I managed to get Mr V acquitted because the law distinguishes between arrestable and non-arrestable offences. Or at least it did until earlier this yearby Alex McBride / April 23, 2006 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2006 issue of Prospect Magazine
The CCTV recorded the back-up unit’s progress. They were not exactly hurrying. Some officers jogged. Others went the wrong way. A stout officer, bringing up the rear, stumbled on the stairs. The camera cut to another group of cops, who had a black man pressed face-first against the wall of a pedestrian tunnel. There were too many of them to get a proper grip on him. They stood around as the man was pulled to the floor, handcuffed and taken away. You might be wondering what this man had done to merit such a response from so many officers. Mr V’s crime was to busk in the underground without a licence.
London Underground will give busking licences to people with criminal convictions only if the convictions are “spent.” The length of time it takes for a conviction to become spent depends on the sentence. If you’ve been sentenced to imprisonment for 30 months or more, your conviction is never spent. Mr V, who finds it hard to cope in stressful situations, has convictions for petty dishonesty and threatening behaviour but not for hitting anybody. He showed me the letter from London Underground telling him he doesn’t qualify because of his criminal record. Busking is a little job to make ends meet, and Mr V depends on it.
When Mr V was arrested early last year, unlicensed busking, as set out in the London Underground bylaws, was not an arrestable offence. A police officer couldn’t nick you for it. If you were to be prosecuted, a summons had to be sent to your home address. But common sense and police time dictate that buskers are usually just moved along. Mr V is used to being told to leave stations, and does so when asked. On this occasion, as the two officers approached him, he put away his guitar and tried to leave. But the police were not satisfied with this and asked for his name. Mr V has two surnames, his mother’s and his father’s. He gave them both. The police misheard and asked him to confirm his name, so he gave his father’s name, as this was on his…