Wednesday, 16 November 2011


Life on the Wirral Peninsula! That little principality on the north west coast of Britain over the water from Liverpool, surrounded on three sides by water, and leaving the occupants with the idea, proudly, that whilst they are “in England they are not part of England”.

Liverpool and the Wirral are famous and infamous and this week we are fully in the latter with the pilot project centred upon a Primary School on the Wirral.

Six drivers caught for speeding outside the school by the police were given an option. Rather than receive fixed penalties and licence points, they could instead accept “appearing” before a “children’s court” comprising four 10-11 year olds selected by the head teacher.

It is wrong! And I will say it again. It is absolutely wrong! No matter how desperate the head teacher is in alerting an apathetic community to heed the warnings of the dangers of speeding outside the school.

It is sending out the wrong signal to these children – who, Liam Murphy reports in the Liverpool Daily Post today, 16 November, extraordinarily managed to reduce one driver to near tears. Reading that, as a former primary school governor, caused me to entertain but one thought – unless the head teacher could adequately explain himself he would not remain in his post for much longer.

What are these 10-11 year olds going to be like at 15? How will they react to adult correction at, say, university or in apprenticeship?

It reminds me of the terrifying Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia and vividly portrayed in the film The Killing Fields 1984 and which I suspect the head teacher, council road safety officer or the local councillor will know little of. But I lived through that time and watched the news each evening as the ‘killing fields’ unfolded. We did not believe the reports of ‘children’s courts’. This was where adults would be lined up each dawn, usually bound and kneeling, and then children aged 10-11 would systematically single out those to be beaten, those to be tortured, those to work and those to be executed. All part of the state’s anarchical return to ‘Year Zero’. Often, the adults were the parents or aunts and uncles or grandparents. It mattered not in Year Zero.

Yes, a very harsh comparison. But when we saw this scenario re-enacted in the film in 1984 it sent a chill through millions but which we all quickly dismissed with the comforting antidote, it would never happen here.

I fully understand the head teacher’s concerns about speeding and the danger of injury or even killing a pupil outside school. As a former police officer I know too well the horror of attending the scene of a fatal road traffic accident. As a retired probate lawyer I know too well the trauma to the family of administering an estate following a fatal RTA, more so an estate of a minor.

But he is wrong, absolutely wrong, to apply this as a way to tackle speeding. So too is Wirral Council. Oh, sorry. I mean Wirral Council Cabinet. Are we really to believe that this new concept of council cabinet carries the same gravitas, the same respect as that of ‘The Cabinet” in 10 Downing Street?

The road safety officer for Wirral Council reports that the scheme has proven successful and they hope to repeat it each year at different schools.

These three people have done this country an enormous amount of damage in the long term by ‘empowering’ eight 10-11 year olds with this misguided concept of acting as judge and jury over adults. Where a child can subject an adult to near tears, a very dangerous precedent has been set. I hope the head teacher will not take offence when he finds that these same jurors decide to ignore his role as head teacher when he has to bring them back into line when, as mere kids, they go temporarily off the rails!

At the very least this is a stupid exercise. Law enforcement lies with the police, not with misguided head teachers and town councillors. And where is the Chief Constable in all this? What is he and his chief officers playing at?

When you reverse the status quo you are heading for potential disaster. When you put children in charge of adults, you head for catastrophe. Today, increasingly, children question why they should not call their parents by their first name when their friends are permitted to do so. I just wonder what the mindset is now of those eight children that acted as so-called ‘jurors’. I wonder even more on the mindset of three misguided, ,albeit, very well-intentioned adults.

This, reader, is the flip side of my earlier dispatch, ‘Our Young People – Our Future’, and had I been told on 4 November that within 12 days I would be writing this article, I would have replied, “Don’t be so stupid. Get a grip. This is the UK.”

Ian Bradley Marshall

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