I have heard a fair bit of criticism of the Police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for supposed delays in the case of the cricketer Ben Stokes’ fracas outside the Bristol nightclub MBargo in late September. Two months have passed by and yet nothing has been decided. If you think this is an unusually lengthy delay, you know nothing about how the system works.
In a previous life, I came to understand how the system for prosecutions works. I was no expert at the paperwork, as any of my colleagues would confirm, but I was familiar with the nitty gritty. When you believe a crime has been committed, there are a huge number of things to consider. You know that you require sufficient evidence in order to establish whether a crime has been committed. This will involve lengthy statements from witnesses and the labelling of exhibits. You need to be familiar with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984 (PACE) and to follow its instructions to the letter. If you have all the evidence in the world, if you do not follow set procedures, your case will fall down, quite possibly before you get near a court of law. Stokes will be represented with the finest legal brains money can buy. PC Plod cannot rush into this.
You the Police officer may be carrying around numerous prosecution cases at the same time. You may also need to seek advice from lawyers who may instruct you to carry out additional work. You will need to compile an accurate timeline, you will need to discuss the entire case in great death with superiors at work. And all this will need to be done when you are doing a million other things. In terms of sending a file to the CPS, two months is absolutely nothing.
Then you add in to the picture the huge cuts in funding that both the Police and CPS have suffered in recent years. In terms of the Police, the then home secretary Theresa May said she was cutting from back office and not the frontline. What she didn’t say was that many of the staff in back office did much of the work preparing cases for prosecution. Strip out back office and frontline officers have to do the work the back office used to do as well as their own jobs. I have seen it at first hand.
Obviously, I cannot possibly comment on anything to do with Stokes’ case. It is not the point about this blog. The point of this blog is simple. If the Police have managed to get the file to the CPS, it suggests to me they have worked flat out and that criticism, especially from cricket pundits, is born of sheer ignorance.
I hope and believe that Stokes’ case will be dealt with in the normal order and that his appearance or otherwise in the Ashes will have no bearing on what happens. My experience is that it won’t. If it is taking too long, have a word with the PM. It was her fault.