The Home Secretary has instructed the Humberside Police Authority to suspend the chief constable of Humberside, David Westwood. I have no views on the actual issue of David Westwood’s competence and whether or not he actually deserves to be suspended and ultimately sacked, but what is alarming is how Downing Street is centralising more and more decisions on local matters that have a huge baring on civil liberties.
Lawyers for Mr Blunkett are expected to ask the High Court, possibly on Tuesday, for an injunction forcing the authority to carry out his instruction to suspend the officer. This will be the first test of powers under the Police Reform Act 2002 and the Home Secretary will argue that suspension is necessary “for the maintenance of public confidence” in the force.
Colin Inglis, the chairman of the authority and the Labour leader of Kingston-upon-Hull told BBC1’s Look North: “The police authority is not a rubber stamp and if the Home Secretary expected a rubber stamp then that, I’m afraid, is not what he has got.
“The Home Secretary is not David Westwood’s line manager. David Westwood works for the police authority.
The issue is not “is David Westwood a good copper” but “do you want David Blunkett making those decisions?”. No prizes for guessing where I stand on that.
It is a long time since I have contributed anything to White Rose. And it is a long time since this article by journalist and novelist Alexandra Campbell appeared, in the Telegraph, on May 14th. Apologies on both counts, but better occasional contributions and late reports of White Rose relevant material than never, I hope you agree.
This article did not just appear in the Telegraph. It was also reproduced in full, in the “last word” slot, towards the end of the “all you need to know about everything that matters” magazine (i.e. lots of good bits from all the different British newspapers) The Week, of May 29th, Issue 462. That was where and (approximately) when I first read the piece.
Ms. Campbell, on the basis of vague CCTV “evidence”, was falsely accused of a crime, and it took a scarily long time for the system to stop persecuting her.
“In theory,” said Mark, “it’s innocent until proved guilty. In practice, whoever makes the allegation first is believed.”
Now that we are all picked up on CCTVs up to 300 times a day, and can also easily be identified electronically through swipe cards (health clubs, the office, season tickets, etc), there is a real risk of someone linking you to a passing resemblance on a fuzzy CCTV image and making an allegation against you.
It had taken about eight months to get to this point of the inquiry and I was terrified of enduring months’ more worry before I was cleared, but the police followed up my brother’s statement quickly and dropped the charges. However, they told me that current policy is to leave fingerprints, pictures and allegations permanently on file.
Checking subsequently with the police press office, I find that “fingerprints may not be held for more than 42 days”, but I find it scary that nobody really seems to know. I suspect our civil rights are being chipped away all the time in the name of crime and terrorism prevention.
The whole thing, I discovered, was based on a breach of the Data Protection Act. Companies using CCTV are supposed to show images only to authorised people, such as the police. The supermarket involved should never have allowed the receptionist and the credit card victim to see footage on demand. The receptionist, himself in charge of CCTV, should have known this. He wasn’t even following his own company’s code of practice, which asks staff who are suspicious of members to take the matter to a manager first. But he has done nothing illegal.
And neither have I. But while I struggle to have my records deleted from police files, he has drifted on and cannot, so far, be contacted. Nobody knows if he made the allegation out of boredom, spite, or genuine, if misplaced, civic-mindedness. It’s Kafkaesque, said friends. It’s a joke, said others. But it wasn’t fiction and it wasn’t funny. I was actually very lucky.
I might not have been able to prove where I was. If I’d been a lawyer, police officer, accountant or worked in financial services, my career and livelihood would also have been on the line, and if I’d been a celebrity, the story would have been splashed all over the papers before it was disproved. If the allegation had been connected to terrorism, I would have been jailed immediately.
I used to think that if you didn’t break the law, you had nothing to fear from it. Now I know that if this can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.
Unpersons alerted us to the news that from today British police may legally and against the will of any law-abiding subject, take DNA samples and fingerprints from any arrested person without that person having even been charged with committing a criminal act.
We can but echo the good Unpersons concerns:
The law now leaves British police officers free to help Blunkett establish one of the most ambitious and truly disturbing elements of the British police state that he has slowly but surely been working to create over the last few years. In a country where the state can take over half of your income, charge you expenses when it wrongly imprisons you – yet fail to defend you after it has crushed the right to self-defence, send parents to jail for not sending their children to state day-care centres schools, steal your property because ‘you couldn’t possibly have earned that much money without selling illegal drugs’ whilst slowly handing over control to a foreign power, attempt to dictate what you eat ‘for your own good’ and generally treat its citizens as its troublesome children one has to wonder to what extent we already live in a police state.
This has not been a good week.
Blair is a liar. But of course the notion any politician does not utter more than the occasional porkie pie is a very uncontroversial one. But as I said in the wellspring of lies yesterday, one can but marvel at the bare faced effrontery of it when our political masters stand up and state something is true when any person not wilfully blind (or David Blunkett) can see it is patently untrue just by reading a few newspapers or one of several thousand blogs and websites.
Mr Blair said political objections had been removed and the only obstacle now was technical. He made clear he wanted the project to “move forward” as soon as it was feasible.
He risked antagonising civil rights campaigners by claiming they no longer objected to the idea, which would see each citizen required to buy a computer-readable card that would record personal details.
Risks antagonising? Civil rights campaigners no longer object to the idea? Excuse the French, but, what the fuck? Blair is a bare faced liar. The only other alternative to that is that he is so ignorant of goings on outside the cloistered world of 10 Downing Street as to be completely deluded.
I will try my damnedest to refuse to get an ID card and I will openly declare that I do not have one when the sun rises on that evil day. I urge as many people as possible to not just resist but to do so openly when the time comes. They will try to make it very difficult to live without one so we must make the system unworkable by using whatever civil disobedience and intelligent resistance is needed. Do not cooperate with your own repression. Time to get creative, people. Time to get angry.
Cross-posted from Samizdata.net
A new nationwide police agency, the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) has been created in Britain.
The creation of a new “British FBI” to combat organised crime, with informants being offered reduced sentences to snitch on their gangland bosses, was given unanimous support in the Commons today – despite a controversial raft of new powers.
The home secretary, David Blunkett, told MPs he was in favour of allowing intercept material – bugged phone calls and emails – to be used as evidence, pending a review which would report back in June.
And he would also, for the first time, force professionals such as lawyers and solicitors to cooperate with police enquiries into organised crime, even if it meant betraying client confidentiality.
And thus people will simply stop asking for legal opinions just in case their shyster runs off to the police in order to cover their rear ends and thereby ensuring a steadily increasing climate of fear, distrust and uncertainty. The Blair-Blunkett government are nothing less that populist authoritarians.
It takes a lot to amaze me, but Blunkett has done just that.
WHAT do you give someone who’s been proved innocent after spending the best part of their life behind bars, wrongfully convicted of a crime they didn’t commit?
An apology, maybe? Counselling? Champagne? Compensation? Well, if you’re David Blunkett, the Labour Home Secretary, the choice is simple: you give them a big, fat bill for the cost of board and lodgings for the time they spent freeloading at Her Majesty’s Pleasure in British prisons.
On Tuesday, Blunkett will fight in the Royal Courts of Justice in London for the right to charge victims of miscarriages of justice more than £3000 for every year they spent in jail while wrongly convicted. The logic is that the innocent man shouldn’t have been in prison eating free porridge and sleeping for nothing under regulation grey blankets.
This is insane. The state locks someone up unjustly and then demands payment for room and board? This is the true face of the people who have power over us. It is actually evil.
If this astonishing development does not cause the mother of all political storms both in Westminster and society at large, then Britain as a society has clearly become so inured to authoritarianism and arrogance by its rulers that we must be past the point of no return. Blunkett must go. Now!
Following last week’s atrocity in Madrid, the media are reporting London Underground’s plans to increase security. These plans include more plain clothes police patrolling the network and encouraging passengers to be vigilant.
There’s another aspect to the plans not mentioned in most reports. According to the BBC:
British Transport Police have also said more people using the Tube will be randomly stopped and searched
Increased security is definitely welcome, however random stop and search is worrying. It is vital that any such moves be clearly seen as a limited response to a specific threat and not allowed to become standard operating procedure.
Do we really want to live in a country where being randomly stopped and searched is considered an acceptable part of everyday life?
Cross-posted from The Chestnut Tree Cafe
Amongst the announcement of the new Serious Organised Crime Agency one comment seems to have been largely overlooked. Tony Blair said, concerning serious crime:
My impression sometimes is that the system is struggling against a presumption that you treat these crimes like every other type of crime, and that you build up cases beyond reasonable doubt. I think we have got to look at this.
On the balance of probabilities, Blair supports Big Blunkett’s latest attacks on our basic liberties.
Reproduced below is the text of yesterday’s press release from the Libertarian Alliance:
“Any Excuse for a Police State: Blunkett Secret Trial Plans as Bad as Foreign Conquest”, Says Free Market and Civil Liberties Think Tank
Home Secretary David Blunkett wants to bring in laws allowing pre-emptive arrest of suspects, secret trials without juries, with state-chosen defence lawyers, on undisclosed evidence provided by the security services, and a lower burden of proof. He says this is to protect the country from “terrorism”.
“Nonsense”, says Dr Sean Gabb, Director of Communications for the Libertarian Alliance. “We did none of this in the second world war, when the enemy was poised to invade from across the Channel, and killing 60,000 British civilians in bombing raids. We did none of this when Irish terrorists were killing thousands of state and civilian victims within the United Kingdom.
“The truth is, this government wants a police state and will use any excuse to get one. We are told these new laws will only apply in terrorism cases. That is a lie. We were once told that confiscation orders would only be used for drug dealing cases, and after normal conviction: now we have a Confiscation Agency trying to seize assets from suspected criminals without the need for criminal charges. This legislation would soon become the normal mode of trial of all offences.
“Do you want a criminal justice system where you can be tried in secret by another Lord Hutton, on the basis of secret evidence supplied by the same security services that did such a good job at proving Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction? I don’t. Looking at these proposals, anyone who fell asleep in 1940 and woke today might almost think the Germans had won the war. I wonder if all those who fought to prevent that ever suspected our own government would behave like an army of occupation?”
Perhaps that is now how they think of themselves.
The Big Blunkett’s draconian measures to ‘fight terrorists’ would not be necessary if the British justice system was functioning. When this and this can happen with increasing frequency, no wonder that terrorists have a ball in the British courts and Mr Blunkett can continue warping British laws with self-righteous indignation of a politician.
Telegraph reports that civil liberties groups and Muslim community leaders lined up yesterday to denounce plans from David Blunkett to conduct secret trials of suspected terrorists.
He said the threat from extremists was now so great that the burden of proof in criminal trials should be reduced from “beyond reasonable doubt” to “the balance of probabilities”.
He also wants a debate over whether intelligence information against suspects should be given in camera to avoid compromising security. Mr Blunkett’s ideas – to be proposed formally in a Home Office paper later this month – are intended to address what the Government sees as a serious threat from Islamist fundamentalists.
We need to debate how we deal with these delicate issues of proportionality and human rights on the one hand and evidential base and the threshold of evidence on the other.
That is quite a challenge because we are having to say that the nature of what people obtain through the security and intelligence route is different to the evidence gained through the policing route. It needs to be presented in a way that doesn’t allow disclosure by any of the parties involved which would destroy your security services.
Lady Kennedy, QC, a Labour peer, compared Mr Blunkett to Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe and described the proposals as “a classic Blunkett tactic”.
He really is a shameless authoritarian. We can be confident that many of his colleagues in the Cabinet, including particularly the Attorney General, will sit on this, because it really is an affront to the rule of law.
You suggest all kinds of outrageous and awful things because then you get away with half of them.
Mark Littlewood, the campaigns director of Liberty, said:
Simply introducing more laws, greater powers and stiffer penalties will go a long way to undermining British justice and will not make our country any safer.
Michael Howard, the Tory leader, said:
You have to try and strike the balance between giving the British people the proper protection against terrorism and not depriving innocent people of their liberty.
Massoud Shadjareh, the chairman of the Islam Human Rights Commission, said:
This sort of legislation in Germany led to concentration camps.
Let’s hear it for the sharia law solution to terrorism.
The BBC reports that Big Blunkett is proposing to introduce yet more draconian powers to lock up suspected terrorists without a fair trial.
The new proposals are an extension of the current anti-terrorism laws rushed into being after September 11th. Those have already been condemned as creating “Guantanamo Bay in our own back yard”.
The new proposals would see British citizens tried partly in secret and denied access to the evidence against them. They would also reduce the burden of proof from “beyond reasonable doubt” to “on the balance of probabilities”.
Speaking on the Today programme, Senior lawyer Baroness Kennedy described the proposals as “a disgrace”. She went on to say:
“It is as if David Blunkett takes his lessons on jurisprudence from Robert Mugabe”
Cross-posted from The Chestnut Tree Cafe