One law for the police, and one for everybody else?

Apparently a PCSO has been found guilty of illegally accessing police databases (the original article seems to have conveniently been removed).

This illegal access occurred over 5 years (which raises the question of why it took so long to catch her), but more importantly happened on 900 separate occasions. In addition she was only fined £500 rather than being handed a prison sentence. Apparently since she did not had the data onto 3rd parties she was not charged with a more serious offense.

A few points come to mind as a result of this:

  • £500 for 900 offenses. That equates to only a 56p fine for each offense. This soft of level of punishment is clearly insufficient.
  • The government appeals lenient sentences in other cases, but rarely if ever appear to do so when it involves the police. Previous emails sent to my MP seems to suggest that the government think that blanket support should be given to the police as they do a difficult job. This may well be the case, but all this attitude achieves is the perpetuation of corruption (institutional corruption?) that gets increasingly worse over time because of the refusal to deal with it.
  • How can it be proven in this case that the data was not handed onto 3rd parties? Even her own solicitor mentions the PCSO’s own ‘dire financial’ circumstances as part of her defense in the original article, and it’s difficult to see why they would do so if the purpose of the data gathering wasn’t financial gain.
  • Why the differentiation in sentencing? Why does it matter whether it was shared or not? Access was illegal, and given the difficulty in really proving that the data was never supplied to 3rd parties surely there should be no difference between the two crimes?
  • And a last point: why was this PCSO allowed access in the first place? Or are they increasingly taking the place of ‘normal’ officers to the point that this access is needed for their job?

I can understand being lenient if the situation isn’t clear; nobody expects either police officers or PCSOs to be 1st class lawyers after all. However the lenient sentencing in cases where there has been a clear cut abuse of access really is impossible to comprehend, at least in terms other than there being one law for them and one for the rest of us.

Allowing people to pay a pittance each time they commit a crime can only encourage the same crime to be committed time and time again. The police need to be whiter than white, not merely the rather dirty and grubby grey that they only seem to manage at the moment.

I emailed my MP (Chris Grayling) to ask him why this situation was allowed to continue (he also happens to be the current justice secretary so I assumed he would be interested in this type of matter). His response was rather brief:

Sentencing is always a matter for the Courts, but there are tough penalties available to Judges handling individual cases if they consider them appropriate in the light of the evidence presented to them.

Which doesn’t say why 1) tough sentences are rarely if ever applied when the police are involved and 2) why the government allows this situation to continue. Tough sentencing may be available to judges but they have to follow sentencing guidelines and laws as laid down by parliament. It seems odd that more isn’t done about this when the government has previously complained about judicial activism at the EU level and has shown a certain willingness to appeal against lenient sentences when it involves members of the public.

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