Transcript: The Police

Below is a transcript of the Police session. It is loosely edited.

Hilary Wainwright: Firstly, my name’s Hilary Wainwright, I edit the magazine Red Pepper and I’m really pleased to be here. I was thinking this morning about the importance of this session on the police for the whole purpose of the convention, – to sound the alarm as forcefully as possible about the erosion of Civil Liberties and to bring people together, to really discuss both how it’s happening, how it’s been allowed to happen and what can be done about it. I was reading this really excellent report, which I don’t know if it’s in your pack, but compiled by the UCL student human rights programme which is basically documenting what we’ve lost – the human rights and liberties that we’ve lost. As I was reading it, I was thinking that in a sense the behaviour of the police towards the public is almost like a sort of canary in a mine. On Valentine’s night a friend of mine, a Pakistani friend of mine was arrested on the way back home after being in Manchester, and the group of them, they were just sort of eating and there was a young white kid being pinned against the wall by a group of policemen. These mates of mine, just as members of the public exercising their duty really, just said, well what’s happening? and they all ended up all in prison, all night, you know.

So, reading this documentation of what we’ve lost made me realise the contempt with which just some ordinary citizen going about their public duty is treated, is actually a sign of the liberties that we’ve lost, whether it’s a basic thing like the autonomy and independence of Coroners to have a right to investigate what government departments have done, whether it’s the powers to stop and search, whether it’s the diminishing of our rights to challenge detention. All these rights, in a way, trickle down to the way in which police feel they can treat people with contempt, and so, I want this to be really sort of an animated discussion. The speakers are going to speak very briefly, but we’ve got really good speakers who, in their eight minutes are going to pack in a lot of information and analysis and experience.  


Cilius Victor: Thank you, good morning to every one. In the short time that we’re going to be spending here, an hour and a bit, I’m not going to go into the details of what happened to Jean. I think a lot of that is in the public domain now for a good number of you, so I’m just going to assume that for the moment and talk about where we’re at, at the moment and perhaps some wider issues that relate to this and picking up from this mornings conversation. There were a couple of elements there, well two in particular that struck me as being the most relevant in terms of connecting with my experience in terms of how I see things and moving on.

One was something that Dominic Grieve said about changing the philosophy, the actual psychology and the thinking and if you want to put it another way, even the moral basis on which we make certain decisions, because law in itself is not going to protect you and this is one of the failings that we’ve had in some of the campaigns. We’ve often focused too heavily on getting a law passed or getting a law repealed etc and that’s been the end of it, and not the implementation and I’d like to talk about some of that in the discussions that come afterwards. But where we are at the moment is that we, the family and the campaign is waiting for what we call a Coroners rule 43 report. The Coroner has actually written this report and sent it to interested parties. The Coroner is empowered to make additional remarks and observations based on the evidence that he’s heard and to bring that to the attention of interested parties, i.e. the home office and other agencies involved, particularly the police and other departments that may have a bearing in terms of changing their procedures, in terms of doing whatever. The report is secret, but I don’t really care much for secrecy, the report itself is not, it is pretty bland, pretty vacuous in many respects, because it fails to mention Jean and the way it happened and the jury corralled and cajoled into saying, we want you to make this decision, by stripping away the ability of the jury to choose from a range of different possibilities, was directed to go for an open verdict and even within the narrow parameters that were set for it there, it still made known its voice to say that basically the guy was killed unlawfully. As far as the family’s concerned, the jury has actually given the family that decision and that’s quite important for us, because some of the themes in terms of what happened to Jean, was actually spoken about this morning, and here you see a graphic illustration of that. He was dark skin, or olive skin, or Latin appearance, or Mediterranean appearance, whatever it was, in the mindset of the authorities and the agencies involved in that event, he wasn’t one of them, he wasn’t white, he wasn’t whatever, he was one of the other people and therefore it’s open house. He wasn’t a citizen, and again we can talk about, but the basis is that he wasn’t carrying a UK passport and that came out very quickly in the press, as justification and cover for what happened to him. Oh, he was a refugee, or he was this, or he was an asylum seeker or he was worried about his immigration status and therefore his behaviour was responsible for his own death, not the actions of the state, not the actions of the police, not the actions of a whole line of people on the few hours leading up to his death and the insidious thing about this is the policy of shoot to kill and it’s not a term that I, we can talk about the word in itself, but it’s basically this, when you strip it all down and it’s not even the government, it is that the police have decided, the police have decided that we have the right and authority to gun down anybody we choose purely on a suspicion, not on any material evidence, remember, there is not one solitary shred of material evidence that says that Jean Charles had done even anything that could be mildly suspected of being involved in an act of terror. The jury rejected the final piece of evidence that the firearms officer put forward to the jury to say, well this was in our minds, the man got up, he closed us down very quickly and the jury said, no we don’t believe you, we don’t believe you.

That policy was put together by senior police officers and whatever civil servants they talked to, in secret, unknown to millions of people until the day of implementation in a graphic manner on the streets of London outside that Stockwell tube, inside that Stockwell tube station. And this policy was put together, caballed together, a little training session’s done for some of the police officers, senior command officers flying around the planet, going to Israel, going to wherever to try and get information of how do we, how do we assess people like this, and then implementing a completely unheard of policy and deciding that they have the right to do that and the crux is that this is based on suspicion. It’s not even based on having to produce credible evidence. It’s based on this was what is in our mind and you’re given the choice, a what if, i.e. we better shoot the guy just in case, because that was the end result of what happened, no material evidence, just let’s shoot him just in case, that is my assessment, I mean, you may differ with that. And that gives us a basis on which to say how was this incorporated, because in the first instance, you could argue that many people heard the news reports and decided that they were going to believe some of the stories in the initial days. We had eyewitnesses being interviewed in very uncomfortable situations in pubs and in public places where television news reports were taking place.

So, for us, this is where we are at the moment with this particular campaign, we are waiting for that Coroner’s report, but the next step for us is to actually take this to a much wider level, to begin to interact with other agencies and other government departments in particular, in terms of exposing the implementation of some of those policies and then bringing that out into the public debate. I’ll stop there, because I’ll just ramble on otherwise.

Harriet Sergeant: I’m going to talk a little bit about your bread and butter, day to day policing and how that’s affecting our individual liberties. I was asked by the Police Federation, that’s the sort of trade union that represents the rank and file of policemen to write this report and I went all over the country interviewing different police forces, because the police themselves are so concerned about what’s going on. I have to say that all my interviews were characterised by a high level of frustration and bitterness. The police felt that they’re not giving the public the kind of policing they want, as one superintendent said to me, “ The police have become an extension of the government.” Another remarked: “politics currently control the police.” This is a very worrying development for our liberties. In Sir Robert Peel’s Nine Principles of Policing, seven, seven are devoted to the relationship of the public and the police, only one is on the relationship of the police with the state. He knew that where police priorities should be. Number two, for example, states that the power of the police is dependent on public approval for their existence, actions and behaviour and on their ability to secure and to maintain public respect.

Government actions are directly affecting that relationship: law and order is a hot political issue. The government cannot be seen to fail and they’re trying to get good crime figures, that’s their number one priority and they’re trying to do this by controlling the police with targets. Targets are no bad thing, but these targets, as the police pointed out, are badly thought out and they force ethical public servants to behave unethically, and also they don’t give the public the kind of policing that we want.

What are these targets? A policeman has to perform, has to get a certain number of sanction detections every month. There are a number of problems with this; the first is that a murder gets the same number of sanction detections as a child stealing a Mars bar. So, serious crime is ignored and minor crime is elevated up to the serious. Then, some crime just doesn’t count. A policeman will get a sanction detection for arresting a child scribbling on a pavement with a piece of chalk, but he won’t get one for tracking down a missing child which takes hours of work and is very painstaking and time-consuming. This is failing to give the public what we want. The police are judged by the numbers of arrests made. We judge the police in a completely different way: we judge the police by absence of crime. Survey after survey shows the public does not want crime happening in the first place, however, prevention of crime is not a police target. One policeman said sadly to me, I remember when you were judged about how quiet you kept your patch and policing was about problem-solving. Now it is all about, well how many have you locked up then?

The government says, you know, look, we’re bringing more and more people to justice, but the police say, it’s the wrong people and in the process we’re criminalising a generation. Rather than address persistent and violent offenders, the police complain that they are just chasing crime to government order and they’re arresting, usually previously law-abiding citizens. One man, one policeman said to me, you know, at the end of the month he hadn’t got his sanction detections, so he went down to the local university, because he knew if he stopped a student, he’d probably find drugs in their pockets, and he said, “you know, really I should be going into the university and explaining to them the problems about drugs.” And his partner looked at him and said, “you know, are you mad, do you want to get rid of an easy source of sanction detections”, so we’re not going to be doing that.

Well, how this is affecting our liberties is clear from what happened to the son of a friend of mine. He’s about 19, he was on his way home from an evening out and he was going to catch the tube with the lifts, one of those tube stations with lifts. The lift doors were closing, he put his foot in the lift doors just to hold them open. The next thing he knew, he’s arrested by the transport police, he was handed over to three police from the Met, he was, he had his hands handcuffed, his friend wasn’t allowed to come with him in the van, the custody suite at the local station was full, so he and three policeman sat in that van for an hour. Finally he was led to the criminal entrance to the custody desk, he had his rights read to him, his shoelaces and other personal things removed and he’s put in a cell with a toilet and a camera. About five in the morning he was told what he was guilty of which was breaking a community bylaw. Apparently you’re not allowed to stop a lift from moving, he said, “well actually he wasn’t doing that, he was trying to stop the doors from closing, that was the point, the lift wasn’t moving,” and they said, “no, you’ve done this.” They said, look you can stay in prison all night and go to court or you can just accept a caution.

Well, here we have the bizarre effects of a target culture. First of all, what do we want? I mean in a city where knife crime has doubled in the last few years, and young, mostly black men are being routinely murdered with not much done about it, do we really want three policeman tied up for a night arresting a young man for putting his foot in a lift door and why are they doing this? Well, they’re doing this because a caution earns a sanction detection and it’s an easy option, but as the police said to me, actually saying to someone, you’re just going to get a caution is unethical. A caution stops you getting jobs for example. It stops you working for the police. There is one woman who’s training to be a nurse and she can’t work for the NHS because she has got a caution for something equally trivial. Also, every one arrested has to give a sample of a DNA which automatically generates a criminal record number on the police National computer and with a criminal record you can’t get a visa to the States, for example, and at this moment there are two, I was told by the police, there are two senior policemen in ACPO explaining to American immigration that actually a lot of people who have criminal records aren’t exactly criminals: they’re simply victims of targets.

What all this has made us realise I think, is that our police do have massive powers. The point is, they’ve always had these powers, but before it was up to them whether to haul you in or not. Now it’s at the government’s whim. One of the biggest complaints of the police is exactly this, the loss of their discretion. Over and over again, the police emphasise, they cannot police without the consent of the public, and their loss of discretion is alienating the public, and if you alienate the public, you are policing in a police state. As Sir Robert Peel said, the police are the public and the public are the police. Many officers felt their senior officers had abandoned them because they’re getting bonuses of five to 10,000 pounds a year that depend on them getting a certain number of sanction detections. They accused their superior officers of turning the force upside down, undermining the ethos of policing and jeopardising relations with the public all for two good holidays a year. Police officers, we should remember swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen and not to the Prime Minister, unlike many other police forces, British police were not intended to be servants of the state, but servants of the communities that they serve. Their powers are personal, used at their own discretion and derived from the Crown. This essential feature of British policing, policing by consent, which guarantees our individual liberty, is now in jeopardy.

Malcolm Carroll: Thank you. I’ve come at the civil liberties thing a bit late in life, I’m just a simple environmental protester and it wasn’t really an issue for me, but things have changed and I’m also not anti-police. I came across the police and how the police have come across to us in the past few years and then leave you with four questions.

The first example was, well virtually the birth of Plane Stupid in September 2006 when a number of us went on to East Midland’s airport and we held a remembrance service for the victims of climate change on the runway. Now, Plane Stupid like many other, well in fact, all the ones I know of, all the protest movements involving climate, they’re non-violent, I don’t know of others that are violent and I am certainly not part of it. And Plane Stupid on its website, it says so on the label, it’s a peaceful, it does non-violent direct action so, that’s what it was, we walked in, there’s even a video which embarrassingly has me saying, don’t run, just walk. It was like that, it was almost kind of Sunday school type thing, went through the fence, we sat down, we had this act of remembrance. Peaceful, accountable, we all said who we were, proportionate, we were sitting down, we did exactly what the police wanted, we were going to move, but we weren’t going to run around or anything like that.

The police response was way over the top, it turns out they’d launched their anti-terrorist thing for attacks on airports, maybe because they thought we were really that dangerous, or maybe because they just wanted to try it out, but it’s not very nice as a citizen being subject to that and that was five hours in the police van and 24 hours in the police cells and many of the participants were young, including young women who were let out after midnight from the cells in Leicester and in Collinsville in Leicestershire, no money, bail conditions they weren’t to associate with others, putting people at risk. Now, the court’s response to that incident was a conditional discharge, which was a very low level of punishment. The police response, I felt was totally disproportionate and two particular things; after having your home raided and computer seized, after that length of time in custody, after being brought under the auspices of the serious organised crime agencies it was then, a kind of quasi business side to the police force, but it was a peaceful protest, that seemed totally disproportionate, it felt like political policing, I’m not entirely surprised to hear that other police officers feel that too, but it also felt like punishment policing. We were punished far more harshly by the police than by the courts.

The second example is photographing police. It is now illegal as of very recently, it’s an offence. It seems ironic in one of the, if not the most surveyed societies on the planet, everybody and everything is taking photographs of us, today’s Guardian, different agencies that have acquired or misused powers of surveillance. They’re all photographing us and the only people who can’t take photographs, is us. For some of us in the protest movement this is really rather important, being able to photograph the police, being able to have your own independent record of an event, saves you from getting seven shades of shit kicked out of you when they go to break up a squat, or go to evict a camp. It’s really disturbing if you’re no longer allowed to photograph what the police are up to, I mean, for us it’s a real safety issue.

The third example, well the climate camps, a very quick whizz around them: climate camp one, up at Drax, the first experience of being stopped and searched for absolutely no reason at all other than I was going to climate camp, the reason given was, I was carrying blue string. So, when that was over and I went into the camp and shared that experience, well somebody had just been stopped and searched for standing still when he was amongst a group of people who were moving, so this became a game for some folk, I was very grown up, I didn’t participate, but people went off to see what was the daftest thing they could be stopped and searched for.

It didn’t seem too bad then, but climate camp two at Heathrow, that’s when we had a story planted about it : “It was going to be violent and there were possibly weapons stashed in the area” and the stop and searches there were far more intrusive. We had a woman who was arrested and detained twice under anti-terrorist legislation and she’s with Plane Stupid, again non-violent and she has been on other protests before and each protest kind of demonstrates non-violence, but she was held for extra lengths of time over that legislation.

Then Kingsnorth, last summer and lots of bad news there and as you know there’s a high court action at the moment to seek judicial review of the policing at Kingsnorth. People going to climate camp, some were prepared to go on break the law, but then climate camp says on the tin, it’s non-violent and policing was way over the top. People who had their tent poles confiscated because they might be offensive weapons and an old guy, who is actually a member of the church, who had his walking stick confiscated because it might be an offensive weapon, and they lost that, he’s taken the police to court over that and had an apology from some superintendent somewhere, but it’s gone, his walking stick has now disappeared somewhere. Stupid stuff like that, and if there’s one good thing to come out of it. It’s radicalised quite a lot of people and it’s opened people’s eyes to what the police can do.

And then climate camp in 2009, I don’t know where it’s going to be, I don’t know what sort of flavour it will have, but already the police seem to be adopting the same tactics, already there’s been stories planted from police sources about a summer of disturbance and just like Heathrow and Kingsnorth, the possibility of violence and weapons stashed somewhere. Utter crap, but we seem to be going through that same thing again.

And then finally the experience of Radley Lakes which was a squat where a private company RWE n-Power bought its own legislation, an injunction, bought its own police force to enforce that legislation and that was where we faced perhaps some of the stiffest penalties of all. It’s very hard to fight an injunction, we were targeted as being violent, therefore even the private security firm evicting us had to be protected from us and have their faces hidden. We weren’t even allowed to photograph the lake, one bloke got arrested for photographing himself, but that’s what happens when policing falls into private hands.

For suggestions or provocations to finish with, policing is becoming more oppressive in my kind of activist career, it is becoming more oppressive and I suggest it’s going to further develop that way. The second thing is, I feel policing is protecting not merely the old political interests, the old state interests of the past, but policing more and more is protecting the business interests of today. Also, the idea that oppressive or aggressive policing is done by the police force is so last century. It’s done by private companies who can buy their own laws through injunctions and to enforce them through private security companies, and finally, I feel that leads to a change in thinking about direct action. For me, I’ve just done it as an expression of a wish to try and protect the planet for our future generations and I think it’s also an expression of what existing civil liberties we’ve got left and I think it is now also becoming an imperative that we need to be taking peaceful direct action, because in that way we can start recreating our modern civil liberties. Thank you.

Steve Powell: Thank you. Well, Madam Chair, ladies and gentlemen, it’s a privilege and a pleasure for the Football Supporters Federation to have been invited to speak to the convention today and I hope that at the end of your remarks you’ll see that what we have to report to you today is not the trivial concerns of people pursuing what after all in the last analysis is a hobby, but there’s another side, another aspect of what we’ve heard from the speakers about the shooting at Stockwell tube station, of the Brazilian citizen happily going about his business, the sort of repression that we’re looking at of legitimate dissent and protest over environmental issues and what we’ve heard about many rank-and-file police officers and their disquiet. From my own personal experience, my father was a police officer for most of his working life and the reason that he left the police earlier than he otherwise might have done, took early retirement, was how disturbed he was at the way policing was going, from policing by consent to more and more repressive measures.

The first thing that I need to do today is to thank Liberty publicly, the human rights organisation for coming into defence of those football supporters who recently have been subject to a law, a recent law called section 27 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006. Liberty’s swift response has merited great gratitude both from my Federation and from those football supporters concerned and I want to pay public tribute today, particularly to the legal officer Anna Fairclough and her colleagues, there is a debt of gratitude that we’re going to find very difficult to repay and I am pleased to tell you that the Football Supporters Federation decided at its national council meeting last Sunday to affiliate to Liberty. Many national council members and other activists in the Football Supporters Federation have also joined as individual members and I know that many more intend to do so over the coming weeks.

So, what is section 27 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act? As I said, this is a relatively new law, it gives power to a police officer of any rank to require any person that they believe is, or is likely to participate in the proximate future in alcohol-related, and those specific words are in clause 27, alcohol-related disorder, to leave a locality by a route that the officer can specify for a period not exceeding 48 hours. Now, I don’t suppose there’s any citizen sitting in this room today that won’t accept that we have a problem as a society with this order and alcohol-related crime, and violent crime as we’ve heard, the knife crime, particularly effective in black and ethnic communities in London, is a plague. So, it would appear on the face of it that this is a new tool in the toolbox as modern police management like to call it, and it isn’t too burdensome or disproportionateI. If only, if only that were the case.

So I can cite briefly two cases; one of which papers have been served on the greater Manchester police by Liberty on behalf of the individuals concerned to seek a judicial review of the actions of the officers. 15 November at the end of last year around 80 supporters of Stoke City were peaceably gathered in a pub in Earlham which is in the outskirts of greater Manchester for their club, prior to their clubs game against Manchester United. Now, those of you who know your football will know that Stoke City has spent a long time in the lower divisions of English football having been relegated in 1977, so this was the first occasion in 30 years that Stoke City have played at Old Trafford against Manchester United and therefore it was a very special day for those supporters. The day turned out unfortunately to be special for all of the wrong reasons. For reasons still unclear to us, the police surrounded the pub, refused to allow any of those Stoke City supporters in the pub to leave. All of them were issued with notices under section 27, which I remind you requires an individual assessment of each individual; every single Stoke City fan in the pub was issued with a notice. One of them refused to sign a copy of the notice, because he believed that the statements being made about him being involved in disorder were factually incorrect. He was told if he refused to sign, he would be arrested. The police organised buses outside the pub and all those 80 or so Stoke City fans were processed onto the buses. Now, clearly because people had been in the pub, some of them required the use of the toilet, the police refused to allow those fans that had already been put on to the buses to go back into the pub to use the toilet and they were told to urinate in empty containers. Now, I ask you, how dignified is that for people who are quite happily minding their own business, bothering nobody and we’ve got a written statement from the publican that said that all of the fans were peaceable, none of them were drunk, they weren’t even singing and every one of them is welcome to go back to his pub anytime that they like.

So, that’s what we’re dealing with here, 80 people didn’t get to see the match, match tickets worth over 30 pounds worth nothing anymore, all of them bussed back from Manchester to Stoke including one Stoke City fan who lives in Manchester. So having been taken all the way back to Stoke, he then had to take himself to the railway station at his own expense, buy a railway ticket to take him back to Manchester where he lived. He made that clear to the officers at the time and they said, you’re confusing us with people who care essentially.

An even more bizarre case surrounds 9 Plymouth Argyle fans who travelled by mini bus up the motorway from Devon to south Yorkshire for their game at Doncaster Rovers in December of last year. So far, so normal, it’s something that thousands of football fans, tens of thousands of football fans do every weekend. Amongst this group were the son of a recently retired senior police officer and a company director. After arriving in Doncaster at midday, they headed for a pub where they knew that a lot of Plymouth Argyle fans will be gathering before the game, to look for some lunch. Having gone into the pub, they realized that the pub didn’t serve food, they were all hungry, so they attempted to leave the pub, and this is where it all went wrong. The pub had been surrounded by police officers and they were refused permission to leave, as if you need permission from a police officer to do what you like as long as you go on about your business peacefully. In fact, one of them, when he pointed out to a police officer, they wanted to leave the pub, because they didn’t want to drink, they wanted to go and get something to eat, was told, don’t bother, you’re not leaving the pub, go back into the pub and have a drink.

Now, let’s remind ourselves that section 27 is designed to deal with alcohol-related disorder, is it a really good idea to tell somebody to have a drink on an empty stomach when what they want to do is to go and eat. Now, then it goes very serious, they were marched back to their minivan, they were escorted to the motorway where they were picked up by police cars in South Yorkshire, down the motorway, surrounded by police cars, a helicopter above them, bear in mind, this is 9 football fans, including an 11 year old boy. At the Derbyshire border they were met by officers of the Derbyshire Constabulary, likewise at the Derbyshire Leicester boundary. At one stage they said, we’re going to have to stop, they stopped on the motorway where they slowed down very slowly because of an obstruction, they said, we’re going to need to stop. They were refused permission until reluctantly the officers agreed that they could stop because it was pointed out to them that an internal combustion engine doesn’t function very well when there’s no petrol in the tank. So, when they pulled into the service station, they asked to be allowed to leave to use the toilet facilities, they were told no. Reluctantly they finally agreed to take each of the people on the minibus under escort with baying police dogs which were terrifying both the occupants of van and the bystanders. Now, I ask you, do you really think; a) that that’s a proportional and sensible use of police powers, and b) couldn’t those police officers in cars, a helicopter have been better employed doing something more useful in detecting and deterring crime? Well, I know what my answer to that is.

So, that’s the case there. Let me be clear, the FSF doesn’t support, never has, never will condone violent crime. An often ignored fact is the single biggest group that are affected by football related disorder and violence are football supporters themselves. We’ve got no interest in promoting violence and this particular case; the police have massively overstepped the mark. The abuse of a dangerous power the Parliament in it’s lack of wisdom, have seen fit to grant, should concern all of us who care about civil liberties and human rightsSimon Bolivar, one of the historic liberators of South America, celebrated to this day in the title of that continents international football tournament, the equivalent to the UEFA Champions League, the Copa Libertadores de America, or the American Liberators Cup said nearly 200 years ago, in his famous letter from Jamaica of 1815, ‘a state too extensive in itself … is transformed into a tyranny, it disregards the principles which it should preserve, and finally degenerates into despotism’. How right he was, a lesson that sometimes appears to have been forgotten in the supposed cradle of democracy. Thank you.

Hilary Wainwright: Thanks, just one more question, I mean did any of those incidents get any publicity?

Steve Powell: Yeah, a fair amount of publicity, there’s a lot of chat on websites, it been extensively written about in the Guardian and I was invited on behalf of the Football Supporters Federation to blog on it on the Guardian’s Comment is Free section. We haven’t got as much publicity as we would like, but regionally it’s got a fair amount of publicity and I can’t say too much because the case at the moment is sub judice, but I think we might have some important news in the near future.

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