The fashion police


Police cover-up at the Joy fashion chain in London sends a message to Cameron that he needs to strip our laws down to their foundations.

Yes, the fuzz have done it again. The new Islington, London store of fashion chain Joy enterprisingly launched a promotion, in which the first 25 customers to turn up in their underwear would get free outfits. Rather a fun idea.

But no sooner were 25 lucky ladies assembled outside the door in their smalls than the bluebottles (in the now-standard body armour) turned up to accuse them all of committing pubic indecency. That's an arrestable offence – actually, everything is an arrestable offence these days, as you'll find if you drop an apple core. Faced with the prospect of being marched in handcuffs down to the nick, swabbed, fingerprinted, cautioned, charged, and taken to court, everyone grumpily covered up, saying that our bobbies lost their sense of humour.

No, they haven't. They are just doing their job. And that's the problem. Politicians, in their anxiety to stamp out anti-social behaviour, hate crime, indecency, offensiveness and litter, have passed laws that give the cops powers to arrest (swab, fingerprint...) people for almost anything. No problem, you might think, if the Old Bill use common sense.

But you can't expect them too. It's simple bureaucrat economics. If they don't intervene and people are offended (or worse), they will get pilloried and people will demand they lose their jobs. If they do intervene, the worst that happens (to them) is that we complain they are a bit heavy-handed. Give bureaucrats – officials, rozzers, whoever – a power, and they will use it. All the time. It's just self-preservation.

That's why these powers should not exist in the first place. Sure, the peelers need authority to protect the public against terrorism, or stop breaches of the peace. But – note to Cameron & Co – if we want to make sure we don't face arrest for over-filling our wheelie bins, our politicians need to be much more precise about exactly what the law is there for. They won't, of course, because they like having the powers and think they will apply them sensibly. But for the reason I gave above, that's a fat chance. (Or can I be arrested for hate crime for using the word 'fat' in an abusing manner? When everything is unlawful, it's hard to know what to do.)

Dr Butler's book The Rotten State of Britain is now in paperback.