In the light of news from Libya that British intelligence officers were apparently complicit in the illegal seizure, rendition and torture of foreign nationals at the behest of their US allies, David Cameron has taken a sober, sensible approach. The allegations are “significant”, he says. So serious are they that he will ensure that they are considered carefully, and there will be no “rush to judgement”.
What a thoughtful man he is, bravely resisting knee-jerk reactions to the revelation of potentially horrendous crimes.
If only he applied such careful calmness all the time. It’s barely three weeks since he was advocating a stampede to judgement in the aftermath of the English riots. Courts should dish out “exemplary” sentences, he said. Rioters should go to jail, he proclaimed, thereby preempting every court in the land from doing the independent job it is supposed to do: consider its judgement carefully. He praised sentences which threw the sentencing rule book out of the window, including one ridiculous case of four years for two men who failed to incite a riot on facebook.
What has prompted such a terpsichorean change of direction?
Well, Cameron has nothing in common with the mass of underprivileged people in this country, whether they rioted or not. They are, in the words of that other paragon of restraint in word and deed Kenneth Clarke, the “feral underclass” which must be corralled, contained, taught a tough lesson. There’s nothing wrong with “rushing to judgement” of them now, is there? Who ever complains about a hoodie being locked up?
Now the intelligence service, that’s another thing, isn’t it? Just the name – “Intelligence”. We’re taking about intelligent people here, aren’t we? My goodness, many of them come from the same public schools and universities as Mr Cameron and his chums in both the Labour and Conservative parties. They’re pillars of the establishment. All round good eggs.
If kidnapping a man, flying him half way round the world, handing him over to Libyan thugs and psychopaths, standing outside the door while he is tortured to screaming point and then rubbing your hands with glee at the “information” he has offered just to please make it stop isn’t a “feral” act of abject inhumanity and barbarity, I don’t know what is.
“Rush to judgement”? The gears of any inquiry will grind ever so slowly, and at the end of it, as in the de Menezes and Baha Mousa cases, no-one will be held to account, no-one will lose their jobs, no-one will spend time in jail – and the establishment will shrug its shoulders and carry on its hypocritical way.
No judgement. No justice. That’s the Cameron way.
For Jean Charles de Menezes, Harry Stanley and a whole host of other ordinary people whose lives have been ended by apparently unaccountable British authorities, add Baha Mousa, killed not by the police but by the British Army.
The case is now well known, but an independent inquiry is about to exonerate the Army of systematic torture and mistreatment. Ninety-three injuries were noted on Mousa’s body: one wonders if he had to top 100 to qualify for “systematic”.
The need, of course, is to preserve the system. Chains of command cannot be brought into question, senior officers and bureaucrats and politicians must never be blamed. If anything goes wrong, it must either be swept under the carpet as far as possible or blamed on a few “bad apples”.
But the system also depends on defending those “bad apples” in order to buy their silence and to ensure that the dirty work can keep going on. We see that in a different context, with Glen Mulcaire’s legal expenses paid by the NotW, despite their apparent “horror and disgust” at his activities, or in the constant promotion through the ranks of police officers involved in the de Menezes shooting despite their incompetence being responsible for a conviction of the Met under the Health and Safety Act. In this case, the “bad apples” were seven soldiers hauled up before a court martial in what was the army’s version of justice. One of the seven – Corporal Donald Payne – was captured abusing prisoners on video; faced with such undeniable evidence, he pled guilty to mistreating prisoners and served one year in prison, three times more than a housewife who accepted a pair of shorts from a rioter.
I actually have a little sympathy for people like Payne: just like Simon Harwood – the PC who struck Ian Thomslinson – and the Abu Ghraib GIs, photographic evidence meant he had to be hung out to dry for a system which may well be rotten to the core. The courts, unencumbered by such public evidence on the other six and faced by what the judge described as “a more or less obvious closing of ranks”, cleared them.
So, yet again, and ordinary man dies and no-one is to blame and no-one explains to Baha Mousa’s family how he came to sustain 93 injuries and end up looking like this.
And if I wonder about these things, how do they look to those who would use genuine anger at these kinds of incidents to fuel fundamentalism, extremism and terrorism?
Well, that didn’t take long, did it?
The IPCC released a statement today which cast further light on the way in which its instinctive reaction in the event of police shootings is to protect the officers involved.
It stated “… having reviewed the information the IPCC received and gave out during the very early hours of the unfolding incident, before any documentation had been received, it seems possible that we may have verbally led journalists to believe that shots were exchanged, as this was consistent with early information we received that an officer had been shot and taken to hospital. Any reference to an exchange of shots was not correct and did not feature in any of our formal statements, although an officer was taken to hospital after the incident.”
Given the unhealthy relationship between the media and the police which has been revealed by the News of the World scandal, it is obvious that no-one in the supposedly independent IPCC has learned any lessons since it’s chief, Moir Stewart, was implicated in exactly this kind of misleading briefing over the Jean Charles de Menezes killing.
This is in the wake of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee report into the work of the IPCC which was highly critical of its predilection for hiring ex-police officers like Stewart as investigators. The conclusion is inescapable: rather than being independent, the IPCC is actually a shadow arm of the police service which thinks like the police and which perceives the world as the police do.
When people like Jean Charles de Menezes, Harry Stanley and Mark Duggan are shot in circumstances which are at best questionable and at worst actionably incompetent, that is unacceptable.
I have a piece in today’s Scottish Review on the civil unrest in England.
It was prompted by an interview on the “Today” programme with Boris Johnson, a man born with a silver spoon in his mouth, a man who seems to walk into any job he wants regardless of his apparent lack of qualifications to do the job, and a man who, along with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, is a former member of the Bullingdon Club, famed for acts of anti-social behaviour and criminal damage.
When Johnson, without a trace of irony, accused kids from backgrounds blighted by inner city deprivation and who have little chance of anything but the most menial employment of having an “endless sense of entitlement”, I just about choked on my cornflakes.
Thanks to the Scottish Review for publishing my thoughts on the matter.
I don’t now much about the Mark Duggan shooting that has caused last night’s Tottenham riots because I haven’t been able to keep up with the news on my Poland trip. However, I am rather suspicious of statements made by the IPCC about “people needing answers” when that IPCC is led by Moir Stewart, the aide of commissioner Ian Blair who was roundly criticised for failing to release information to his superiors which proved Jean Charles de Menezes was an innocent man and not a suspected terrorist, and who was at the centre of allegations that the public were misled about the progress of the de Menezes investigations.
With the hacking scandal revealing a culture of corruption and mutual back-slapping in the police force, it’s hardly surprising that Tottenham residents have reacted with such distrust to a system that seems to favour armed police and to routinely deny justice. The IPCC had better get this one right. Or, then again, they can just do their usual whitewash in the knowledge that memories fade and any police officer implicated in culpable negligence or, worse, wrongdoing will eventually get the promotion this corrupt system believes they deserve.
So goodbye to John Yates, latest “victim” of the hacking scandal; welcome his replacement, Cressida Dick, the officer who was in charge of the operation in which a real victim, Jean Charles de Menezes, was gunned down incompetently – and possibly illegally – by armed police on July 22nd, 2005.
He was mistaken for a terrorist. Her new role? Head of counter-terrorism. Sheesh.
I found myself at Stockwell Tube the other day, gazing at the rather tacky but nevertheless touching memorial to Jean Charles that has been screwed to the wall outside the station. It had just been announced that members of the de Menezes family may have had their phones hacked by News of the World journalists. Given that this is a story I’ve mentioned before and is a stain on the country that makes me ashamed to be British, I wondered if their humiliation would never end.
It seems not. Now, those in power have decided that a tragically incompetent police officer responsible for the death of an innocent young man is preferable to an bumptiously incompetent police officer responsible for failing to extend a telephone hacking investigation. Go figure.
My hope is that, in this climate of accountability that borders on public blood-letting, someone or something will link the two, and the de Menezes case will be reopened so that those who made fatally tragic errors that day will be brought to book rather than be continually promoted through the ranks. That was what the jury at the laughable inquest seemed to want; denied by the coroner the right to deliver an unlawful killing verdict, they bravely returned an open verdict, which means there are still questions to ask. In the aftermath of that judgement, everyone with power went silent; let’s hope we now get some answers, and Dick becomes yet another casualty of the hurricane blowing through the Met.
News that Moir Stewart – criticised by the IPCC for failings during the early investigation of the Jean Charles de Menezes shooting because of suggestions that he delayed crucial information that indicated an innocent man had been shot – has now been appointed as director of investigations at the same IPCC seems unbelievably crass and insensitive.
You would think that the authorities, having got off the hook time and time again over the shooting, despite a damning inquest verdict last year, would keep their heads low. But no. Instead, they seem determined to glory in their Teflon-coated status. As a result, the grieving family of Jean Charles see their concerns swept aside once more. Perhaps “insensitive” is the wrong word – it seems almost deliberately and cruelly designed to grind their faces in the mud.
One wonders if there is an element of racism here, the almost explicit statement that until these uppity foreigners stop being bothersome and get lost, the establishment will rally round to let them know who’s boss and make their lives hell.
I am tired of this affair making me ashamed of being British.
Yet again, the scandalous failure of police in the unwarranted shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes escapes any sort of public examination. The IPCC has decided not to recommend any disciplinary action against the officers who shot the young Brazilian in the head seven times as he was held helpless on a Tube train floor.
I remember the Stephen Waldorf shooting in 1983, when a case of mistaken identity rested on a red haired guy in the Mini of someone who knew escaped burglar David Martin. Waldorf was lucky to survive, and the policemen who fired shots without warning were acquitted of attempted murder. I was shocked by that then – how could trained officers shoot a total stranger and get away with it? – but at least in that case there was a trial.
Not so this time. The open verdict from last year’s inquest – and that verdict arrived at after the coroner had instructed the jury that they could not return an unlawful killing verdict – should have prompted a re-examination of the case. The jury delivered a damning assessment of the police operation that day: they had not shouted a warning; they had lied about the clothes Jean Charles was wearing, and his actions before they shot him; and Jean Charles had done nothing to arouse any suspicion whatsoever, and bore no responsibility for what happened to him. In short, the police fucked up, royally and fatally.
Most other professions bear the brunt of accountability: teachers who abuse their pupils will be sacked and banged up; doctors can be struck off for malpractice. But it seems that those professions that are given the right to be violent – the police, the military – bear no commensurate accountability. Let’s be clear: the IPCC wasn’t considering taking these officers to court, or sacking them; it was considering ANY sort of disciplinary action. So no suspension, no loss of pay, no demotion: hell, they’re not even being told they can’t rise through the ranks of the force, despite their mistakes. And some of them, such as Cressida Dick, already have.
And they were mistaken. Badly mistaken. The tension in London at the time, the stress the police were under, the paranoia of the whole country, do nothing to excuse the fact that a totally innocent man was shot seven times in the head. Seven times. In the head.
Someone that day behaved unprofessionally, because it is the police’s professional responsibility to get the right man. And if we don’t hold those in our midst who bear arms and use them against innocents like Stephen Waldorf, Harry Stanley and Jean Charles de Menezes accountable when they fail in that professional responsibility, then we will get exactly what we deserve, and have to accept it could happen to anyone – even ourselves.