* With apologies to U2
Well, its another year over and a new one just begun (*with apologies to John Lennon). Sadly War is not over and no one is giving peace a chance.
So, I thought I would look back over the last year and see how little I have learned. Actually, no need to look back I know I have learned nothing. They do say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks and I think I am living proof of that.
January 2012, I was working in the Civil Service, cycling to work and following Newcastle United, Spennymoor Town & Leyton Orient & being looked after splendidly by Michelle.
Come January 2013, I am working in the Civil Service, cycling to work and following Newcastle United, Spennymoor Town & Leyton Orient & being looked after splendidly by Michelle.
So have I learned nothing? Well, I have learned a couple of things:
1. The Police were not above lying and falsifying evidence in the 1980s in England and Wales and they were still doing so in 2012.
This may seem an incredible statement to make, and it gives me no pleasure to make it, but it is true. Let me give some examples
On April 15th 1989, the FA Cup Semi Final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest was abandoned after crushing in the ground lead to 96 Liverpool fans losing their lives at the game. Those of us who were old enough to travel regularly to football matches in the 1980s and especially those who knew the ground layout and policing methods at Hillsborough (the home of Sheffield Wednesday) were in no doubt that at least part of the problem was caused by policing failures.
The subsequent “investigation” and news stories suggested that the blame lay not with the police but with the Liverpool fans themselves. The Sun “Newspaper” ran the infamous story alleging the Liverpool fans stole from and urinated on the dead. I wrote about this some time ago. The report is available to read online. The who report makes very grim reading. All 389 pages of it. I would not recommend you read it all, but the Executive Summary is worth a read.
I have copied an extract below stating from page 54 of the report. This makes it clear that police officers statements had been doctored to exclude anything that could be deemed to show police actions as having been at fault, and to cast the Liverpool fans in a bad light.
The police even briefed the local Sheffield MP & the media that Liverpool fans were to blame, hence the infamous headline in the Sun I referred to earlier.
The report makes it clear that South Yorkshire police had set up a team of officers to deal with the doctoring of evidence. Yes, a team of officers were sanctioned by the police to pervert the course of justice. indeed statements were altered without the knowledge of the officers who were purported to have made those statements. I have had clients charged with perverting the course of justice, and indeed jailed for far less than this.
Review and alteration of police statements
1.241 Prior to the Stuart-Smith Scrutiny an SYP officer had revealed that in the immediate aftermath of the disaster officers had been instructed not to make entries in pocket-books but to submit handwritten recollections for word-processing.
1.242 The recollections had been sent to Peter Metcalf, a senior partner in Hammond Suddards, the solicitors representing SYP, who returned them to Chief Superintendent Donald Denton, with recommendations for ‘review and alteration’.
1.243 Officers were visited by members of an internally appointed SYP team and
their agreement to the alterations secured. They were expected to sign the amended recollections as formal statements.
1.244 The statements were then passed to the WMP investigation team and to the Taylor Inquiry who were aware of and accepted the process of review, alteration and submission. The explanation of the process, distributed throughout SYP, was ‘to collate what evidence SYP officers can provide their Chief Constable in order that we can provide a suitable case, on behalf of the Force to subsequent enquiries’.
1.245 While the justification for the review and alteration of statements was the removal of personal opinion and conjecture, it was clear that statements were also amended to eliminate criticism of senior officers and their management of the crowd. As the extent of the process materialised, it became a focus for the Scrutiny.
1.246 LJ Stuart-Smith recorded that, in five weeks, over 400 recollections were processed via the solicitors. He estimated that 253 passed without comment and 60 were ‘slightly’ amended. Over 90 statements were recommended for alteration.
1.247 LJ Stuart-Smith examined ‘approximately 100 amended statements where on the face of the comments by the solicitors something of substance might have been referred to’. He concluded that 74 were ‘of no consequence’. From the remaining 26, ‘comment and opinion’ had been excluded, mainly officers’ criticisms of the police operation.
1.248 Criticisms concerned lack of radios and poor communication, shortage of police at Leppings Lane and ‘lack of organisation by senior officers in the rescue organisation’. As matters of ‘comment and opinion’, LJ Stuart-Smith felt that the solicitors ‘could not be criticised for recommending their removal’.
1.249 LJ Stuart-Smith acknowledged ‘that the solicitors had to exercise judgement as to whether material unhelpful to the police case should be excluded’. SYP ‘perceived themselves to be on the defensive’ and this was a ‘perception’ shared by their ‘legal
advisers’. It was ‘understandable’ that SYP should not ‘give anything away’.
1.250 He concluded, however, that ‘at least in some cases it would have been better’ had some of the deletions not been made. This was ‘at worst … an error of judgement’ and he did not accept that ‘the solicitors were guilty of anything that could be regarded as unprofessional conduct’.
1.251 LJ Taylor had been ‘clearly well aware that the original self-written statements [recollections] were being vetted by the solicitors and in some cases altered’. LJ Stuart-Smith was in ‘no doubt’ that LJ Taylor ‘knew or suspected that criticisms of the police operation or conduct of their senior police officers were being excluded’.
1.252 In November 1997 LJ Stuart-Smith interviewed Richard Wells, who had succeeded Peter Wright as Chief Constable of South Yorkshire, noting, ‘there was a tendency to remove opinion and intemperate language about senior police officers but leave in similar material about misbehaviour by Liverpool fans’. It was ‘a matter of concern that there seemed to be a pattern of changing this material in this way’.
1.253 Interviewing former C/Supt Denton, LJ Stuart-Smith stated that there had been ‘a removal of criticisms of senior officers but no corresponding removal of criticisms of the fans’. Further, he asked Mr Denton: ‘some of these alterations do seem to alter the factual position … it is not your function, is it, to change factual matters?’ Mr Denton replied, ‘No it isn’t, and I didn’t change it either, sir … Mr Metcalf suggested all the changes. There were no changes suggested by the police at all’.
When in 2012, the report of the Hillsborough Investigation Panel was produced, we were all shocked at its contents. We al knew there had been some sort of cover up by the police, but no one realised how organised it was and how far it spread, to the other Emergency Services and right to the doors of Downing Street – yes Margaret Thatcher we know now how complicit you were in the cover up and smears.
I should make it very clear that the cause of the Hillsborough Disaster was not a single incident and the whole of the blame cannot and should not be laid on the police. However, the cover up and lies/ falsification of / destruction of evidence is rightly attributable to the police.
When the report was published, the Prime Minister, David Cameron made a statement to the House of Commons in which he made an apology on behalf of successive governments of both persuasions for the cover up over 23 years. In that apology he said (amongst lots of other things)
We ask the police to do difficult and often very dangerous things on our behalf. And South Yorkshire police is a very different organisation today from what it was then
The implication from that statement is that the police would not act in such a way again as they are a very different organisation today. That’s reassuring then isn’t it?
Well, lets look at one of the major stories of the last year politically, that of “Plebgate”, when a Government minister (Andrew Mitchell) is said to have sworn at and abused a police officer who would not open a gate at Downing Street to let him cycle through it.
The official police log claims that members of the public were left visibly shocked by the actions of Andrew Mitchell.
There were several members of public present as is the norm opposite the pedestrian gate and as we neared it, Mr MITCHELL said: “Best you learn your f—— place…you don’t run this f—— government…You’re f—— plebs.” The members of public looked visibly shocked and I was somewhat taken aback by the language used and the view expressed by a senior government official.
II am grateful to the Investigative journalism of the Daily Telegraph for unearthing the police log of events.
The journalists at C4 news managed to obtain the CCTV footage of the incident from the Downing Street CCTV cameras. They apparently do not show that there were several members of the public present. They also do not show any member of the public to be visibly shocked.
Hmmm, this sounds a little bit like the police falsifying evidence doesn’t it? Isn’t that what the Hillsborough Report published on 12th September, some SEVEN days before this incident. A very different police organisation? Well in 1989, the police made false statements, doctored the truth and told lies. However in 2012, the police made false statements, doctored the truth and told lies.
It goes beyond this though. A serving police officer has been arrested for perverting the course of justice after allegedly making a statement some 26 hours later claiming he was a member of the public and witnessed the incident along with several other tourists. It is alleged that this officer, neither disclosed he was a police officer when making the statement nor was he actually there at all at the time. Hmmm, that sounds like a police officer lying and making a false statement. ( A second person has also been arrested in connection with this incident)
Now, you will recall that I said that the cover up came from the top back in 1989. Well in 2012, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has said he believes the (Seemingly) false version of events from his officers, despite the CCTV evidence showing to the contrary. Could this be part of a cover up from the top. You know the sort of thing a very different police organisation would not do? I refer you to the Guardian newspaper for more details on this. (Similar stories are in the Telegraph and other papers).
What makes this story more worrying is the attempts by various people to restrict your ability to learn about these stories. For example, Bernard Hogan Howe the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police has said
“Media interest is to be expected, but for officers to be pursued and identified by the media during an on-going investigation does of course, create significant pressure.”
Now isn’t this a strange and very hypocritical statement to come from a police officer whose organisation is only to happy to court media publicity and name suspects before they have been charged if it suits them. Strangely when the police are exposed as lying and committing crimes he wants you not to know who is committing these crimes.
The current government have been trying to push through legislation allowing THEM (not the judges) to decide to hold secret court hearings, when even the defendant may not be allowed to know the evidence given against him. how can you have a fair trial if you are not allowed to know the evidence against you? How can you possibly defend yourself in such situations? Thought you lived in a democracy and secret trials only happened in the old Soviet Union and tin pot dictatorships? Well not if our politicians have their way.
A case in recent times of which I had some knowledge of, and I actually videoed part of the incident, involved similar issues. I was present some time ago at a football match that was a very high risk game. The police force involved put on their largest ever policing operation to deal with the potential incident. Mr X is alleged to have been with and organising a hooligan gang to attack the visiting supporters as they were being escorted from the local railway station to the football ground, accompanied by at least 100 police officers on foot, numerous vans and even the police helicopter. Mr X is alleged to have assaulted a visiting fan n front of the police officers. He was not arrested at the time.
After the game, he was arrested at a pub some 90 minutes after the game took place. He was apparently organising a gang to attack the visiting fans who were apparently outside the pub. I have his arrest on video, and the visiting fans did not come anywhere near this pub (in a police escort) until at least 10-15 minutes AFTER his arrest.
The police claim that there was no CCTV footage of any incident or of any visiting fans being walked the mile to the ground or the mile from the ground. The police claim their officers took no CCTV footage of the fans being escorted to/ from the game. The police helicopter did not apparently take any footage either.
The evidence against Mr X consists of 2 statements from officers whom the police refuse to name and whom the police and CPS sought anonymity for in court. Anonymity is rarely given in a criminal case, except in Blackmail cases (to protect the alleged victim) and in gangland cases where there is serious risk to safety of the witness.
In this case, Mr X is someone who has never been in trouble with the police before. A quick You Tube search reveal numerous clips taken by members of the public of the police escorting the fans to the game, and clearly showing police officers with hand held and helmet cameras.
The disclosure of the existence of the you tube footage as well as my own video footage helped to force the police to drop the allegation against this defendant, but only after he had been on bail for nearly a year.
Now this was merely an allegation of affray, not the most serious offence. If the police are prepared to lie, and conceal or destroy CCTV evidence in a relatively minor case like this, then can we have trust in the police?
This is why the need to have free access to information and to exchange that information is essential. No matter how innocuous a restriction on our freedom to access information / exchange information is, it is anti democratic and it is against our right of freedom.
Ask yourself this, why are the police so keen to film you? whether by CCTV on a night out, or by hand held / helmet cams in public places/ public order situations, yet they get very aggressive and try to prevent you filming them? What have they got to hide? Could it be that that video / photographic evidence will expose their lies as it has done at Hillsborough, in the Plebgate incident & in the case I was involved with.
Now, I should make it clear that in the above:
1. South Yorkshire Police are a separate legal entity to the Metropolitan Police, but to most people in this country, they are all “police”.
2. I am not saying the police alone shoulder the blame for what happened at Hillsborough in April 1989
3. I am not condoning the behaviour of Andrew Mitchell in the incident now known as “Plebgate”
4. Whilst I may appear to be very critical of the police, I have to say that the majority of the police officers I have dealt with have been decent honourable people, but there is a (perhaps significant) minority who abuse their powers
May I wish you all a prosperous and successful 2013 (except Sunderland AFC obviously) and make this the year you take an interest in those seemingly innocuous actions that potentially can restrict your freedoms.
Be Vigilant and Defend Your Freedoms or you will lose them