Joyce Vincent

A woman was found dead in a flat in Wood Green. She had died more than two years earlier. The television was still on. Her shopping was at her side. Apart from the Brit media on this – interestingly – the Australian and Italian media are very het up about it. I had a word with an Italian TV station and asked them why this had become such a huge story in Italy. It’s because it is unimaginable in Italy that you wouldn’t a) know your neighbour and b) not be inquisitive about a flat that had no comings or goings. The Italian nation is agog at our apparent lack of community mindedness.

And where was everybody? It’s tragic that there were no friends or family there. There should have been a number of authorities involved in Joyce Vincent’s life. Someone should have been asking why the part of her rent not paid by housing benefit wasn’t paid. Where were social services? How did this poor lady fall through the safety net? This case shows the need for a human checking process.

Apparently Ms Vincent was a victim of domestic violence and, who knows, maybe she didn’t want people to know where she was and had discouraged contact from her family. She also lived in an area with quite high population turnover.

Nevertheless this is a reminder to all of us all that we should look out for our neighbours – but, as the interviews with her neighbours show, this is much easier said then done. At what point do you start worrying if you don’t see your neighbour? What do you do when you have started worrying? And so on.

Meanwhile, the answer to my Parliamentary Question on the ethnic breakdown of those people who have been arrested but not charged or cautioned – i.e. were innocent – has come back showing that 24% are from ethnic minorities. The black and Asian population of the UK as a whole is less than 8%. (The figures are based on the make-up of the DNA samples in the national DNA database as these arrests are the basic source of DNA in the database).

So what on earth is going on? My guess (although I will obviously await for the outcome of the investigation into these figures that I am calling for) is that disproportionality is alive and well; that is, where there is discretion in the use of police powers, they are disproportionately used against those from ethnic minorities.

What these figures demonstrate quite clearly to me is that disproportionate numbers of black and ethnic minority members are being wrongly arrested. They are innocent. This is wrong. This is discrimination. Whilst a lot of work has gone on to improve training for police in stop and search etc – it is clearly not working.

And Charles Clarke is adding more and more discretionary powers to the police to administer summary justice – let alone the carrying of ID cards in due course. All of which will make these problems even worse.