A peer who collared a boy who swore at him and kicked over his bicycle has been told by police that he was in the wrong.
Baron Phillips of Sudbury tackled two boys who were riding their bicycles on a crowded pavement in the Suffolk market town on Monday.
He told them they should not be cycling there and was met with abuse from one of the cyclists and an 11-year-old, who was walking.
Lord Phillips, 68 - the solicitor Andrew Phillips who for 20 years was known as the "legal eagle" on the Jimmy Young show on Radio 2 - walked away, leaving his own bicycle propped on the kerb while he went into a shop.
The boy on foot then pushed over the peer's bike and ran away but Lord Phillips caught up with him, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and held on until a passerby stopped a passing police car.
An officer took statements from the boys and Lord Phillips before giving the boys "words of advice" about their behaviour and allowing them to go.
However, yesterday Suffolk police said Lord Phillips had not done the right thing. "Members of the public should always have a regard for their own personal safety and our advice is to call the police immediately," the force said in a statement.
The point that members of the public can sometimes be at risk if they challenge young thugs is a valid one. The recent cases of Garry Newlove and Evren Anil tell us that. But citizens cannot allow their lives to be dictated by fear. The notion that a peer of the realm should cower away from a pair of eleven year-olds is simply ludicrous, and that it is even thought of is indicative of the cowardly nature of so many people in Britain today. And, in any event, I would point out that the potential danger that Lord Phillips risked by challenging these young boys was infinitesimal: this is Sudbury, for Heaven's sake, not Peckham or Brixton. The risks of challenging anti-social behaviour should be considered, but they should not dictate one's behaviour.
However, quite aside from the question of any minor risks Lord Phillips might have incurred, is the question of what use the police would have been had he taken their advice, and called them as soon as he had found a nice place to hide from the two terrifying eleven year-olds. As I understand it, Lord Phillips pursued the boy who kicked his bicycle over because the boy was running away. Astonishingly enough, the boy did not seem that keen to stand and wait for the police to arrive. This suggests that if Lord Phillips had not taken the action he did take, then the boy would have made good his escape, so that the police would have arrived far too late to do anything useful.
Of course, the above scenario presupposes that the police would actually have bothered to turn up. Because, for all the comments that the police routinely make to the effect that the appropriate course when faced with anyone doing anything wrong is to cower away and wait for them to arrive, they aren't actually all that good at turning out. Take this story, for example:
A father who phoned 999 when his son was knocked unconscious by a drunken thug was told to write to his MP rather than bother the police.
Businessman Pete Bayliss called after his 22-year-old son Chris was taken to hospital with a broken nose and other injuries. But police said they were too busy to investigate the attack.
Mr Bayliss, 51, was visiting his son in Portsmouth last weekend when the pair decided to go for a night out.
They were queueing for a taxi in Southsea early on Sunday morning when the yob targeted them.
The man, who has not been caught, kicked the young chef repeatedly in the head.
The attack left his victim unconscious with severe bruising across his face. The thug then ran away.
Mr Bayliss senior, who is from Northern Ireland, called the emergency services while his son lay bleeding on the pavement.
But although an ambulance came and took him to hospital for treatment, there was no immediate response from police.
"Somebody phoned for the emergency services after Chris was attacked and the ambulance turned up but there was no sign of police," said father-of-two Mr Bayliss. "After about 40 minutes I dialled the police because there were other fights going on in the area and we wanted the guy who did this to get caught.
"I couldn't believe my ears when the operator told me there was no one available to deal with it and that I should contact my MP if I had a problem with that.
"It's not the sort of reaction you expect from the police and I am disgusted that they should give me that sort of reaction.
"I thought the police should be dealing with assaults and not fobbing it off on to the MP for the area."
But the police have not only abdicated their duty to uphold the law and protect the public; now, they all too often are on the side of the criminals against the law-abiding. Lord Phillips should, perhaps, consider himself lucky he didn't end up like Tony Martin, Linda Walker, Fred Brown, or any of the other respectable and law-abiding citizens who have found that, while the police did nothing to protect them from criminals, Plod was quick to turn out and arrest them the moment they took steps to protect themselves. While the police do not see any need to actually do the work they're paid for, they hate the idea that a citizen might do it for them. For the police, the ideal citizen is a cowering victim, who kneels submissively before the thugs, and does nothing to challenge them. We should drop the illusion that the police are useful, good, or on the side of the law-abiding. They are not, and we would in all probability be rather better off without them.