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Is proof of guilt no longer essential?

Our correspondent writes ...

If the truth about what is happening in this country has not yet dawned on you, the story of Teja Singh offers some clues as to the way police can abuse powers granted under the Licensing Act 2003.

Teja Singh manages an off-licence and mini-supermarket in Slade Green, Erith. Nearby is Arthur Street playground, a place where groups of yobs frequently gather to cause nuisance and criminal damage. Putting two and two together, the correct sum of four indicates their behaviour may be fuelled by drink. But when the sum adds up to three or five, or some number other than four, it becomes patently obvious - in police eyes - that the closest off-licence must have sold alcohol to underage youths. So what do they do? They close the shop down.

The shop owners are rightly annoyed because they have never been caught supplying alcoholic drinks to any youngsters who are under age. And the police actually confirmed they had tried to catch the supermarket breaking the law but were not successful. However, two Metropolitan police officers - a Chief Inspector and a sergeant, no less - listened to accusations voiced by other people, took out their notebooks and crayons, noted the accuser's comments, and closed the store for two days.

At a later meeting of the state police - an amalgamation of the local police, the local council and the local magistrates - the store was allowed to reopen but was banned from selling alcohol until Bexley Council's licensing committee hold a review meeting on March 10th.

This is just one example of authorities using their new closure powers to victimise a man who may be completely innocent. In doing so, the police denied him the right to earn a living for two days and drastically reduced his potential income for several more weeks, if not forever. The fact is that this is an area plagued by yobs and is similar to many others in the Slade Green/Erith area. The police, instead of attempting to deal with the actual problems, found themselves a scapegoat in the shape of Mr Singh.

Frighteningly, this relatively small episode is a clear indication that the Guilty Until Proved Innocent Act is already in effect. And what makes it more frightening is that we know some victims of such justice are never allowed to prove their innocence. If the police are prepared to take such drastic action on the evidence of a few people who, for all we know, may have a personal grudge against Mr Singh, where does it stop?

Editorial comment:

This is an area where, days later, a man playing tennis with his son on the outdoor court at Erith Leisure Centre, half a mile down the road from TJ's, was stoned by a large gang of youths who had been ejected from the leisure premises due to their disruptive behaviour.

One large stone hit Ernest Norris on the head and the injury exacerbated an existing heart condition. Mr Norris died at the scene.

Nineteen local youths were arrested after the incident and were later released on bail pending police enquiries. Meanwhile, local kids in the area's schools who may have witnessed the incident are now being threatened and intimidated by gangs of youths gathering outside school gates and local homes.

Regrettably, the current yob culture is a crisis that has been building over two or three generations with no-one in authority tackling it properly. To the contrary, discipline has been relaxed to the degree where it is almost non-existent and the punishment dished out by magistrate's courts is almost laughable ... except that it is not funny.

The fact is we are seeing the effects of a compounding problem. Many of today's yobs are the offspring of a previous generation of yobs.

"Many men stumble across the truth ... but most manage to pick themselves up and continue as if nothing had happened."

Winston S Churchill

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