Abusive Bailiffs: Old but Possibly Relevant Thoughts


That Sheep May Safely Graze
by Sean Gabb

This evening, the 26th September 2006, the BBC will broadcast its latest Whistleblower programme. This investigates the sharp and often illegal practices of court bailiffs. They are accused of tricking debtors—and frequently third parties —out of thousands of pounds that are not owed.

According to a report in The Daily Mail, the bailiffs in one firm are accused of:

  • Doubling or tripling a judgment debt, and then appearing generous by deducting £100—and keeping the whole excess for themselves;
  • Telling the relatives of debtors that they would have their own possessions seized;
  • Threatening debtors with violence;
  • Breaking and entering the premises of debtors and of third parties.

So far as they are true—and I have not seen the programme in question—these accusations show patterns of behaviour of which I was not previously aware.

Now, of course, if the law has been broken, those breaking it, and those procuring its breach, must be punished. If the law has been abused, it must be changed, so that the rights of debtors and of third parties are more effectively protected. There can be no doubt of this. Laws exist to shield the innocent and to protect the legitimate rights of all. They should not be suffered to exist as a systematic weapon for the unscrupulous.

This being said, the story raises a disturbing thought in my mind. This is to what extent people who think and behave like sheep deserve to be treated like human beings.

If someone knocks on your door waving a piece of paper and demanding money, it is reasonable to expect that you will insist on reading that piece of paper. If you do not understand the meaning of the words on that piece of paper, it is reasonable to expect that you will demand an explanation of its meaning. If a satisfactory explanation is not given, it is reasonable to expect that you will seek advice from someone else who is competent to give such advice. If you stand aside and let him in to burgle your home, you have—in what is still a country based on law— consented to your own oppression.

I believe that some of the victims whose stories are told in the programme could not be expected fully to insist on their legal rights. There is the story of a man dying of cancer, who was plundered because someone else had illegally used his disabled parking badge. There is the story of children terrorised with the threat that their mother would be sent to prison for non-payment of a debt. But many of the victims of these bailiffs were adults operating under no obvious defect of health. These people do not seem to have behaved reasonably in the face of purported authority. So far as they failed to challenge the legality of what was done to them, they largely have themselves to blame.

Now, I can hear an answer forming to what I have just said. “Sean” it goes, “you are middle class. You have a legal education. You are not particularly frightened of the ordinary organs of the British State. You know roughly what your rights are and how to get them respected. These are poor and ignorant people whose attitude to authority is one of terrified respect. They do not know what their rights are. They do not know how to find out what these are or how to enforce them. You cannot expect them to behave as you might in their position. You are speaking like one of those people who give libertarianism a bad name.”

There is something in this answer, and English law has tried for many centuries—if not always consistently or very well—to take it into account. The phrase “poor and ignorant people” is enshrined in the Rules of Equity. Judges have sought to apply contracts with such people with a requirement on the stronger party of just dealing.

The problem is that, during the past hundred years or so, the poor and ignorant have been given the same political rights as everyone else. They are allowed a say in the election of a government. They cannot be trusted to look after their own affairs. But they are trusted with a vote that allows others to look into our affairs.

If this were a problem affecting five or perhaps even ten per cent of the adult population, it might not be a serious nuisance. But is a problem that, during the past hundred years of so, has been greatly compounded.

When he was alive, I used to discuss with Chris R. Tame to what extent many people, even in the better ages of our country, were two legged sheep. How many people, I would ask him, knew why they should be angry with Charles I and James II? How many people were in the habit of demanding due process of law in their dealings with the authorities? His answer was always “enough people to make a difference”.

The difference between then and now is that there are not now enough people to make a difference.

On the reasons for this change, I could write a book and still not do justice to the theme. But there are a number of reasons obvious enough not to need more than a cursory treatment.

The first of these has been the rise of an extended welfare state. I have no principled objection to some state welfare. If people are, through no gross negligence of their own, in want, I will consent to pay taxes for their basic relief. This covers some maintenance for themselves, so health care, some education for their children. The law should not encourage claims. It should, much rather, encourage self-help and should encourage voluntary provision for much else. But I do not wholly reject some role for the State in relieving certain kinds of want.

However, the welfare state we actually have goes far beyond these minimal functions. It discourages self-help. It tends to co-opt voluntary provision—where it does not positively discourage it—into the agency of the State. It has raised up an army of people whose attitude to the authorities is one of supplication. They have resigned care over their own affairs to the authorities, which stand over them as a parent does to a child. It is asking too much to expect such people to retain any habits of self-respect or of independence. When faced with the demands of authority—whether real or purported—they will defer.

I do not need to enter into the further question of how such deference arose and is sustained. It may be purely a cultural change in response to changes of institution. Or it may be— as I suspect—a genetic change in the character of the British people. We lost close on a million of our best young men in the Great War. We lost millions of others in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to emigration. Is it possible that those who remained—these being less brave on average and less resourceful—then bred further generations of the similarly unfit? Is it possible that their breeding of these further generations was facilitated by welfare policies that externalised the costs of procreation?

There is, I do suspect, something in this argument. But I do not need to go any further in its development. And it would lead me into connected arguments that it might not be in my best interests to elaborate. But indiscriminate welfare, I do not see any reason to doubt, has raised up an army of two-legged sheep.

I turn to the second reason. This is the general corporatisation of our economic life. Until a few generations back, most people in the middle classes were self-employed. If they paid income tax, they dealt directly with the authorities. Regardless of whether they earnt enough to pay the modest income taxes of the day, they had to make all the important decisions of their lives for themselves.

The great majority of middle class people nowadays are the salaried employees of large organisations. Whether these organisation are openly departments of state, or are state-privileged trading bodies in the formally private sector, they expect and impose habits on their employees of external reliance. These people resign everything from career development to pension planning to their employers, and defer in just about all matters to their line managers. They sell their time to a single client. If they are dissatisfied with the deal, they look for another. And never think to expand the number of clients.

The effect has been very similar to welfare corruption. Most people in this country, of whatever degree, are not self-reliant individuals. Even if they acquire an intellectual understanding, they do not directly understand how free people think and behave.

This explains much of how this country now operates. It explains the endless scare stories in the media—everything from “global warming” and “passive smoking” to the alleged danger of letting ordinary people own and use firearms, to the case for omnipresent surveillance cameras on the roads and in other public places. It also explains the demands that “something must be done”. Little of this nonsense, I agree, comes spontaneously from the people at large. It proceeds in nearly all cases from the agenda of various interest groups that want power and income for themselves and their clients. But the successful unpicking of our ancient ways proceeds from the fact that we are—for whatever reason—no longer the people among whom those ancient ways emerged and took hold.

We have become like the Roman People of the early Principate. These were no longer the people who had faced down Hannibal outside the gates of their city. They were no longer even the people who rioted at the funeral of Julius Caesar. There were instead the tame people who let the funeral of Augustus pass without disturbance, and of whom that frustrated conservative Tiberius spoke when he condemned himself for having to govern a nation of swine.

If there is ever a successful reaction here to this unpicking of our ways, those directing it will need to make some hard and radical decisions about the nature of political accountability. I believe those Victorian liberals were wrong who insisted that all adults could be trusted with the vote. But there was enough in their insistence for conservatives not to fight tooth and claw against the extensions of the franchise. But most people now are not to be trusted with the vote.

This applies most obviously to those unfortunates who appear to have let themselves be plundered by dishonest bailiffs. It also applies to those who feel more than commonly sorry for them, and to all those who are content to have control of their lives be fought over by the likes of Tony Blair and David Cameron. Some of these people have good incomes and nice houses. Some have good taste for clothing and antiques. Some have considerable formal education. But they are not the equals of those who cried “privilege” against the Ministers of Charles I—or who took up arms against him, or even for him.

Some accountability is necessary for all constitutional government. But the nature of this accountability is not always most effectively based on universal suffrage. It cannot be so in a nation where the majority are in the legal sense “ignorant”.

What it should be after any Great Reaction I cannot yet say. But I will watch this evening’s episode of Whistleblower with an uncommon interest.

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37 responses to “Abusive Bailiffs: Old but Possibly Relevant Thoughts

  1. In Ulster there is no such thing as a “bailiff” – yet debts get paid.

    Someone just turning up to your door and taking your stuff?

    Such a person or persons might get shot (by local people – as well as by the family they were attacking) or, even people were so enraged that they forgot about their “undocumented” firearms, they would just give these “bailiffs” a kicking.

    Protestant Irish (the so called “Scots Irish” – the Scots being an Irish people) and Catholic Irish would react much the same.

    It is a major cultural divide between England and Ireland.

  2. Sean, I don’t have any personal experience of bailiffs fortunately, but as far as I know it is not a question at all of someone turning up on your doorstop waving a piece of paper for you to peruse and decide whether to let them in! Legally, they have to obtain peaceful entry of the home before they can start itemising your possessions to be sold (for pennies – which just cover their van fees and don’t reduce your debt). And peaceful entry legally includes climbing in open windows or walking in the door, whether they have been invited in or not. What is not allowed (apart from bailiffs for council tax and tax who have their own rules – the state’s interests come first) is to obtain violent entry. Yet if you read any anecdotal evidence about the behaviour of bailiffs, they routinely obtain violent entry.

    The person ought not to respond to the knock on the door at all, but should the person do so, they would normally be confronted with a very large and aggressive person with a foot in the crack of the door who proceeds to force the door ajar and push past the householder into the home. Note that this is not an occasional practice, but the normal behaviour of such people–you only have to read forums on the such–and legally speaking does not entitle them to itemise posssessions for confiscation. But from what I have read the magistrates also routinely refuse to believe householders who point out that they did not allow the bailiffs peaceful entry–some or all of these magistrates are living in a different world–and once the bailiffs are in the house, it is irrelevant whether the householder consents or not to the itemisation of property for removal on their next visit.

    Of course, I know people should not meekly submit to such things–and a minimum would seem to be not to open the door to such people. An even more egregious subject for discussion would be the way that some court-appointed bailiffs collecting the state’s debts, not private debts, are permitted to use force and knock the door down if need be in pursuit of council tax and HMRC debts…

    • David, I take your point that bailiffs tend to be scum, and the magistrates are rubber stamps for their abuses. However, this would not have been tolerated in the English past. Indeed, I’ll bet bailiffs tend to be less aggressive in Islamic areas, where neighbours and relatives would soon gather to perform what the lefty sociologists call “crowd action.” We are an agglomeration of atomised sheep. If we have any freedom left at all in this country, it is largely because our rulers are too lazy, or too governed by their own sense of propriety, to take it away.

  3. The Roman point is a good one – showing a changing culture.

    Why did not Hannibal march on Rome? Because he would have faced vast numbers of armed and trained people inside the city, who would have faught savagely (and effectively).

    In 410 a handful of Goths (whom Hannibal would not even have considered an army) took Rome and looted (without resistance) for three days. And had the professional army collapsed centuries before – Rome would have been taken centuries before.

    The Civil Wars (and Octavian’s “Republican” POSE) seem to have broken the spirit of the Republic and turned the people into sheep.

    Ready to accept the ban on the private ownership (and training with) military weapons – that “Augustus” created for “law” and “civil peace”.

  4. The policy of the French Revolutionaries – undermine and destroy private associations (apart from their own political clubs of course) and reduce people to atomised individuals (fearful and ignorant of each other) – that way it is easy to rule people.

  5. A large part of the corrupt goings on of baliffs involve their council “tax” collection antics. See Richard North’s EU Referendum blog entries past for a large amount of info on the corrupt and illegal goings on being ignored by police, courts and council thieves alike.

    • Mr Ecks – Unless it has been conquered by overpowering force, the oppression you see in a nation is proportional to the apathy of its people. I repeat that it would be interesting to know how bailiffs behave in the Islamic zones.

  6. Firstly, regarding alleged abuse of doctors, there is a common issue with
    them now in fabricating abusive behaviour in defence to complaints, we
    had further cases in this arear last week on TV where they had got peoples
    medical records wrongly named and mixed up with other patients, they
    fabricated evidence the woman was threatening, called the police and
    tried to have her arrested, it was terrible, they had crossed her medical
    records with another patient who was an OAP, and were in fact treating
    her for conditions she did not have, the woman becomming concerned
    gave challenge and established her records were that of another person,
    they are refusing her treatment for making the complaint this was on BBC
    look east, disgusting, doctors and medical staff, do this when subject to
    complaints about medical negligence, they did similar thing to me. switched
    my records for that of a dead 87 year old GP and put his records in with
    my records concerning a legal case, record all calls during complaints
    procedures or take a witness every time you attend, this is one of the
    biggest abuses they use during any complaints or legal process, you
    must remeber they have the power to allege you are guilty, without
    the right of any trial in law, on the basis of fabricated evidence, everyone
    should be aware of this and how they missuse these powers to evade
    justice when in fact it is them who are guilty, they even tried to falsely
    alleged I called them on the phone, until there was an investigation by
    the telephone records and police , which proved they had lied and no
    such calls were ever made or received by them as they falsely alleged,
    they made no reply, when it was concluded I was with a number of independent witnessed at the time they alleged. And they had fabricated
    the whole incident. There were unable to charge me as they had committed
    the crime of purjury.

  7. Yes bailiffs are “Scumbags” some X army or police, under no circumstances
    let them in, they can do little if you refuse them entry, however they are
    getting wise, it has been known for them to come with police, and get you
    to open the door that way, people do have legal rights in respect of the
    bailiffs, they should get copies via google if concerned. The courts and
    magistrates alway’s rubber stamp their behaviour even if they have broken
    the law, so find out your rights, and tell them if they call, try and record
    everything of have a witness with you. keep windows locked and closed
    if you think they are going to pay you a visit as well as all doors.

  8. Also don’t be frightened, by any intimidation and false retoric about the
    law they spurt out, it’s normally “Bullshit” anyway! They just try to put on
    the pressure and frighten people in to letting them into their houses, if
    they do get in, and try and take property, they are not allowed in law
    to take certain items or items you allege belong to another person, see
    google again for the full list, important, do not let them scare you into
    co-operation, they have limited legal powers, unless the police are with
    them.

  9. Of course all cases involving doctors are different, the background to my case conclusively proved I had already been subjected to illegal imprisonment, pending false republican allegations, but basically, the surgery knew they were being sued over this, they then devised a plan whereby they claimed I called them confessed to being IRA and knew how to use semtex and would blow them up, lucky for me I proved they fabricated the calls, you both know who you are, Jackson, Barstable. If there was any real justice they would both be in prison, people should be aware of what they do when attempting to sue them or making complaints, and take safegards in this respect. Still hold the files of course and record of police investigation, their copies gone missing as one would expect.

  10. Yes, you are right about Muslim areas being able to mobilise the community. It is one of the most shocking aspects of the state in Britain today that it has deliberately unpicked the bonds of community among the native British majority by preaching multiculturalism and encouraging the demise of the family, so that for many indigent Britons, the state is actually the only community they have. And that is precisely what is wrong about the state.

    Karl Fenn, yes I have read about bailiffs coming with the police – but as a civil matter the police have no business attending – or if they are present their main role should be to ensure that the bailiff does not gain uninvited entry to the home.

  11. You are absolutely right Sean. One of the most depressing things about this country is the propensity of the people to just do as they are told. I explode in rage when I hear people say “We’re not allowed to say that…” or “we’re not allowed to call them that ….”. The rednecks of the Deep South, where I am headed next week, may not have a legal education either, but they know damn well how to deal with any attempted infringment of their rights.

  12. Yes your’re right paul they would not dear do what they do on the mainland,
    you’re right when you say they would be killed, no doubt at all. It’s a bit
    sad in some way’s, they have more rights than we do on the mainland, albeit,
    my methods some might find controversial.

    • Well personally, if called up for jury service, I could not find someone guilty for using lethal force to defend his home against forcible entry by a bailifff – including – or especially – in the case of collection of council tax and HMRC alleged “debts”.

      • David – Of course, this admission, if read out in court, would get you stood by for the Crown in half a second. I’ve never been called. If I were, however, I promise to consider both the facts of the case and the rightness of the law.

  13. Jury nulification over lethal force – so you are an Irishman David Webb.

    P.S. I am not attacking you.

  14. Karl – people have the rights they are prepared to fight for (in cooperation with others), that is Sean’s point.

    One of the great flaws in Thomas Hobbes is that whilst he accepts (in a backhanded way) that an individual person has the right to defend themselves – it never crosses his mind that they might want to defend other people against state attack (or attack from private criminals for that matter).

    Unless people are prepared to defend each other – all is lost.

  15. Hugo – you may well be aware of what the American term “Redneck” originally meant.

    it was an ethnic term – for the Irish (normally meaning the Scots Irish) who were supposed to be so pale that their necks went red in the sun as they tended their farms.

    The backbone of the fighters in the American War of Independence they soon fell out with new American government – hence the Whiskey Rebellion (the same old dispute between government and whiskey makers who did not want to pay tax – that has run through Irish and Scots history, and still does in Ireland)..

    And helped first Thomas Jefferson (an end to internal taxation) and then Andrew Jackson (one of their own – and the man who paid off the National Debt and ended the National Bank) into the office of President of the United States.

  16. Would that we had their kind running for public office today (Jefferson & Jackson that is). I had indeed heard that definition of ‘redneck’ but had forgotten it till you reminded me. I also heard a story that they were so called because they wore red bandanas round their necks, but I never attached much credence to that.

  17. Senator Benton (another of the kind) on Jackson – “A fine man, I shot him once, a fine man”

    Trying to kill someone does not automatically mean you dislike them you see…….

    And a mess of contradictions – passionate about freedom (yet owned slaves), sent many Indians on the “trail of tears” (on which many died), but adopted an Indian as his son and sent him to Harvard.

    The contradictions were always there – after the Battle of Kings Mountain (in which the British allied “Loyalists” basically lost the South) the Rednecks shot some of their foes out of hand and hanged some – and then the mood changed and they sent the rest home with food and so on for the road.

    Yes Redneck is an ethnic slur.not an item of clothing.

    However, the women wore short dresses – did not drag in the dirt or restrict movement.

    Tough women – Andrew Jackson’s mother whipped him for crying (he refused to clean a British officer’s boots – and so got a saber cut across the face).

    “Boys do not cry – boys fight!” Mrs Jackson cried – as she laid on the lash.

  18. DJwebb, I can assitain from your comments you have some experience on the subject of bailiffs although limited, what they can do if you don’t let them in is call Police and allege you threatened them of assualted them from behind a closed door, the police can gain entry by force, the bailiffs can then enter, they do have powers to use locksmiths, but if you have bolts this can be difficult for them, if the police arrest the peson and remove him from the house or premises, it has been known for them to return finding the bailiffs have taken items of goods, leaving notice as such.

  19. I alway’s thought jackson was indeed a woman, has history failed me.

  20. Yes you’re right paul, unity and the gut’s to fight are the correct ingredients,
    somthing the English seem to lack at the moment, no saxon blood in their
    veins these day’s!

  21. Didn’t he also steal someone else’s wife & then shot him in a duel or something? Old Hickory that is.

    • Hugo. Jackson faught many duels – normally about slights (real or in-his-mind) about his wife. Actually there was no real scandal about their relationship – but people thought there was.

      On the other hand Martin Van Buren (his right hand man and successor) was the mildest of men (we get the term “OK” from him) – but actually more of a free market person.

      It was Van Buren (the only professional banker to be President of the United States) who actually broke the link between bank-and-state (for awhile).

      Neither a National Bank – or Jackson’s “pet” State level banks.

      Martin Van Buren was so distrustful of his own profession that he insisted that tax money not touch banks at all. The money was put in an “Independent Treasury” (basically strong rooms out of the Middle Ages) and only paid out for government spending – literal, pay-as-you-go.

      This was because even State level banks built vast credit bubbles with any money they were trusted with – hence the bust that Van Buren (and everyone else) had to live with at the end of Jackson’s time.

      By the way Van Buren was anti slavery – and ran on the Free Soil ticket later.

      In many ways, after Van Buren, it was all down hill (the national debt came back for a start).

  22. He might have done, but there again alocal postman went after his wifes
    lover with a shotgun after seh eloped with a factory mananger, it seems to
    happen everywhere even rural Norfolk! Don’t think his name was Old
    Hickory, thought that came from the plant kingdom!

  23. P.S. djwebb, regarding the main role of the police, no one really understands
    this rediculous rubbish they regurgitate, it appears meaningless, they use it
    in all cirumstances, my main role was to kill the protestor for instance, role
    in theatrics of totaliterian agenda I think, open to many if not all interpretations of the word role, Yes Indeed!

  24. The tune of role in of course G minor! My main role as a police officer was to investigate an alleged crime of assualt agianst Mr Peabody the X army bailiff and one of my colleagues, it was alleged Mr Jones the poor man, had assualted Mr Peabody from behind a locked door, I forced entry and arrested Mr Jones, due to the allegations of violence I immediately handcuffed him, for my own safety. I escorted Mr Jones to the awaiting police car, obviously I closed the door but was unable to lock it as Mr Jones had the key in his pocket and was handcuffed, my role was mearly to arrest Mr Jones, I had no role in the removal of his property, Signed P.C. Plonker.

  25. Very educational paul, I am not the best brief on US history, but very enlightening, I must say! I am of course anti slavery myself, but it’s seems to
    be creeping back, so some tell me on the back to work programe!

  26. Karl – some argued that the 1834 Poor Law Reform Act (England and Wales) compelled people to work, by allowing able bodied paupers to be ordered to go to Workhouses (I express no opinion of whether the Act did allow that), so the Scots Act of 1845 carefully stated that no one had that power. Of course if you did turn down the Workhouse in Scotland you might well be told to sling your hook (go away with nothing), but that was your choice.

    Before 1845 most of Scotland (including Glasgow) had no Poor Law rates at all. Scotland was not always the neosocialist country it is today. Even its famous compulsory state education system was not really compulsory or state – till the 1870s.

    Each Parish of the Church of Scotland had a school and could levy what in England would be called Church Rates to help pay for it – and if you turned up and wanted to learn (and really could not pay – had nothing) then they would teach you without charge. But search the backstreets of Glasgow to drag people to school who did not want to go? Not a chance – it was not like that.

    By the way Ireland had the Poor Law during the great death of the 1840s – the Poor Law rates, just made everything WORSE.

    Back in Burkes’s day there was no Poor Law in Ireland – and no “National School” system, and no Royal Irish Police…..

  27. No I agree, don’t think anyone would try and drag someone around in
    Glasgow, probaby get a knife in your back, have been there a couple of
    times,on the first day the ice cream was shot, on the second two stabbings.
    Good going across the clyde though, ferry bit like a fun fare ride. Glasgow
    is not a place for the faint hearted, it brought on my first account of real
    culture shock, funny thing though, they had one of the best ice skating
    rinks I had ever seen in the U.K.

  28. Quite so Karl – and, of course, the idea that the Protestant folk are less violent than than the Catholic folk is laughable.

    Whether Celtic or Rangers – they are as hard as nails.

  29. Yes, I agree totally on that point.

  30. Hello ! Good Tidings to All….. The law is changing next year, those nasty
    bully bailiffs will no longer be able to enter your houses or verbally rough
    you up at the door, many of thier powers have been revoked under new
    law rolled out this week. Poor plonker no more overtime!

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