Network Rail
Lops its Standards and Sheds Respectability.

Hertfordshire Police Cop Out.

I rent an allotment on land owned by Berkhamsted Town Council adjacent to the West Coast Main Railway Line in Berkhamsted. On 20th. January 2004, I found that someone had come onto my allotment without permission and used a chainsaw to lop several branches off an Oak tree growing on it. The pruning was a poor job, necessitating remedial work by me. Broken branches had been left in the tree, and the offender had also cut carelessly into a major limb.

The culprit had also been negligent enough to cause serious damage to the roof of my shed, located beneath the tree, by allowing lopped branches to fall on it. I found a log still lodged in the roof, which showed that the offender had not covered the roof with a canvas, as any reputable tree worker would have done. Part of the damage was consistent with the cowboy having put his foot through the roof, which had to be completely re-felted.

Section 1(1) of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 states:

"A person who without lawful excuse destroys or damages any property belonging to another intending to destroy or damage such property or being reckless as to whether such property would be destroyed or damaged shall be guilty of an offence".

I reported this breach of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 to the Police, and was given the Crime Reference Number D2/04/88. I received in response a letter stating that, "Every effort was being made to find out who was responsible", and offering me compensation and counselling under the Victim Support Scheme. I replied that I did not require taxpayers' money, nor counselling; I simply wanted the offender to be identified and given at least a Police caution.

As my allotment is beside the railway, and Network Rail had been carrying out works to trees in the area at the time, I suspected that an errant contractor working for Network Rail had been responsible. No part of the Oak tree had been overhanging railway property, so Network Rail had had no right to cut it. Nobody else had any reason to cut it. Colin Westwood, the Clerk to Berkhamsted Town Council, confirmed that no-one had been given permission to go onto the allotments to carry out works to trees.

I contacted the Watford Rail Users' Group, which gave me the e-mail addresses of several possible contacts at Network Rail. I sent several e-mails, and received a reply from Pam Gillman, who promised to investigate. She claimed to be "So concerned" about the incident, then failed to contact me again for more than a month.

I suspected that Network Rail was attempting to get rid of the victim and cover up for the offender, so I sent details to the local newspaper, "The Gazette". Photographer David Satchel took pictures of the damage on 19th. March, and the story was published on March 24th. It included a quote from an unidentified spokesman for Network Rail, who told "The Gazette": "It would have been us carrying out line and tree cutting".

As if by magic, Network Rail's Area Manager Ian Shorthouse contacted me on the day of the photographer's visit, and offered to meet me at the allotments on Monday 22nd. March. He brought with him a young lady called Samantha, who took photographs of the damaged tree and shed. He told me that the contractor responsible for the damage was Carillion. He offered to pay the cost of repairs, which I declined. I do not require money: I require that the offender be identified and cautioned. Buying me off with loose change provided by the taxpayer will not stop the culprit from offending against someone else.

Pam Gillman e-mailed me again on 5th. April, repeating the offer of money (which I already declined), "While not admitting responsibility for the damage to your property". It would appear that, while Network Rail management are prepared to admit to a newspaper their liability for the damage, they lack the spine to admit liability to me.

I told Ms. Gillman that, unless she provided me with the name and contact details of the person responsible for the damage, I would report her to the Police on suspicion of aiding and abetting an offender. Her reply of 13th. April contained the sentence, "As it cannot be proved who is responsible for the damage to your property I cannot, therefore, provide you with any details of those working within the area."

Does Network Rail really not know who is carrying out work on the railways? If so, this has serious safety implications. Or does Ms. Gillman think that protecting the offender is more important than upholding the law?

Ms. Gillman concluded, "Once again I will be most happy to speak to the local Police if this is helpful but I cannot now assist you further." On 14th. April she wrote, "As my previous e mails state - while I am unable to help you further please give my contact details to the Police. I will be pleased to assist them in any way." When the Police eventually contacted her, she gave them no useful information.

I wrote to the Office of the Rail Regulator on 4th. May. Esther Clarke finally replied on 2nd. June, beginning her e-mail, "Thank you for your recent correspondence regarding your complaint about Network Rail's removal of vegetation close to your allotment." If she had taken the trouble to read my complaint properly, she would have been aware that I had actually complained about a contractor to Network Rail committing criminal damage while trespassing, and Network Rail's subsequent efforts to cover this up. Ms. Clarke continued, "We have considered the issues you have raised in your correspondence, and have concluded that we are unable to intervene in this matter, as it is a private dispute which does not affect Network Rail's compliance with the terms of its Network Licence. I therefore suggest that you may wish seek legal advice to obtain a satisfactory resolution to this matter." Am I supposed to believe that the Network Licence allows Network Rail and its contractors to act criminally?

Having received no response from the Police for some time, I followed up my complaint by letter. Returning home one evening, I found a telephone message from Berkhamsted West Ward Constable Richard Parfitt, number 1246, in which he expressed the opinion that no offfence had been committed because the culprit had no criminal intent. I telephoned P.C. Parfitt, who failed to return my call, so I tried again, and this time was able to speak to him.

During our conversation, P.C. Parfitt made a list of excuses for the offender, none of which bore any relation to the truth. He asserted that part of the tree must have been overhanging the railway. No part of it ever has. He then tried to insist that the width of a large lower limb which the offender cut off showed that it must have been long enough to overhang railway property. I have a degree in Plant Science, and I can assure readers that it is completely impossible to estimate the length of a branch from its width.

He tried to tell me that the unauthorised pruning had something to do with the installation of the new fence between the allotments and the railway. The fence was installed three months before the tree was cut, and no part of the tree ever overhung the fence. He then claimed that the tree would have been in the way of a new cabin recently installed on the railway side of the fence. Wrong again. All the installation work took place from the railway side of the fence, and there is no way that my tree could have interfered with this.

"The Guardian" newspaper used to be notorious for its typographical errors. It once described a policeman as, "A defective in the Police Farce". Perfect for P.C. Parfitt.

I visited Berkhamsted Police Station and asked how to make a complaint against a Police Officer. The woman on duty displayed no name or number but was middle-aged; about 5 feet 4 inches tall; had collar-length, dark, greying hair; and was very heavily built. She told me that P.C. Parfitt was "An excellent officer", that I would get "No sympathy" from his senior officer, Sergeant Booles, and merely advised me to raise the matter with P.C. Parfitt himself. I had already done this, but P.C. Parfitt never replied. She did not tell me about the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Obese Police book few crooks, especially when they are prejudiced.

I found a single copy of a leaflet entitled, "How to make a complaint against the Police", hidden behind other leaflets in a rack, and wrote to the Police Complaints Commission. My complaint was referred back to Chief Superintendent Chris Taylor, Western Area Commander of Hertfordshire Police. He is based at Watford Police Station, which is appropriately located in Shady Lane. He appointed Community Inspector Barbra Campbell to investigate my complaint. I met her at Berkhamsted Police Station on 10th. September.

Inspector Campbell is a charming lady, originally from the Glasgow area, but it soon became apparent that her intention was to charm the victim into making concessions. Justice was not on her agenda.

Inspector Campbell had spoken to Colin Westwood, Clerk to Berkhamsted Town Council, who is himself a former Police Inspector. He told her that the Oak tree belonged to the council, which did not want any further action taken against the person who lopped it. She admitted that she had called him "Sir" when she first telephoned him, so it is not surprising that she still regards his word as law. The Town Council had never previously claimed ownership of the tree. I am still investigating this issue; at present it appears that the tree belongs to me when it needs to be pruned or otherwise cared for, and to the council when this gives the Town Clerk the opportunity to get his public sector brethren off the hook.

As regards the shed, Inspector Campbell argued that the person who caused the damage was not reckless. If that cowboy was not reckless, then I do not know who is. She said it would be difficult to prove who was responsible, suggesting it could have been "Kids". I do not know of many "Kids" who have been trained to use a chainsaw, which the offender clearly had. It is a shame that nobody taught the culprit how to prune a tree.

Inspector Campbell told me that my e-mail in which I threatened to report Pam Gillman to the Police on suspicion of aiding and abetting an offender could constitute an offence of harassment. So threatening to report a suspect to the Police may constitute an offence, although damaging another person's property while trespassing does not. We live in strange times.

Network Rail and its contractor, allegedly Carillion, should both have records of exactly who was working for them at that location at the time of the offence. If they do not, they are both negligent and a danger to public safety. If they do, they are aiding and abetting an offender by refusing to reveal the identity of the suspect. Meanwhile, Hertfordshire Police have consistently protected the offender and treated the victim like a criminal.

On Oct 16 2008, I was e-mailed by Annabel Maghie, "Public Relations Manager" for Hertfordshire Constabulary. Her job title suggests that she is paid by the taxpayer to spin the facts, not to catch criminals. She told me that P.C. Richard Parfitt is now retired as a police officer and now holds a police staff post with the Constabulary. It is difficult to imagine what Mr. Parfitt could usefully contribute in such a position. Once again, the state appears to be looking after its own, providing Mr. Parfitt with a generous income while better men aged over fifty languish on the dole.

Miss Maghie told me that Mr. Parfitt was "Very upset" by the words used to describe his actions and felt that they were "Defamatory in nature as well as being untrue". Is it my imagination, or are policemen growing increasingly thin-skinned these days?

Miss Maghie asked me to "Remove the offending words that describe him as ineffective and ill-informed". I invited her to challenge any of the specific facts mentioned in my account, but she declined to do this.

We are regularly told that the total number of crimes being committed is falling, although violent offences are on the increase, as is drunkenness, drug abuse and the possession of illegal firearms. This seems to me to be incongruous. Could it be that crime is really out of control, and the Police are under orders from above to cover up as many minor offences as possible in an attempt to improve the statistics? What do readers think?

A serving Police Officer writes from Cornwall.

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