Efficiency of the French police with foreign victims

PoliceGotcha! What exactly French cop-speak is for that I don't know but certainly that's what les flics would have said when the other day they felt the collar of a man they allege in 1990 raped and strangled Joanna Parrish, a British exchange student, and threw her body in the river near Auxerre. Her family were relieved to hear this but over two decades they had been greatly frustrated by the slow progress of the investigation. In regard to such cases, which are relatively common, I've even heard it suggested that the police don't make much effort if the victim is a foreigner.

Moulin less efficient than Barnaby

British critics of the system are often puzzled and irritated by the sluggish pace of investigations and their frequently negative outcome. Mark Jones, whose wife was murdered while on holiday in Picardy, remarked when her killer was finally put in the dock three years after his arrest that "the whole thing was a pantomime". He was clearly unfamiliar with the snail-like functioning of the investigative and judicial processes in France in which foreigners are quick to see some kind of discrimination at work. Wrong. On average one Brit a year is murdered in France and many of these cases remain unsolved. In Théoule recently someone reminded me of the killing of her former neighbour Patricia Green, a British lawyer, found shot dead on her kitchen floor one January evening in 1994. The case remains "cold". There are, of course, particular difficulties with crimes involving foreigners. These are, unlike Green, often visitors with no relation to local communities and are victims of opportunistic crimes. However, these figures also need to be taken into account: of all homicides in France a quarter are never cleared up; in the UK that's true of only one in ten. On this showing, Moulin is evidently less efficient than Barnaby.

If so, why? The problem is the method of police recruitment and training in France. Most senior officers have entered the force directly at "commissioned" level and have little or no first-hand experience of street policing and so lack the savvy it can impart. Ordinary cops and their seniors inhabit different social and cultural worlds. This is a source of weakness. Significantly, French television has never had an equivalent to The Bill since nothing like that exists in reality. I groaned when recently a smartarse hired by the present British government to advise on police reform urged that a similar system should be adopted in the UK with graduate entrants being spared the beat and fast tracked to officer level. Actually, it was tried before – back in the thirties with the so-called Trenchard system – and it failed dismally. I recall from my distant days as an instructor at Hendon that this episode was occasionally recalled over the tea and bacon sarnies in the canteen and got a unanimous thumbs down. And then there's the examining magistrate (juge d'instruction) who supervises the investigation. Some are very good but others are inexperienced, over-worked and sometimes very full of themselves. Relations with their police colleagues can be less than fruitful which doesn't make for efficiency. A bit of advice, then: don't get murdered in France – they might never find out who done it.