Archives for March 2015

Catching a Serial Killer

If you live in Pembrokeshire, read this book. If you’re interested in rural crime, read this book. If you want to know how the police catch the most dangerous criminals, read this book.

The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching the Bullseye Killer covers the investigation into a series of unsolved murders and the conviction of John William Cooper. The author, Steve Wilkins, led the investigation for Dyfed Powys Police. He takes you through the process of reviewing the crimes, linking them, assessing them and preparing for court.

He includes extensive transcripts from Cooper’s police interviews. They give you a fascinating insight into the tricks and deceit of a serial killer. He shows the painstaking detail – and luck – required to catch a determined, evil man.

What you learn – at least what I learnt – is the extraordinary infrastructure behind a conviction. From the start the team are thinking about the courtroom. Before they even know their suspect they are considering the defence case.

Success hinges on meticulous cataloguing of evidence, spreadsheets to link items, analysis of behaviour as well as fibres and DNA. It requires a strategy that plays on the suspect’s psychology, using both the broadcast media and the quiet of an interview room.

For all the drama of a courtroom, it’s the methodical slog of the investigation that makes the case.

I learnt a little more about the police force I have the privilege to oversee. And I learnt more about the characters – both good and bad – they deal with.

What you do not learn is, why? Why did this man kill so brutally for so little gain? What created the monster?

We will never know. Nor will we know what motivates the handful of others who do the same. Like the author, I suspect some people are just evil, a corruption of humanity. All we can do is isolate them.

So long as there are people like that, we will need officers like ours.

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Small Things Matter

Small things matter. That is the message from the research we published this week, called Rural Connect. It looked at how the police can most effectively cut crime in rural areas.

Leading academics from Aberystwyth and Cardiff universities worked with officers from Dyfed Powys to research perceptions from the public and officers. They reviewed literature on rural policing from elsewhere in the world. The work was sponsored by the College of Policing and forms an important part of research into rural policing.

Rural Connect’s findings are an important reminder of some old lessons. People in rural areas want officers they know and who know them. Relationships require time and effort to build. They turn on small things – knowing someone, saying hello in the street, having time to talk.

Dyfed Powys officers are generally very good at local relationships. I often drop by shops and ask if they know their PCSOs. A pleasing number do. One even noted that PCSOs have something to teach regular PCs about good communication.

But we have more to do. My job is to make sure that frontline officers have what they need to tackle crime. I’m going to look closely at the findings to see what we can take forward.

We’ve cut targets, increased officer numbers and invested in IT to free up time. Senior officers are looking hard at daily work loads to improve how we use our limited resources.

We are already planning a major recruitment drive for Special Constables. I’m going to explore bicycles, motorbikes or mopeds for rural officers. We will shortly launch improved watch schemes – farm watch, neighbourhood watch, horse watch, for example – across Dyfed Powys.

I want to encourage people to speak to their police too. Small courtesies are the currency of relationships. Saying hello builds trust. It costs nothing and it opens doors.

I want the police to walk and greet with confidence, but the public can help too – by doing the same.

You can read the reports and my response to them here.

My interview with BBC Radio Wales on Thursday morning is here (at 42 min).

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The Battle for Better Government

Cardiff Bay ambitions for control of policing are dead. Or, if not dead, they have assumed zombie status, condemned to wander government corridors frightening the occasional apparatchik before melting back into their coffin.

That much we learnt last week, as the dust settled on proposals for Cardiff’s future powers.

Conservatives are not offering Cardiff control of the police. Labour have offered everything they can short of that. Much as Plaid might wish it, they are unlikely to hold such sway over the next Parliament that they can demand a change.

That is a good thing for the people of Wales, and mid-Wales in particular. ‘Devolution’ has always meant Cardiff control. Until the Welsh Government can demonstrate some degree of accountability and success in the areas it does control, we cannot risk handing over more.

Perhaps more interesting than the future of policing is what this means for devolution as a policy. The Secretary of State for Wales, Stephen Crabb, has offered Cardiff tax-raising powers. That seems a sensible attempt to insist on some sort of accountability. If the Welsh Government wants to spend money, let them raise it.

But what if they can’t, or won’t? I wouldn’t bet against that outcome.

Then, surely we will have to ask some serious questions of the whole approach. There are many ways to get power closer to people.

Until now there hasn’t been much alternative. Now, though, we have Manchester. The Mayor of Manchester will have significant powers. More importantly, he or she will be directly accountable to the public.

If it works – and I think it will – the Manchester model will break the committee-ism which strangles attempts to improve local government. It gives people power through direct election and gets Whitehall out of the way.

Let us hope we are not too late. It’s hard to escape the impression that devolution as we have it has failed on almost every level. The English rejected regional assemblies. Wales barely supported it and has been rewarded with the worst government in Britain ever since. It was supposed to kill Scottish nationalism. Instead it has fuelled it.

Devolution as we have it has weakened Wales’ and Scotland’s voice in the UK by allowing MPs and media to neglect Welsh and Scottish issues.

We need each other. England needs Welsh, Irish and Scottish voices to counter its tendency to boorish arrogance. Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland need England to counter their small, cosy and self-serving elites.

Policing is staying where it should: accountable to the public via local Police and Crime Commissioners and part of the UK government. That is a relief.

But the bigger battle for better government rages on.

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Welsh Conservative Conference Speech

Every now and then something jumps out at you in this job.

It might be the distraught father of a severely autistic man, caught up in the nightmare of the criminal justice system.

It might be the heart-breaking story of a couple, investing their savings in their dream retirement home, only to land next to the neighbours from hell as disputes escalate and the value of their property falls to nothing.

It might be the horror or a woman clinging to her family in the face of violence and abuse – in the very place she should be safest.

It might be stories of trafficking, fraud or businesses crippled by online criminals.

These are all things that affect people across Dyfed Powys. The police deal with them every day.

I hear about them in my surgeries in towns and villages from Llanfyllin to Llansteffan.

Rural areas present their own problems. As Sherlock Holmes puts it:

“the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling… countryside”!

… He must have been having a bad day… I don’t think it’s quite that bad…

In case I depress you, you also hear about the officers who check on families every day; the disputes over a tree root settled; or, the work of our new joint police and mental health team who prevent sick people ending up in jail.

That is the work of the police today. It is what I fund, support and oversee as Police and Crime Commissioner.

It is what courts and justice should do. But too often bureaucracy, confusion and paperwork prevent them.

Like the police before the reforms of this – one of our greatest Home Secretaries – central interference strangles local justice.

Reforms

That is why I hope a future, Conservative, government devolves justice budgets to PCCs.

If you want to know where decisions are made, follow the money. Only when we have joined up budgets will we have joined up decisions.

That will allow PCCs to ensure that victims get swift, sure justice.

Then we can bring proper authority, respect and standing to our local courts. We can drag them out from dreadful grey concrete offices, that look like some 1960s municipal car park, into the public’s eye.

Because the first duty of government is to provide security and justice for its citizens. And the best form of security and justice is security and justice that is owned by those citizens.

That is the great tradition of British liberty, stretching back through the creation of our police in the nineteenth century; the establishment of our Parliamentary traditions in 17th; and the roots of our legal system in Magna Carter and the great codification, here in Wales, by Hywel Dda.

We do not have laws imposed upon us. We own our laws. We make them. We police them. We judge them. We uphold them.

In creating PCCs, this government has broken the fiefdoms of cosy committees and worthy ‘experts’ who had smothered the administration of the police. It has given the public a voice.

You have someone you elect, who you can sack, to implement your priorities.

These reforms have put the law-abiding in charge of law-enforcement.

Leadership

Local leadership means we can tackle local problems.

In Dyfed Powys it means we focus on preventing crime.

Since my election we:

  • Have 30 more officers for our rural policing;
  • The highest proportion of frontline officers in Wales;
  • We are on course for 100,000 hours of extra police time thanks to investment in IT

That means more officers, for more time, tackling crime in our towns and villages.

It means we can start to improve local justice. We need swift, sure justice so offenders learn to behave and victims can find their peace.

We have introduced:

  • 2 new rape crisis centres, due in Aberystwyth and Newtown
  • Extra support for victims of domestic abuse
  • 2 new mental health support teams

We have overhauled our complaints system.

We have introduced some of the most comprehensive reforms in England and Wales, which the government themselves are adapting.

That is what you get with leadership – new ideas and innovation.

Finally – and it is finally because we can only do this by improving services first – we are returning savings to taxpayers in some of the poorest communities of Wales.

Families in Dyfed Powys will pay 5% less for policing next year.

How many Labour run authorities in Wales can claim that?

They claim to speak for the workers but try to prize their grubby little hands off workers’ cash and you’ll discover something far stronger than superglue.

We can lighten the load on families because we are on course to save £8.8m between 2013 and 2016.

The top ten salaries are down 20%.

We have the lowest cost per head in Wales.

That is what you can achieve when you put the public in charge.

Choice

Or, perhaps I should say, that is what you can achieve when the public have the profound good sense to elect Conservatives!

You get leadership and decisiveness; action not words.

Labour’s proposals for policing are all talking-shops and committees, joint boards and national plans, local consultation and government meddling.

No one is actually in charge. No one is accountable.

That’s the way they like it. It’s a miasma of competing interests; a fog indecision.

What else could we expect from their government?

Nothing. Hot air, motherhood-and-apple-pie

… (except Ed M’s forgotten the pie and Ed B can’t remember who his mother is)…

… confusion and chaos:

A kitchen cabinet producing a dog’s dinner government.

That is Britain’s alternative in May.

Will we have a Conservative government or the hapless court of Ed the Unready?

We have given people…

…people who are struggling with mental health issues in the justice system…

…people who are victims of crime…

…people who work hard for their money and wonder why they should keep paying more…

…a voice over their justice, that they pay for.

Huge swathes of government are benefitting from overdue reform.

None of that is easy. It has not been in Dyfed Powys.

Heaven knows it cannot have been easy for David Cameron with a great LibDem albatross slung around his neck.

But we have done it because we love our country and we want better lives for its people.

Now they have their choice. What is it to be?

Competence or chaos?

Plan or no idea?

On your side or on your back?

From mid-Wales we can give our own: it’s not been easy; we are delivering change; the plan is working; there are brighter days ahead.

Wales, we are on your side.

Delivered to the Welsh Conservative Conference on 28.2.2015

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