"Is there a law for bailiffs and a separate law for the rest of us?" asks a despairing commenter on one of the many forums dealing with such issues – noting that police were refusing to take any action against bailiffs accused of committing fraud.
That indeed is my experience, entirely as expected when I reported a crime to West Yorkshire Police yesterday. On my online report form, I might even have given some clue as to my demeanour, having written:
My expectations of your dealing with this very serious complaint are extremely low, but I need to make a complaint for the record to keep my options open for a private prosecution. The police seem to take the view that private bailiffs are above the law, and therefore they are allowed to break the law with impunity. Complaints are ignored.Rather amusingly, having filled in all the "check-boxes"on the form , a flash came up urging me to dial 999 and report the crime directly. Resisting the temptation, I had only minutes to wait before receiving a call from the plod. And guess what? I was told that this was a "civil matter" and advised to contact a solicitor. My local issue, therefore, remains unfocussed.
However, to the best of my belief, the law has been broken and I wish to report the crime for action to be taken. Depending on the response – or the anticipated non-response – this may be followed up in due course by a direct letter to the Chief Constable, also in the expectation that it will be ignored.
This, incidentally, is despite this very issue having been rehearsed in the House of Lords on 20 April 2007, when Lord Lucas asked:
Whether a bailiff who repeatedly charges for work that has not been done commits a fraud within the meaning of Sections 1 to 5 of the Fraud Act 2006; and, if so, which sections of the Act apply; and whether it would be right for the police to claim that such an action is a civil and not a criminal matter.Then - and this is four years ago - he was told by the Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal) that, "A bailiff or any other person who dishonestly charges for work that has not been done will be committing an offence under the Fraud Act 2006. Section 1 of the 2006 Act contains the new general offence of fraud". Baroness Scotland went on:
One means by which this offence can be committed is set out in Section 2, on fraud by false representation. This section applies where a person dishonestly makes a false representation and intends, by making the representation, to make a gain for himself or another, or cause a loss to another, or expose another to a risk of loss. It is also possible that, where a bailiff repeatedly charges for work that has not been done, this conduct will amount to fraudulent trading either under Section 9 of the 2006 Act or under the provisions on fraudulent trading in company legislation.So there it is. As you might expect, the decision as to whether to investigate a crime rests with the police, but what cannot be allowed to reside with them is the definition of a crime.
The decision on whether to investigate a crime rests solely with the police, who will take into account available resources, national and local policing priorities, the likely eventual outcome and the competing priorities of fraud and other criminal cases already under investigation. Such operational issues are a matter for the chief officer of the force concerned.
Yet that is what is happening. In what must be a deliberate, long-term and structured policy with nationwide effect, the police establishment has decided to reject the view of Parliament and the government, and refuse to accept that criminal fraud by bailiffs is a criminal matter. No doubt, if we lift a stone, the fingerprints of ACPO will be seen somewhere.
This notwithstanding, the police have by this means decided to place bailiffs as a group above the law, giving them free license to conduct criminal enterprises in broad daylight. In this, they are supported by local authorities and the courts.
One does not have to be in the least bit excitable to understand the ramifications of this. If the police deliberately walk away from their duty to enforce the law – and deny even that criminal law applies – then ordinary citizens are without the protection of the law and must take their own measures to protect themselves.
What would be interesting, however, is to see someone test the determination of the police to regard all matters to do with bailiffs as "civil". Would, for instance, killing a bailiff be treated thus? After all, if bailiffs committing crimes against people is "civil", why should crimes committed against bailiffs be looked at any differently?
Personally, I am surprised that this precept has not already been tested and can imagine that in the fullness of time, if the police continue in their retreat from law enforcement, someone most certainly will.
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