Counting Cats in Zanzibar Rotating Header Image

Absence Of Evidence May Be Evidence Of Absence

Well, this looks odd. The police are saying some young men are terrorists. The evidence as described seems somewhere between flimsy and farcical. They haven’t got any actual evidence of bomb making, which is normally a prerequisite of a bombing campaign, but they’ve got, er, emails with girls’ names in them that may be codewords and a reference to a wedding that may be a codeword.

I don’t trust the police any more. I used to sort of generally trust them. I mean, I knew they planted drugs on people and hit people they shouldn’t, and stuff, so didn’t trust them in that regard, but I generally thought most coppers were decent enough people trying to do a difficult job in difficult circumstances, often in very grey areas, and I happen to think, despite being a minarchist, that state policing has a useful role. But I now think something has gone very very wrong with our entire policing apparat.

Over the past few decades, policing- the capture of criminals- has been replaced by policing as a sort of state guardianship. They are moral guardians now- a mutaween- but more than that we now have this enormous, uber-powerful “security apparatus” which is profoundly menacing. Such apparats rarely stay within sensible bounds- power leads to excess. The days of the village bobby are long gone.

We know that cases like Operation Ore- the paedophile ring that never was- are driven by a kind of excess of zeal and groupthink, often being pushed along by specific high ranking officers who believe they are on a mission to save humanity. When the matters being investigated are the subject of societal panic- paedophilia, or terrorism- we need to be very cynical. There seems to be a psychological effect which occurs whereby the security apparat fall into a groupthink feedback. They’re certain they’re right and, like conspiracy theorists, fall into a mindset of trying to pull together whatever snippets of information they have to fit their preconceived picture. The public tend to be ready to support them too in these panic situations, for much the same reason- when terroristsandpaedophiles are involved, any smoke proves there is a raging inferno. We become too ready to accept reductions in standards of evidence and due process of law because in our gut we know they’re guilty and terroristsandpaedophiles are as sly as foxes and capturing them requires the suspension of caution.

I have no idea whether these young men are terrorists caught in the nick of time, or innocent men caught in a web of circumstancially justified certainty by the security apparat. But when I read about “bombers” who have no bombs, and that emails describing a wedding are the evidence, I feel disquieted.


  1. Travelgall says:

    Very good piece of work. Always enjoy reading your stuff Counting Cats.

  2. CountingCats says:


    Thank you, you have articulated my thoughts on the matter.

    I am, by temperament, inclined to trust the police, but over the last ten/fifteen years I have come to feel a profound disquiet at what I see.

    Individual coppers were bent, and they fitted up the bad guys, but now? Individual coppers are straight, and it is the institution itself which is bent. They are making a bad mistake in alienating their supporters.

    I tend to date it from the Lawrence report.

  3. Sam Duncan says:

    “Individual coppers were bent, and they fitted up the bad guys, but now? Individual coppers are straight, and it is the institution itself which is bent.”

    Well put, Cats. You’ve completed a thought which has been lying part-formed in the back of my mind for some time. I could never quite reconcile the fact that I know quite a few coppers (an inordinate number of my childhood friends seem to have gone into the force; was it something I said?), all of whom are straight as a die, yet I still find myself trusting the police as a whole less than I did 10-15-20 years ago.

    But that’s it: it’s no longer the odd copper who’s bent; it’s the direction from above. Did I ever mention that I heard Tulliallan (the Scottish Hendon) was under orders not to fail anyone last year? They’re going to sort them out on the job, apparently. Inspires confidence, doesn’t it?

  4. alison says:

    Not sure how I feel about your points though they are well made. Do you ever read Inspector Gadget? It’s a great read. He deals in cynicism. Mostly about policing itself and how they are expected to behave. And it sometimes includes a dig at us the public, about whom I am way more suspicious than of the police I have to admit. I don’t trust our media’s perspectives either. They peddle fear and hang doubt and rarely offer balance.

  5. JuliaM says:

    “They are making a bad mistake in alienating their supporters.”

    It certainly doesn’t help when they turn up mob handed to arrest a young mother falsely accused of some pushing and shoving, yet plead ‘lack of resources’ for everything else under the sun…

  6. NickM says:

    Ditto Sam,
    A couple of my school pals are rozzers and they are straight as an arrow. That that those two lads are protecting people and scrobblining up the miscreants fills me with joy.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: