Category Archives: free speech

We’re Paying For Big Brother

In an extraordinary turn of events, the Metropolitan Police have not just decided to troll the internet for criticism of them in advance of this week’s Climate Camp protest in London – the first since the ill-fated G20 protest in April. Or rather they’ve outsourced it – that’s right Big Brother is watching you, and you’re paying him to do it:

Police worried about the force’s reputation are scouring Facebook and Twitter for criticism and rumours, ahead of the imminent Climate Camp protest.

The force has hired 6 Consulting*, a firm of “social media monitoring and engagement specialists” for a one-month pilot to monitor the web for relevant chatter.

It follows a series of reports criticising the Met’s policing of major events, including the G20 protest earlier this summer.

A spokesman said that the deal was not part of any investigative or intelligence-gathering programme. “We are increasingly looking to the internet to get our message out,” he said.

He said the G20 protests had seen “unhelpful” rumours spread fast online, and the pilot would help Met communications staff be more proactive in addressing public concerns. It would not however react to specific messages on Twitter, however, where a special Climate Camp account has been set up to release police messages.

(via Marc Vallee)

The Met can address public concerns by guaranteeing they won’t be violently attacking innocent protesters again. They say “unhelpful rumours” at the G20 protest – unhelpful in revealing their media-blocking, peaceful protester-bashing behaviour perhaps. Maybe they should consider that there would be no need to spend thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money in the name of spin if they actually policed in the name of protecting human rights rather than wilfully trampling on them. We will shortly find out if their pre-Climate Camp charm offensive is all mouth, or if the lessons of G20 have actually been learned.

It’s Not Just a Lack of a Constitution…

Mark Norman claims that this period of political flux in the UK makes it time to demand a written constitution:

Only in moments of chaotic flux, when the foetid accommodations and stifling conventions of the age are suspended because the status quo looks scarier than radical change, does a glimpse of a less imperfect country feel like more than utopian dreaming. Such openings come seldom, vanish swiftly, and must be seized immediately.

The illness in question is malignant in the extreme, and the only effective treatment is a written constitution. Since David Cameron will shortly be Prime Minister, it is to him we must turn on bended knee, begging that he acts while the rage is still hot and the desire for change intense, and makes a binding commitment to that constitution. He should pledge that, within an hour of kissing the Queen’s hand, he will inaugurate a year-long national debate about how we want that constitution to look, involving the town-hall meetings and an appeal for public proposals with which we can reacquaint ourselves with the notion that our stake in how we are governed extends beyond voting with distaste every four or five years.

I’m not convinced. He’s right of course that electoral reform is desperately needed and long overdue. He’s right that the second parliamentary chamber needs to have its reform completed urgently. All select committees should be holding the executive to account rather than just the motivated ones. The police shouldn’t be able to behave like a semi-autonomous militia, the government shouldn’t be privatising identity itself, the list goes on. I just don’t think that a written constitution would guarantee these things any more than the written American constitution has prohibited torture, prevented Guantanamo Bay, the Patriot Act or the Iraq War itself.

Rights are already guaranteed under the Human Rights Act, so a constitutional backstop isn’t needed there. Whilst the public discussion which would arise through a constitutional convention, particularly a broadly and democratically arranged one, would be healthy in getting what we really want out in the open, it’s by no means the only route. The House of Commons needs to get to grips with regulating itself (even though the expenses scandal might have proven it cannot), and the public needs to demand electoral reform as a matter of urgency. It works well in Scotland and for London and European elections, so why not England? Coalition government would make the Jacqui Smiths of this world much less likely (although take a look at Italy – it wouldn’t make them impossible), but  he’s unusually idealistic in thinking that David Cameron cares. Cameron’s on course (as was Tony Blair, who had firmly committed to electoral reform remember) to an easy win under the first-past-the-post system. Depressingly he has also already committed to repealing the Human Rights Act – setting out his anti-democratic credentials before even becoming Prime Minister.

Even Barack Obama is pulling back from his promises of transparency and government driven by rights and the law, but we remain not bothered about it until it’s too late, and the ballot box is no longer an effective means of holding our representatives (and the agencies they control) to account. Maybe the only way of getting our political culture back is through the overtures of a constitutional convention, but which political leader is going to have the bravery to give up their power in making that happen? We’re all out of Donald Dewars & Robin Cooks.

Did Metropolitan Police Incite the G20 Crowd?

Lib Dem MP Tom Brake was caught up in the April 1st G20 protest and has made yet another serious allegation against the Metropolitan Police:

“When I was in the middle of the crowd, two people came over to me and said, ‘There are people over there who we believe are policemen and who have been encouraging the crowd to throw things at the police,'” Brake said. But when the crowd became suspicious of the men and accused them of being police officers, the pair approached the police line and passed through after showing some form of identification.

Brake has produced a draft report of his experiences for the human rights committee, having received written statements from people in the crowd. These include Tony Amos, a photographer who was standing with protesters in the Royal Exchange between 5pm and 6pm. “He [one of the alleged officers] was egging protesters on. It was very noticeable,” Amos said. “Then suddenly a protester seemed to identify him as a policeman and turned on him. He ­legged it towards the police line, flashed some ID and they just let him through, no questions asked.”Met

So here’s the question – after the Met itself pre-emptively promised violence, despite no evidence any was ever on the cards from protesters, did they decide to incite it themselves anyway? If it were true it would add considerable substance to the argument that their tactic of ‘kettling’ isn’t about crowd control, but is used to incite crowd violence.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: “We would never deploy officers in this way or condone such behaviour.”

Pretty much clinches it for me…

Lord West is Once Again Delusional

Now Home Office minister Lord West is getting into the act of defending the Metropolitan Police:

Lord West, speaking in the House of Lords, said “thousands of officers acted absolutely professionally and proportionately, thousands were actually able to demonstrate peacefully on our streets, criminal activity in the rest of the metropolis was kept to an absolute minimum and the police also maintained high levels of security.

“And I think we should be extremely proud of them. This does not excuse acts which are criminal and there are now investigations taking place for those particulars.

“But in general I think we are very well-served by our police. I am very proud of them and the way I approach it generally is they are on our side and they are our people.”

He also defended British police tactics of confronting protesters face-to-face, arguing alternative crowd control methods were worse.

He told peers: “I have to say I do not like the thought of water cannon, baton rounds or shooting people all of which seem to occur in some other countries and I am jolly glad I live in this country. But all of those things will be looked at.”

Thousands were indeed able to demonstrate peacefully on our streets, and the climate camp protesters in particular were initially well served by the Met. Until they had their heads smashed in by the Territorial Support Group (TSG) shock troops later on. It’s not surprising that his perspective on the G20 policing should be skewed though – this is the same Lord West who said of the Home Office’s attempt to deport gay asylum seeker Mehdi Kazemi back to Iran:

My Lords, it is worth saying that we are not aware of any individual who has been executed in Iran in recent years solely on the grounds of homosexuality, and we do not consider that there is systematic persecution of gay men in Iran.

So he really is living in a parallel universe to the rest of us. There seems to be a lot of that going about in the Home Office. Nice of him to suggest we’re ungrateful for failing to appreciate that we don’t face worse policing though. We should be grateful for a mere police beating here and there then apparently.

Bring the Met to Heel!

What, more you cry? Well yes, because you need to keep having the evidence shoved in your face to realise just how badly out of control the Metropolitan Police now is. This is a video showing the attack on the Climate Camp protesters by the Territorial Support Group (TSG) riot officers on 1st April:

The bits you’re looking for are at 4:50 and 7:50, and you must remember that this is an attack on protesters who were there legally and 100% peacefully. For some reason people seem to overlook those two rather fundamentally important variables, but in our society you simply can’t. For police violence to be acceptable it must be proportionate – you tell me who’s behaving within the law in that video and who isn’t. The Times runs us through the two principal assaults in the video:

It (4:50) is the moment when an unidentified riot squad officer, his face half-hidden by a black balaclava and visored helmet, was filmed using a round shield to “punch” Alex Cinnane on the left temple.

The video shows the 24-year-old IT technician from London facing away from his assailant, stationary and appearing to offer no physical threat to the police officers surrounding him. His mouth opens in pain as the shield strikes.

“I had turned around to go to someone who was screaming because they were being crushed when he reached out and hit me on my forehead with his shield,” said Cinnane last night. “I was in shock. I had to sit down and felt concussed and nauseous for over an hour. Where he hit me came up in a lump of broken skin.”

Then:

A second video (7:50) shows another riot squad officer delivering a powerful right hook to an unidentified male demonstrator’s jaw as a crowd retreats from an advancing police line. The protester’s head jerks backwards as the punch lands.

Since when were we a nation which policed peaceful protest with violence? Maybe a Met apologist can explain that to me. I thought the police was there to protect our rights and uphold the law, not to enforce their own petty prejudices and attitudes. Something is fundamentally wrong here, and I would take any promise from senior Met officers that things will improve as the lie it will certainly be – as Chris Huhne points out later in the next article, they have made promises about their behaviour before, yet the force is now largely unsuccessful at self-policing. Nick Hardwick, the Chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) made clear:

his concerns about incidences of officers disguising their identifying numbers, which should always be displayed on the shoulders of their uniforms, arguing that colleagues should have reported such wrongdoing.

“I think that raises serious concerns about the frontline supervision,” Hardwick said. “Why was that happening, why did the supervisor not stop them? What does that say about what your state of mind is? You were expecting trouble?

“I think that is unacceptable. It is about being servants, not masters: the police are there as public servants.

Corporate Police Hits Back!

Sir Ken Jones, the head of ACPO has hit back against the chair of the IPCC, who said the numerous complaints he had received about Met police brutality had raised ‘serious concerns’:

Sir Ken Jones described the approach to tacking demonstrations as “proportionate” despite a series of videos which have provoked anger at officers’ actions.

Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Sir Ken said: “Mr Hardwick is entitled of course to his own opinions but I think we need to do our research and realise just how well this activity is done in our country.

“I can’t find any other country that doesn’t use water cannon, CS gas, rubber bullets. Our approach is proportionate and, in fact, has delivered on many other occasions.

“But on the question of a review, yes, Acpo has has welcomed that, but I think we need to do it with some objectivity and have a broader perspective than I have seen in the last few days. We need to make sure that we don’t condemn the many for a problem created by the few.”

Sir Ken denied that he was trying to excuse the activities of individual officers, some of whom were alleged to have hidden their identity numbers.

“I’m not making an excuse. What I am saying is that the world is changing,” he said. “The way that some people come to these protests now, particularly in Europe, and offer violence to people, to property, to other legitimate protesters, and, yes, they came to attack the police, this has become an increasingly difficult job for us to pull off.

How ‘well done’ eh? So because we don’t use water cannon, CS gas or rubber bullets, that makes the Met’s behaviour ‘proportionate’? Nicely played. Of course that’s spin, it’s complete garbage, but at the same time it’s clearly going to be the police’s tactic in trying to get past this crisis. It’s a continuation of Tony Blair’s big lie from 9/11, that ‘because the world has changed, our approach needs to be harder, stronger and different’. Yet  the world has not changed, people’s motivations are unchanged, and in comparison with say the 1970s there’s very little protest at all – SOCPA legislation, trades union legislation and anti-terror measures have pretty much put paid to that without a baton being lifted! To suggest it’s increasingly difficult for the police to manage protest and dissent is completely ridiculous. David Hughes adds:

There was nothing proportionate about Ian Tomlinson being roughly pushed to the ground minutes before he collapsed and died. There was even less proportionality in the ugly spectacle of Nicola Fisher being given a back-handed slap across the face by a police officer who’d taken the trouble to conceal his number before he took out his baton and hit her with it. Other examples of heavy-handed (literally) police action are emerging by the day.

No one doubts that the police were subjected to immense provocation. I wouldn’t like to stand in a thin blue line and face a mass of protesters, some of them hell-bent on violence. While they are trained to respond in a measured way, it is blindingly obvious not all of them do and we would have a more sensible debate if people like Sir Ken recognised the fact.

And back to Sir Ken:

“And I think we just need to look at this in the round. I saw some of the footage last week of whole groups of officers being hemmed in. Nobody wants to talk about that now. Those officers behaved really well, they acted with restraint.”

Oh please, he doesn’t even appreciate the irony of his own words! What about the hundreds of protesters and members of the public who weren’t given any choice about being hemmed in by police for hours, without even the liberty to go to the toilet? His stance may be disgusting, but remember, as 45govt in the Telegraph article reminds us:

ACPO* is NOT, as most people believe, part of the Police of the UK, but a private for-profit advisory body staffed by serving and retired plods out to fill their pockets with lucrative govt contracts. A good example would be sending a huge bill for advising that the police brutality at the G20 was entirely proportionate, and we should thank our stars we weren’t all shot in the head. “That will be £200,000 please Minister – ta very much.”

*“The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO)
is an independent, professionally led strategic body. In the public interest and, in equal and active partnership with Government and the Association of Police Authorities, ACPO leads and coordinates the direction and development of the police service in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In times of national need ACPO – on behalf of all chief officers – coordinates the strategic policing response.”

It’s a case of corporate policing defending corporate policing. Insidious to say the least. We are in a mess.

Police Are Creatures of Energy Firms

Evidence that the police are actively being used for political purposes against dissent is continuing to emerge:

Government officials handed confidential police intelligence about environmental activists to the energy giant E.ON before a planned peaceful demonstration, according to private emails seen by the Guardian.

Correspondence between civil servants and security officials at the company reveals how intelligence was shared about the peaceful direct action group Climate Camp in the run-up to the demonstration at Kingsnorth, the proposed site of a new coal-fired power station in north Kent.

Intelligence passed to the energy firm by officials from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) included detailed information about the movements of protesters and their meetings. E.ON was also given a secret strategy document written by environmental campaigners and information from the Police National Information and Coordination Centre (PNICC), which gathers national and international intelligence for emergency planning.

At first officials at BERR refused to release the emails, despite a request under the Freedom of Information Act from the Liberal Democrats. The decision was reversed on appeal and although large sections have been blacked out, they show:

• BERR officials passed a strategy document belonging to the “environmental protest community” to E.ON, saying: “If you haven’t seen this then you will be interested in its contents.”

• Government officials forwarded a Metropolitan police intelligence document to E.ON, detailing the movements and whereabouts of climate protesters in the run-up to demonstration.

• E.ON passed its planning strategy for the protest to the department’s civil servants, adding: “Contact numbers will follow.”

• BERR and E.ON tried to share information about their media strategies before the protest, and civil servants asked the energy company for press contacts for EDF, BP and Kent police.

Last night the disclosures were criticised by environmentalists, MPs and civil liberty groups, adding to the growing controversy over the policing of protests.

We’ve already seen the effects of the government’s secret dealings with corporate energy at Kingsnorth, Bishopsgate and Ratcliffe-on-Soar. If anyone thinks that the latter two are coincidences after Kingsnorth think again – it’s increasingly clear that the police have been turned into a tool to support partisan corporate interests, significantly against climate/environment protest. George Monbiot reminds us:

Their treatment of the climate camp protesters at Kingsnorth last year was wildly disproportionate and repressive. They also appear to have misled the press on the power company’s behalf. The police claimed that if the protesters reached the power station, “there would have been a possible loss of power to over 300,000 homes”.

In fact E.ON had already shut down the power station, with no consequences for local people: hardly surprising in view of the fact that its electricity is sold on to the grid rather than supplied locally.

Now we learn that the police, the Department for Business and E.ON have been working together to thwart a peaceful protest, and sharing information obtained by bugging or informants. This is partisan policing: siding with one social sector against another. (I’ll examine the implications in my column tomorrow). Worse, both the police and the government appear to be taking their instructions from a multinational company.

Just who is running this country? And at what point do we decide that corporate power is making a mockery of democracy?

The almost identical lies presented as truth after the mass arrests at Ratcliffe-on-Soar are what we can expect in the future, particularly when now supine news organisations like the BBC repeat them as fact. The right to protest is being subverted by corporate interests, with the collusion of the government and the enforcement by the police.