Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Fight Against Knife Crime

We’re back and blogging. The haitus has been occasioned by a few days holiday in the north of Spain (San Vicente de la Barquera. Nice place, more about it later) and a further few days in England (about which also a bit later). Now we’re on the farm, but I almost didn’t get here…

I tend not to read blog entries where the blogger talks about himself in the manner of a self-obsessed newspaper columnist, so this is not really about me, though it uses an incident I was involved in to illustrate a point that is rather more important than I am.

I was stopped at Stansted airport by a security officer who had seen something he didn’t like on the scanner, and searching through my luggage he found, in a forgotten pocket of a bag I was using for some other purpose, and which was buried in a rucksack, a small penknife that I had not known was there. Oh damn, I thought, they’ll confiscate it.* And so they did, but then it got a lot more complicated.

The knife has a blade of about two and a half inches, and I use it in the country for cutting cured meats, slicing tomatoes, picking flowers, cutting string, and a hundred little things for which generations of people, and not just those who enjoy the country, have found it useful to carry a penknife. But not in modern Britain. The colleague of the security officer decided that the blade was lockable, a concept I still haven’t fully understood. All folding knives have some kind of mechanism to stop them closing while in use, and why mine was any different from a Swiss Army knife of the same size, which I was explicitly told was ok, I have no idea. But it seems that Parliament, in response to some thug knifing someone, and at the instigation, one would imagine, of someone who was never a boy scout and has his fruit pre-sliced by the staff, at some point made such things illegal, and they also took the highly illiberal step of removing any possible defence, as I discovered when the police were called.

I had, of course, done nothing wrong. I had neither hurt, nor threatened anybody with the penknife. I had not even known I had it on me and if I had no reason to suspect that such an unremarkable, useful, everyday object was illegal in the land of my birth, which used to be a beacon of freedom and commonsense in a depressingly benighted and totalitarian world. But this is not about me.

None of these facts was disputed by the police, but even so, it’s an ‘offence’. And none of those facts matters in the slightest. They clearly knew I had done nothing wrong; from the way they treated the matter it was quite obvious that to them it was no more than a bit of paperwork, and I was some idiot who’d got himself caught up in the machinery of asinine law. They were more interesting in making sure I didn’t miss the plane than in protecting the world from your humble blogger. They were charming and efficient about it, but they said that they were only letting me go because I didn’t live in the UK. Presumably that’s their letout, even though ignorance of the law isn not supposed to be a defence in this case.

Even though it was made clear that I had no defence, and that there was no point shouting about the despotic stupidity of the law as it stands, it did cross my mind to call a solicitor and see what he said. I could have tried to show that the knife wasn’t ‘lockable’, but in the absence of any clarity of definition, it didn’t look a good bet. I might have been on firmer ground in disputing that I had been in ‘possession’, but I had a plane to catch and a life to lead, so I accepted a caution,** the policeman bade me good-day and called the gate to hold the plane. All very civilized, but stupid and pointless. No purpose has been served by it, everyone involved was well aware of this, and I may yet find that it has consequences at some future time.

*About 15 years ago, on the way to Istanbul from either Gatwick or Heathrow, I forget which, my father had a similar experience, in that he had accidently left a penknife in his hand luggage. Those were more sensible times- it was packaged and checked, and given back to him on arrival.

**Being accused of having an offensive weapon by a man carrying a machine gun is a bit rich, too, but it brings up another point. His machine gun didn’t bother me in the slightest because he didn’t do anything threatening with it and he was clearly a competent and responsible person to be carrying it. As my knife was, in my hands, equally clearly harmless.


Vincent said...

I don't know if it is any consolation but the new Coalition Government is asking the people to nominate laws they would like repealed, with special emphasis on affronts to civil liberties. I suggest you participate, as it can be done on-line.

I couldn't trust myself to participate at all. I get too wound up by these injustices; not when something happens as it happened to you, but if I try to pursue it further.

CIngram said...

I was indeed aware of this, and was about to blog on that very subject. I should participate, of course, but I don't see too many votes in 'letting people carry knives', so I think it would be a waste of time. Except that if I don't say anything, I can't complain when they do nothing.