Gang-style bank raids, murders without motive, sudden violence — all this in dignified Britain. Why this sudden upsurge in crime?
London AN unparalleled wave of violence and shootings has brought widespread fear to Britain. In a recent two-week period London witnessed five armed raids on banks, a number of brutal murders by teenage gangs, and several vicious assaults on helpless victims. Barely a day has passed without a murder or a gang-style bank raid perpetrated. Early this year, Scotland Yard's crime chief called a meeting of top law-enforcing officials. He then made a dramatic appeal to the public for help.
How Public Responded
The head of London's 1800 detectives asked the public to report any "groups of men sitting in parked cars, apparently nervous." It was even suggested that anyone witnessing a gang-style robbery, should "have a go" at the criminals. This advice was later described by a British Safety Council official as "madness" and "suicidal." One Member of Parliament even went so far as to tell wives and mothers of possible criminals to search their own premises and to report to the police any firearms their husbands or sons might possess. "Quietly take away the guns and give them to the police," he told them. A few days after the "have-a-go" advice was given, six masked raiders — carrying a shotgun, a revolver, a hammer and an iron bar — were confronted by four men and two school girls — equipped with lemonade bottles, a spanner [wrench], and pieces of glass. The thugs panicked and fled! Two nights later, a gunman — after having shot two unarmed policemen — found himself chased and surrounded by "hundreds of people" — both men and women — "having a go" at him with chairs, tins, and beer bottles. The man finally surrendered. With the public's direct assistance, the police are hoping to bring this spreading wave of violence under control.
Why the Upsurge in Crime?
Throughout Britain, crime is on an alarming increase. Crimes of violence have increased by 800 percent during the last 25 years. In 1964 alone, a million indictable crimes were committed in Britain. Everywhere, people of all classes are asking: "Who will free us from the growing menace of violent crimes?" Commented the London Sunday Express: "The fact that this island of ours which, until recently, was blessedly free from violence when compared with most of the rest of the world, is in real danger of lapsing into the bloodstained ways of Sicily and Chicago." What's behind this sudden upsurge in crime? Public officials cite various reasons. These include the ease with which knives and guns can be obtained, the growing use of "pep" drugs, too much money and idle time, and doing things for "kicks." The House of Commons' vote against capital punishment, it is added, is also proving to be an additional factor in the increase of violent crimes. If caught and convicted, murderers are likely to spend only a maximum of nine years in gaol [jail]. To many, a possible nine-year sentence is too short a period to serve as an effective deterrent to potential criminals. Passing softer and more lenient laws for the punishment of crimes, coupled with the fact that the percentage of caught and convicted criminals is falling lower and lower, aids in convincing the criminal that crime does pay after all. This is especially true with the young criminal. Describing in court the arrest of a youth on a rooftop, a policeman gave this eye-witness account: "I shone my torch [flashlight] on him and noticed his shirt and hands were covered with blood. I called on him to put the gun down before he killed someone. He replied: 'They can't hang me' and fired another shot straight across the street a little above our heads." Vicious crimes committed by teenage gangs are becoming more and more terrifying. Between 1955 and 1963, crimes of violence against the person rose, among the under-17's, by more than four times; among the 17 to 21 year-olds, by more than three times; among the 21 to 30 year-olds, by less than three times; and among those over 30 by less than double.
What Officials Fear
In the hope of preventing future teenagers turning to crime, Lord Kilbrandon, Q.C. [attorney at law], addressed the Association of Child Care Officers in Nottingham. He said that a delinquent child's first contact with the law should not be in the easy-going atmosphere of a juvenile court. It ought to be at police headquarters, where a police superintendent in full uniform would "tell the little perisher [little monster] exactly what he thinks of him." He said that the present juvenile court system, hedged about with what were clearly humanitarian ideals, removes all the terrors of the law from the first offender. Lord Kilbrandon described what usually happened when a child was made to appear before the juvenile court: "Lo and behold, when the time comes, he is shown into a room and faced by a benevolent old gentleman, and a kindly old lady, who do their best to put him at ease. "He then listens to his mother telling the court what a good boy he is and how he has been led astray by bad companions and would not have thought up anything of this kind by himself. This surprises the boy nearly as much as when he hears his schoolmaster giving him a glowing reference. "After this encomium the boy begins to feel quite genuinely that he is not a bad chap after all, and he is confirmed in this by the kindly admonition which is handed out to him by the elderly gentleman. And so he leaves the court. "Gone for him are all the terrors of the law, and he commits his next crime under the impression that, if society takes so little heed of what he has been up to, society can have very little concrete objection to his mode of life." All this in intelligent Britain! Notice what top law-enforcing official, Chief Inspector Donald McCulloch, says about this trend in soft-pedaling criminals. Great Britain is, he said, in danger of becoming a country fit only for criminals. This will happen "if we go any further along the road towards being fair to accused people." He continued: "The police today were inundated with malicious complaints — mostly from accused people... This destruction of the police image is bad enough. But in addition, each complaint — no matter how frivolous — has to be investigated." He said a trend had started which stems from the present moral outlook to defy authority. "If we continue any further on the path we are going," he concluded, "we will have turned a complete somersault from the unjust treatment of the criminal in the last century to the point where we will create a country fit only for criminals to live in." These statements come from responsible men who know what they are saying. They know that crime is not a game. As Lord Shawcross, Q.C., reminded the East Sussex magistrates at Lewes recently: "Crime is a war in which we have to face the attack of sophisticated and skillful criminals, able to exploit all the facilities of the modern world." He pointed out that the laws were too heavily loaded in the criminal's favor, and gave these examples: "A policeman has no legal power to stop a car which he has reasonable grounds to think would reveal evidence of an offence. "He sees a boy riding a bicycle without a rear light, and must issue a caution before he asks for his name and address, which, indeed, the boy is not obliged to give. The boy can cock a snook [thumb his nose] at the officer and ride away. "If a man is acquitted, perhaps on some technicality, his fingerprints must at once be destroyed. Why should not all innocent people be willing to have their prints recorded?" Lord Shawcross concluded: "We symbolize justice as blindfolded and holding scales. The scales are weighted against the truth. All the time we seem to be adding to the rules which protect the wrongdoer." The passing of lenient, ineffective laws is likewise believed to be responsible for an increase of wanton "thrill" killings. Writes the Sun, a London newspaper: "A new status symbol marks a wave of terror which has hit the streets of Northern London: The Shooter, slang for a shotgun or a revolver..." Relative to this problem, a senior police officer confessed: "We seem unable to stop these hoodlums getting the shotguns — the public would be shocked if they knew just how many guns are in the hands of these boys. "Where the gangs used to proudly sport coshes [blackjacks] in their pockets, they now carry guns in the back seats of their cars. "Maybe they have more money. Perhaps they know that they can't hang. Whatever it is, they believe you need a gun to be a man. It's the new symbol of power." Who supplies them with these guns? Apart from stealing them, anyone over 17 can legally buy a shotgun or a pistol. In fact, guns imported from Spain, for instance, can be bought for £12. And British policemen, we must remember, don't carry guns. The other day, amidst this sudden increase of violence, a police chief reassured that the British policeman is still a million miles away from carrying guns. In the meanwhile, crime is booming — £20 million worth last year. Vicious crimes continue — one woman was struck several blows on the head with an iron bar while praying in a church. And the Home Secretary recently reprieved a man awaiting execution for two brutal murders within a year.
Soft Laws to Blame
Soft treatment towards criminals is encouraged by Britain's religious leaders. Recently, Dr. Donald Soper, former president of the Methodist Conference, stated that "any punishment which puts a man in continuous imprisonment for more than four years may well destroy the dimension in him which cannot be recovered." In other words, no matter how gruesome a crime the criminal might commit, don't sentence him to more than four years' imprisonment. "Although I want [criminals] punished," Dr. Soper adds, "I do not want it as an example to others, because that is un-Christian, neither as retribution, because that is not Christian." If Dr. Soper is really correct in his statement that retribution is wrong, then convicted murderers should not be sentenced at all. Rather, they should be released to be free to continue murdering innocent victims. Two other church leaders have also come out in support for more leniencies in sentencing vicious criminals. If criminals, serving a "too long" sentence, escape out of prison, these men have publicly stated they would welcome them in their homes if they sought sanctuary there. Their argument is that long sentences "don't deter anyone from crime."
There are two primary causes for the upsurge of teenage violence and professional crime. First of all, there is a total lack of proper teaching about obedience and respect for authority. There is too often disregard for constituted authority by both young and old. This failure to teach respect for law and order is becoming increasingly more evident in Britain. It's a natural inclination in man that causes him to resist authority — especially if he feels he can get away with it. He doesn't like being told what to do. He wants to be freed from having to keep specific laws regulating his and his neighbor's welfare. Not having been trained by his parents to respect civil authority, the adolescent child naturally expresses a disregard and contempt for any laws or authority. As he grows older, he will try his best to get away with breaking these laws. That is where the second cause comes in — lack of swift, sure, just punishment. Weak laws, with no force behind them, serve only as attractive bait — and not as a deterrent — to the crime-bent criminal. The only way to effectively prevent crime is to teach children from infancy proper respect for law — and to put teeth into laws — to deal with the few who still insist in becoming wanton criminals.