Police policy of criminalising dissent
"That's what the police do", commented former Flying Squad chief John O'Connor to the BBC who picked up a report by the Guardian that Strathclyde police were paying informers considerable sums to act as moles within protest movements. Similar contacts were often made with individuals in protest groups and in the criminal world, he observed.
That last remark is the crucial part of the statement. It betrays the mindset of the police forces in the UK which produced such shocking results as the killing of an innocent news vendor and the beating of a demonstrating lady: the police place protesters within the criminal world. The transgressions by the police, recently looked at by a select committee in parliament, are not the excesses of rogue individuals, they are a matter of policy.
Notwithstanding the oft-repeated mantra of freedom of speech and the democratic right of protest, managing protest in today's subtle police state is about ensuring by all means, fair or foul, that it remains at the periphery, invisible and inaudible, incapable of interrupting business as usual. The justification is usual the need to maintain public order. However, in reality the ends appear to justify the means, and the ends are not merely public safety. Ultimately, it is about power and remaining in charge.
The revelations that have come to light with secret tape recordings of Strathclyde police officers trying to recruit new informers raise serious questions about the nature of policing and the already frail trust between the police and the public. The blunder of police chief Bob Quick aside, where the arrests of eleven Pakistani Muslims under terror legislation merely an attempt to shift the focus of public scrutiny away from the methods the police used against protesters during the G20 summit and the question of whether their tactics were governed by a desire to protect the powerful from the voice of the people rather than to protect the people from harm? Those arrested were subsequently released without charge, as is usually the case with most people held for prolonged periods of time under terrorism legislation. On the assumption of "innocent unless proven Muslim" it was, however, suggested, that they should be deported anyway.
This is also the fate destined for Barbar Ahmed who is imprisoned in the UK on the basis of a US extradition request. He was brutally assaulted by police in his own home, sustaining multiple severe injuries, and mocked about his religion, then released without charge. When he complained to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC - which might as well stand for Indemnify the Police against Criminal Conduct), the carried out a whitewash investigation and found that there was no case to answer for the police. However, during the private proceedings his lawyers initiated, the police eventually admitted culpability.
Even more damning than the revelation that the police are actively recruiting activitsts to spy for them on legitimate protesters is the admission by a police officer on one of the tapes that "we work with lots of people from terrorist organisations right through to whatever". Maybe the "conspiracy theory" that there was police collusion during the 7/7 bombings are not so far-fetched after all. Some of the alleged suspects were well known to the police and the alleged mastermind, Haroon Aswat, was previously an informer for British intelligence. Was he also paid tens of thousands of pounds, the sums available according to the Guardian tape, in order to organise a few naive Muslims with rucksacks to travel down to London whilst intelligence experts did the rest, including letting him ecape and covering his tracks?
At the same time as these revelations about police tactics a report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary finds that police are failing to tackle the rising thread of criminal gangs in England and Wales. This report was kept secret until it was forced out by a Freedom of Information request by the Times. So whilst the police focus on those exercising their right to protest and on Pakistani students hyped up as terrorists for political convenience, the public are at the mercy of an increasing number of organised crime networks unchecked by police interference. Likewise, motorists are increasingly criminalised through revenue-generating speed enforcement action, whilst officers shy away from confronting the violence of drug and people traffickers and armed gangs.
If the Home Office Select Committee is serious about restoring public confidence in the police, their enquiries need to go a lot deeper than simple asking why officers were allowed to cover up their identity numbers, a practice commonly found in those police states our self-righteous government frequently moralises about. They would need to address the whole can of worms of the illicit relationship between policing and power politics. And it goes without saying that they need to scrap the farcical "Independent" Police Complaints Commission and replace it with a body representing the interest of the people, equipped with powers of enforcing policy changes.