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  • Rush to Judgement

    Posted by James R. Rummel on April 1st, 2009 (All posts by )

    Some of the best read bloggers have been outraged by this news item. The headline reads…

    “Fire kills child, 3, and parents as police prevent neighbours from trying to rescue them”

    If anything is going to produce outrage, it would be an account of how young and innocent lives were lost when they could have been saved. And all through a pig-headed application of the rules, to boot.

    But my buddy knirirr has pointed out one or two things that have been missed.

    Firstly, the report says that the neighbours were “beaten back by flames” which suggests to me that the fire was so intense that they would not have been able to get in and save anyone anyway. If this was a fire at night and there were no alarms installed then it could well have been burning for some time before anyone noticed.

    Secondly, if the police really did quote H&S then they might not necessarily have meant it in the bureaucratic jobsworth sense that the Samizdata article seems to imply. I wonder if they meant “it’s too late, you can’t save them, you’ll only get killed if you try” but stated that the rules said so out of some misplaced belief that people will be impressed by being told that It’s The Law and are more likely to obey. We cannot know, but if so it clearly failed to make an impression in this case.

    I find it very difficult to believe that five British police officers would stand by and let young children burn if they thought there was a chance for unequipped and untrained hands to help. Oh, there might be one or two here or there who would not care to make an attempt if it might mean their job. But five??? It seems likely that at least one, and probably more, of the officers were a parent themselves. For some reason, I don’t think sociopaths alone choose the police as a career.

    It seems to me that there are a fair number of areas where Great Britain might improve. It also seems fair to me when someone points them out. But I don’t think this news article is fair.

    (Hat tip to Glenn.)


    6 Responses to “Rush to Judgement”

    1. Helen Says:

      I cannot comment on the actual case. Like you, James, I think the newspaper account is a little muddled. But there was a fairly clear case not so long ago of a British Community Police Officer standig by and letting a child drown because he did not have whatever permission he needed to go in and save him. The other child was saved by someone else. “I cannot believe” is not a good way of approaching any aspect of a country’s life.

    2. lordsomber Says:

      “I find it very difficult to believe that five British police officers would stand by and let young children burn if they thought there was a chance for unequipped and untrained hands to help…”

      I would also, but I do recall a similar case a few years ago:

    3. HughMackie Says:

      “Oh, there might be one or two here or there who would not care to make an attempt if it might mean their job. But five???”

      It may be counter-intuitive, but I think this has it exactly wrong. On his own, and knowing that the blame for inaction would be placed on his shoulders alone, a single policeman would be likely to try a rescue. It’s the passivity of the group that reinforces the impulse to do nothing.

    4. Helen Says:

      I do wonder whether it is a question of language. Had the police said as they would have done in days of yore: “Keep away you bloody (or worse) fool. Do you want to ******* kill yourself?”, all would have been well. There would have been no articles in the press and on Samizdata and Mark Steyn would not be hyperventilating. Using the dreaded “elfnsafety” as an excuse did it for the bobbies. OK, I don’t know what happened, unlike the case of the drowned child, but that article does not exactly tell me.

    5. ThomasD Says:

      Michelle was at the bedroom window yelling, ‘Please save my kids’ and we wanted to help but the police were pushing us back and not allowing us near.

      It was a second story window. If nothing else those people could have tried to talk the woman into jumping. Assuming she had access to anyone else in the house she could have thrown them out.

      People wanted to help but were prevented from doing so. Even the police have acknowledged that. If you are not free to risk your life your life is not free.

      Next they’ll ban guns and knives. Oh, wait…

    6. Dom Says:

      “If you are not free to risk your life your life is not free.”

      +1 to that. Of course you’re always welcome to risk your life in service to your government…but to your community? No, stay back ol’ chap, we know what’s best here.

      I wonder if this is to some extent a symptom of the increasing divide between police and community. Not sure about the UK, but in the US I know some municipalities have brought back the nostalgic “foot patrol” to try to fix this problem. Unfortunately, if the cop on foot is still bent on being a dick, or a taser-happy 20-year-old, it doesn’t help much. And if he’s not representative of the mainstream force, it’s nothing but PR. I don’t think it’s possible to solve the problem through glad-handing residents anyway. Alienation is a feeling, based in perception. Ultimately, I think police have got to take a serious look at their mindset and reconsider exactly who they are tasked to protect and serve.

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