I’ve been in trouble with the law. Well, with a very special constable who apparently has the name Pyle, according to his name tag. I was happily walking – or proceeding as SPC Pyle would have put in his notebook – down Lisle Street, round the back of London’s Chinatown, when this young officer, who must have been all of 19 and wearing the most ridiculous glasses, told me to go walk on the pavement.
Now the pavements in Soho are remarkably narrow and there were no cars but plenty of people, so I simply said ‘no, i’m happy walking on the street’. He then tried to insist that I walk on the pavement and I refused, at which point he said, ‘right come with me’. I happened to be with my partner and two friends, both lawyers, and I might add had not imbibed a single drop of alcohol, and was minded not to obey, but thought better of it.
PSC Pyle then proceeded to waste five minutes of our time while he wrote out a docket, Form 5090, noting that I had been stopped. I refused to give my address or show any ID, and I later found out that I could have refused to give my name. The reason for the stop, which he had to give, was ‘refusal to co-operate with police when asked to walk on pavement. As we were eager to get to the Chinese restaurant, I acquiesced rather than walking away which was my instinct. I was handed a copy of the notice, together with a leaflet about ‘help us to defeat terrorism’
Well, I don’t think SPC Pyle has done anything to help the anti terrorism cause. Quite the opposite. While this is obviously a trivial matter, it shows the extent to which the police have been given powers on the basis of terrorism which they are all too ready to abuse. There was no question that four middle-aged people walking through Chinatown had terrorism on their minds. Moreover, there were literally hundreds of people walking in the street and actually, from a societal point of view, it is quite right that if a car came along, it should have to go at the speed of people rather than risking pushing through the crowds. What officious little coppers like young Pyle do not understand is that policing in this country is by consent and they need us to be on their side. Harassing people because they do not obey fatuous instructions is not the way to win over the public.