The voices are getting louder in condemnation of the Metropolitan Police. The tabloids are uniting in their attacks and smears on Ian Tomlinson, but their readers have had their eyes opened along with the rest of us. The G20 protests at the start of the month showed the organisation up as the barely accountable militia which it has become, but I’m not saying for a moment that all Met cops are like this. As a commentator has noticed on another entry, I acknowledge there is good policing in the force, and there are good cops, no doubt many of them. But an incompetent Home Secretary and a Home Office which is still not fit for purpose have allowed the institution free rein to do as it pleases in a number of areas, notably in policing protest and dissent, and have shown a lamentable disinterest in cleaning up its misdeeds. It’s not been a year and they still haven’t learned the lessons of the Kingsnorth Climate Camp fiasco, where violence and abusive police tactics were wantonly applied to protesters and journalists alike under the spurious (and later proven to be mendacious) grounds of ‘anti-police violence’ and ‘terrorism’. Whoever thought attacking the Bishopsgate Climate Camp even more severely than the Kent protest was clearly out of their minds and shouldn’t be in their job; the TSG officers covered their numbers and masked their appearance and ironically were caught on camera, even though their masters had previously done everything in their power (through making it illegal) to prevent it. Hoist by their own petard – very ironic, but of course being caught dead to rights hasn’t brought in accountability – far from it. If the Guardian weren’t relentlessly embarrassing the IPCC, they wouldn’t have bothered investigating Ian Tomlinson’s death even now.
As it is a familiar problem has arisen there:
The initial post mortem examination of the man who died at the G20 protests after being attacked by a police officer, which found he had died of a heart attack, was conducted by a forensic pathologist once reprimanded about his professional conduct by the General Medical Council.
Ian Tomlinson, a 47-year-old newspaper seller, died on April 1 after being assaulted at least once by officers policing the G20 demonstrations. He had been trying to walk home from work when he was confronted by police, hit with a baton and thrown to the ground.
Two days later Home Office pathologist Dr Freddy Patel concluded Tomlinson had died of a heart attack. He has previously been reprimanded by the GMC, after he released medical details about a man who died controversially in police custody.
In a second case, which raised questions about Dr Patel’s findings, police dropped a criminal investigation after the pathologist gave it as his opinion that the victim, a woman, had died of natural causes. A man who lived in the flat where the body was found went on to murder two other women and mutilate their bodies.
The Met has reverted to type in every aspect of the affair since Tomlinson’s death, indeed we know they were behaving to type on the day. The TSG officer’s identity was completely concealed with a balaclava, his ID number was not visible, the Met released disinformation about their contact with him that day, and despite his having seemingly been pressurised into coming forward, the officer who attacked Tomlinson still hasn’t been interviewed by the IPCC. Then appointing a pathologist with a questionable reputation is just crazy, even though there’s no evidence that Dr Patel in any way colluded with the Met to give them the post-mortem result they needed. Yet we’re now at the stage where even the hint of impropriety is now bad news for them. Shoot an innocent Brazilian (whom they knew was innocent), bash an innocent newspaper vendor in full view of the public, get found out for your institutional disinterest in rape and surely then it’s time to play by the book, to retain the ability to police by consent. Yet ranks have already been closed and questionable decisions are again being made. David Randall suggests that it’s not just the Met who’s to blame for this – we are too:
Some of this is the fault of those with warrant cards, especially the Met. Here, seen at its worst in the de Menezes saga, a sort of old lags’ culture obtains: you admit nothing until your dabs are proved in court to have been all over the offence in question (and then fail to act on the findings). Here, too, is a management that seems to spend much of its time suing each other, or threatening to do so, and then collecting large sums; where senior officers have pension arrangements that would not disgrace a banker; and where there is a look-after-your own attitude that is positively Masonic at times.
Nor are we free of blame, with our ever more publicly aggressive citizenry proclaiming their rights, and our expectation that a force, by definition, of conservative, tradition-respecting officers should constantly adapt to an ever-changing multicultural, multi-faith, multi-sexualised society.
And some of the greatest fault is that of the political class: forces obliged to use speed cameras as revenue-raisers rather than for road safety; and police stations battered by a permanent hailstorm of targets and new laws, both set centrally to placate the latest orthodoxy or catch a headline.
All that, plus continuously shifting priorities that never seem to include sending officers to deal with the crimes that most damage the quality of life in Middle England, such as household burglary, vandalism and noise. The result? A police force less trusted, more resented than at any time since the 19th century.
Is the breakdown in trust between the force really down to us? The Met, although much improved from the days of the Brixton riots, has reverted to dismissing institutional racism. They have an endemic problem with homophobia even against one another. We have a Commission for Equality and Human Rights, yet the Met still has to be shamed into changing its reporting and detecting practices on rape. Is my homosexuality really to blame when they hate me for being gay, are my love of photography and political philosophy to blame when they hate me for photographing them abusing lawful protesters? The Met’s propensity towards conservatism and traditions which have been out of step with wider society for decades is a core part of its institutional mania, and I’m guilty of expecting it to apply its resources where they’re genuinely needed, and to treat people according to 21st century social norms. That it still doesn’t as an institution accounts for the murder of Jean Charles DeMenezes, the attack on Ian Tomlinson and many other people that day.
Good cops will hardly get noticed in an environment quite as schizoid as this, and New Labour, ever eager to placate the tabloids they’ve feared since taking power, is hardly interested in helping them. Did Jacqui Smith stand up and reprimand Bob Broadhurst for preemptive threats of police violence before the G20 protests? Not at all, it suited her to be in a position to threaten those who might cause a PR problem for her boss, more eager to lick Barack Obama’s ass than to solve intractable social problems at home. Brian Paddick suggests:
Recent events could justifiably give rise to concerns that we have a police service whose leaders do not appear to have a grip of their own responsibilities, let alone control over the actions of their subordinates. At the same time, the Tomlinson case and those of Jean Charles de Menezes and Mark Saunders, raise the spectre that the bad old days of British policing may be returning, of “canteen culture”, the use of excessive force and of a police service that appears to be unaccountable – the officer concerned in the case of Mr Tomlinson apparently being allowed to cover his face and numerals.
Sir Ian Blair tried to continue the liberalising work started by Sir Peter, now Lord Imbert, when he was Commissioner. These police reformers were swimming against the tide of the prevailing culture, trying to produce a more inclusive police service that is more responsive to the needs of the public, and more representative both in terms of gender balance and minority ethnic representation. Sir Ian Blair failed to reform the Met and the temptation for Sir Paul Stephenson is to go with the flow of the dominant male macho culture, but at the cost of failing to tame the minority of canteen cowboys who do so much damage to the reputation of the police service.
Changing organisational culture requires difficult decisions. My concern is not that the current Commissioner is not capable of such bravery, but that he does not have the strength in depth in his team, or the will, to carry through what are very necessary police reforms.
A pity Paddick doesn’t acknowledge that when, after the murder of DeMenezes, push came to shove, Blair himself went with the ‘dominant male macho culture’. He colluded in the cover-up, tried to exonerate marksmen from blame and blatantly retreated into the ‘prevailing culture’. Political cowardice has given the Met the leaders it wanted rather than those it needed, but this is a symptom of the political system as a whole – we aren’t getting intelligent politics, let alone Roger Graef’s wish of ‘intelligent policing’:
This heavy-handedness is especially counterproductive. Not only does it contradict the recent new key performance indicator of increasing public confidence, it also makes it less likely that people will provide useful intelligence against potential terrorism. Intelligence-led policing is the new mantra. But intelligence involves more than taking pictures of everyone at a demo and collecting our emails, texts and travel movements on an insecure database. It requires understanding, sensitivity and discretion, all of which go out the window when the red mist descends.
And Dominic Lawson reminds us how little of an incentive there is for them to change from within:
In recent years we have become wearily familiar with what the “closing of ranks” can involve, not stopping short of tampering with evidence. This was seen most dramatically in the inquest into the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, when a Special Branch officer, giving evidence behind a screen, admitted that he had deleted a line in his original notes, which had recorded that Cressida Dick, the officer in charge of the operation, said at the time that Menezes “can run onto Tube as not carrying anything”.
This, I’m afraid, is the sort of thing that happens when the Association of Chief Police Officers’ Manual of Guidance on Police Use of Firearms sanctions so-called “conferring over notes” after a fatality. The IPCC has on three occasions called for this practice to end – in the first instance after the death in 1999 of 46-year-old Harry Stanley, shot by officers who believed he was holding a gun; the late Mr Stanley, a part-time painter and decorator, was in fact walking home from a pub with a table leg tucked under his arm. Mr Stanley had a spent conviction for robbery, while the unfortunate Mr Tomlinson was an alcoholic drifter who seems to have been drunk on the day of his death; but it is not the job of the police, any more than it is of ordinary members of the public, to carry out extrajudicial punishments against sundry shambling scamps.
Why bother to change when their procedures call for the exact opposite? The IPCC had to be put under pressure by the press rather than any government agency, to investigate the police’s behaviour – why should they be mindful of them? It’ll have been nearly a fortnight since the event – a fortnight for the Met to ‘confer over notes’ and continue their spin against Tomlinson in the same fashion in which they continue to smear Jean Charles DeMenezes. The tabloids are still sniping at ‘rioters’ and against ‘alcoholic drifter’ Tomlinson. And the Tomlinson family have been told it’ll be at least three years before an inquest can be held into his death – the echoes of the DeMenezes case continue. With Justice Secretary Jack Straw similarly disinterested in cleaning up his end of a criminal justice system which didn’t even prosecute DeMenezes’ murders for blatant perjury, it looks like any chance at widespread intelligent policing has been ditched for another generation. Who’ll have to die next?