Culpability III: Proof of Intent

There was a man in trouble in 2001 called Richard Clarke. He was Clinton’s head of cyber-security and anti-terror, and the Bush regime hadn’t got round to replacing him yet. That meant he was an outsider in the neo-con halls of power during several very sensitive, euphoric days for the staffers there. He reported that he was on his way to the Oval Office when he encountered a Bush staffer coming the other way, and looking equally pre-occupied. The staffer had a conversation with him, in which a reference was made to shopping lists: “Every list every agency has had on a shelf these last ten years [ The Clinton presidency. — Ed ] is getting dusted off. We can get anything we want!” [1]

What they got was the Patriot Act.

What we got was the PACE, Terrorism Act and various subsidiary legislative tools designed to either curtail, or delimit, police powers as specifically as possible. The concept here is that if police powers are very specific, then they can only do the right thing. The reality is, of course, anything but.

Before I get into the G20 instances, a little context. I’m sure we all remember some fuss over Section 58 and a certain amount of Facebook-related shouting that went on. Those who tend to a default Authority-Is-Right attitude made much of the idea that protesters were hysterical. Clearly, clearly, the police wouldn’t use anti-terror legislation to stop photographers from documenting police activities. Of course, of course, the law would only ever be used when there was clear evidence of subversive influences attempting to spy on the police.

Of course.

So, let’s look at the data from the 1st and 2nd of April. The relevant section from the executive summary of the Climate Camp legal team is this:

4. Protesters are being treated as criminals

Exercise your right to protest in this country and you will at best be treated as a potential criminal, and at worst as a potential terrorist, and policed as such. You will be photographed and filmed by Forward Intelligence Teams (whose mission is ‘mutual recognition’: you know, we know who you are, and that we are watching you). You will be stopped and searched and pressured into giving your name and address. You will be corralled by police in riot gear, your freedom of movement restricted, and in physical danger from officers’ ‘losing it’ and the use of disproportionate use of force to restrict protest.

That’s indicative of attitude. It is contextualised with incidents like section 44 being used to search a group of protesters in an Indian restaurant who happened to be discussing the logistics of getting food into Climate Camp. When the police tried to get names and addresses out of a Legal Observer using the threat of Section 60, and were politely and accurately refused, they then threatened the observer with arrest under Section 50:

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.

Appendix 3 does not make the story look any better. I’ll be using Mr. Lloyd’s account considerably in a later article in this series, but for the present purpose these are the highlights:

“I was then threatened with arrest if I did not give my name and address. I told them that was not possible under s60 searches.”

“They found a selection of pens and pencils in my pocket, this included a marker pen, at which point I was threatened with [ presumeably “arrest for”? — Ed.] criminal damage.”

“Next they found that I had two mobile phones (one was my personal phone and the other my Climate Camp Police Liaison phone from 1st April) on me I was immediately threatened with arrest for theft.”

I’m sorry, what? You’re presented with guy in a high-vis tabard which says ‘Legal Observer’. He has a dictaphone, a camera, two mobiles, and his identity logged with the command team. So, you: search him, document him as if he were a terrorist, demand details that the law you quote does not permit you to require, then when he accurately quotes the law to you, you descend from ‘search under section 60’ to criminal damage, theft and ultimately the threat of arrest under Section 50 (which permits the officer to require name and address so they can check for ASBOs). That’s a shopping list.

In the full report you see a whole series of supporting cases where police churned through a series of different legal excuses to do what they wanted to do anyway, even when those excuses were legally invalid, risible, and designed purely to intimidate and offend. And this is not an isolated observation: as I noted earlier, the same attitude can be seen in the police mis-reporting of “assaults” on police vans left in the middle of Climate Camp (why? no-one has ever attempted to explain) which they tried to talk up into an excuse for a full riot-gear assault. The police had an agenda; they had specific actions they wanted to take (full documentation of all “subversive” elements, violent destruction of personal property, and a lesson taught to dissenters) and they saw their legal powers as a catalogue of ways to try and achieve those goals.

* * *

We can, therefore, now say confidently that the current attitude in British policing is to treat statute law as an infinitely flexible shopping list. You don’t figure out someone has done something, figure out who and then arrest them: you work out who you want to arrest, and then run your thumb down a list of things you might be able to do them for until you find one that will either stick, or sound like it’ll stick so you can intimidate them into self-incrimination. That is certainly the method I have observed after being briefly incarcerated last year (and never charged). That is certainly the attitude I observed on the four occasions I’ve been searched under Section 44, of which considerably more at a later date.

These are not isolated incidents. We have evidence of the police using explicitly illegal intimidation on people which is later disclaimed by senior officers at another nick, and accurate legal advice given. We have considerable evidence of this attitude in the JCdeM case and in the abuses of Section 58. Now, we have an organised dossier which documents systematic abuses of police powers and a deliberate willingness to keep looking until a way is found to force people into submission.

This is not an accident. This is a policy.

Beat coppers do not set policy.

[1] I borrowed the book and that some years ago, so my quotation may be not be quite verbatim.

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