Transcript – Police Q&A

Below is a transcript of the Police session Q&A, however the names of individual speakers are unspecified.

Q: Andrew Smith The question is what happens to those points if the police pick someone up and they go to court and are acquitted.

Hilary Wainwright: So the question from Andrew Smith is What happens to the Sanction Detection Points when the person arrested goes to court and is acquitted?

Harriet Sergeant:. It doesn’t make any difference at all. I think the whole point is, we the public are looking at what’s going on – we look at the whole criminal justice system – but that’s not how it works at all, and the police get their sanction detections – it’s nothing to do with what happens to the person afterwards, which isn’t very encouraging.

Q: It’s sort of an open invitation to stick people up the Steppes isn’t it really. You’re just going to run up your score if that’s the idea.

Q: And, can I ask a follow-up question? In the old days, there used to be some more direct accountability to local government particularly, and what’s been the effect of that disappearing, because that kind of accountability would have been a place – I’m not saying it’s perfect or anything – but I mean that’s where there would have been some debate as to how these targets were decided.

A Yes, I mean I think its quite extraordinary who the police are accountable to. And they’re not accountable to your local councillors who have been democratically elected – they’re not accountable to your local MP who also has been democratically elected. They’re accountable to the Home Office, and the Home Office decides what the Borough Commander’s strategy is and its nothing to do with whether he’s going to be sacked or not, or who’s going to be appointed. This is nothing to do with the general public and I’m a great believer that police should be accountable to the communities which they police and I think if that was the case a lot of problems would vanish.

A: They are accountable to the Police Authority, after a fashion.

A After a fashion indeed, because the Police Authority is not accountable to us. You’re invited to go and sit on various panels in a puppet show as it were. And then nothing happens – we have no power at all over our police.

Q: Could someone explain exactly how the Police Authority works? What is it?

A: Well… Accountability is an important issue. And the answer is we have a very unsatisfying accountability system, which is totally unique in public or private sector: we have what is called a tripartite system of governance at the police. And what it amounts to is that we have forty three independent autonomous police forces in this country. And each police force is accountable to, jointly, the Government, the Police Authority, which currently has a majority of members who are locally elected councillors. But the fact is that we have so few police authorities and so many  local communities that it means that effectively that link has been broken.

A: Yes I mean they don’t have power to set strategies, it’s the home office who sets strategies.

A: The Home Office has no power over the individual Police force. I had a debate at Guardian Round Table in which I was advocating more rationalisation of the police forces in order to increase efficiency and improve expertism. A chief constable was also round the table and said that that would be a very retrograde step because he the chief constable was guardian of my civil liberty. In fact of course, the problem is at the moment that Parliament make the laws and it’s the police that interpret them.

A: Well, I’m sorry but the chief constable may be guarding our liberties but the chief constable is employed by the Home Office. The Home Office can get rid of him – the chief constable is answerable to the Home Office.

A: No. He’s not.

A: HE IS! And his pension, everything depends on the Home Office.

A: I’m sorry he is not. No it’s not true.

Chair: Hang on a minute. I don’t know quite how to deal with this but I’ll take some other questions and put that on hold for a bit. So, the woman in the green suit.

Q: My name’s Matilda McAttram, and I run Black Mental Health UK and I welcome this convention especially looking at police and police powers because when somebody’s sectioned, they can be sectioned – Afro Caribbeans in particular – they are pathways into caring via the criminal justice system and the police. In 2005, eleven thousand people were detained in a police cell as a position of safety. We know that police cells are not a place of safety – they are normally a place of trauma. What really concerns Black Mental Health UK is the number of deaths of people in custody. There’s a disproportionate number of African Caribbean people dying in custody or in care, when they’re actually vulnerable and having a crisis and I want that to be on the radar as well. Because you talked about ways in which police powers have radicalised you. There’s one group in particular who are going through what you are talking about and they’ve been going through it for the past thirty years: an African Caribbean male is six times more likely to be stopped and searched than a white person. So you’re saying that your friends were going out onto the streets to find out how they could be stopped and searched. There’s a joke out in the community which is ‘Black while walking”  – black’s enough to get you stopped by the police in the UK today.

Q: First, two corrections. The section 76 of the Counter Terrorism Act does not prevent you from taking a photo of a police officer. There is a  reasonable excuse if they use the picture for some act of terrorism. Of course what it means is that you are arrested if you take a picture of a police officer and then you will be acquitted in court. So it guarantees you an arrest but not a conviction.

A Oh ok that’s good news!

Q: The other correction is that after being arrested you cannot get a visa for the US. …
The question is, you mentioned that for this report you interviewed quite a few visa holders. Were they rank and file?

A: It was police confederation so yes they were rank and file.

Q. And also if you interviewed them?

A I only interviewed a very few of them, of the top police. Yes, the top police are political. They were much more aware of what they were saying and how, whereas the rank and file police were much more emotional about what was going on – talked very freely.

A I think its very interesting looking at the formal lines of accountability and I think we could have an argument about whose accountable and who’s not. There is a clear role of the Home Office in setting policy – they have to approve the appointment by every police authority of every police constable outside of London who have a much bigger role in the appointment of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police than the London Police. But my experience of police accountability is that everybody is responsible so nobody’s responsible.  Whenever it all goes wrong, the Police Authority will point the finger at the Chief Constable, the Chief Constable will point the finger at the Home Office. So what results from theoretically everyone being accountable is that ultimately nobody is accountable. And if you take an issue like the use of firearms by police, it was a proud boast of my father who spent 27 years in the police, that he only ever once went out armed and he said he was terrified because it was the night that the Krays were arrested. He said he was always violently opposed to police officers being armed because he said “I can guarantee that the wrong people will be shot.” Unfortunately we’ve seen that time and time again. And the whole style of policing in this country is not community policing – it’s policing by targets. And I’ll take an example of something that happened in my neighbourhood. Someone had their credit card stolen in the Market, they go to the police office just round the corner to report it, they’re on their mobile talking to their bank about cancelling their card, who tell them that just round the corner in Marks and Spencer the card that has just been stolen is being used. He tells the police officer who says, “Mate, I’d love to go around the corner and nick the person – I can’t – I’ve got to fill in this form for our targets” and that’s the kind of lunacy that we’re talking. And when we deal with police officers with the kind of profiling that went on in the De Menezes case – the violent use of the police – then we’ve got a very dangerous situation with the police. I mean I for one will be making a point of filming the police if I see them doing something that I don’t like and they can nick me and I’ll put myself out enough. Because I’m not going to have it: if they can film me, I can film them peaceably and they are going to have a hard time convincing anybody that I’ve got anything to do with terrorism.

Hilary Wainwright: Okay, the man in the pale blue t-shirt… sorry about this arbitrary system!

Q: I’m an amateur photographer and I got busted on Charing Cross station a couple of weeks ago under section 44 of the Terrorism Act. I’m intrigued what the panel’s opinion is of section 44: have they had any experience of it and really just your comments on that because I’m livid. There’s nothing I can do about it, and they made me delete the photographs which is against the law as well.

What I think we’ve got to do is we’ve got to stand up to this: no matter how much personal grief it causes, we’ve got to flood the courts with cases and that’s to say I shall have no compunction about filming the police if I see them doing something l don’t like. And if they nick me fine, I’ll go through all the pain and suffering because I’m prepared to do it. And that’s something that we’ve found with the misconduct of the police –they get angry at us, they ring us on the Monday morning but finally we’ve got a bunch of people like the Argyle or Plymouth fans who say, we’re not going to stand for this any more. All we’re doing is going about our weekend, and its  our own private business to get on with.

Hilary Wainwright: Can we get the other two questions first.

Q: My question kind of relates to what you were saying. Obviously there’s continuing racism in the way the police go about things but I think most people would agree that recent anti terrorism laws do disproportionately affect certain people in our society. So considering Jack Straw’s claim that the police is no longer institutionally racist, can that possibly be the truth? Or is it perhaps that racism is becoming just one category from which the police may discriminate against activism among football fans or other groups?

-    And your question.

Q. My question is specifically relating to stop and search under section 44. And really for Malcolm, do you feel that the police are kind of abusing the powers granted to them under section 44? And for Harriet, what were the rank and file saying about stop and search?

Harriet: Ok, well the first and the last questions relate to me.

A: Part of the problem with section 44 is that its so vague in its wording but it extends – I don’t know the whole thing.

A: It’s in designated areas, London, Greater London is a permanent, designated Section 44 area, which means that anything the police decide possibly has terror implications, falls under that trap and you could be stopped. It’s a blanket cover for pretty much anything, They can stop you, ask you where you’re going  – there are certain questions you have to answer – you do not have the option at the moment. Outside of those areas, technically, if the police ask you where you are going you can refuse, if the police ask you your name you can refuse. They need to arrest you before you are compelled to share that information. Under section 44, that doesn’t exist. If you refuse, you’re guilty. If you refuse you’ve broken the law and then they arrest you.

Q: Sorry may I just correct you. Under section 44 they will ask you your address, your name and your ethnicity. You do not have to answer but you do have to submit to the search. If you don’t give it, they won’t take your name or address but they will make a description of your ethnicity.

A: You never know when an area is designated by section 44 because the police can just designate it at any time. If you remember around the Labour Conference, I think about 600 people were stopped in a couple of days under section 44, not one of whom of course was ever charged.

A: Somebody was telling me that there’s actually no terrorist to have been charged under this act.

A: Yes and if you are charged you are usually charged for something totally unrelated to what they stopped you for in the first place.

Harriet: Malcolm do you want to answer that question?

Malcolm Carroll: Yes, I don’t know what part of the section they were quoting at the second climate camp at Heathrow nor did some of the police which is the way forward, because they didn’t know how to interpret some of the legislation. However it is their own to interpret. If people didn’t give their names and addresses they were arrested on suspicion of theft, because their credit cards said one name and they couldn’t confirm whether it was theirs or not. But they had a few van loads of folk like that. I’m afraid it happens like that. I think on the day that the photographing the police thing came out Mark Thomas organised a mass photographing of the police at Scotland Yard, Well we organised a kind of mass stop and search thing so that people were  being stopped and searched and out would come a rubber chicken and stuff like that. Now at that time they had to itemise each thing they got. Nowadays they don’t but I think there are ways of working with it and if we can show how ridiculous and unworkable it is that’s one way of challenging it. Certainly with stop and search powers, its not simply that they can stop you and search you, it’s the way in which that can stop you from going about any form of business from legitimate protest, from getting anywhere near Climate Camp – I think there’s a section 60 where an area can be designated at next to no notice. So you turn up to a perfectly legitimate political protest, handing out leaflets, you can’t. You have to stand in the area over there behind barriers. Which happened to us near a Rolls Royce plant in Derby. A long way away from the plant. You’ve been shipped off and into a corner and its quite amazing that that is now happening. I think there’s quite a lot more – fun is the wrong word – campaigning around stop and search to come.

Hilary Wainwright: I think what would be good is to cluster things a bit, so are there any questions on the stop and search issue?

Q Laurie: I’m Laurie Pinman and I was just going to say I started the Red Pepper website around the anti photography –around the not being able to take a photo of a police officer thing – and it moved onto facebook and we’ve got about 800 members now and we’ve got lots and lots of photographs and we’ve got lots of videos. There’s a fantastic video up there of a man actually filming himself while being stopped and searched. It’s wonderful seeing the reactions of the police while they’re actually reading his rights as they stop and search him – its really funny. I guess I just wanted to bring this up because I’ve just started this on my red pepper blog and it got a really impressive response and we’ve got about 900 members now and that was over the course of over about 6 or 7 days. So its really about young people – especially young people – most of the people involved are under 25 and so people really are angry about this, people want to do something about this and because it was facebook it wasn’t just one protest, people went out all over the country trying to find police to take pictures of them on their mobiles. I mean people really are aiming to get worked up about this stuff and maybe young people are going to take this on.

Harriet: So it’s a matter of sort of escalating this so that it does become ridiculous.
There’s a woman over there – is this stop and search.

Yes. My name’s Rosie, this is a question specifically for Malcolm I think which is we’re obviously all concerned about the effect that these laws and these powers have on our ability to protest and exercise our rights to protest and I;m just interested to know whether you and the protest community had seen any change in the willingness to genuinely get involved and say what they mean, to do something about it.

Malcolm: I think, no the stop and search stuff is really aggravating and there are people who turn up for stuff like climate camp or for other major protest events that used to be perfectly legitimate  and for the first time they’re seeing the police in a different way. They always thought the police were there for them to protect and serve and then they discover there’s a different reality going on and that is annoying, it makes it diffcult to function but it does radicalise people. It mobilises people. It’s not necessarily all that bad in some ways. Well, hey guys, welcome to the world that we’re in. And it’s one that people can work around. There is an element that I find hard. The protest movement, people like Plane Stupid, Climate Camp, there’s a lot of energy, that’s great. I think what worries me more is the comment that you made earlier on. There are people who are among the most vulnerable in society who are on the wrong end of legislative procedures like that and they have nobody speaking up for them they can’t make it work for them – they can’t subvert it. I think that’s where stop and search powers are particularly insidious.

Harriet: Just from the police point of view they just complained htat the suss was useless – it didn’t help them at all and that if they were trying to stop and search a whole group of young boys they’d just say that their name was Mickey Mouse and that was the end: they’d let them go. So obviously this is a typical example of where its alienating the public and where it’s not actually effective policing.

CHAIR: which of these is on stop and search? Are you stop and search?

Q: I just wanted to say that the use of stop and search is actually stopping a lot of people going out on legal protest. For instance at the protest in Brighton, the overwhelming stop and search laws actually stopped a huge number of us going down there, just because a lot of us were getting arrested, or spending a lot of time talking to police and not actually protesting.

Q: From a historical perspective, how does it differ from the miners’ strike? How does it differ from (I’m not trying to draw a moral equivalent) but how does Charles de Menezes differ from Death on the Rock? How does section 27 differ from section 5 of the public order act 1936?

A It doesn’t.

Q: The police have had this power for a long time, it just never affected your group before: it affected working class people: it affected football fans: it affected black people. It’s your group now, now you’ve woken up.


A Yes, I think you’re right. I was going to say, that is actually quite true, and there were a couple of comments that you made earlier on, which I think emphasise the point that has just been made because these terms like ‘Policing by Consent’ these actually are not the reality of certain groups – particularly not the group that I’m with. The way that the police policed the black community throughout the 60’s and 70’s was certainly not by consent, trust me. There were all sorts of things going on. The police and criminal evidence act that came in in the late 70’s and early 80’s legalised many of the things that were illegal. They didn’t always have the rights to do many of the things that they’re doing now. Those legislation brought into legality things that were previously illegal – things that lawyers were beginning to challenge the police on in the court and don’t think that some of the things on stop and search is not about a little bit of annoyance – one of the typical interactions of something with a lot of black guys and, lets not forget working class white guys,  that interaction doesn’t just end with “we’ll stop you what’s your name?” Invariably, young people get charged with assault, because it leads to some sort of physical altercation. Even if it’s a very minor one, and then your done for physical bodily harm, which doesn’t go to court by jury. This is a level where it goes to a magistrate where 90% conviction rate take place. So that’s the reality of many of the things that are actually happening. SO I just wanted to say that there is a historical precedent here and many of the things that we think about in terms of police, in terms of our rights, in terms of the institutions that we would look to to implement that – because that’s the other thing: the regulatory system we have, whether it be independents’ police complaints procedure, whether it be the ability to exert some sort of rebuff to the state intervening in that way doesn’t work and I think that for me my perspective in terms of how we begin to challenge that is to open up the way for indinvidual families to actually pursue certain courses of evidence: to actually demand that certain information is deliberately, by law, given to families so that they can pursue. That’s why the photographic evidence was coming, because it was being used by groups like myself, to record and document what these guys were doing and then produce that in court to contradict what was being said. That is why that information has come out.

Harriet: Can I just disagree with the gentleman who made that first point? Because actually the highest number of complaints now, against the police – I mean traditionally it was all young men complaining about assault – now that’s been far outstripped by middle class, retired, middle age people who used to be the natural supporters of the police. They are now complaining about the police more than any other group.

Q: Everyone’s really excited about all these laws that are being brought in, but the fact is, they don’t need any of these laws, any time they bring in one of these new laws you can find an example of where they’ve done something like this already. And I’d just like to ask whether anybody actually know what right the police used to actually shoot, to publically execute a man on that day, and if there isn’t any right – which surely there can’t be because that would be entirely immoral and unjust – and if not how is it that that was not deemed a criminal offence, and why didn’t a lot of people involved with that go to prison?

CHAIR: Another question please: you at the back.

My name is Sam, I’m studying to become a barrister: one of the biggest problems is that there are no legal remedies to challenge police misconduct. There was a legal challenge over the human rights’ act over section 44 challenging the fact that you oculd authorise these unsuspicious areas: that was ok, the House of Lords said, and three of the judges also said that a lot of people are complaining that Asian people tend to be the majority of people stopped under this but, to quote Lord Brown, as long as Al Quaida remains the terrorist group that the police are fighting its inevitable that they’ll stop a lot of Asian people. This is one example of the insulation of the police by the legal system. The codes of practice that govern the police powers are essentially non binding codes of practice, and if they screw up, if they search your house without a warrant, if they breach them, unless its really, really bad what they do there is no sanction for it. In America, the police are a matter of constitutional law. The Supreme Court has decided you must always need a warrant. The sanction there is that evidence has been illegally obtained on a trial will be thrown out and that doesn’t really happen here.

Chair: there’s just so many people. We’ll take four.

Q: I’m Julian Young, I’m a defence lawyer. This gentleman here probably knows who I am because a week after poor Charles de Menezes was shot I acted on behalf of one of the Forest Gate arrest and the foul up that occurred. Are the police politicised? The answer’s yes. They’ve become politicised, and there’s two good examples: first of all, the obscenity of an elderly, jewish man – a refugee from Nazi Germany – thrown out of a political  conference for saying that the then foreign secretary was talking rubbish. What terrorist offence is that? IT’s an obscenity. Some half-wit told that policeman who arrested him to do it. Secondly, in the course of the Forest Gate matter the police gave a briefing to the media, before I found out about evidence of my own client. They were more interested in their image as such but the question really is, lets see if we can sort out one of the problems. Photographs. You go along to a football match or a protest. Why not ring a lawyer up and ask, can I take photographs on your behalf to make sure that nothing untoward has occurred? The answer’s yes – if the lawyer says yes – those photographs can’t be seized by the police without a warrant from a judge because they are covered by section 10 of the criminal evidence act having been obtained on the instructions of a lawyer. So folks think about it – find a friendly lawyer. I want to go to a protest. I’m going to the Arsenal today – if I’m walking along the street on the way to the Emirates, minding my own business, nobody on behalf of the state, should have the right to stop me and ask me who I am, where I’ve come from or where I’m going. If I’m behaving myself that is my concern. And that must always be a freedom that we in this country must have and fight hard to protect. IT was a rant, but think about it.

We’ve officially run on to the end of our time, but shall we hang on for another 10 minutes? I think through organisations like Liberty there’s already a focal point for this. Shouldn’t we at least think is there anything we could do, could we be declaring forms of ridicule or something. If there are any organisations present who are doing something could you tell us about it.


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