Short Story: End of Report

John Ordinaire aged 31, was a news reporter on the Averageton Daily Post, an important provincial newspaper. On July 10th he was in the office by 8 a.m as usual expecting to be sent off to cover a nearby agricultural show. But when he put his head round the assistant editor’s door, he was told that he would not be going. Instead there was a long report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary for the year 1974 (House of Commons Paper 406) waiting on his desk. The editor wanted his piece on it by 3 p.m. sharp.


John went to his desk and picked up the weighty report with a certain feeling of regret. He liked the agricultural show, and was interested in the new tractors, machines etc. that were always on display. Still, he prided himself on being a professional journalist, (he hoped he would make it to Fleet Street one day) and started to wade through the report of Sir John Hill.


The paper had a regular crime feature page, and in general spent quite a lot of space on big crime, and the successes of the police force. The editor was a firm believer in the values of law and order (some years ago he had spent 6 months writing leaders for The Times) and John knew he would have to slant his report to show the good work the police were doing. He began to look for the statistics to back up the editor’s view that a good police force, decent citizens and a strong education system were the best means to deal with crime.


Instead, he found the following. There had been a record rise in crime of 21 per cent. over the year. Senseless vandalism had also increased and the report suggested that the figures given (cases actually referred to the police) were only the tip of the iceberg. The proportion of crimes actually “cleared up” was reduced to a mere 44%. Then the report also spoke of the increase in drug addiction, the growing menace of politically motivated terrorism, and the thousands of vehicles registered as stolen (120,000 of them on the computer record).


He decided to go into the library, and see what The Times had to say about the report, hoping that they would find some ray of sunshine he could use. He was disappointed. On the 10th July The Times called the report “a gloomy document”. Later it said it is not possible to look forward to the year when the “apparently inexorable increase in the number of crimes is permanently restrained”. The Times considered the sharp rise in the number of juvenile crimes as the most serious aspect of the whole review, and suggested that this “is a gloomy augury of the level of crimes in the future”.


John went back to his desk, and tapped out his report. He referred to the promises to deal with the growing crime rate that the local police chief had made when appointed. He also mentioned that American presidents always included in their programmes the law and order ticket and that The Times had suggested the increasing crime rate in America threatened their whole social fabric. But he couldn’t find anything cheerful to say. He ended his report in this way: “It seems strange that after all the progress that has been made in the twentieth century, the startling leaps in productive possibilities, and the technological wizardry that was available, society could find itself beset by muggings, shoplifting, petty theft, burglary and car thieves. Surely man could arrange a better way of organizing society than having a substantial proportion reduced to finding increasingly ingenious ways to beat it, and another section (police, judges, prison wardens etc.) devising more ingenious ways to beat them.”


The copy was on the editor’s desk at five to three. At 5 o’clock John was in the car on his way home. He switched on the news. The items concerned the hotting up of the middle east war, Kissinger promising to bring peace, a local strike, rising unemployment, the fighting in Angola, and the Test Match. He got home, kissed his wife, and went to see his 9-month old son, sleeping quietly. “Couldn’t we leave him a better world?” he thought.


The next morning he got to the office and idly glanced at his article. The editor had cut his last two sentences.


Ronnie Warrington