14 Jan 2016 – A teenager who was arrested for handing a machete in to a police station was cleared after the magistrate hearing his case asked if he was arrested for being a good citizen.
The 17-yr-old boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons*, said he called police on 9th October last year after finding a machete lying on the grass in the city’s Wardown Park.
According to Luton Today the teen made three calls to police: one to 999, where Bedfordshire Police told him it was not an emergency, and two calls to the non-emergency 101 number, which he says went unanswered.
The concerned boy then picked up the machete and took it to his nearest police station to hand in.
“I was trying to do a good thing,” he told Luton Today. “We were walking towards the police station and my friend who was with me showed the call history to the police.”
He was arrested for possessing the machete and the Crown Prosecution Service charged him – before discontinuing the case in front of Luton Magistrates’ Court last Tuesday, claiming a lack of evidence.
The senior magistrate hearing the case, upon the CPS’ withdrawal of charges, asked whether the teenager had been arrested for trying to be a good citizen.
After the case had concluded Bedfordshire Police strongly denied that the youth had called them, in spite of his insistence that he had the call logs on his phone. The police force claimed they had no record of his three phonecalls to them, including the one that actually connected, and further claimed that “a man was seen on CCTV carrying a machete in Luton town centre.” There is no evidence available to corroborate the police claims.
“Where we believe an offence has been committed, we have a duty to investigate the crime and arrest the person we believe is responsible,” a defiant Beds Police public relations manager told Luton Today, adding that police wanted to speak to their victim about his making a complaint.
This case has very strong echoes of an incident in 2009 where Surrey Police arrested a man for unlawful possession of a firearm who found a shotgun in his garden and took it to his local police station . He was later convicted of the offence, which carries up to 5 years in prison – but escaped with a suspended sentence. Unlawful possession is a strict liability offence, meaning your intentions count for nothing in court.
Nonetheless, as police funding is trimmed back to within what the public can afford, it is, in some ways, understandable that police employees now prefer to focus on easy arrests in order to meet targets set by their managers. That these arrests lower public confidence in the police by making them be seen to be targeting honest people trying to do the right thing is, to constabularies, simply not relevant.
As ever, UKSN’s standard advice for anyone finding a gun unexpectedly is to call your local registered firearms dealer, who in most cases will be happy to help you dispose of it safely and lawfully – and with minimal risk of arrest for doing the right thing. Do not call the police unless you want to become another footnote on UKSN.
* The ‘legal reasons’ are that U18s in the court system are entitled to automatic anonymity, unless it is lifted by order of a judge. Anyone, particularly the media, can make an application to have it lifted on public interest grounds.
The full legal picture around youth anonymity in court is far more complicated and nuanced than that, and there are circumstances where U18s can be named, but explaining all that is beyond this simple summary.