Friday, 28 November 2008

The Arrest of Damien Green; Government Lies and Politicisation of the Met

The Mugabe-esque arrest and detention of shadow Immigration Minister Damien Green for exposing information embarrassing to the government should send shivers down our spines. Downing Street asserts that the neither the Prime Minister nor any other minister had prior knowledge of the arrest. This is laughable and patently a lie - especially as the leader of the opposition and the mayor of London were told.

It seems more than coincidence that the arrest, which included at least nine counter-terrorism officers, occurred on Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair's last day in office. It is also interesting that the raid took place after news of the Mumbai atrocity had emerged, effectively filling the headlines (remember September 11 and 'This would be a good day to bury news").

There has been mounting concern about the politicisation of the Metropolitan Police. While in his parting speech today Blair rants about the influence of the mayor, it is worth remembering that while the Chief Constables of every other force are local, not government appointments, it is the Home Secretary that appoints the Chief Commissioner. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's concern at the Commissioner's resignation may well have reflected the impact on government influence over the Met.

In November 2005 Blair was involved in allegations of the police being politicised, when he and other senior police officers lobbied MPs to support Government proposals to hold terrorist suspects for 90 days' . He received further criticism when 78 police officers were involved in a £7,200 night operation to confiscate placards displayed by lone Parliament Square anti-war protester Brian Haw.

I had first hand experience of the politicisation of the Met on 15 September 2004, when I took a day's leave to visit Parliament Square with other country folk.

Usually friendly, it soon became clear that the 1,300 armed police attending the peaceful demonstration had 'zero tolerance' instructions and were in a mean mood. A 'Wapping Box' barrier system was erected around the Square, ranks of police vehicles were drawn up, and the Mounted Division were in reserve. We could see what we took to be police surveillance cameras on the roof of the Houses of Parliament, and a helicopter circled and filmed overhead. Some people had arrived at the rally on bicycles, and had left them chained to the railings. An early indication of the police mood was that they were removing these not by cutting the chains or padlocks, but by maliciously cutting through the bicycle frames.

The day began quietly enough, as we sat in the sunshine eating sandwiches and listening to the speakers. The subsequent farcical Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation noted blandly that, "at 3.23 pm a police officer was captured on CCTV using his baton to strike a demonstrator". What followed was an explosion of gratuitous violence against the most lawful of crowds, who were inevitably roused to anger and self-defence.

The IPCC report was an institutional cover-up in every sense, but the IPCC knew that the events had been seen live around the world, and it had to admit that police officers used their batons to strike demonstrators on the head, causing injuries; that there were examples of 'considerable force' being used from the police lines towards the demonstrators (one member of the public received a baton injury which required 12 stitches); that the police had injured demonstrators who had clearly not been involved in any disorder and had been unable to escape due to the volume of the crowd; and that an examination of the CCTV and still photographs showed that members of the press were caught up in the conflict and at least two photographers received head injuries.

Attempts to deploy the Mounted Division only served to inflame the crowd who didn't like to see horses used in that way, and failed because they did not fear close contact with horses. The IPCC admitted that 'a number' of police officers had removed the epaulettes bearing their identification numbers, and that police batons were cleaned up before forensic evidence could be taken.

The violence, which I have absolutely no doubt was an inevitable outcome of police aggression, lasted for two hours. Within a matter of days complaints ranging from common assault, to unlawful wounding, and assault occasioning actual bodily harm had been lodged by 54 people who attended the demonstration who claimed to have been injured by police officers and also from 119 people who attended the demonstration but were not injured. The Metropolitan Police alleged that there had been over 60 injuries to officers, but after they had examined the extensive video footage, no members of the public were charged with any assault offences.

The IPCC heard evidence from a range of police officers at various levels, who described how officers had been specifically instructed in prior briefings to be really awfully nice to the demonstrators, and particularly to be sure to wear their identification numbers. In a move unlikely to encourage witnesses, the Senior Investigator of the IPCC decided it would be appropriate to pass on details of anyone making complaints against the police to the 'Operation Ashcombe' investigation of assaults on police officers. The IPCC was also told not to investigate common assault complaints against the police because there would potentially be too many of them and they would be difficult to investigate because the victims would be unlikely to have forensic evidence of the assaults.

Even given the difficulty of identifying officers in riot gear who had removed their ID numbers, and after deciding not to investigate allegations of common assault, 31 officers were the subject of complaint. 17 files went to the Crown Prosecution Service. After a number of trials and disciplinary hearings, one officer was referred back to the Met for discipline, consisting of 'words of advice'. That's it. Two years of prevarication, hundreds of complaints, scores of injuries, and one officer received 'words of advice'.

Three months later Ian Blair, who was Deputy Commissioner at the time of the rally, was appointed Chief Commissioner. Eight months after that Parliament passed the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, banning unauthorised demonstrations within a one kilometre radius of Parliament Square, and placing the power to authorise demonstrations in the hands of the Chief Commissioner.

On the Today programme this morning Gordon Brown's immigration minister Liam Byrne repeatedly stressed that his shadow opposite number had been charged with conspiracy - something he seemed anxious to make political capital of, until it was pointed out to him that no charge had been made. Be nervous; this government is trying to stifle opposition and free speech, and truth and open government have been the first casualties.


  1. 'words of advice' - it's laughable really - if it wasn't so tragic.

    I assume you were on the Countryside Alliance demo. I must say that I'm not a fan of hunting myself - quite the reverse in face - but I don't like laws that tell me I can't do something. It's quite ironic really that we've ended up in the French countryside, backing on to woods where there is hunting every Thursday and Sunday when it's the season.

  2. Fancy - Well, I was, but I was trying to avoid saying so, because I know it provokes strong feelings. If it helps, I've never hunted and I don't much like most people who do; I just hate the other, indiscriminate, non-selective, injurious ways of controlling foxes, and I am a diehard libertarian who believes in people's right to believe in what they want and say want they want. Damn; now I'm outed!

  3. Oops, sorry.

    Hunting is such a way of life where we are although, having said that, the three households that we share our cul-de-sac with (isn't it odd that this is an unknown phrase in French - they say impasse) do not belong to the hunt.

  4. As a vegetarian and also someone who would never hunt myself, I would still defend the right of others to do so and it infuriates me that city dwellers have an image of foxes as cute furry animals! Actually it SURPRISES me! When I lived in London, we were plagued with a family of foxes screaming every night, jumping on cars and leaving footprints, destroying gardens......I would have welcomed the sight of a hunt coming down the street! Certainly the local council failed to deal with them.
    Off topic....oops. Yes I find the level of control the goverment appears to be trying to exert very scary......

  5. Labour, Tory - it makes no difference. The Government is always the Government. I can live with that - I'm used to the cynicism. But this new groundswell in the police force is discomforting. It's always been there of course but all these anti terrorism laws and bills are turning the screws on us all. When they start burning books and blaming it on the cost of fuel I will really start to panic.

  6. Aloha Brother:
    There'll always be an England - but what will it look like?
    Your ubiquitous urban CTV coverage secretly comforts (tired, old, scaredy-cat) me. Safety first, after all, and no pesky US Constitution (not that Bush was constrained by it). We look to you Brits as civilized exemplars of democracy. Sad your constables seem to be emulating the worst aspects ouf our own uniformed cowboys. So easy to punish peaceful demonstrators- shame on you, Bobby!
    Cheers to You, Brother T, and all those who do th duty of citizenship. You accomplish more for the nation than it sometimes seems. Warm Aloha-

  7. Sadly Cloudia, CCTV isn't as comforting as you'd like. It's generally understaffed and poorly resourced. The operatives are also usually told to follow known felons and trouble-makers rather be sweeping for the streets for the protection of the ordinary citizen. If you're mugged and they catch it on camera it's only luck. Or - according to theory - because they were tracking the mugger in the suspicion / hope that he would commit a crime. Cold comfort.

  8. Mr Fancy is currently in the UK after not having been there for a couple of years. He is astounded, simply astounded, by the numbers of security cameras everywhere. The thing is that he said it didn't make him feel safer - just didn't like the thought of being watched so much.

  9. Yes, many colleagues of mine have been involved in similar situations and even though they have photos - from camera or mobile phone or whatever of inappropriate police action, nothing seems to happen. I don't do demonstrations for a number of reasons but I would defend the rights of anyone else to demonstrate peacefully if they chose to do so.

  10. Division. If there's not actually an "us" and "them", one will be created for you.

  11. Fancy - I've always had a suspicion that 'cul-de-sac' has an earthier, anglo-saxon origins, and that the usual derivation was a smokescreen by Victorian etymologists to protect our sensibilities!

    Justme - I worried more when we had hens. Cute and cuddly they're not, although I rather like their blood-curdling cries in the night.

    Steve - I agree. An army or police force which believes itself omnipotent and as of right is an affront.

    Cloudia - I agree with Steve and Mr French Fancy. It used to seem like an answer, but we don't have the resources or resolve to make it one.

    RB - Me too. I don't demonstrate often,,,and usually only when I believe some democratic principle is at stake. I have noticed that the police have taken to videoing the people involved in quite aprominent, intimidating way, which I find strange.

    Pearl - That's perceptive, and spot on.