The police no longer have the resources to investigate burglaries. This was the extraordinary claim made by Inspector Mark Andrews, chair of Wiltshire Police Federation, who said burglary was no longer “one of the priorities” listed by the force. 

And yet, incredibly, the police have time to investigate playground name-calling. 

Officers opened a “non-crime hate incident” (NCHI) after a boy, aged 11, was hit, not with a fist, but by a torrent of verbal abuse. Some of the things the other boy called him were “shorty” and “leprechaun”. This horrific act of violence occurred not in Chicago, but on the mean streets of Andrews’ own Wiltshire. 

Speaking about the incident to The Sun, Josie Appleton, director of the Manifesto Club said: “It beggars belief that one child calling another ‘shorty’ becomes a police matter.” 

Rather than have his Playstation confiscated for a week, the dangerous individual accused of using mean words now has a “non-crime hate incident” to his name. Although these are non-criminal actions, the incidents are recorded and kept on file, showing up on criminal record background checks for the next six years. And with no right to appeal, he can kiss goodbye to a paper round or Saturday job. 

Introduced in 2014 following the Macpherson report, NCHIs are defined as “any non-crime incident which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice,” according to the College of Policing. It means that literally anyone can claim to be offended and it automatically becomes a police issue. More than 120,000 of these incidents were recorded by the police between 2014 and 2019. 

Wiltshire’s finest were quick off the mark to tackle the epidemic of childhood insults. Yet it would seem they spend less time investigating serious crimes in the county. When it comes to rape convictions, Wiltshire’s constabulary has the unfortunate title of worst performing police force in the country. Only 0.7 per cent of rapes reported to Wiltshire Police ended in a charge or summons.

Even though both the Court of Appeal and the government have called for them to be ditched, some 10,000 NCHIs are recorded on an annual basis. The most famous recipient was Harry Miller, a former Humberside policeman, who retweeted a limerick deemed offensive to transgender people. Miller challenged the decision, arguing that guidance on hate incidents violated his right to free speech. The Court of Appeal found in his favour, ruling that they breached his freedom of expression rights. 

In one sense this boy should breathe a sigh of relief. Had this been filmed and posted online, it could have been a lot worse. Should it have appeared on Tik-Tok or whatever it is the kids use these days, he could have been charged under section 127 the Communications Act. Although too young to be jailed, a large fine would have meant the immediate cessation of pocket money. 

This is yet another example of just how bad things have become in English policing in recent years. Wiltshire police need to heed the words of Andy Cooke. The new Chief Inspector of HM’s Constabulary recently told The Times, “we’re not the thought police.” I wholeheartedly concur. The police need to stop focusing on trivial things such as mean words and spicy language and seriously rethink their priorities.