By Kenneth Roy
With that undisguised relish it reserves for the downfall of unfortunates, the press was quick to gloat over the 12-month prison sentence given to a 38-year-old policewoman, Michele Selby, on a charge of attempting to defeat the ends of justice. ‘Jail for Scotland’s laziest cop’ screamed the billboards.
The judge at Glasgow Sheriff Court who considered that prison for PC Selby was ‘the only appropriate disposal’ is not listed as a full-time sheriff; I understand he is a solicitor-advocate in private practice. His name is Richard Clark. Mr Clark warrants a tiny footnote in Scottish judicial history as the man who first punished the new crime of laziness.
Before we get too excited about Michele Selby’s criminal misconduct, for which she is now banged up in Cornton Vale alongside the sort of people she was recently paid to arrest, we had better have a closer look at what she actually did. Or, rather, this being the new crime of laziness, what she didn’t do.
It was 5.30 in the morning outside the Moon River Chinese takeway in High Street, Kirkintilloch, a place once noted for a junior football team gloriously named Rob Roy. Not a lot was happening at that fragile hour, except that there was a man hanging about the Moon River Chinese takeaway with a bag of tools at his feet. He claimed that he was fixing the door – a likely story, you may think, giving a whole new meaning to the theory that the British tradesman won’t get out of bed for less than two hundred quid. Well, certainly not at five in the morning.
If he was not there to fix the door, was he there to obtain illegal entry for the purpose of picking up the previous night’s takings, assuming there were any to be had, or might he simply have been ravenous for a Chinese takeaway? We shall never know.
PC Selby, who was accompanied by a younger colleague, took the precaution of confiscating the tools and gave the man a ticking-off. She went on to complete the errand she had been assigned – delivering mail to another police station – before returning to her own station, where she dumped the tools, finished her shift, and went home. After some hesitation, her colleague informed on her.
What would any reasonable person expect to have happened next? A formal warning at the least, maybe dismissal from the force, although not before some serious inquiry by her employers as to whether PC Selby was suffering from stress or some other condition that might have affected her judgement, particularly as Richard Clark acknowledged that she had been ‘held in high regard’ before her inexplicable lapse. But the handling of her case went far beyond internal disciplinary proceedings or even a minor prosecution. The Crown Office decided for one reason or another to make an example of her, bringing into service that old carthouse which has the ends of justice where the tail used to be.
‘I made a mistake,’ PC Selby said in her own defence. ‘It wasn’t intentional, it wasn’t wilful, it wasn’t evil. I didn’t start my shift and say I’m going to defeat the ends of justice’. Yet down she went for 12 months, imprisonment ‘the only appropriate disposal’. I disagree: several hundred hours of community service, for which Michele Selby was eminently qualified, as well as the loss of her career and reputation, would have been a more reasonable alternative. She should be released pending appeal, allowing a sense of proportion to be restored and this ridiculous sentence to be reduced.
Why did this happen? I choose to believe that Dave was a tad lazy when he submitted his claim. Like PC Selby, he was probably tired at the end of a long shift.
Since laziness is now an imprisonable offence, other forms of laziness, of somewhat larger importance, should be viewed in a new and more incriminating light. Indeed one might well argue – as I am about to do – that laziness lies at the root of many of our present ills. It was, for example, an extreme form of laziness that was exercised – in so far as laziness can be exercised at all – by the editors of Rupert Murdoch’s late, unlamented News of the World who were so neglectful of their duties that they somehow failed to notice the routine everyday criminality being practised under their noses.
PC Selby, whatever her faults, did confiscate the tools; if a burglary was about to take place, she prevented it. Although the editors of the News of the World were so idle that they failed to observe the activities of their own staff, there must have been a few people employed by that paper who did know what was going on; and yet the criminals kept their mobile phones.
The most outstanding example of laziness is, however, closer to home. The non-executive directors of RBS had a duty to scrutinise the performance of management and to safeguard the interests of shareholders. They did this so brilliantly that the bank collapsed. After the fall, Stephen McGinty of the Scotsman attempted to track down the non-execs to ask each of them for an explanation; the result is a wonderfully funny piece of journalism. He failed to obtain an explanation. There has been no explanation, either then or subsequently. We are therefore entitled to conclude that the non-execs, in return for £72,500 a year, were inclined to take the same benevolent view of humanity as PC Selby took of the man with the bag of tools outside the Moon River Chinese takeaway.
Another lazy person of the modern era is the prime minister himself, who, when he was leader of the opposition, knowing that the Daily Telegraph had just started to trawl through MPs’ expenses, found it expedient to go ‘carefully’ through his own and discovered that he had wrongly claimed for mortgage interest (‘an inadvertent administrative error’) which he repaid to the House of Commons authorities. Why did this happen? I choose to believe that Dave was a tad lazy when he submitted his claim. Like PC Selby, he was probably tired at the end of a long shift. It is pleasing to record that, this unhappy lapse behind him, he is now busy lecturing the youth of Britain on what he calls ‘a slow-motion moral collapse’.
Perhaps Michele Selby should base her appeal on the grounds that her failure to arrest the man outside the Moon River Chinese takeaway was an inadvertent administrative error, and go on to become chief constable.
Courtesy of Kenneth Roy – read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review