"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
"Breaking the law — as long as it doesn't endanger or harm anyone — is no big deal." Chris Packham
In the movie "Minority Report", the Pre-cogs — humans with extra sensory perception — can predict murder. A squad of officers then deploys to detain the future culprit before the crime occurs. It's an intriguing idea that creates a complex premise for an entertaining film. The original idea came from sci-fi writer Phillip K Dick, who gave us "Blade Runner" and many other classics.
In a bizarre set of circumstances, this links into events in London this week, confirming that reality and fiction come intertwined in hyper-reality.
The raid on UK politician Lawrence Fox's home and later arrest drew immediate conjecture that Mr Fox faced an investigation for his ill-considered remarks on TV. He’d stated that he wouldn't shag journalist Ava Evans after she'd engaged in a discussion dismissing male suicide as an issue. Mr Fox lost his temper at her callous opinions and paid a price for his outburst as GBNews fired him.
Ms Evan's purported distress at Mr Fox's remarks didn't stand up. It soon emerged that she'd frequently discussed who she would and wouldn't shag on her Twitter feed.
In truth, the police action against Mr Fox followed his support of the "Blade Runner" vigilantes — who are busy damaging and taking down the "Ultra Low Emission Zone" cameras that Labour Mayor Khan has installed across London. If a vehicle doesn't meet the ULEZ emission standards and isn't exempt, the owner must pay £12.50 a day to drive in London.
The ULEZ cameras catch offenders, most of whom are poorer citizens operating older cars they cannot afford to change. This discriminatory policy cost the Labour Party the Uxbridge by-election, a seat they should have won relatively easily.
In a series of clips online, Fox has shown support for and encouraged the actions of the "Blade Runners". This support prompted the conversation around Pre-cog crime because Mr Fox hadn't taken any action, although he stated he was in contact with the "Blade Runners." That was silly.
Further, his statements may have crossed a line to "conspiring to commit criminal damage and encouraging or assisting offences to be committed". These well-established common law principles are now nestled in the Serious Crimes Act of 2007.
Hong Kong has similar laws under section 159A of the Crime Ordinance, a fact that protesters and their keyboard cheerleaders could have noticed in 2019. Also, ignorance of the law is no defence.
Much of the outrage around the actions of the UK Police is a misunderstanding of the law and how "conspiracy" works. A "conspiracy" occurs when two or more people agree to commit a criminal act; the offence is complete once the agreement is made.
Thus, the comparison to Pre-cog crime is hardly relevant because "conspiracy" involves two or more people, whereas precognition is reading an individual's mind.
Moreover, it is not even necessary for a crime to occur to achieve a "conspiracy" offence. There are some exceptions and riders, as explained by a barrister here.
If the UK police action is questionable in any way, grounds worthy of examination are the proportionality and fairness of their actions.
For example, TV presenter and avowed environmental campaigner Chris Packham has discussed in interviews and a passionate documentary, "Is It Time To Break The Law?". He supports the aims of radical groups like "Just Stop Oil" and "Extinction Rebellion". Mr Packham concluded, "Breaking the law — as long as it doesn't endanger or harm anyone — is no big deal."
And with that, it could be argued he has, in effect, encouraged crime. In one recorded instance, he accompanied two culprits as they prepared to damage property, expressing sympathy. In another example, he allegedly applauded intimidation by a convicted man of a woman and her children. Still, whether these actions constitute "conspiracy" is a matter for the courts.
Under section 44 or 45 of the Serious Crime Act 2007, "encouraging" others is an offence. Yet, as Mr Packham hasn't faced an investigation, it is impossible to conclude any guilt. Although a layperson may feel his actions are not that different from Mr Fox's.
Mr Packham undoubtedly believes he has substantial grounds to fight for his beliefs — saving humanity and the planet is his mantra. Likewise, Mr Fox could claim the same privilege because he deems his cause right-minded. It is worth noting that the law should be blind to these moral aspects of crimes.
However, these motivation factors influence court decisions, usually in mitigation after conviction. Plus, juries may be more open to a not-guilty finding if they perceive the criminal actions as righteous.
Mr Packham and Mr Fox are not alone; many celebrities and others call for "action" over various causes, and their statements may prompt criminal acts. There are even instances of online videos teaching citizens how to defraud banks and the council to avoid tax. Thus, it is a fair question to ask why none of these instances have attracted the attention of the Police.
Still, it is not the Police's role to decide guilt, although they de facto act as the gatekeepers to who faces investigation. So, why go after Mr Fox when Mr Packham and others appear to get a free pass?
In the absence of other evidence, people will, of course, speculate. The general thrust of the discourse is that Mr Fox has challenged the authority of Mayor Khan and is now facing the consequences. To make that position tenable assumes that the Metropolitan Police acted on the Mayor's orders. And there is no evidence of that; indeed, the Police are supposed to be independent of such influence — I heard that somewhere.
Or maybe frustrated with their inability to catch all the "Blade Runners", Mr Fox is a valuable target to show they are doing something. Indeed, his careless comments have given the Police reason to believe he knows who is responsible for the damage to the ULEZ cameras.
Meanwhile, Pre-crime isn't real; criminal damage is criminal damage, no matter the motivation while “conspiracy” and “encouraging” crime are nothing new. For sure, critics of that position will argue that all genuine change has come through breaking conventions and the law, sometimes with violence — that's a more complex discussion for another day.
With Mr Fox out on bail, it will be interesting to see how this case develops.
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.