First of all, for the benefit of those who aren’t aware of the incident in question – in early October a large wooden fort in the children’s playground of Harrogate’s Valley Gardens was set alight. There was considerable public anger at this and the police investigation is continuing. Those responsible should be brought to justice and punished – I have no issue with this very simple fact.
However a chance comment from someone at work brought an equally disturbing fact to light. In the immediate aftermath of the attack several teenagers who had no involvement in the crime were arrested and held for some hours before being released without charge (I believe one was released on bail and had possessions siezed before being exonerated a few days later).
So what’s the big deal you might say? The police have to investigate crimes. Unfortunately sometimes suspicion falls on the wrong people. It happens.
But let’s imagine what the situation looked like for the guys who were arrested (I don’t know any of them btw so I can only guess). The police stop you in the street or turn up on your doorstep (this assumes they don’t burst in while you’re asleep) and confront you with your alleged involvement in a crime you possibly had no knowledge of up to that moment. While you’re still taking this in you’re escorted to the back of a caged car (possibly in handcuffs) and taken to the police station where – after being photographed, fingerprinted and mouth swabbed – you’re locked in a cell with nothing but a locked door and a few bricks to stare at while the investigation goes on elsewhere.
Reports suggests those arrested in this case were held for six/ seven hours (longer in one case). Six hours is a long time to be locked up for something you DIDN’T DO. Think about how long six hours feels like at work or school – and that’s when you have something to do. And being arrested in the first place, escorted out with the police flanking you and your hands restrained – how many people were staring? And Harrogate is a small community. There aren’t that many degrees of seperation. Gossip is a way of life. Dirt sticks.
So the wrong people were arrested? So what? They were released after a few hours. Well reread the two paragraphs above. That’s (temptation to swear resisted) what!
I attempted to raise this issue in the local paper. Granted they didn’t help me with a tagline that misrepresented my comments before anyone had read them but the response was two `disgusted of` letters stating that those arrested deserved it. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. I don’t know for certain – how the hell do they?
My conclusion – that it’s more controversial to assume a male teenager may have been wrongly arrested (and being arrested is not a pleasant experience – nor should it be) than to assume he’s a yob who probably deserved it. There is a wider issue here and this blog is yet young.
Final word – there is a campaign to raise money for a replacement fort and I wish the organisers every success. I hope the police are able to put those actually responsible away – they will find no sympathy from me. But let’s not relegate the wrongly arrested to a footnote and a statistic for once.