Leanne Shepherd and Lucy Jarrett, both 32, are close friends. They work as police officers, but on different shifts. For a long time, they babysat for each other, an arrangement that suited them perfectly and enabled them to continue their careers. The authorities recently told them, however, that their arrangement was illegal. If they did not desist, they would face prosecution.
Why? Because they exceeded the permitted time to babysit without having received professional training in such matters as resuscitation and child psychology. Moreover, the state considers their mutual babysitting a potentially taxable economic benefit. It does not matter that the arrangement was entirely reciprocal and voluntary. British citizens may no longer make such private agreements among themselves.
One of the nastiest aspects of this little story is that the authorities were alerted to the two womens terrible crime by one of their neighbors. An increasingly intrusive state engenders an increasingly nasty population of secret informers.
Theodore Dalrymple, a physician, is a contributing editor of City Journal and the Dietrich Weismann Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. His most recent book is Not with a Bang but a Whimper.