Magazine article The Spectator

Just Say Sorry

Magazine article The Spectator

Just Say Sorry

Article excerpt

I glanced in my rear-view mirror. A police patrol car, right on my tail, blue lights flashing. A woman cop in the passenger seat leaning forward and jabbing instructions at me with her forefinger. I was to turn left into the pub car park. I knocked up the indicator stick and swung in. The patrol car followed close behind. I cut the engine and got out of the car quickly and walked a few paces towards the policewoman as she got out of hers. No doubt she wanted a word about my not wearing a seat belt.

My brother is a big incorruptible policeman. Only the day before, funnily enough, he'd given me a useful tip for exactly this kind of situation. If I were to commit a minor traffic offence and I got pulled over for it, he said, all I had to do was speak to the officer pleasantly, perhaps slipping in an apology somewhere, and he could almost qguarantee I'd be let off with a warning.

How so? Well, says my brother, pleasant, civilised people are now relatively few and far between. Nine out of ten people automatically turn nasty and belligerent when he pulls them over to advise them that they have broken the law. So on the rare occasion he meets with intelligence and good humour instead of pop-eyed abuse, he is grateful to that person for restoring his faith in human nature and where possible lets them off with a friendly warning. And he reckons that the same probably applies to the majority of his colleagues.

I've always liked the police, anyway. Even the ones I encountered in the bad old days, who punched and kicked you routinely, just for starters, seemed like honest, goodhumoured sorts. During a silly season in my late twenties I had the cuffs on in the back of the van several times for one thing and another, but I don't think I ever met a copper I didn't like.

The thing I respected most about them was that nobody complained about my behaviour unless it had been dangerous in some way, either to others or to myself.

Morality was never an issue. I'm certain that, if someone had mentioned it, everybody would have laughed. Public safety was their main concern. Questions of morality they left to bishops, magistrates and the eccentric promptings of an individual's conscience. A six-month sentence, suspended for three years, more or less ended my silly season. …

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