The Art of Whitewash
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has today released its findings following its investigation of complaints against police officers when Muslim law student Abdu-l-Muqtadir Mustaqim was stopped at the road side during a routine vehicle check and then ended up spending the whole night at Milton Keynes police station from where he emerged with a seriously swollen face. The report of findings makes recommendations for improving certain aspects of policing, addressing in particular the lack of statistics with regard to the ethnicity of people stopped at the roadside and the lack of sensitivity by front line police officers towards the feelings of young Asians, but in general the result was as expected: it exonerated the police officers involved on all counts.
Given that these days police can restrain an innocent man on the London Underground and unload eleven bullets into him and still be found to have displayed exemplary good conduct by the IPCC, it would border on the insane to expect a greater level of "independence" from this body in what was a comparatively minor case. In fact, I have long suspected that the real meaning behind the initials of the IPCC is: "Ignore Police Culpability Commission". Its purpose is to give the semblance of due process whilst the results are usually a forgone conclusion.
This whitewash, also common to select enquiries to placate public concern, for example the enquiry into the circumstances surrounding Dr. Kelly's apparent suicide, is achieved by a mixture of re-arranging the facts coupled with making excuses where the facts cannot be sufficiently re-arranged. The most recent report by the IPCC, for example, does, buried in its pages, admit to serious irregularities and failings on behalf of Thames Valley Police, but relativates them instantly. The final remark of the case summary sums up its general approach: "With any incident involving the police there are always things that could have been done differently".
In itself, the report is not particularly thorough and makes easily avoidable mistakes, e.g. confusing a doctor at accident and emergency with the general practitioner of Mr. Mustaqim. It seems there has never been an intention to be thorough in anything other than dismissing the validity of the complaints made. The report does not even query why it was that the camera in the police road-side vehicle conveniently malfunctioned and why the sound of the CCTV cameras in the police custody suite did mysteriously not work at the time, rendering both items of evidence useless. To circumnavigate the problem that the timing of events would have rendered the evidence of a number of "independent" witnesses the IPCC procured for the prosecution untenable and favoured the complainants' version of events, the case summary observes that there is "evidence to show that the timer on all CCTV footage from the police station is incorrect. It was showing approximately 15 to 20 minutes behind real time." The authors of the report do not find such crucial inaccuracy worthy of further comment.
Unfortunately, even a camera without sound and a faulty time stamp still shows that the complainant is repeatedly pushed against the wall and out of view of the camera. The report acknowledges several such "instances" but justifies them as having the "definite intention" of containing the detainee "in a specific area of the yard". "Perhaps not all of the placing movements (sic) are wholly necessary", it observes, but qualifies them as "understandable".
The report also admits errors in record taking and incorrect completion of the custody record and goes on to say that "The reason for the errors is unknown. It may have been caused by carelessness or just because of pressure of work." For people who wear uniform, it seems, the standards of performance are automatically lowered. A similar nonchalant attitude is taken when admitting that wrong information was given to myself when I telephoned the police station about the incident. This is how the case summary puts it: "Because of the amount of time that has elapsed since the incident, it is practically impossible to ascertain whether Dr Bleher was lied to, or whether genuine mistakes were made with regard to the information he was given".
None of it really seems to matter to the investigators. "Shit happens" seems to be there motto, and "if in doubt side with the officers". As far as the police are concerned, the IPCC has done a marvellous job restoring the integrity of the service. Unfortunately, the public don't necessarily share that view. For people who experience heavy-handed policing first hand the whitewash by the IPCC merely gives them added cause for cynicism and further eliminates the basis of trust.