Settling down to watch 24 Hours in Police Custody, the new Channel 4 programme brought to us by the team behind the excellent 24 Hours in A&E, I was expecting some proper gripping telly. What I did not envisage was to be further educated about the level of plonkery that some men are capable of. And I don’t just mean the criminals.
The custody sergeant this week was checking in a 60-year old man who was under arrest for an alleged assault and kidnap. The case was called ‘honour-based violence’, which usually refer to crimes against women and girls perpetrated by religious maniacs. There are countless such cases in the UK: revenge attacks on women who refuse to comply with forced marriage or female genital mutilation or who behave in a manner considered inappropriate to her culture - such as drinking, wearing western clothes, having any type of fun. Delighted that mainstream TV was covering the issue, I refreshed my glass and texted my feminist friends.
The man in custody was of Pakistani heritage and was being accused by his 25-year-old daughter of assaulting her in front of her sister, niece and nephew - aged two and six, respectively - then attempting to bundle her into a car to prevent her from seeing her husband, a Pakistani Muslim that the victim married despite her father’s disapproval. 'She is mentally ill', repeats the father when the police officer asked him what happened.
The victim was so scared of being punished by other family members for involving the police that they sent her to a safe house. But did law enforcers actually understand what was at stake here? 'The Muslim community usually don’t like to trouble the police,' said one of Bedfordshire’s only Muslim police officers, explaining that there is often a preference to go to faith and community leaders.
Cut to the alleged perpetrator’s mosque and a Muslim officer speaking to one such ‘community leader’ (a title reserved only, it would seem, for brown and black men), who appeared to be giving a character reference for the accused that was based solely on the fact that he was a regular at the mosque. In the time honoured fashion of men sticking up for their own, this self-appointed leader pins the blame on anyone but the man in the cells.
But all was not lost because we had the wonderful Rachel, an officer who was not going to let anyone guilty out of her sights. 'How can anybody treat their daughter like that?' asked Rachel, ignoring any so-called ‘cultural’ excuses to define the alleged crime. 'We have one chance [with honour crimes] to get it right. Otherwise it may be too late.'
In between scarfing Curly Wurlies, Rachel dug hard for evidence, driven by a passion to see justice be done and protect the victims of such crimes. An interview with a senior male officer confirmed what many know about the institutionalised sexism within the police service. 'Don’t underestimate Rachel because of the way she talks,' he advised. 'She is a very intelligent person.'
One of the things I was reminded of during this episode is the many barriers facing women, whether as victims or law enforcers. 24 Hours will educate as well as entertain.