Monday, news outlets here in the United Kingdom reported that Wiltshire (our English county) police had “investigated” a newsagent in the small town of Corsham. The shop had sold copies of Charlie Hebdo, and an officer had visited and requested the names of customers who’d bought it. The Guardian explains:
Wiltshire police confirmed that one of their officers visited a newsagent in Corsham, Wiltshire, to ask for the names of four customers who ordered the commemorative “survivors’ issue” of the magazine.
The incident came to light when Anne Keat, 77, who bought the special issue from that newsagent, wrote a letter to the Guardian to warn people that wearing badges emblazoned with je suis Charlie may attract police interest….
We live just down the road from Corsham. We have to drive through it to get to London. It’s a rural, even picturesque, place.
The police issued an apology that included background which revealed, essentially, that research had been going on into community concerns that might arise from its sale. And an officer had gone a bit too far. Or something like that:
A spokeswoman said: “Following the terrorism incident in Paris, France on 7 January 2015, Wiltshire police undertook an assessment of community tensions across the county. As part of this work, local sector policing teams were asked to be mindful of business premises, in particular newsagents who may be distributing the Charlie Hebdo magazine and to consider that these shops may be vulnerable.”
What struck me is something unsaid: Corsham is a “military town.” The Ministry of Defence has a base between Corsham and the neighbo(u)ring similarly small town of Box. (Yes, really: Box.) Perhaps Wiltshire police were also just keeping a closer eye, thinking about security for soldiers as well?
That was just a guess on my part, and I’ve been told that’s probably too “benign” a view. Perhaps that’s also a bit of the “American” coming out of me. I find English unarmed police not nearly as brusque, stand off-ish and defensive (even scary) as U.S. police now too often seem to be.
I remember one late afternoon encountering a Dorset police officer when we lived in Christchurch. He was helping search for a teenage girl who had gone missing. (She turned up later just fine.) I happened to be walking our hound as usual.
As I reached the same gate on the field from which he was emerging, he greeted me. (It was just the two of us.) He told me what he was doing (it’s odd to see a uniformed cop walking through a field by himself), and asked if I’d seen any girls who seemed confused and/ or alone (which I hadn’t), and asked me to keep an eye out and if I saw anything to please ring in. He finished by wishing me a good walk, and as we parted he said he liked my dog.
I did shudder privately for a second as I strolled on: it dawned on me that, sadly, us dog walkers always seem to be the ones who first “find” something.
True, he didn’t ask me my name, so I know that’s not exactly the same thing of course; and maybe I’m just a bit too “trusting.” Regardless, who would’ve imagined our little corner of Wiltshire would briefly make national headlines over Charlie Hebdo? I sure as heck wouldn’t have.