When I was a copper in Bradford in the seventies, eighties and nineties we had a name for the low life that we would deal with each and every shift. That name given to them out of disrespect and disdain was “Ganiff”. Another well known name given to these people was “Scroates”.
These were the people that would commit low level crime repeatedly but in doing so they would seriously disrupt and/or ruin for some time, the lives of their victims. One of the worst crimes I dealt with were the sneak-in thieves that would target vulnerable old people in their homes, claim to be from the water company or gas board, trick their way into the houses and get the residents to go upstairs to turn on the taps and things like that whilst they stole jewellery, purses and valuables.
Burglary was always rife and Bradford, like most big cities, had its dedicated burglary squad which tended to be very successful. They got to know all the known burglars and their modus operandi. The arrest and conviction rates were very good. Some, though, slipped though their fingers.
I remember one bad one where a young lady had bought her first home, she was in her early twenties and was a trainee at an insurance company. She lived in a lovely cottage on the outskirts of Bradford. While she was at work, two Ganiffs broke in; not content with stealing her valuables, they wrecked her cottage. They wrote in nail varnish and ketchup horrible words all over her walls and then emptied her underwear onto her bed and defecated all over it. She was of course devastated and never spent another night in her dream cottage, she sold it and moved in with her grannie.
Shoplifting is a horrible crime, in that if the stuff stolen in those days did not add up to more than £15, we did not take any action other than a caution. Many local small shops were hit hard, particularly at lunchtime by gangs of schoolkids, and the shopkeepers on very tight margins just could not take these repeated hits.
Larger chain stores had stolen goods built into their anticipated losses but still had full time teams of store detectives. I joined the Bradford shoplifting squad and it was real starsky and hutch stuff, chases and tailing, groups visiting from Liverpool and Manchester to simply shoplift.
Other prolific crimes were TWOC, also known as taking without the owner`s consent. As many as 150 cars a day could go missing from the larger cities. These crimes are invasive, pernicious and just plain horrible, mostly committed by career criminals who were not the sharpest knives in the drawer.
Rory Stewart MP, the minister for prisons, made a bold, headline-grabbing statement on his appointment last year. He stated that if he could not get the levels of violence and drug taking in prisons reduced severely within a year he would resign. My ears pricked up at this as many others did. It was a very ambitious claim to make, given the situation within Her Majesty’s Prisons throughout the country. Violence and drug taking are just rife, open and unmanaged.
The loss of some 7,000 prison officers under austerity speaks for itself. Prison and custodial sentences mean nothing to these people. They are most certainly not a deterrent. They are to many, upon release into a civvy street with no jobs, no where to live and squalor a bolt hole, so they commit crime with the guarantee of a custodial sentence to relieve their devastation.
Almost a year on, and it would seem progress on the promises of Mr Stewart is slow and will fall short of his declared goal. Therefore, he has given notice that he intends to cancel any prison sentences which would be for six months or less. One would imagine therefore that up to 30,000 short term prisoners will be released onto the streets. He has attempted to smooth this idea and reassure the public by talking about community sentencing being the better option.
Community sentences, which are a combination of restorative and retributive measures, are said by the great and the good to be a much better alternative than a custodial sentence. There is evidence aplenty to support both the success and failure of these sentencing regimes.
Apology to the victim is popular in America, here not so much. Unpaid work, curfew and house arrest are used a great deal, as is electronic tagging. The problem with all these methods of punishment is the lack of resources to manage and administer the programmes. Just like the prison service, the probation and community programme service have been devastated by austerity measures. 30,000 career criminals suddenly hitting the streets, even on a stepped basis is a scary thought.
The potential threat of prison is of course lost with this pathway. It is not a stretch to make the claim therefore that minor criminal activity has in fact got the green light here. Criminals can and they most certainly will commit crime with aplomb knowing that they will not get “sent down”. They will be given a job litter-picking, knowing that if they don’t turn up, nothing will be done.
No, Mr Stewart forgive me for being a little bit cynical here but your ministerial car, trapping of office and of course the uplift in your salary for being a minister, it would appear, have overridden the basic premise of any government to keep its citizens safe.
I truly hope no Gannif breaks into your house, empties your knickers onto your bed and defecates on them.