Helen Martin: Ditch the rude arm of the law

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LIVING in a “hotspot” for house-breakings, I’m delighted that Police Scotland has launched Operation RAC to crack down on burglars and that they’ve collared 44 of them in ten days.

Since house-breaking appears to be a regular crime career, it’s also good to know the culprits are more likely to be banged up for a while so that they can’t carry on pinching other folks’ hard-earned possessions. Three cheers for the polis!

However, last week builders working on re-pointing our walls and fixing up the limestone mortar garden wall had a traumatic experience.

Amid the gales and rain showers they were doing their best going up and down ladders and sheltering in their van when the weather got too rough. This is a works van, with the initials of the well-established Edinburgh firm on the side.

They were down on their hunkers working on the garden wall when two of the boys in blue came along, enquired why neither of them were on the ladder at the time, asked how much they got paid for repairing walls (which they couldn’t really answer because they have no idea how much the firm charges, they just get their wages), and suggested they might be bogus workmen. The builders pointed out I was in the house and they could speak to me.

Instead, the officers checked the van registration, took their names, addresses and dates of birth and, eventually satisfied, went on their way.

Now this is fine for me, the well-protected householder. I had no complaint at all . . . until I spoke to the builders who were mortified, not just by the accusation but by the way they had been treated as potential criminals when, in rotten weather, they were just working hard at their jobs. I felt especially sorry for the older of the two builders, who felt particularly humiliated.

I really am grateful the police are taking burglaries seriously. If they catch one, they can speak to him, or her, however they like as far as I’m concerned. I’ve no doubt they were following proper procedure. But they don’t have a licence to be rude and arrogant. When they are questioning members of the public who in all probability are innocent – especially when they are working in full view of the neighbours and passing buses – would it be asking too much for them to be polite and respectful to someone old enough to be their
father or grandfather?

Police Scotland has a lot on its plate, part of which is winning the hearts, minds, support and appreciation of the public. “Excuse me sir, this area has been targeted by housebreakers and bogus workmen so we have to check everyone out. Would you mind telling us which firm you work for?” and “Thanks for your help sir, sorry to have bothered you,” would have gone some way to winning over two people ideally placed to keep their eyes open while working in suburban areas and tip off the police if they see anything suspicious.

Instead, they felt bullied. Not a good strategy.

Freddie’s titfer was last straw

THE Queen’s milliner, Freddie Fox, died recently aged 82. More than 30 years ago, I was at a fashion press lunch with him, after which he decided to select hats for us all to try. “Hats don’t fit me,” I warned. “I have a really big head.” “Nonsense,” he said slamming a decorated brimmed straw topper on me. The brim promptly snapped and the hat fell apart. He was ashen-faced. So was I when I saw the £300 price tag.

It’s all a matter of degree …

STILL on crime, neither of my parents was a bleeding heart liberal. But as a ten-year-old child I remember the prevailing opinion that the Great Train Robbers had been sentenced harshly. Thirty years for each was more than expected for premeditated murder.

The coshed driver died later from injuries, but they didn’t “mean” to kill him, it was said. The sentence was harsh simply because they had made the authorities look stupid, none more so than Ronnie Biggs who went on the run and surrendered only when he wanted to.

He was no hero, but nor was he a manipulative baby torturer such as Lostprophets singer Ian Watkins, who has been given just five years more. I know who I’d rather have next door.

Capital has to save Christmas with tradition

I HAVE a solution for saving Edinburgh’s Christmas next year after councillor in charge, Steve Cardownie, and organisers Underbelly have reduced the spirit of the season this year to base greed and exploitation of residents and tourists alike.

Jingle Bells? Kching, kching is the only sound warming their hearts. So forget about making money and give visitors a Christmas they really won’t find anywhere else that matches the history of the city.

Get rid of the big illuminated thrill rides, the modern fast and pricey food, and all the expensive tat.

Re-think the whole thing. Have an atmospheric, Victorian-style Christmas with roasting chestnuts, mulled wine, mince-meats and boiled sweets, rides in a pony and trap, carols, period costumes, Father Christmas dressed in a green robe giving children fruit and nuts, old-fashioned games and everyone donating money to the poor – of which once again, just as in Victorian times – there are many.