If there’s one police catchphrase that makes my skin crawl it’s that moronic mis-statement that: “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to worry about.”
As well as being a once popular mantra among Third Reich enthusiasts it has been more recently resurrected by the police and Daily Mail readers as a reason to erode what remaining threads of civil liberties we enjoy in this supposedly democratic society.
The logic being, that only the guilty would object to the police stopping and searching them whenever it takes their fancy. Well, only the guilty and anyone with a modicum of respect for themselves and their right not to have the contents of their pockets turfed out for the thrill of passers-by.
Unfortunately there will always be moral bigots among us who think that the police have a right to place conditions upon our freedoms for the good of the state. But the easy response to this lazy cop mantra is that, on the contrary, if you’ve done nothing wrong then you have everything to worry about. Especially at the hands of our notoriously petty minded police. Many of whom are quite happy to fit up a member of the public for a fabricated offence simply because they didn’t like the look, sound or attitude of them. Besides which, there’s also the potential that a cop could lose face in front of a crowd of rubber-neckers if his search and interrogation methods prove fruitless. So why not arrest for something – anything – just to save him the disgrace of being wrong in public. And who knows, maybe if he’s feeling in a generous mood, he’ll let you go free once he’s carted you back to the station, well away from all those disapproving stares.
The more intelligent answer to this false maxim however can be wrung out of a well established legal principle that pre-dates both the police and the Nazi party by about 500 years. And that is this:
You cannot prove a negative.
A universal principal accepted by everyone but the police. Because they seem to regard the presumption of innocence as a luxury of courthouses and dusty old law books. You may very well have the automatic right to a presumption of innocence, but as far as the police are concerned they have an even greater right to an automatic presumption of your guilt.
So how exactly can you prove that you haven’t done anything wrong to the satisfaction of an over-bearing policeman?
The answer is that you can’t. How could you? It defies all reason and logic.
Just because a police officer doesn’t find any evidence that gives him reason to believe you have recently committed a crime, doesn’t mean you haven’t. You could have murdered your entire family in their beds for all the police know, but the fact they haven’t found a blood stain or a weapon about your person, doesn’t automatically prove your lack of guilt, does it?
What this hackneyed police expression should in fact say is:
“If the police don’t find any proof, then you’ve got nothing to worry about.”
The problem with that of course is that it implies there is a reasonable suspicion you may be concealing evidence in the first place. And this is not what your average police fan-boy wants. He wants the police to be able to stop, search and question anyone that takes their fancy, like some huge Gestapo conveyer belt. The rationale being that if they stop 10 people and only 1 of them has committed a crime, then it’s all been worthwhile hasn’t it?
No it hasn’t. But ironically, 1 out of 10 is precisely how many times a police stop and search leads to an actual arrest.
The fact is you cannot prove the non-existence of something. If you could then all the world’s religions would have been gratefully buried centuries ago. I cannot prove I have done nothing wrong, any more than I can prove the non existence of god.
I can however prove that I’ve got a tyrannical cop stood before me with a tumbleweed for a brain. And that’s when he utters the battle cry of every tinpot dictator throughout history:
“If you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to worry about”.
Let me leave the last words on this subject to the Judge who tried the case of Hepburn v CC Thames Valley 2002:
“Nobody is required in this country to satisfy a police officer that he or she is not committing an offence.”