OPERATION Dasher is a sensible and timely police campaign to make us aware of crime risks as we do our Christmas shopping.

Officers want us to guard against the crooks who mingle with us like malevolent little anti-elves while we’re distracted by our quest to find something nice for Auntie Edna or whoever. I’m all for campaigns which help us to help ourselves, but I reckon the police have also recruited undercover officers to fan out over popular shopping areas and keep us safe from harm.

I was thinking about this the other day as I was waiting to use a cash machine. Cash machines are always a big danger. Criminals can either just snatch our cash as it comes out of the slot or peer over our shoulders, make a note of our PINs, distract us and nick our cards.

There were about two dozen of us waiting, and the queue didn’t move for an hour. That was because the bloke at the machine had taken the opportunity not just to lift some cash but to perform a full forensic audit on every aspect of his personal finances.

He seemed very confused and was managing to press the buttons at the rate of one every ten minutes or so, and sometimes had to look up a YouTube video on his phone entitled: “Cash machine use for the perpetually befuddled.”

At first I was angry and impatient, but then I realised the truth. Have you ever noticed how we never see such people other than in shopping areas in the run-up to Christmas, when hundreds of them seem to appear from nowhere?

It’s impossible for huge numbers of people to be that stupid, otherwise the papers would be full of stories about tragic mass self-suffocations involving people forgetting to breathe.

Therefore, they can only be undercover police officers trying to put us off using busy cash machines. They clearly want us to either use plastic or get our cash from safe machines in quiet suburbs.

Once I realised this, the scales fell from my eyes. Undercover officers are everywhere at Christmas, protecting us, and we never even know.

When all movement in a large shop suddenly stops because somebody’s come to a halt and is staring at the floor or the ceiling for no apparent reason? That person has just had a message in their radio earpiece, saying a criminal has been spotted and the public should be kept away while other officers move in for the arrest. I feel guilty I used to feel so hostile toward them.

The same goes for the folk you never see in the pub from one year to the next, the ones on festive works outings who spend half an hour ordering and ask questions such as: “What is lager?”

I now realise they’re sent by the authorities to slow down our Christmas alcohol intake and protect us from the dangers of self-indulgence. Heroes, every one of them.

Perpetrators should pay price of child abuse

ANOTHER week, another local child porn enthusiast lamenting his fate in court.

The specimen I’m thinking of was a doozy.

Teacher Iain Moore was caught after colleagues spotted indecent images of children on his work computer. The police found 298 films of child abuse on a USB drive. As is depressingly often the case, Moore strolled free with a community order. One of the reasons for the leniency was apparently that his career was ruined.

Let’s think about that, shall we? A teacher of children uses a work computer to look up filthy images of children. He is spared jail – in part – because looking at filthy images of children has ruined his career teaching children.

There’s an old joke about a man who murders his parents and then asks for the court to show mercy because he’s an orphan. I’d be genuinely curious to see how that one would fly round here.

Mr Moore, incidentally, needs to rethink his definition of ruination. He may not be able to teach any more, but he is a free man and will be able to have some sort of life – and probably quite a comfortable one.

Genuine ruination might consist of, to give an example at random, spending your childhood being horrifically abused for the gratification of countless online deviants.

Genuine ruination might include dealing with the resultant lifelong psychological trauma, perhaps ending up turning to drink, drugs or anything else to deaden the pain.

Genuine ruination might include being unable to have romantic relationships and being forced to spend one’s life alone. Genuine ruination might include having to live with the fact that a permanent record of one’s degradation exists online and will exist online forever.

Genuine ruination might also include doing about 50 years in prison, which is what would happen to the Iain Moores of this world if our lawmakers gave a tuppeny damn about child abuse.

<li>THREE Swindon families, as you may have read, were cleared by Salisbury magistrates of failing to send their children to school regularly.

Swindon Borough Council had brought the prosecutions after the parents took their children on holidays.

In order to avoid embarrassment in the future, not to mention wasting public money, the law needs to be adjusted.

I suggest adding the phrase: “Unless you can prove the child’s education was harmed in any way, shape or form, don’t bother.”