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Time for a public inquiry on the standards and ethics of policing

police-state-dangerThe secretive parts of the British state are slowly being exposed to the light, and it’s a pretty ugly vista. Today we learn that over 8,900 political activists are being monitored by a secret police organisation called the National Domestic Extremism Unit within the Met. Apparently it uses surveillance techniques, paid informers, intercepts and under-cover police operations against these so-called ‘domestic extremists’. One might have thought that Britain was in the throes of revolution, yet senior officers have admitted that many of those listed on the secret database had no criminal record. So who are these ‘extremists’?

Apart from far-right racists in the EDL, the list includes anti-capitalist and anti-war demonstrators, animal rights protesters, and environmental campaigners. One was an 88-year old pensioner. Leaving aside the tiny violent fringe, is this really a sensible priority for police time? Is it morally or even legally proper for police to spy on legitimate political protest at all?

The trouble with secret power in all societies, even in relatively stable countries like Britain, is that it always becomes perverted. Only a perverted police force would secretly try to dig up ‘dirt’ against the Lawrence family after a horrifying murder – not protecting citizens against attack, but protecting the police themselves against scrutiny of their failure (or unwillingness) to discover the killers. Only a discredited police force/MI5 would covertly pass information, unchecked, to another secret database run by a former MI5 officer which was then used to deny employment to over 3,200 blacklisted workers, in some cases for more than 20 years. Only a corrupted police force would adopt set up a unit to adopt the identities of dead children in order to infiltrate protest groups, including forming relationships with, and fathering children of, peace activists.

The real problem with secret power is that, allowed to operate outside the bounds of regular open accountability, it readily strays into areas that were never sanctioned. Surveillance was intended to detect spies, criminals and those who threaten violence, not to spy on foreign representatives of friendly countries attending international conferences like the G20. ‘National security’, always a panjandrum phrase concealing a multitude of sins, was never meant to be used to facilitate industrial espionage.

Nor should the police be allowed to investigate themselves. When things go badly wrong, if police officers in one force are allowed to carry out the inquiry into fellow-officers in another force, there can be no public confidence that justice will be done. When hundreds of persons have died in police custody over the last 30 years, some in very suspicious circumstances, there has never been a police conviction because the coroner’s procedure tilts the balance in favour of the police. When police officers are found to have seriously broken the rules, they often escape conviction by taking ‘early retirement’.

Whether it is police spying that is out of control or GCHQ’s Tempora project of indiscriminate mass surveillance which has comprehensively breached privacy rights and civil liberties, there is an urgent need now for an independent commission of inquiry – not Cameron’s merely extending the scope of existing internal police inquiries – into the ethics and standards of policing as much as, if not more than, in the case of the banks.

One Comment

  1. Rob says:

    This cannot be a surprise anymore government for a while now have been using surveillance to gain a hold over say Union officials, people who are in position of power, I’m sure for a while now governments have been waiting for the strikes and the fight back sadly it has now occurred because I suspect people look around and think if we get rid of that lot the other lot are not that much better.

    The police have been an active tool of the government for a long time, I saw that one the Miners strikes in the 1980’s.

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