Juvenile Liaison


What did you do in 1970s Blackburn if the kids refused to behave and you were worried they would end up in a life of crime? You got the Juvenile Liaison team from the police in to scream at them. Forget The Sweeney, this is some bloody scary television.

I'm a bit confused about what the team was actually intended to do, and it's not possible to find out online because the internet is mostly dominated by reviews of this documentary. The opening titles say that the role of the team is to caution children and young people brought to their attention. I'm not sure what was intended because to me a 'caution' is a legal thing the police can do. Basically it's you admitting to what they say you've done and them giving you a formal caution and it saves them the trouble of taking you to court. Because this blog aims to be instructive as well as entertaining, just in case there is anyone who doesn't know here is a Public Service Announcement: NEVER ACCEPT A POLICE CAUTION. It's a sure sign they don't think they've got enough evidence to secure a conviction, they'll do it when they've already worn you down for hours, you won't get the benefit of a trial or legal representation and it is the equivalent of a guilty plea so will follow you for the rest of your life. They're not called the pigs for nothing. Strangely the place I learned this was nursing school, because nurses can accept cautions thinking it will get it over and done with and then get struck off even if they haven't done the crime, because they have basically pleaded guilty.

Whether or not it was even legal to caution a child  or whether that was intended, the juvenile liaison team interpreted 'caution' as screaming at them. And so we have a police officer taking a seven year old child to a cell and letting him think he will be left there (he even acknowledges that he wouldn't be able to do anything to this kid). We have a police officer ranting at a girl that if she carries on as she is people will think she's a slut. Officer Ray (pictured) tells the girl who has stolen an apple that the CID will be involved. 

It's the sheer insignificance of most of what happens that strikes you. I think it would be reasonable to expect the school to be able to deal with kids stealing from each other, even if the parents' parenting was the most hopeless in world history. In the quite long segment about a stolen apple, it is apparent that there have been many concerns about this girl stealing and lying at length for years. The boy in the police cell had stolen a cowboy outfit from another boy.

The sheer pointlessness of what they do is also significant. There are occasions when the kids confess to things to the teachers after seeing Sergeant Ray because they won't talk to him. Jesus, these are kids, they're not hardened criminals who you expect not to talk, and if you make them too frightened to talk to you there is literally no point.

As always I read around the discussion online about a show before starting to write about it. There is a review on IMDB commenting that far more violent things went on in the school to the kids than the police did and the author obviously doesn't think the documentary told the whole story. I think it did within its own parameters, and it sounds like there was material for another documentary in the school  - I have noticed that I am tending to wonder more about the kids' lives and think that an effect of this documentary is to make the viewer wonder about the rest of these kids' lives beyond what was covered here. A lot of the commentary about the documentary comments that the police officers weren't trained and plainly not up to the job they had. It is clear that there is a certain lack of training or inability to deal with some of the situations they find themselves in. For example Officer Brooks gets into a conversation with a whole family (she's come across the young son playing truant in Woolworths) where the adult son successfully derails the point of the ocnversation by making out that she was implying the child was shoplifting. Surely even then police officers knew that that is a standard technique and would be able to deal with it? I'm going to have to say that I'm not sure what these two were doing in that unit. Firstly if you're in a special unit dealing with kids surely you would take it as read that you have to take a different approach because they're kids (although the fact they did the things they did on camera would suggest they lacked the self awareness to understand how it would come across). There is also an incredible naivete. Policewoman Brooks asks one of the boys playing truant why he doesn't have his tie on. Is it even possible not to know that if you play truant in school uniform literally the first thing you do is take off your tie and cover up the badge so people can't see what school you're playing truant from? Can you seriously go out into the real world and not know that???

One of the things which makes the documentary most horrifying is the things which are just ignored. There is one interview where a girl keeps misbehaving. When the police talk to mum it becomes apparent that dad does things like touching her (with no further detail given) and has previously also hit mum. It's like the conversation has started being about the daughter but has gone straight onto how the dad is a shit. I would hope that nowadays the police would at least look into the possible crime that's going on and scream at the dad. Certainly my impression would be that there is a better understanding nowadays that the signs of abuse in children look very much like naughtiness. In the follow up it is stated that the man who Brooks dragged out of bed naked when he was fourteen had been having a community psychiatric nurse and had been hearing voices: he had failed to live alone and judging by the courses he shown doing either had very poor education or an actual learning disability, none of which was dealt with that we saw in the show (the opening titles say that the kids who came into contact with the team were also referred to social services but that was the only mention that got). He had joined the Salvation Army and even though an adult was living in what looked like an informal carers arrangement with a family from the church, so had been caught by a community safety net after failing to live on his own. In his case I am far from convinced that his actual needs were dealt with - certainly on the basis of what you see in the documentary they weren't. It is a weakness of the documentary that any further referrals weren't followed up or their outcomes at least mentioned. Of course that could be a cunning ploy to make the viewer wonder what else was happening in these kids' lives.

It's a minor point but one of the best things about this is the magnificent collection of 1970s wallpaper we see.

There was a follow up in 1990. Sergeant Brooks didn't want to take part saying that the documentary damaged his career. In the phone conversation with him he says that the original documentary was unfair because it didn't show all the good things the team did. Obviously as a moral approach this is right up there with 'our chuch does so much good that you must overlook a few child rapes', and indicates that he was a ****. My own conclusion is that the matter of training and normal practice is a smoke screen: in the 1970s as through all time grabbing children by the hair and threatening them with things which are never going to happen is abuse plain and simple. It doesn't matter if this was the norm where you worked - if you go along with it you are part of it and you have a human duty to raise this and get out of it. You are who you surround yourself by, if you aren't calling out cruelty. An example local to me would be that it would be no good to say that you were an officer in West Midlands Police in the 1970s and didn't do anything about the way they tended to round up some random people they didn't like the look of and accuse them of a crime.

And guess what, after the documentary came out the police went round and 'persuaded' the majority of the families who took part to withdraw their release agreeing to appear in the documentary...

HIghly recommended for horrifying viewing.

Finally we have a guest comment from Marnie:

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