David Blackburn

Who is to blame for the Pilkingtons’ deaths?

Who is to blame for the Pilkingtons’ deaths?
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I empathise with the jurors who decided the Pilkington case: it is impossible to make sense of this senseless episode. Yet society must ensure that the tragedy is not repeated. The jury, the Home Secretary and even the Opposition, up to a point, all blamed the police. Simon Jenkins’ piece in the Guardian savages the political Establishment’s refusal to address a democratic deficit, which has eradicated local civic leadership, a status quo that leaves the police caught between being a law enforcement force and an organisation that promotes community cohesion, a dual task that it is ill-equipped to perform.

‘Monday's Leicestershire jury verdict on the Pilkington deaths was typical of British public opinion. It blamed the police and local officials for "contributing" to their tragic end. This was converted by the press into "letting it happen".

 

Where is civic leadership in Leicestershire? It is as invisible this week as when Fiona Pilkington was suffering her torment. Her parish councillor would not even reveal his name. Accountable local leaders have all but departed the political landscape in Britain. We have almost no elected mayors, no figureheads to express the regret or anger of town or city – let alone to take curative action. There are only introverted oligarchies. Councillors owe loyalty to party, rather than neighbourhood, and remain largely unknown to their communities.’

There is a democratic vacuum in this country, but it did not contribute to the Pilkingtons’ deaths any more than the police did. The government’s super-weapon for tackling anti-social behaviour is the Asbo, a medal of honour for pubescent thugs that augments the problem. Yesterday, Gordon Brown reverted to mimicking Stalin and announced further strong-armed measures. The 50,000 worst families are to be ostracised and given “compulsory treatment” - the 50,001st worst escape the cut for no particular reason.

Abolish this alarming conditioning exercise and Asbos, and put more bobbies on the beat and invest in local regeneration; the carrot and the stick are equally vital in fixing our society where it is broken, marginalised and disenfranchised. Having an elected mayor or the equivalent of the Stasi pacing the streets of Leicestershire would not have averted the Pilkingtons’ deaths; the perpetrators of their harassment are solely responsible.