Bull in a China Shop – The Littlejohn Approach to Policing

For a number of years Richard Littlejohn has been barracking the police response to a range of incidents from the safety of his study and sharing his views in the pages of the Daily Mail.

Mr Littlejohn is a great hater of “political correctness” and “elf n safety.” His typical themes are that the police have either sprung into total inaction because of some bureaucracy or that they have completely overreacted to something which could have been sorted out in seconds if anyone had applied common sense.

A while back he was barking loudly about the “heavy handed” response to a male claiming to have a device strapped to himself. The picture on his column showed a balaclava wearing officer with “not one but two” pistols and body armoured up to the eyeballs.

Mr Littlejohn wanted the Commissioner’s head on a plate over this. He claimed that this officer looked like something out of the Spetsnaz and wanted it made quite clear that this simply isn’t how we do things in Britain.

As I recall the article went on to criticise the entire operation because it was apparently obvious that the individual with the “device” was just some harmless loon. The inconvenience this caused in the name of “public safety” was unnecessary and complete overkill.

What was required was for a beat copper to walk in and tell the man not to be so stupid. Wrap it up in thirty seconds and crack on.

His latest column on the inconvenience to motorists following the tragic incident on the motorway on Christmas Day takes him to a new level of low.

It starts of sympathetically enough with a few paragraphs of seemingly genuine sadness but then the real crux of the article kicks in.

Tragic as it all was it was completely selfish of the police to close the motorway for hours on end for “no apparent reason” thereby stranding thousands of motorists and interrupting their Christmas plans.

Mr Littlejohn states that the carriageway was clear and so a couple of lanes should have been opened to let people pass and get on with their day.
It “all points to a tragic accident” he says. There was only one vehicle involved so why the need for all the hassle. The police just don’t think about law abiding innocent motorists.

The picture in the column shows the covered vehicle being lifted onto a flat bed truck with half a dozen “blokes in hi-Vis jackets” stood around chatting. The implication being that everyone was pretty much hanging around, doing nothing and wasting everyone’s time.

The arrogance and ignorance it must take to write something like this simply staggers me.

Firstly – the first hour at least of this incident would most likely have involved the frantic efforts to save life. Air Ambulances were required and they landed nearby.

Having had personal experience of a fatal road collision involving children I know that everyone tries just that little bit harder. Even when it seems obvious that all hope is gone.

Whilst this is happening – frankly – everything else in the world can wait. It’s not just a case of screening off lane one and letting everyone pass by. With the Air Ambulance present a lifesaving roadside operation could be taking place. Anything could be happening.

When it becomes obvious that first aid simply isn’t going to work you have to somehow put that behind you and get on with investigating what happened.

It is quite likely that the first few cars in the now huge queue will have witnesses on board. They will quite possibly be traumatised as well as having important information to share.
You don’t just wave people on and hope they think to call in later.

You see it’s not “just one vehicle involved” – the witnesses and other motorists have just watched this horror story unfold in front of their eyes and most will not have the desensitisation that the emergency service people have.

And emergency service people aren’t as tough as you think either. The half dozen blokes stood around doing nothing may well have been giving CPR to a dying child an hour ago. They may have witnessed things close up and personal that nothing can prepare you for.

So it’s not “just one vehicle involved” is it Mr Littlejohn? Emergency service personnel don’t just pack up and go home for tea and medals. In the incident I dealt with six months ago I went home and cried and I am about as cynical as they come.

And even if it was “just one vehicle involved” we still need to find out how and why this happened.

Was another driver driving dangerously?
Did they perform a manoeuvre so dangerous it was criminal?
Is someone else responsible?
Have the mechanics of the car been tampered with?
Is it murder?
Is it suicide?

You see – its not as simple as saying that “everything points to it being a tragic accident” within an hour of getting there.

Science will need to be brought into it. Skid marks analysed, evidence sought.

When the Air France Concorde crashed in Paris the cause was tracked down to a tiny piece of metal which had been dropped by the previous take off. The Concorde wheel hit it – sent it directly into the fuel tank – it ruptured and the rest is tragic history.

No-one said “well it was just one plane and it looks like a tragic accident”.

The crash site was forensically examined – as was the runway. The cause was traced to a this one, tiny piece of metal because of painstaking investigation.

As a result of this another airline was put up in court for negligence.

No-one just rubbed their hands and said “well these things happen.”

Do the victims and family of a fatal road accident deserve any less? Of course they don’t.

You simply cannot put a cost on even a single human life as Mr Littlejohn wants to do by dismissing these events as simply inconvenient to others.

Yes – the police have a responsibility to try and divert the massive queue and ensure the welfare of the other drivers who are delayed but turning people on a motorway is no easy task.

You also have to factor in the unfortunate human trait of rubbernecking which either causes further delays or, as I have personally witnessed, more collisions.

About a month ago I was caught up in a three hour delay on the M5. All I knew was what I could grab off the Highways Agency app which was telling me it was a collision involving multiple vehicles.

I moved about two miles in those three hours and whilst it was “inconvenient” and it made me very late I had enough faith in the police dealing with it to accept it for what it was and know they had a more important job to do than whatever it was I was trying to do.

Mr Littlejohn’s article is a poor-taste cheap shot at the police which, despite its apparent sympathy at the start, simply criticises the police for the sake of it.

It is a horrible article. Mr Littlejohn’s armchair expertise qualifies him perfectly to attempt for direct entry into the police at Superintendent rank. Perhaps he would like to command such an incident with the benefit of his infinite wisdom. I would be very interested to see if he adopts the same attitude to a suspicious package in a shopping centre or unexploded ordnance in a garden of a row of terraced houses.

His kind of leadership has no place in the police service as it inspires carelessness and callousness. He is entitled to his opinion but he can keep it. Because its wrong – utterly wrong.

Given that three people, two of them children, lost their lives in tragic circumstances on the way to a wedding (again – it’s not just “one vehicle involved” is it?) and that a family is now devastated by the loss of their youngest generation it should make you realise that – frankly – if the worst that happened to you on Christmas Day was that you were late for your turkey – you got off pretty lightly.

Further debunking of Mr Littlejohn’s article can be found here. This link is to a blog by Michael Rawlings – a press photographer at the scene. Well worth a read.


I would also commend the blog by Councillor Jon Harvey who widens the debate into how we address problems with perceptions of the police



23 responses to “Bull in a China Shop – The Littlejohn Approach to Policing”

  1. Tom says :

    Read Mr Littlejohn’s ‘article’ earlier and was utterly disgusted at his usage of this heart breaking event to have a cheap shot at the police service. Not sure what he has to gain by continually spouting this rubbish, but it clearly isn’t based on any form of understanding of police procedures and practices. It’s a shame that he has a platform and an audience for this kind of writing.
    Very good and measured response Nathan.

  2. gerrysmum says :

    Well said! The odious little creep should be made to make a public apology to the family involved for dragging their grief into his tawdry outburst. Not sure tawdry is exactly the right word but it is more polite than my first thought!

  3. starsphinx says :

    I would suggest inviting him out as observer on a couple of varied police shifts in the hope that experiencing it personally might stop him being quite so free with the armchair expertise.

  4. Chris says :

    Bravo, so eloquently and accurately stated. Littlejohn, crawl back under your stone; would you consider it so lightly if they were relatives of yours? I think not you would want the earth moved for justice. You are scum!

  5. Chris Hall says :

    Whilst I agree with most of your views here and having dealt with it myself during my serving years I do see that there are some valid points Mr Littlejohn is making. Unfortunately the way he makes them rubs us up the wrong way. I agree that immediately after the incident we need to do everything we can to preserve life and evidence and deal with all aspects of the witnesses and crime scene preservation. I do see that we seem to be taking longer doing these things and seem willing to close major routes off for longer than we did at the beginning of my service. In those days it was get everything moving again as quick as possible and whilst that perhaps wasn’t the best way to deal with it all, I do think we take too long at times and become a target of criticism. I don’t want anyone to be put in any danger or to rush the collection of important evidence which will be important at a much later stage but even I questioned the need to shut the motorway in both directions for so long.

    We need to try and keep a perspective here, I think we are all feeling very raw over the pasting we have been taking in the press lately over all sorts of incidents and not pick a fight we can’t win. Sometimes we need to explain things and show why it takes so long and not go all defensive and personal with those who criticise us. I’m passionate about the Job and even though I’m retired still feel the need to explain our side of things but even I have trouble justifying that one. There are massive ramifications when we do these things on major routes and we need to do it better. I’m sure with all the new media and other ways of letting people know what’s is happening we can build support for our way of dealing with things and not give our foes ammunition to hit us with.

  6. gerryg says :

    Littlejohn calls himself a ‘journalist’? figures. A very polite description of him by gerrysmum “Odious little creep” Absolutely unbelievable that he can be let loose airing his propaganda via the press. I feel for the family who lost their loved ones.

  7. Foxtrot Oscar says :

    Excellent blog post

  8. Traffic Rat says :

    What ‘Mr’ Littleton fails to acknowledge or show any understanding for, or even attempted to investigate is the following
    1. This incident occurred on a Bank Holiday therefore staffing across the board, from the Police, Highways Agency, etc would of been on the usual bare bones minimum.
    2. Some of the photo’s published appear to show Tailback Relief ongoing, with trapped traffic being turned around and. sent back down the hard shoulder.
    3. That only this week the HA have announced a roll out of trailers with screening equipment so that scenes such as this may possibly be hidden andallow a lane past the scene to be reopened.

    When we are faced with such scenes we, the police, are well aware of the implications of closing a motorway and it is NEVER done lightly.

    Yet again the DM has showed the old adage of ‘Why let the FACTS get in the way of a good story’

    From a serving Motorway officer.

  9. PC O'Connor says :

    Great response to a disgusting article. Could not have written it better myself!

  10. Linda Clarke says :

    You have to be or have been in the Emergency Services to appreciate all the work needed in these tragic incidents. As a Retired Member of the Fire Service I agree with everything you have said in this blog.

  11. Mike Rawlins says :

    Good piece Nathan, Sadly I was called out to photograph the story so I’ve done a bit of debunking of ‘Dick’ Littlejohn’s views here http://michaelrawlins.co.uk/2012/12/littlejohn-stranded-on-the-road-to-nowhere/

  12. Lyeemoon says :


    I’d like to refer you to No. 40 of the 101 many wise words contained in the above link.

    I realise, as a retired officer, that the police are feeling considerably under siege at the moment and I can understand why. I experienced it at least twice during my 32 years service. Things seem worse now for a number of reasons, manifestly though it is due to a lack of leadership by senior officers who have been over promoted due to an academic tick box culture which has resulted in them being self obsessed and paranoid about promotion rather than the needs of the public and the front line troops.

    In the early days of my service guvnors had their feet on the ground. That was generally because, with a few exceptions, they only zipped up the ranks late in service. That kept them in touch with reality and the need for proper visible policing and a constant dialogue with the public. We were lower than plebs then, viciously criticised by journalists and politicians in the less transparent 50s 60’s & 70s, some of it justifiably, the difference was that the public in general held the police in very high esteem for the simple reason that there was a considerable foot police presence on the streets and a continual dialogue between us and them. We were always there on the beat, school crossings, traffic points and were deeply respected for it even by some of the criminal classes, yes there was an element of fear there as well. The public though were generally not interested in police malpractice as long as the streets were safe which they palpably were.

    The difference now is patently obvious but appears to go under the radar of politicians and senior officers. There is a virtual total absence of real police on foot on the streets, thus there is no ongoing dialogue, interaction or whatever the modern buzz word is. Safer Neighbourhood Teams are all very well but they are not there all the time and the public know their limitations, especially those of PCSOs.

    Consequently the only time they see police is AFTER an incident, usually in numbers, telling them that they can’t do this and they can’t go here or there, sometimes by arms folded sullen aggressive officers. Very often, which doesn’t help, those same officers are improperly dressed, helmetless, with scruffy dirty high viz jackets or black uniforms of all things.

    Police today are criticised for the same things as we were, violence, rudeness and corruption, but there’s one crucial addition – incompetence. True, our incompetence was covered up, by astute feet on the ground, street wise, non academic guvnors. Not so easy these days I know but you don’t have to wash ALL your dirty linen in public. If people don’t see the police they will assume that all sorts of shenanigans are going on, particularly if they don’t feel safe on the streets, which they don’t. Yes part of policing is “image” and currently it is not good.

    I have deep sympathy for the modern day lions who are out there in their thousands but it’s the “management” donkeys who are letting you down. Before you say that resources are not available for foot police on the streets 24/7 just take a good look around your HQ and witness the number of senior officers ducking their heads and plotting their next next career move. In my local force (under 2k officers) there are 20 superintending ranks all working out of the same warm cosy office, one of whom has not even got an allocated role.

    I appreciate I’m laying myself open to being dismissed as a dinosaur and worse now but Littlejohn is right. I have witnessed it first hand, some road closures are handled very badly and whilst there is tolerance and understanding there is a lot of public disquiet about the length of time involved.

    It’s easy to jump on the defensive and slag journos off for being anti-police but, if you take the emotion out of it and look at it from a public perspective he is absolutely justified in expressing concern about what is seen in many circles as over cautiousness. Chris Hall’s contribution is measured and far more responsive to public needs than others. Perhaps someone can tell me if laser scanning technology is being used to allegedly speed up investigations and if so how they are working.

    As Michael Caines says, “Take criticism constructively and use it as an opportunity to improve.”

    • Mark says :

      Lyemoon, my force is the same in that its seriously top heavy with senior officers. I’m a sergeant myself and if it stays the same culture then I don’t want to go any higher than I am really, as promotion now is based on evidence, and to get that you have to hang people out to dry.
      On top of that I’ve done training courses, and having a chief inspector teach you about how to deal with staff welfare is a joke; working 9 to 5 Monday to Friday is just wrong for the amount of money they earn.
      I can’t see it changing though, the only people who can change it is the higher ranks, if not the Government, and the higher ranks won’t do anything as it basically shooting themselves in the foot.
      It also shows with all the media articles going on, these blogs are all well and good, but at the end of the day the higher ranks should be speaking out, not the officers on the ground.

  13. Tubby Isaacs says :

    Well done, Nathan.

    If the sniping from Littlejohn and all gets you down, I hope you can remember that the real public (not the one Littlejohn reckons he represents) appreciate that you and your colleagues do the job properly.

    For which many thanks.

  14. ESF Admin says :

    in reply to Chris above, I think you will find that investigations take longer now because they are more detailed than 30 years ago. How many cold cases are solved thanks to new investigation skills and methods that were not in existence at the start of your career? Any new recruit will be able to point to cases from the start of your career and use them as an example of how not to perform an investigation and what evidence was missed thanks to rushed practice

  15. Paul says :

    I was stuck on the south bound carriage way 150 yards from this tragic scene. The police did everything they could to get traffic flowing again as soon as possible in very difficult sad circumstances. Richard Littlejohn is and always has been a complete a**ehole. Unfortunately he isn’t the only one with such a view, a truck driver I was talking too while stuck said “this s**t wouldn’t happen abroad, we’d have been moving hours ago”

    Easy to say mr truck driver when you are safe and well!

    • Furor Teutonicus says :

      XX “this s**t wouldn’t happen abroad, we’d have been moving hours ago” XX
      WHERE he means by “Abroad”, I suspect would be India, or some out of the way foot path masquerading as a road in Pakistan. Because, ourselves, in Germany, and ALL other police forces I have had the pleasure of working alongside, from Sweden/Norway, to Poland, Czekoslovakia (Or whatever they call themselves THIS week), Italy and France, would have handled this in EXACTLY the same way as they did in Staffs.

  16. Smylers says :

    Not just ‘The Daily Mail’: it turns out ‘The Guardian’ isn’t above publishing comment like that; Simon Hoggart seems to share Littlejohn’s views in this article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2012/dec/28/christmas-traditions (number 6)

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