Hitch cock

It used to be a fair bet that if you saw an article in a reputable magazine by someone with the surname Hitchens it would be stimulating, and perhaps very funny. When Chris Hitchens died only his very different brother Peter was left, so when the name Dan Hitchens appeared in The Spectator some got very excited – for at least the seconds it took to scan the first paragraph… and then either throw up or collapse in hysterical laughter.

Because, sadly, this Hitchens appears to be no relation and from a different planet to the one many of us remember fondly, more like the halfwit hacks whose auto-piloted drivel ‘Hitch’ spent a lifetime trying to compensate for, and only unintentionally funny. I tried to get through his latest at http://new.spectator.co.uk/2015/12/what-do-you-do-when-theres-drunken-aggro-after-closing-time-send-in-the-street-pastors/ without falling off my chair giggling in disbelief that one hack could be so readily misled and that an august organ like The Spectator even considered running it, but failed. On each re-reading it gets yet more imbecilic.

Perhaps he could have started by doing some research, instead of blindly trusting those ‘helpful’ cuttings sent to him by his subject. If he had, he would have discovered that the UK Street Pastor movement was actually founded by a dodgy African emigree Assemblies of God preacher, who conned a couple of evangelical senior London police officers into funding some very dubious projects. The officers took early retirement as other discrepancies came to light, and the money vanished along with the projects before any local government audit could be done into their effectiveness. Those behind them avoided criminal prosecution, but only because they themselves cannot be found – never mind any accounts or annual reports.

By this time the potential had been seen by evangelical chancers in smaller cities and out in the sticks – especially where town councils seem to be dominated by redneck religiots. The charity was ‘reinvented’ by older, whiter trustees and all references to the founders were written out of the history. By carefully circulating only rushed, fact-free stories produced at the gallop for rural local papers to the next round of similarly overworked local journalists a legend was created which bears absolutely no resemblance to the true history of this farce.

Out of curiosity, when the scam hit the Isle of Man a few years back I started tracking down the suspiciously similar stories from around the UK. Then I did something else – I checked crime figures and police budgets from those towns. What emerged was fascinating.

Firstly, in the towns where such projects were being funded by councils police staffing cuts had been made – taking full time officers off the beat and even special constables. So the introduction of street pastors seemed to be a cheap way to put somebody – frankly anybody – very cheaply on the streets to take up the slack. It didn’t matter if it worked, the point was that the councils looked like they were doing something.

Secondly, if crime levels in those areas were compared before and after the introduction of street pastors, something else became noticeable. Where the figures were broken down adequately enough to measure properly, disturbances around pubs and clubs increased after the street pastors appeared. In some cases, in small towns where late night trouble simply wasn’t known before, isolated incidences were recorded for the first time.

Asking around friends I knew in some of these towns, the common factor I discovered was that drunks peacably enough wandering off home on chucking out time took umbrage at being pestered by godbotherers. As even most drunks would draw the line at belting a bible-wielding pensioner, inevitably the tension erupted somewhere else – perhaps a chance remark by a fellow reveller nearer their own age.

I then made some enquiries on the Isle of Man. As I thought, what was actually happening was that, after a particularly busy round of retirements by full time officers who had all joined up in a peak recruiting and funding year, even the ‘specials’ who used to accompany them as the clubs turned out were getting pruned. The few remaining officers then had the additional task of chaperoning clueless – if well-meaning – elderly churchgoers around late night Douglas. In some cases the street pastors themselves were in such poor health they had to be left in the police van after 10 minutes or driven home mid-shift, and at least one had to be ferried off to casualty.

Over here, the project started in a blaze of recycled publicity, and was quietly dropped less than a year later after weekly reports from frontline officers all noted the increased burden of minding the street pastors. I suspect this is what is happening around the UK, thus a fresh round of publicity from faith-heads worried that they might lose another public funded golden goose.

Any of this reveals itself quickly enough to any writer prepared to do the rudimentary research. To be honest, I have always read The Spectator for colourful opinion, rather than fact. As Bron Waugh and others noted, sometime in the late 1980’s the recruiting ground for contributors changed. They were still generally public schoolies and Oxbridge graduates, just a dimmer generation without the broader education that used to be taken for granted, and without the rigorous apprenticeship that newspapers used to demand before letting anyone loose with a byline.

Judging from the sales figures, The Spectator appears to be flourishing as a humorous publication produced by red-nosed comics. Sadly for them though, not intentionally.

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One thought on “Hitch cock

  1. Pingback: Street pastors | Head Rambles

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