“Why don’t you tell it like it is, why don’t you tell it like it really is…” Mr Writer; Stereophonics. There is a problem with some of our most cherished public institutions. They appear to have a long-standing learning disability, an inherent organisational flaw; their cultures mean they are institutionally and wilfully blind to their shortcomings. They appear to be guided by the old and now most definitely defunct mantra of “never admit when you are wrong”, which was only ever possible, albeit amoral, in an era without social media and communication channels that spread information at the speed of light. Their approach to engaging with those who fund them and who they are supposed to serve, as well as being ethically inexcusable, is clearly also anachronistic. Their approach to information sharing appears rooted in an age where we huddled round the wireless, still doffed our caps to the local gentry and respected the church and our leaders. How things change. We officially have more faith now in private businesses and charities than we do in the swaying decaying once sacrosanct institutional pillars of society. Perhaps they were never really great, perhaps we only ever respected them in the absence of real knowledge about them.
It was Autumn 2015 and two fairly senior policemen are sat in my conservatory. They are telling me, reassuring me, subtly yet earnestly trying to make me understand that as far as they are concerned there is no good reason to relaunch an investigation into events leading to the death of my sister in 1991 and the allegations of inappropriate treatment in the Mental Health hospital in Carlisle that she was being “cared for” in. They are using all the stock phrases cut and pasted from the pocketbook of positive thinking, “what’s to be gained from looking backwards” and that classic, “it’s where you go forward from here that matters”. Phrases which when coupled with what I now know could be roughly translated to, “please, please, please, we would really like you to just forget about it and let us brush it all under the nearest and largest carpet we can find”. They even tried the personal touch and vouched for the officers that carried out the original investigation; “I have known them personally for a long time, they are solid and reliable, I would be very surprised if they hadn’t done a thorough and proper job”… you can guess what’s coming next.
Fast forward to this Monday, and a letter from Cumbria Police arrives in my inbox. It contains the following words; “I would like to acknowledge in full that we did not pursue all of the lines of enquiry that we should have during the initial investigation that occurred in 2001, resulting in a flawed investigation. Cumbria Constabulary could have, and should have, done more, and we let you and your family down. I would also like to sincerely apologise from the outset, for the subsequent police response.” Quite a turnaround from saying the original investigation was of a good standard and that I had nothing to worry about. It has also emerged that despite the case relating to allegations of a serious and sensitive nature, there is no record of the Police even creating a basic investigation plan. The hurt my family has felt since finding out the Police did not take our concerns seriously in 2001 is almost immeasurable, but then being falsely reassured in 2015 that we had nothing to worry about is doubly annoying because with a small dose of humility and honesty it was completely avoidable. I have often wondered how the Policemen that sat in my house trying to steer me away from reopening the investigation would deal with a suspect in an interview who responded to all their questions by saying, “What I did to those people doesn’t matter, it’s all in the past, just forget about it, it’s how we all go forward from here that really matters”. I’m not sure it would wash in the eyes of the law or stand up well in court?
And we, the increasingly naive souls looking for truth and justice, we are the ones left exhausted, we are the ones who reach a point where we are ringing the Samaritans, seeking help from a non-statutory charity and crying uncontrollably because we feel alone, isolated and are genuinely losing the will to go on. It is so tiring and utterly demoralising having to navigate and fight the bureaucratic obstacles that surround the defensive fortresses of our institutions. There is the drawbridge of denial, this is the first and most used obstacle, then the energy-sapping moat of doom, an ever moving morass of opaque murky water full of weeds, surprises and hoops and twists the outsider must become aware of and then negotiate, and then finally the walls made of the solid stones of stoicism with narrow slits through which the arrows of process can exit but from which no empathy can flow. These are the defences surrounding the fortresses of our Police force. And they have mastered the art of defense, they are seasoned pros in handling small fry like me, and each time the small man like me finds a chink in the fortress wall, the occupants take note and vow to get better at defending that section next time…in short they have the benefit of a thousand encounters under their belts, and people like me have only our loved ones, persistence and a healthy smattering of righteous anger.
But why, why does it have to be this way, why couldn’t the Police have been straight with me and my family from the start? Didn’t they ever think that as citizens we simply deserved this basic level of humanity and respect? What does an institution have to gain from trying to hide what has turned out to be such an obvious string of errors? We all make mistakes and we know that to err is human, but choosing to cover things up is a choice, an unfeeling and horrible one at that. Are these institutions so conflict averse and their employees so predisposed to friction free careers that they are prepared to deceive the very public they are serving? What can be so difficult about just putting your hand in the air and saying you got it wrong? In his excellent book, In Pursuit of the Truth, Clive Driscoll, the DCI that solved the Stephen Lawrence case is unambiguous about the right thing to do in these situations, you stand up and say, “We apologise for what has gone on in the past and we want to rectify that by throwing everything we have at continuing”. As someone who’s family has been treated so shoddily by the Police, I agree entirely with him.