Tag Archives: police

Plebgate Morphs into Plodgate

Black Bodies, Women’s Bodies: Spectres Haunting the Police

Representatives of the Police Federation are called to explain themselves to a Parliamentary committee in November 2013.

After being accused of trying to discredit a government minister, they themselves are suffering a credibility deficit.

Their problem is larger, however, than the odd row about what the minister, Andrew Mitchell, did or did not say to police officers on his way out of Downing Street. He had been forced to resign after swearing at police officers at the Downing Street gate.

Mitchell admits swearing at the police officers, but denies calling them plebs (why would ‘pleb’ be more or less offensive than other four-letter words?) .

The row shifted from shaming a minister to shaming the police.

The Parliamentary encounter with the Police Federation synchronises with trouble rumbling along many flanks for the police, from illegal phone hacking to failure to protect children from neglect and murder and a new low in the rate of rape prosecutions.

Despite intense scrutiny of responses to rape — accelerated by the Savile scandal — the Met are reporting fewer rape cases to the Crown Prosecution Service. This is a crisis.

Let’s focus on race: in two cases black bodies return to haunt the Metropolitan Police service and its history of institutional racism. Azelle Rodney and Mark Duggan would be alive today had they not been shot and killed by the police.

Azelle Rodney:

Sir Christopher Holland’s report, The Azelle Rodney Inquiry, published on 5 April 2013, describes what happened when the police, alerted by customs (who believed that Rodney and two other men were on their way to commit robbery) organized a chase.

The police did not know the identity of the men’s targets, nor did they know the identities of two of the three suspects.

The Metropolitan Police mobilized surveillance and firearms officers from SCD11 and CO19, together with detectives, in accordance with a strategy known as Mobile Armed Support to Surveillance (MASTS), to keep the suspects in sight until they had enough evidence for an arrest.

They would stop the suspects and the detectives would arrest them, using the ‘hard stop’ by boxing in the men’s VW Golf, and shock them into compliance with a display of overwhelming force.

That was the plan. It was also the plan that E7 would remain inside his vehicle, with his weapon covering other officers as they got into position during the hard stop.

But when the police cars brought the suspects to a halt, ‘almost instantaneously’ E7, instead of providing cover, began firing a burst of shots at Azelle Rodney. Holland’s report said that he did so with such speed that witnesses, ‘believed it to have been an automatic weapon firing. He fired six shots in one burst. He then paused and fired two more shots.’

The weapon still lying beside Rodney, hidden by a yellow cover, unused, was a de-activated automatic pistol that ‘would not fire even if loaded.’

Azelle Rodney was not arrested. He was shot dead. The Independent Police Complaints Commission found nothing in this operation to criticise.

The European Convention on Human Rights Article 2 requires the government to properly inquire into such an event, to bring full facts to light and to allay fears — if possible — of wrongdoing.

No inquest was held because of ‘sensitive intelligence’. Indeed, ‘a great deal of time’ was spent fruitlessly in Parliament to find a way ‘to permit a thorough and sufficiently open inquest’.

Finally, belatedly, the Lord Chancellor in 2010 established Holland’s inquiry.

Holland expended considerable effort to ensure that evidence could be heard in public about that sensitive intelligence. His report criticized the operational management of the killing:

  • The officers involved in the surveillance — two surveillance cars were parked near the men when they picked up the weapons — should have stopped them much earlier.
  • They should have stopped in a road more suitable for a hard stop, rather than the final destination: a pub where customers were sitting outside.
  • There they — wrongly — rammed the car.
  • Officers didn’t wear caps indicating that they were police.
  • Shots supposed — according to the MASTS protocol — to deflate tyres of a fleeing car, were fired into the rammed, hemmed in and stationary Golf.

Although E7’s view of Rodney was poor, he first fired into the car ‘only 1.11 seconds’ after his vehicle stopped alongside him.

Rodney was slumped forward, still wearing his seat belt, when the final shots were fired into his head as he slumped forward. It was the three final shots that were fatal. The first burst took 1.11 seconds. The second burst 0.21 seconds.

Was it plausible for E7 to believe, ‘for good reason’, that Rodney threatened his life? ‘The answer is that he did not,’ said the report. And even if it had been proportionate to fire at all, ‘there would have been no basis’ for firing those final fatal shots.

Once Azelle Rodney was pulled out of the car he was left on the pavement for 16 hours. No one with ‘sufficient seniority or common sense’ to manage the situation was put in charge of this bloody scene. His death attracted neither discipline nor decorum.

When Rodney’s relatives were brought to his body, his blood was still on the pavement. Press reports were freely circulating without proper authorization, there was no proper debriefing, and when the Met then got itself legal representation, it failed to distinguish, said Holland, between its responsibility as an employer, and its responsibility for operations.

Mark Duggan:

In September 2013, the inquest began in court 73 at the Royal Courts of Justice in London’s Strand into the death of Mark Duggan, shot to death by armed police at Tottenham Hale in August 2011.

When they killed Duggan, the Met was already mired in the Rodney co disaster. Was the Met chastened?

The characters were different, but the issues were the same: a police operation involving surveillance of a man whilst he acquired a weapon and travelled in a car; a hard stop, followed by the fatal shooting.

Mark Duggan’s family had difficulty ascertaining how and why he had died. The Met lost its manners: Relatives waited for an appropriate officer to talk to them whilst the death swirled in public misinformation — not least by the IPCC. But it was fire this time: the Met’s behavior provoked a vigil and later riots in which another four people lost their lives.

In November an expert witness told the inquest that the police were wrong to claim that the first shot fired into Duggan struck his chest. This was supposedly the fatal shot. But pathologist, Professor Derrick Pounder, told the inquest that Duggan was first shot in his arm. Evidence on the order of the fatal wound is decisive.

The inquest is concerned with the cause of Duggan’s death — he was killed after he collected a gun from a man known to the police: Duggan met with Kevin Hutchinson-Foster, toward the end of the afternoon of 4th August 2011 and received a shoebox containing a pistol wrapped in a sock.

He got into a Toyota mini-cab. On his way to Tottenham he was kept under surveillance by Operation Trident.

Within 15 minutes Duggan knew he was being followed, the car was hard-stopped by a team of officers at Tottenham Hale, and within a mere 2 seconds he is shot twice: first in the arm then, fatally, in the chest.

At first the public was led to infer that Duggan had shot a police officer who had been saved — the bullet hit his car radio. But the IPCC was forced admit a few days later that it may have led journalists to believe that ‘shots were exchanged’.

In fact, two shots were fired, neither of them from the gun in the sock, both by a police firearms specialist, known as W70.

Professor Pounder explained that the first shot hit Duggan’s arm while he was sitting upright, and the second shot hit him when he was ‘significantly bent forward’. Had Duggan been standing upright – as police witness V53 had claimed – then it would not have been possible for the bullet to follow a 46-degree trajectory inside his body.

The supervision of the inquiry into the killing by the IPCC also became the subject of grave concern. Before the year was out, Stafford Scott, chair of the Tottenham Defence Campaign (a veteran human rights campaigner in Tottenham) and John Noblemunn, chair of the Haringey Black Independent Advisory Group resigned from the community panel monitoring the investigation.

Stafford Scott, chair of the Tottenham Defence Campaign and a veteran human rights campaigner in Tottenham, London, UK

Stafford Scott, chair of the Tottenham Defence Campaign

The IPCC had denied and then admitted that it sanctioned the removal of the taxi carrying Duggan from the crime scene — and then its return.

The community reference group had been given outstanding information, indicative of an IPCC in a mess:

“We were told that at least three officers had given a statement that they had witnessed another officer, a sergeant, throwing away the gun that was later found several feet from Duggan’s body. When we sought to identify the officers involved, we were told there was no evidence to support the allegation – that this statement was in fact never given. Yet we were informed by the commissioner that it had been.”

In a statement immediately after the incident, one of the officers nearest to Duggan, known as W70, did not refer to any gun held by Duggan.

But in a further statement written four days later, he said he saw Duggan get out of the car with his hand inside his jacket, as if concealing something, he pivoted, drew his hand from his waistband ‘he was holding a self-loading pistol or handgun.’

That was his evidence to the criminal case against Kevin Hutchinson-Foster, the man who had given Duggan ‘the shoe box with the gun in a sock.’

But by the time Duggan had been shot, he was falling and W70 said he grabbed him by the wrists. There was no gun.

Officer W70 told the inquest into Duggan’s death in October 2013 that his legal advice had been to include no details in his notes. In his evidence to the inquest he insisted that Duggan had not dropped the gun or thrown it away.

The gun in the sock was actually found by firearms expert R31, during a search after the shooting, about 5 metres away from the body, behind a fence. Forensic examination confirmed that the gun had not been used — more than that, Mark Duggan had not touched it. There were none of his fingerprints on the sock or the gun.

A military surgeon, Professor Jonathan Clasper, gave evidence to the inquest in November. He said that it was ‘very unlikely’ that Duggan could have hurled the gun the 7.5 metres where it was found after the shooting.

In a sequence of events similar to the shooting of Azelle Rodney, Duggan’s death was being broadcast on the television before his family had been informed. Years of investment in community consultation and good manners were squandered.

The trial of Kevin Hutchinson-Foster was a used as a proxy to put Duggan himself on trial. What it actually confirmed was a crisis in Operation Trident. According to Stafford Scott, a notorious young man with a history of violence using firearms had been allowed to stay on the streets.

Operation Trident had been set up on the initiative of black campaigners in response to what Claudia Webbe — one of the founders — describes as ‘woeful’ policing of gun crime that disproportionately assailed black neighbourhoods in the early ‘90s.

“Back then, while the culture of gun crime affected whole communities and neighbourhoods, 90% of homicide victims were black, mainly black men. The police response was woeful, using criminal “informants” who were themselves allowed to get away with so-called lesser crimes. Delroy Denton, for example, was left free to brutally rape a 15-year-old schoolgirl and murder Marcia Lawes, slashing her throat 18 times; and Eaton Green was allowed to continue dealing crack cocaine and committing armed robbery.”

Operation Trident was finally established as a dedicated police unit with 200 officers and a remit to not only make London safer for black people but also to communicate with and consult black people.

The killings of Azelle Rodney and Mark Duggan, and the response to them, were a portent of things to come.

The police inspectorate, HMIC, reports that almost a third of stop and search exercises by the police lack reasonable grounds; the national arrest rate is a meager 9 per cent, in London it is 21 per cent — but black people are seven times more likely to be stopped than whites. Plus ça change.

Claudia Webbe protests that, without community consultation, London mayor Boris Johnson changed the remit and locus of Operation Trident. It has not only lost its specialist black focus, but also inevitably its commitment to consultation — the very essence of ‘community policing’.

The deaths of Azelle Rodney and Mark Duggan — and the deaths of four others in the riots — are the price paid not only for problematic policing, but hapless oversight by the IPCC. Its days are surely numbered.

Yvette Cooper, shadow Home Secretary, has warned that it may be replaced. There is talk of a Policing Ombudsman.

But let’s turn our gaze to Northern Ireland: there the first Policing Ombudsman appointed as part of the peace treaty that ended 30 years of armed conflict was the reserved but robust lawyer, Nuala O’Loan.

Her tenure proved to be one of the most radical in the new Northern Ireland. More than anyone before or since she uncovered scorching evidence of collusion between the British state and loyalist paramilitaries in the killing of British citizens. The British government chose not to retain her brave services. Since then the office of the Policing Ombudsman has been degraded to the point of collapse.

Bodies like the IPCC and the Ombudsman only work if they are allowed to, and if their professional resources are amplified by the wisdoms of the people they are supposed to serve.