:

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