Culpability I: Causes for Concern

We have one specific request, which may seem a minor request but we believe it is an essential foundation for policing in which the public can have confidence. It is vital that police officers in riot gear have their identification on their fronts and back at all times in extra large font so it is clearly visible. There is currently no legal requirement for police officers to display their identification. This needs to be rectified as a matter of urgency.
                — Climate Camp Legal Team report, 18th April 2009

I’ve now read the report in detail but will take a little longer to formulate appropriate responses to some of the things I read in it. Some of the data is, however, sufficiently important that I want to highlight it now.

17.23 Police liaison report police say someone is pouring petrol on one of the police vans that has been left inside the Camp. If the camp doesn’t sort it out they will come in with riot police. Legal observers told to investigate, Camp informed.

17.30 Police Liaison and solicitor inspect vans. Tyres are flat. No report of petrol. No trouble there.

17.40 Police Liaison – police are happy to leave vans and officers in centre (with flat tyres) as long as they do not feel threatened.

The police lied. They lied to protesters, and about them; they lied to legal observers, they lied to the press at the time and after the event. There is a secondary point in this quote: they were not lying out of habit or for any reason to do with public perception. They were lying because they were trying to generate excuses to assault the Camp. Considerably more on both of these issues later.

From the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, reporting 23rd March 2009:

“We are concerned by the reports we have received of police using counter‐terrorism powers on peaceful protestors. We welcome the Minister’s comments that counter‐terrorism legislation should not be used to deal with public order or protests…”

[…] However, it turned out the evening before s44 had been used to search a number of protesters who whilst having a later supper at an Indian café had been discussing the logistics of the food supplies for the Camp.

The report is full of evidence of police officers, both individually and (clearly) under policy guidance, using statute law as a shopping list of methods to permit them to break, bend or ignore the law they represent. Intimidations, active property damage, actual bodily harm and the large-scale harvesting of personal information were all excused by laws which didn’t apply, couldn’t apply, or were being wrongly applied.

“He hit me with his baton around 4‐5 times on my back and then reversed my body to face up and hit me on my abdomen and appendix area.” — Natalie

“They began to drag me, and another came and grabbed me by the hair, and yelled in my ear ‐ ‘I’m going to break your fucking neck’. […] Ironically, the whole time he was shouting “calm down, calm down” at me […] I asked him for his police number, and he refused.” — Dave

“One woman fell down by the riot police vans, she looked terrified. A policeman started beating her with a baton and treating her very roughly. Several of us witnessed this, and so ran to her to try and help her up, but we were met with aggressive police and more batons.” — HA

The level of police aggression was quite extraordinary. There are many quotes from the 18 formal statements included in Appendix A of the report that I’m going to pick up on later; these are just a few from the first several witnesses. Throughout, you see evidence that the police officers involved in the assaults had been briefed with the view that they were executing punishment, not protecting public order.

James Lloyd, a member of the Legal Team and one of the nominated Police Liaison volunteers, on arriving in a legal observer tabard to observe the police raid on Rampart Street Social Centre on 2 April, was stopped and searched under section 60. His name and address was demanded under section 50 on threat of arrest.

There’s more to this story, and I will again be returning to it, because one of the continuous and pervasive themes of the police action was that they were trying to ensure they were not indepdently documented. Legal Observers, private protesters and press had notes taken from them, cameras destroyed, dictaphones confiscated. This was not over-zealous or ‘confused’ police officers, who didn’t know that neither section empowers the officer to demand name and address. This was coherent; it was deliberate, it was comprehensive and it was policy which can only have come down from on high.

I can see no rationale for this except the obvious one: that the officers knew they were going to break the law. That they had been primed to; that they had been ordered to, and that they were willing to. We’ve had reports and seen video of covered numbers and balaclavas which pointed in this direction, but now we have systematic details of equally systematic attempts to suppress evidence of police violence and lawbreaking. People should be losing their jobs for this.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Culpability I: Causes for Concern

  1. Love this blog I’ll be back when I have more time.

  2. “I asked him for his police number, and he refused.”

    That’s becoming something worryingly like a habit, no?

    • johnqpublican

      That does indeed seem to be the case: I’ve a post cooking for tomorrow which goes into detail on the issue of police identification, and the extent to which its concealment was policy rather than a few bad apples.

  3. Pingback: Topics about Last-words | Culpability I: Causes for Concern « The view across the bar.

  4. I love this blog!

  5. i

    i would be very interested to know how the selection process for riot police works. not every copper joins the force to throw their weight about (lord knows CAIU have decent motivations) but riot police are something of a breed apart. – a clinical approach to the group psychology of such situations could be very valuable.

    • johnqpublican

      I don’t actually know. Rumour has it that TSG officers are partially self-selected and partially based on profiles that select for willingness and capacity to engage in physical confrontation. That, to be honest, is just pragmatism, if you’re going to train paramilitaries you select for people who have the paramilitary mind-set.

      But as I say, I don’t know, and I suspect that no-one else on the internet who claims to does either.

      Based on a limited experience with the Met recruitment system in the early 90s, I can testify that the pamphlet listing ‘specialist careers’ within the recruitment pack listed TSG alongside SO 19, horse cops and dog squads.