Those who take the trouble to look up and perhaps read my police and crime plan will find that my first priority is ‘Accessibility and accountability’. It is not necessarily the most important priority, it just happens to be the first.
You can find it on my official website where it is defined as employing the right resources to deal with a matter appropriately and effectively every time – not ‘when it suits’ or ‘when you can be bothered’ but ‘every time. This, of course, applies to the police but I see myself as no different. So, when I am asked a direct question on Twitter, if I feel I can help I try to respond for I believe it is one of the key responsibilities of police and crime commissioners to be available to the public. Did anyone ever ‘tweet’ the old Police Authority?
The question put to me followed a case in Herefordshire where West Mercia Police arrested three men caught with a trio of terrier dogs and a fox in a bag last October. No doubt following some discussion, the police passed the case to the RSPCA which mounted a private prosecution and magistrates convicted all three of illegal hunting.
I was asked why the case was handed to the RSPCA and said that it was because they were the prosecuting authority. Had I added the words ‘often’ or ‘occasionally’ my explanation would have been within the bounds of acceptability because the RSPCA do, and are legally permitted to, pursue these types of prosecutions because they have the expertise in relation to animal welfare matters.
Unfortunately, my keenness to be helpful provoked what this newspaper called a ‘Twitter firestorm’. Someone called Jamie Foster, who I have never met but who I am informed, again by this newspaper, is ‘a prominent West solicitor who has successfully defended many accused hunts’ called me ‘deranged’ while the Countryside Alliance questioned my suitability to hold office.
I have since been advised that a more sensible response would have been to point out that the issue was nothing to do with Gloucestershire and not got involved - and maybe it would have been - but I was answering in general terms and thought I was being helpful. It didn’t matter that the question was posed at a time when most sensible people were having tea and possibly winding down at the end of the working week because Twitterworld makes no such allowances.
I gave what I believed an honest answer within the confines of the 140 characters allowed.
What it is about Twitter that so often brings out the worst in some people. Is it just because it offers a Harry Potteresque cloak of anonymity they feel they can vent their spleen with impunity? Would Mr. Foster - and those who often hide behind silly made-up names - hurl similar insults to my face? Could not such an apparently well-known exponent of the law have corrected my admittedly ‘loose’ explanation in a more factual, civilised fashion without the need for such hostility? Would he have used such antagonistic language in a courtroom or was he playing to the pro-hunt gallery?
Sadly, I am not unique in being snared by Twitter and, like many others no doubt, I have been advised to give up social media - but how would that square with the principle of greater accessibility and accountability. By the letter of the law, quite literally in this case, I gave an imprecise answer to a question and although I can claim a detailed knowledge of the law is not actually a pre-requisite for being a police and crime commissioner, I see little point in offering that as a defence. My argument is with those who permeate what should be a platform for free speech and debate with their invective.
Two of my other police and crime plan priorities focus on cybercrime and helping young people become responsible adults and both are relevant to Twitter, Facebook and the plethora of other social media.
The guiding principle of the Safer Cyber priority is that people must be safe online and should be protected from internet crime and anti-social behaviour on social network sites whether at their place of work or in their own homes.
Not only have people told me but I have also seen the distressing number of cases where the lives of young people and their families have been devastated by bullying and other anti-social behaviour on social networks.
I can cope with a bit of petty name-calling but what message are supposedly intelligent adults sending out if they appear unable to conduct themselves with civility on a public forum – even if they are restricted to 140 characters.