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Saturday, August 12, 2006

Ban the blog

There is a tendency nowadays to react to views that one disagrees with by calling for them to be censored or banned. This is especially so when a high ranking civil servant is the source of these thoughts. It is almost as if these people are not entitled to personal opinions of their own or the right to express them. Personally, I deplore such a reaction. It is my view that policy can only be developed through open and honest debate and that those who have an expertise in a subject should not be barred from participating in that discussion or even initiating it.

The reason I put forward this view is an e-mail I received yesterday from a group who style themselves as the British Motorcycle Federation. They have taken exception to a suggestion posted on the North Wales Police Authority's blog. However, the culprit is not outspoken Chief Constable, Richard Brunstrom, this time but his his deputy, Clive Wolfendale.

In his posting on 8th August, Mr. Wolfendale recalls a trip that he and his wife took to the Lake District. The story continues:

The area has many delights and sailing a traditional lake boat on Ullswater is certainly one of them. Drifting on the breeze, with the ochre sail set against grey waters and green fell, it was hard to imagine that some 12 million tourists a year visit the area. The only detriment to this earthly paradise was the inescapable whine of motorcycles on the A592. Revving in frustration at the snaking traffic and inconvenient speed limits, the machines seemed wholly incompatible with the otherwise pristine scene. I reflected on the statutory duty of Park Authorities to“conserve and enhance natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage” and was reminded that Snowdonia suffers the same high pitched affliction. Most riders are responsible and courteous. North Wales Police has worked hard with partner organisations to cut the amount of motorcycle carnage on our routes. This does not begin to address, however, the environmental imposition. Only on the highest peaks (I just about managed it on a misty Helvellyn) is it possible to escape the grand prix ambience. In Germany, some states have banned the use of motorcycles at the weekend in certain areas. Is it now time to banish motorcycles completely from our National Parks?

The British Motorcycle Federation's response to this is to accuse Mr. Wolfendale of breaching the Police code of conduct. They even go so far as to question whether senior Police Officers should be allowed to express personal views at all:

Personal comments by senior police officers in web logs on official police websites, go against the Police Code of Conduct say the BMF in a letter to the North Wales Police Authority, questioning the use of such personal web logs.

This follows comments made by the Deputy Chief Constable of the North Wales Police, Mr Clive Wolfendale's personal blog on the North Wales Police website in which he floated the idea of banishing motorcycles from National Parks.

In the BMF's letter, which has also been sent to Mr Tony McNaulty MP, Secretary of State with responsibility for Policing, and to the Association of Chief Police Officers' (ACPO) Portfolio Holder for Police Standards, Mr Paul Scoot Lee, (Chief Constable of West Midlands Police), the BMF point out that the Mr Wolfendale's web log for the weekend of August 5th contained a number of remarks that appear to conflict with the Police Code of Conduct i.e.: 'Police officers have a particular responsibility to act with fairness and impartiality in all their dealings with the public and their colleagues.'

In what is obviously a personal blog, the BMF have asked if it is appropriate that the North Wales Police budget is used to fund the publication of a Senior Officers' personal opinions when Mr Wolfendale's comments on motorcycles in National Parks appear to be far from impartial.

On the subject matter of noise from motorcycles, the BMF does not deny that there is a problem, but as DCC Wolfendale comments; 'most riders are responsible and courteous'. This say the BMF is at odds with his postulating on if it:- 'Is it now time to banish motorcycles completely from our National Parks?'

Inconsiderate owners fitting their machines with non-standard illegal exhaust systems cause noise nuisance and it is this issue that should be tackled, not the banning of all motorcyclists say the BMF.

What utter nonsense. By all means engage in the debate and assist the Police in trying to tackle these nuisance bikers but do not seek to censor Police Officers who are using the medium of blogs to reach out to the people they police and provide some transparency and accountability into the way that force is run. This sort of knee jerk reaction by the BMF does nobody any good whatsoever and in fact acts against a free and open society.

As for Mr. Brunstrom, well he was made a druid today. The Western Mail puts this into context:

The North Wales chief constable, famed for his dislike of speeding drivers, will join an order of Welsh bards at the National Eisteddfod.

Membership of the Gorsedd of Bards is the highest honour bestowed by the annual Welsh language festival.

The druids dress in robes of green, blue or white to signify their standing in the order.

Mr Brunstrom, once described as "the godfather of the speed camera" by the Police Federation's official magazine, will wear a white robe – the Gorsedd's highest rank.

On his blog yesterday he wrote: "It's nearly impossible to explain to anyone who doesn't live in Wales just how important the Eisteddfod is to the Welsh national psyche.

"It's a fundamental part of the Welsh cultural identity, and being invited to join the Gorsedd of Bards is a significant honour – especially as an English-speaking incomer like me.

"I'm joining the white robes, the top but honorary rank; the closest equivalent is perhaps a knighthood though the analogy is very far from exact.

"The whole process is at once both deadly serious (it's one of the main reasons for the survival of Welsh language and culture) but also a bit tongue in cheek."

Other famous druids include the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

The order is sometimes wrongly thought to have ancient pagan origins. It was in fact invented on Primrose Hill, London, in 1792.

The ceremony takes place on the Eisteddfod field, near Swansea, at 11am.

Gorsedd members wear green, blue or white to denote their standing. As a member of the highest rank Mr Brunstrom got a white robe.

The honour is bestowed on people deemed to have made a significant contribution to Wales's language and culture.

It takes the Guardian however to find an irony in the proceedings:

Archdruid Selwyn Iolen, who presided at the ceremony, received a speeding ticket from North Wales police when he was rushing home to see a football match recently. "Forget the three points, that's what he told me," the archdruid said. "I don't think he meant it though, or he would get the sack."

Three points is a lot more than the Swans got today!

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