"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
"The Couzens saga is emblematic; no one held to account, disjointed values and a failure to enforce standards."
Who'd want to be a police officer in the UK? It's a tough job at the best of times, now made much worse as the political class and a fair part of society have decided that, by default, you can't trust male officers.
To prove my point, here's some official advice: If a single plainclothes officer stops a woman on the street, do not assume the officer is legit. Instead, 'wave down a bus', challenge the officer's identity, or decline to cooperate until some form of confirmation arrives. So that's going to work?
Of course, this is the fallout from the Couzens case. Earlier this year, a serving Met officer tricked Sarah Everard into a car, drove her away — raped and then murdered her. Couzens then burnt the body in a futile effort to hide the crime.
In a nation accustomed to seeing the police through the prism of Dixon of Dock Green and Z Cars, this case is a harsh reminder that something else is going on.
Yet, this horrific crime was avoidable. I'd opine that the predicament the UK police find themselves in is of their own making. And that's not to place blame on frontline officers, although they have a role to play. Instead, the responsibility rests with senior police commanders.
In Hong Kong, we worked to the principle of 'supervisory accountability'. As a result, leaders and supervisors may face investigation to determine what they knew and could have prevented when something went wrong. Of course, this system was far from foolproof, nor was its implementation always fair; on occasions, it produced faulty outcomes. But the existence of 'supervisory accountability' put senior officers on notice; be ready to explain.
If supervisory accountability exists in UK policing, it's not evident. May I present exhibit one: Met Commissioner Cassandra Dick. It's a standing joke that she retains her job when her failings are the stuff of legend. For starters, she ran an operation that led to the assassination of an innocent man. Add to that criticisms for obstructing investigations into police corruption, and the list goes on.
Perhaps because Dick gets away with it, her middle managers feel compelled to act the same way when assessing their subordinate officers. For example, we know from many studies that middle-ranking supervisors take the lead from the behaviours of their seniors. So do they become ambivalent about accountability when they see their seniors enjoy free rein?
It's hard not to see that something went wrong, given the known behaviours that Couzens exhibited.
First up, his nickname — 'The Rapist' — seriously! Second, he used 'sex workers' - a lady even complained to his station that she'd not received payment. Thus, he's called back from the beat to resolve the debt by handing over some cash. So why aren't alarm bells ringing?
Third, he brought a prostitute to a police wedding and then openly boasted about it. Plus, we have the reports that he 'flashed' women on several occasions without consequences. Finally, it's known that Couzens used drugs and had an addiction to extreme porn.
Incredibly, none of his supervisors acted on any of this. I've heard that a culture of not prying or passing judgement on people's private affairs held his supervisors back. If true, this is arrant nonsense and not dissimilar to allowing rape gangs to run free for fear of stoking racial tensions.
In all this, I'm reminded that one of the essential qualities of a copper is to be nosey. You have got to want to investigate and get to the bottom of an issue.
Then again, the UK has a Prime Minister with the morals of an over-sexed alley cat. Is the nation supposed to draw its values from him? You can see the problem.
Is it a surprise that Couzens went undetected? After all, the UK police don't investigate burglaries, car thefts and most crimes, so why bother chasing down one of their own.
For the record, Manchester Police failed to record 80,000 crimes in one year, with auditors suggesting this is 'the tip of the iceberg'. Not only is this a procedural disgrace, but it also denies the police access to a great deal of intelligence. Also, police officers became habitual in ignoring, covering up or walking away from their core duties.
Is it right to conclude that a whole generation of officers comes imbued with a culture that ignores the evidence before them? And yet, senior officers have become skilled at switching the focus to the 'low hanging fruit' of policing language and feelings by scanning the internet for hate speech. The Harry Miller case illustrates the point.
In many ways, the Couzens saga is emblematic; no one held to account, disjointed values and a failure to enforce standards.
I've had some exposure to British policing; I undertook attachments and command courses. But, likewise, I've had the opportunity to see many other jurisdictions, including Singapore, Japan, Canada, the USA and Australia.
One of the challenges the UK faces is they remain locked in the myth that British policing is the gold standard. Granted, the significant set-piece investigations get done well, but the mundane frontline stuff is substandard. But, then again, any police unit that is well resourced, focused with a specific remit usually does well.
And there is part of the problem; underfunding. Allied to that is the toxic ideology of postmodernism and the woke culture that created unfocused and relentless mission drift. When I attended a UK command course, it soon became plain that the 'leaders of future policing' are groomed as politicians, not crime fighters. That process includes developing all the traits of deflection and double-speak.
Now, I recognise police leaders need to be politically savvy - except in the UK, that's the only criteria to ascend to the top.
So above all, it's hard not to conclude the UK police are not interested in tackling crime. But, instead, they're now quite happy to become the enforcer of speech codes and minority attitudes.
Further, I'd argue that Hong Kong, Singapore and many other places provide better 'day-to-day' policing, not least because officers respond to calls and within strict time perimeters. And, yes, I know societal culture is a relevant factor, so making direct comparisons is problematic. Nonetheless, a bit of honesty and humility from senior UK police commanders may allow them to learn from others.
I feel considerable sympathy for the ordinary UK copper. Most are decent, honest, hardworking people trying to do their best in a weird, rapidly evolving, complex environment.
But, unfortunately, they come hemmed in by their leaders playing politics by pandering to agenda-driven pressure groups. Hence, the kowtowing to minority interests, and appeasing eco-lunatics who block ordinary citizens from doing their lawful business.
I often wonder if the critics and senior police leaders realise the damage because without that, are they capable of repairing it? But, unfortunately, the evidence isn't encouraging.
Look how is Ms Dick responding. Another study, of course. The whole notion that the UK police need more studies and inputs by self-serving academics to address these issues looks embarrassingly naive.
Instead, I'd propose some straightforward leadership, accountability and crime-fighting. Too simplistic? Probably - I expect my advice will falter because it's not packaged in some fancy academic model from a pseudo-intellectual with no frontline police experience.
That's enough, nothing to see here. Move along!
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.