Dr Hugh Willbourn
#31 The Foolish Policeman
We should all be grateful to Harry Miller. In 2019 Harry was told by the Humberside Police that some tweets he forwarded would be recorded as a ‘non-crime hate incident.’ Harry realised that 'recording a non-crime hate incident' was an infringement of his rights. It was also an over-reach of police powers, it had potential for unjust consequences, it was a waste time and money, and it was a misdirection of police resources when, for example, between 2015 and 2021 964,197 domestic burglary investigations ended without a suspect even being identified.
He took the Humberside Police to the High Court and won, and then in the Court of Appeal he took on the College of Policing who had issued the original guidance. This week he won against them too. The full story is here and it is worth reading.
I am particularly grateful to Harry Miller, not just for his principled stance and his persistence, but for the story he told after his High Court victory in a panel discussion hosted by the Free Speech Union:
“Following my High Court victory I had a sit-down meeting with the Chief Constable of Humberside and I said to him, ‘Look, I kind of understand why an enthusiastic young officer came off a course and got it entirely wrong. What don’t understand is why somebody up the chain of command didn’t apply some common sense.’
... The Chief Constable looked me in the eye and said, ‘Harry, what you must understand is that common sense is not an appropriate tool for a police officer because it leads to unpredictable outcomes. What we need is more guidance.’”
You can hear Harry tell the whole story here.
The words of the Chief Constable perfectly illustrate the dangers of the dominance of abstract thinking, fixed ideas and lack of emotional understanding. I have written about this many times: here, here, here, here and here. However it is easy for philosophical commentary about abstraction to appear to be a bit … abstract. Hence my gratitude to Harry Miller for prompting the Chief Constable to explain his beliefs.
The Chief Constable, a Mr Lee Freeman, prefers to place his faith in abstract 'guidance' rather than address the specific details of a particular event. This is the essence of folly. No two situations are identical. Any action repeated regardless of context will sooner or later be inadequate. Common sense is sensitive to context, proportion and human behaviour, as well as to 'guidance', and it is precisely what we should wish for to generate sensible outcomes - even if they are unpredictable.
The job of a leader such as a Chief Constable is to use his authority to ensure that his subordinates do the best job possible, and they do not merely follow ‘guidance’. If guidance were all that was necessary, we would not need leaders. It follows from his own words that Mr Freeman is redundant.
But perhaps I am too harsh. Mr Freeman is probably a very nice man. He is, according to his biography, a football coach and a cyclist. Everyday life, rife as it is with unpredictable outcomes, must be torture for him, and he must have been severely traumatised as a child when he realised the existential burden implicit in his surname. Perhaps he should change his name to Mr Lee Guidanceman.
Mr Freeman’s failings are typical of contemporary leaders, who refuse to take up the obligations of their office. He is fortunate that Mr Miller is a robust and sensible man who was not overwhelmed by the stupidity of Humberside Police.
Mr Freeman should resign before he finds himself, like David Duckenfield, Paula Vennels, Dany Cotton and Boris Johnson, presiding ineptly over a real disaster. The rest of us can be grateful that his honest response to Harry Miller alerts us to the fact that we really, really do not benefit from leaders like him.