Last week the former head of the police investigation into sexual abuse allegations, mainly against children, described the inquiry as a “global brand”.
The retired Metropolitan Police commander Peter Spindler was talking about Operation Yewtree, which was set up in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal and which has seen other high-profile celebrities investigated, with some brought to court.
I cannot think of a more inappropriate phrase to use to describe such an investigation. It shows that the police, when they communicate with the public, clearly need to reacquaint themselves with the English language.
Firstly, to describe a police investigation into appalling sexual abuse, including that of children, as a “brand” is callous in the extreme. It makes it sound like the launch of a new cosmetics range, a chain of hotels or cruise holidays in the Caribbean.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the use of the phrase “global brand” backfires big time when you consider the criticism that has been levelled at the police over the way they have handled Operation Yewtree.
Several celebrities have had their lives ruined even though, after a long drawn-out police inquiry, there was insufficient evidence to take the case to court. This has given rise to allegations that the police have been conducting witch-hunts.
There was the controversial raid on the home of Sir Cliff Richard, when the police tipped off the BBC who then filmed the event.
Then there was the mind-boggling announcement by a police chief involved in a sister inquiry known as Operation Midland, which is investigating an alleged VIP paedophile ring. He described a key witness to alleged abuse as “credible and true” – a conclusion that, under British law, should be left to twelve members of a jury should the case go to trial, not to a copper.
Taking these criticisms together, the impression might have formed in the minds of some people that the police conducting various abuse inquiries are hyping their investigations simply to get publicity for themselves rather than to encourage genuine victims of abuse to come forward.
The use of the phrase “global brand” can only reinforce this negative impression. After all, a “brand” is something that is “marketed” and “sold” – and often over-sold to make it look better than it is or to get the witless to buy into it. These are the last characteristics you would want to see associated with a police inquiry.
Language like “global brand” can only hinder the efforts of those numerous police officers who are attempting to conduct conscientious and thorough investigations into genuine abuse that has taken place.
The last time I heard “global brand” used was when I bought my last car. The salesman in the dealership spouted the phrase on several occasions. If my memory serves me right, I heard phrases like:
“Because it’s a global brand, this car has superb air conditioning.”
“This car has very comfortable seats thanks to its global brand.”
“The stop-start system is really innovative as a result of the vehicle being a global brand.”
And what was the car? A Volkswagen Passat that, according to a letter I’ve received from VW, is one of those affected by the emissions scandal.
Police investigations will become just as toxic if police officers, too, churn out equally over-the-top language.