Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

I have been growing more and more alarmed by the way that the police in Britain appear to be operating as a more and more paramilitary, unregulated force. And it is not a force for good.

When I was young, I wanted to join the police. In fact, I tried to (my eyesight wasn’t good enough)

The old prison at Lydford. Unscrupulous and corrupt miners kidnapped an MP and held him here. The miners thought they act above the law. Just like our police.

The old prison at Lydford. Unscrupulous and corrupt miners kidnapped an MP and held him here. The miners thought they act above the law. Just like our police.

. And I like to think I would have made a good officer. I was brought up to believe in the concept of public service, I had a clear understanding of right and wrong, and I firmly approved of Peel’s concept of a police force that had no more powers than any other citizen. They were a citizen force, to be used by the public for the public good.

At the time, we had other models that could be considered. In Europe, paramilitary forces were created. They were agents of the state, with powers over the citizens. However, Peel had a vision of a force that would be accepted because it was formed from the people. That is why we always had a solid belief in unarmed police officers. The police should not be allowed any more than an ordinary citizen. They were allowed a badge of office and a short club, and with that, they were sent out into the world to protect people and prevent crime – Peel felt strongly that the punishment was far less important than the certainty of being caught. By having a visible police presence, he thought that crimes would be less likely. If criminals were apprehended, it was less likely that other felons would try their luck.

Through the centuries, this system has served Britain well. And it has depended upon trust.

That trust is now being severely tested.

In recent years we have seen that the police have failed utterly. In the Stephen Laurence inquiries it was determined that the police were “institutionally racist”; Hillsborough enquiries showed that the police were prepared to lie under oath and condemn the innocent; after Dunblane the shooting fraternity were used as scapegoats when it was discovered that the police had issued firearms certificates to the murderer even though he had been found in possession of illegal pistols bought on the black market; the execution (when a man is restrained by the arms two police officers gripping his arms while a third emptied a Glock into his head and upper body no other term is suitable) of a Brazilian in surely the most flagrant example of police incompetence imaginable; the shooting to death of a man carrying a table-leg in a bag; the shooting to death of a car thief; the shooting to death of an unarmed man while naked and unarmed in bed – the examples of incompetence and worse are rife.

However, no one ever seems to be brought to book. The police have an automatic get-out. If they take early retirement or leave their force, they can evade prosecution.

At the same time, the whole concept of the police has been eroded. Now, the police are allowed multiple defensive weapons. They are allowed Mace, pepper sprays, extending steel batons that can maim or kill, tasers to incapacitate, sub-machineguns (even though they were not allowed – the police got around that by lying to the Home Secretary and reclassing the guns as “carbines”) and pistols. All these are banned for the public. The police are now a separate organisation of government, away from the people and viewed by their organisations as above the people.

It was because of the concerns about police behaviour that the Labour party brought in the IPCC. The “Independent” Police Complaints Commission. Why the inverted commas? I recall only too well the Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister series, in which Sir Humphrey said that you always get rid of the difficult words in the title – that way you can ignore them in the text.

The IPCC was set up to judge the police, but it was staffed by ex-police officers. It is no more independent than the complaints panels set up by, say, the legal profession or accountants. I have no faith whatsoever in the IPCC generally.

Although at last, perhaps, it has discovered it has teeth. Yesterday the head of the IPCC agreed with the Home Secretary that three Police Federation representatives who questioned Mr Mitchell had lied. That is shocking in the extreme: http://tinyurl.com/p7mva32

The “Plebgate” scandal doesn’t take long to describe. Last year, a minister in the British government was cycling home. All that day, when he had arrived to pass by the gates in Downing Street, the police had opened the gates for him, as they did for any cars. However, when the MP was leaving for the night, the police officer on the gate refused to open the gates, and pointed him to the pedestrian gates.

A short while afterwards, the papers said that the MP had called the policeman a “f…ing pleb”. The policeman’s recorded report was seen, apparently, by journalists. Worse, witnesses called the media to denounce the MP. One said he was there with a young child, and he and the child were hugely offended by the MPs rant. Other people there, he said, were visibly shocked.

The MP concerned was considered to be a bit mouthy. He was known to be abrasive and determined to get his way. The public and the media were scathing when the man denied the “P” word and said the stand-up row had not happened. No one would believe an arrogant MP, so soon after the scandal of expenses.

And yet, one or two voices did question the story. After all, pleb is hardly a common word. However, it is used fairly regularly in police circles, apparently.

Three senior police officers went to question the MP to get his side of the story, and afterwards, they gave press interviews that said he had nothing to add, that he wasn’t going to press charges, and leaving the firm impression that the MP was in the wrong. The poor policeman was rudely lambasted for doing his job.

However, then the story began to fall apart. Because the “independent witness” with his child, was discovered to be an off-duty police officer – an officer from the same unit as the protection officer on the gate. And when video evidence was brought up and considered, it was blatantly obvious to even the meanest intellect that there was no stand-up row. The MP appeared, was pointed to a gate, and walked to it, apparently chatting to the officer amicably. And it was perfectly obvious that the road outside was empty. There was no crowd of appalled onlookers, there was no individual standing and watching. There was no child. The officer who claimed to witness the whole matter was not there. He lied.

Channel Four showed this: http://tinyurl.com/d79klef

This could be two officers who were confused, I guess. The man on the gate could have felt insulted by an MPs behaviour. He could have thought he heard something. But he lied if he did truly state in his records that he had an argument. The second, the witness, could have lied in support of a colleague because he sincerely believed his mate. He might have wanted to help a friend whom he thought had been victimised by an arrogant MP.

But this feels very bad.

At the end of the day, a minister of the crown, a senior government minister, was forced out of his job by lies. Police officers seem to have thought that they could get away with targeting an MP.

Why would they want to do that? Simple: the MP was imposing cuts on police budgets. The Police Federation hated him. He was viewed as a legitimate target, perhaps, but officers who were less than scrupulous.

However, ironically, it is the videos that have shown the truth – them and a recording made of the meeting with three senior officers. Their subsequent interviews were less than accurate.

Which leaves any independent judge with the very unpleasant taste of another police cover-up and deception. Not only by the protection officers on the gate, but even at the highest levels of police management. It is deeply alarming.

The police must not consider themselves above the law. The officer at the gate appears to have lied. He wrote an untrue statement in the police log. That log was shared with his colleague who lied when he said he was there and witnessed the events. Someone also released copies of the police log to the media. That was a crime. Then three Federation officers lied to the media.

And yet no one is to be punished, we are told.

The police are acting as though they are above the law.

6 Responses to “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”
  1. Mark Arnold says:

    Like so many of our established ‘institutions”, we shy away from criticism of the police, even when there is clear evidence of wrongdoing. Even without a political axe to grind, it will always be essential to have some independent monitoring of those who exercise positions of authority; without this, abuse and corruption go unchallenged, and ‘trust’ will evaporate to an even greater degree than it has already.


  2. alchemymark says:

    So often, we are unwilling to challenge the behaviour or attitudes of our’ ‘institutions’, and the it is no different with the police. What is apparent is that need the means to challenge those who wield power, regardless of who they may be. Even without a political axe to grind, this case brings into sharp relief, the expectation that this also needs to be free of interference from those who may wish to maintain a status quo to serve their own ends, rather than those they are supposed to represent.


    • I think this is the problem now. Mitchell was clearly attacked because the police saw him as a danger: an MP who was going after their interests. They have massive pension schemes, and are pretty much protected against any offence. Those guilty of killing have the best lawyers in the country to defend them, paid for by their union. ACPO holds all meetings in secret apart from one each year to which they invite the Home Secretary and allow her to have a list of new laws the Police want. The whole system is distorted for the benefit of the police. It cannot carry on like this.


  3. alchemymark says:

    Our elected officials, of course, can justify their inactivity on this, and other issues, by claiming that they are held to account at the ballot box.
    Maybe so, but the same is manifestly untrue in the case of others. Our bankers and other city financiers, justify, with the help of the elected institutions, awarding themselves huge salaries and bonuses out of some claim of altruism in the name of the public good. They remain in sufficiently regulated needless to say.
    We are fast reaching the point where the police, under the supervision of politically elected PCCs, will be allowed to do what they may without the need for any controls. What a slippery slope.


  4. A cogent and well-written piece, Mike. I agree with you wholeheartedly. Yet it’s the same all over. Everyone covers up for their own. I don’t think that that will ever change. Grrrr.


    • It’s the bare-faced lying that is so distressing. If a senior government minister can be lied about and forced from his job, no one in the country is safe. The police have grown far too confident of their own power and inviolability. Ben, I’m sure you can think of Roman examples like this, eh?


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