Today’s story about the jailing of Philippa by Judge Noble in Peterborough highlights several critical problems in Peterborough.
1 Peterborough awards the motorist absolute priority
Me in 2009 on top of Queensgate car park with Bourges Boulevard behind. Went there to observe something astronomical. Ended up watching pied wagtails diving over the top. Thought about a mum who’d recently jumped to her death.
Very obviously and in my view outrageously, the absolute priority this city awards the motorist is demonstrated by this judgement just as it is in local infrastructure investment decisions, where roads for cars can always be funded, but decent routes for other forms of transport are consistently unaffordable.
The judge chose to reinforce this view by claiming he felt obliged to jail a woman who was on foot and in desperate need because: “I have to have regard for hundreds of motorists who were severely inconvenienced by her actions.”
Philippa breached a previous judicial order, so the judge had to do something. But Judge Noble jails her, apparently believing that the inconvenienced driving community somehow deserves this, or requires it of him.
I drive a car and I don’t want this woman jailed. #NotInMyName. I’d like her released now. #FreePhilippa
Most drivers are decent folk who would stop for someone who clearly needed help. This must be what they did that day, however unwilling. This delay was long, but delays on the road happen everyday.
In this case the risk of a fatal outcome for Philippa was very high, but thank goodness, diligent caring people helped avert it. So why jail Philippa when the best possible result was achieved by the large number of people, including local emergency services and all those drivers who stopped, however inconvenient, to help make sure that someone’s life was protected at a lethal moment?
Philippa was sent to prison early this morning. As I writing this and going about my day, two young men died at the hands of a hit and run motorist in Yaxley on a patch of road where spending on a cycleway/footpath has allegedly been put off for a whole decade. But the money for the brand new road which underpasses that same road was found. However, just as happened when the old road was built, not quite enough for a pavement or cycle way.
Peterborough has created a problem for itself and it was not Philippa’s fault.
2 Peterborough is one of the most dangerous places to be on the road
Ranked with all the other parliamentary constituencies in the UK, the City of Peteborough is ranked fifth from the bottom. Bad driving is at epidemic levels in the city and around it. And given its appalling safety record, one has to ask why Judge Noble feels any need to conciliate the community of motorists living anywhere round here.
This is not Philippa’s fault either.
3 Peterborough only cares about shopping and getting to work
Given that the city’s second priority after the private motor vehicle is earning enough money to shop and then to do your shopping, which all too often means buying and driving a car, road traffic is a massive problem for most people, whether or not they are experiencing emotional distress and whether or not they happen to be in a car at a particular moment. It is not all about accidents. It is also about air pollution and life expectancy. It is about quality of life. And how much of a person’s life is eaten up travelling.
I don’t think it is an accident that historically women (mostly) have chosen the city’s car parks to express their despair. Queensgate’s car parks only service the retail sector and they shut as the shops close. Women find places which reflect their feelings.
Philippa is not alone. Her behaviour is not unique to her. Unhappy women have been telling Peterborough very important but not very nice things about how we are restricted and tied down by the way we live. But the city doesn’t listen. And I suspect that Judge Noble really doesn’t want to hear those awful truths.
If I’m right, that isn’t Philippa’s fault.
4 Peterborough does not have a working public transit system
Non ownership of a car in Peterborough renders you virtually unemployable, a phenomenon never experienced by residents of cities with working public transit systems. Here it makes you a non person. Something not worthy of consideration.
So often people are trapped in a vicious cycle of having to have a car. Another group of people is stuck outside the car owning circle. A huge number of people can’t or don’t drive a car but the transport needs of this very diverse group (including children) are not taken care of. Their chances and opportunities can be massively compromised, because they experience travel only as a passenger in someone else’s vehicle, not as something they can embark upon autonomously.
The systems we put up with affect everyone’s happiness. Not just Philippa’s. Roads affect the map and our relationships with one another. They define and divide communities. Some of Peteborough’s roads are hideous.
When our environment is neglected and fails to support people’s needs, it has an impact on our health and happiness.
That isn’t Philippa’s fault either.
5 Peterborough does not have an effective mental health system
If Philippa had been discharged from effective mental health care she would not have ended up back in court.
That isn’t Philippa’s fault, obviously.
6 Peterborough is angry
A judge finds himself in an impossible position. Judges have to be very professional and aren’t supposed to express their emotions. But I think it might be well worth trying to imagine what it would really feel like to be a judge faced with Philippa. Suppose I was the judge.
I’d feel disappointment that Philippa has landed back in court. Disappointed for her, because I know that failure is bad and hurts and she will be hurting.I’d be trying to see how she is, and trying to figure out what on earth went wrong. And disappointed for myself and the court, because the very fact that she is standing in front of me means that what we did last time didn’t work, or didn’t work well enough.
So I’d be quite annoyed too and probably cross with her. She didn’t have to do this, did she? We gave her a chance, but she hasn’t taken it. She’s gone the wrong way and landed up back in front of me. I’d be irritated and I might be inclined to lose patience.
And how come she’s been discharged from mental health care but done it again? What is wrong with the health care system? Why can’t they get it right? One row and she’s completely destabilised? How come? What kind of discharge was it? What strategies did they give her? Did they get anything right? I’d be furious that they were so useless.
But being a judge, I would of course be very very good at managing my emotions, keeping them firmly under control, being objective, turning them into something positive, like sport or a hobby. Because someone probably taught me how to do that. A chap’s ability with his own emotions is partly why he is a judge.
I might be aware of what Philippa thinks she needs, but not necessarily. It seems to me that a judge, faced with terrible distress finds himself equipped with all the wrong tools. I might well feel annoyed about what my judge options were. What I’ve got is a sledgehammer.
What Philippa needs and probably knows she needs are the sort of things you would find in a properly functioning hospital (eg not one like Peterborough – on permanent alert). A nurse, probably medication, time, secure spaces, counselling and therapy, companionship, advice, training, reflection, perspective. Things which are far more akin to needle and thread.
Our Peterborough judge knew this morning that the tools and resources which might help repair Philippa are not available in our city. You can’t refer someone to a non existent or inadequate service. She has already been discharged from what has been made available to her and our judge can see that one family conversation has been enough to plunge her back into misery. I’d be livid if the judge was me.
But of course it was Judge Noble. Yes he has got all the sledgehammer might of the law and he isn’t going to get all emotional. But the trouble with the law is that it imagines that a desperately unhappy person is capable of caring a single jot about it. It is so vain. All systems are like that: they all believe that it is about them. That is how people get crushed utterly. We all know that.
Of course everybody knows that nobody in desperate need should be required to defer to the paramount needs of any system. Systems should work with those in need. Systems all have policies which say that this is exactly what they do. But we also all know that in practice they don’t.
There is a 100% chance that the judge knows that as well as I do, and again, if it was me, I’d be even crosser. I’d be twenty times crosser than I ever ever get in real life.
And that in my opinion is why the actual Judge Noble jailed her. Sending Philippa to prison was not about her. It was all about him. If Philippa was a such pain in the neck to a bunch of motorists, what terrible trouble will she cause in prison? And why would anyone burden an hopelessly overloaded prison service with someone who will cause nothing but obstructions and delays within it?
Putting Philippa very gently to one side, frankly, it isn’t fair on the prison service.
There simply is no rational explanation for jailing Philippa.
But we don’t need a rational explanation, do we? Becasue we can all see straight through an angry, impotent, frustrated system, can’t we ladies? We know how hard it is to mend something bigger than you, compared with how easy it is to smash something smaller.
7 Peterborough is a hot spot for female vulnerability
Lastly but very importantly, Peterborough is a hot spot of female vulnerability, where retaining your personal integrity can prove fatal. Women are required to support the system and to do its bidding, even to their own undoing. The cure here is not the council. The cure is usually other women: people who can and must help and support one another. Women who have seen and befriended a lot of women suffering know the extent to which Philippa is not alone. But it is impossible to understand that you are actually in excellent company while you are still suffering. Just as it is impossible to comprehend the law or do its bidding. These realisations come only once people are able emerge out of a crisis.
My wish for Philippa is that recovery and this realisation come soon. Maybe, crazily it will come for her in prison, the right thing even if in completely the wrong place. I hope that the penny will drop quickly that she is OK. Yes, she is unhappy and probably quite unwell. But she is absolutely not the problem and she is in the company of a huge number of wonderful people, wherever she is, including prison.
Please be sure that wherever women find themselves especially vulnerable, so do a lot of other people and your readers are far too clever to assume that what I describe is only about or for women.
4 Jan 2017