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Archive for the ‘Criminal justice’ Category

Tuesday
Nov 6,2012

Earlier today I intervened in the discussion in the House of Lords on the Home Office statement on the historic allegations of child sex abuse in the North Wales police area.

Despite the Minister’s response, I remain concerned.

The exchange was as follows:

Lord Harris of Haringey:My Lords, I am sure that we all welcome the fact that there is to be a new police inquiry into these matters, but I would be grateful for the Minister’s explanation of the thinking behind this being led by Keith Bristow, who is heading up the new National Crime Agency. I have enormous faith in Keith Bristow himself. However, given that the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the yet-to-be-created National Crime Agency are going through a period of enormous flux and confusion while this happens, and the job of the chief executive of an agency that is being set up is usually pretty highly committed to setting up that agency, how will it be possible for him to lead the sort of inquiry that all noble Lords have said they want—very thorough, potentially extremely lengthy and potentially extremely involved? In practice, where will the resources come from? I am not talking about the money but the individual officers. Who is going to co-ordinate that? How is that going to be practically done when the person you are asking to lead the inquiry is supposed to have a more than full-time job setting up a new government agency?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach:I remind the noble Lord that the Statement made it quite clear that it was the chief constable of North Wales Police, Mark Polin, who actually requested Keith Bristow to head up this investigation, and to do so using the resources that are available to him through SOCA and other assets that are available for serious investigations. Indeed, we will face a new world with the National Crime Agency, but that still has to come before your Lordships’ House and I would not presume on that. This is a recognition that the inquiry itself may well cross police boundaries; it may well be a matter that is quite properly addressed by an agency set up to deal with serious organised crime.

 

Tuesday
Nov 6,2012

Last week I signed up to become an IWF Champion.  This means that I fully support the important work that the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) does to remove child sexual abuse images on the internet.

The IWF was established in 1996 by the internet industry to provide the UK internet Hotline for the public and IT professionals to report criminal online content in a secure and confidential way.

The IWF Hotline service can be used anonymously to report content within its remit. The IWF successfully works in partnership with the online industry, law enforcement, government, and international partners to minimise the availability of this content, specifically:

  • child sexual abuse images hosted anywhere in the world
  • criminally obscene adult content hosted in the UK
  • non-photographic child sexual abuse images hosted in the UK.

The IWF helps internet service providers and hosting companies to combat the abuse of their networks through its ‘notice and takedown’ service which alerts them to content within its remit so they can remove it from their networks. The IWF also provides unique data to law enforcement partners in the UK and abroad to assist investigations into the distributors. As a result of this approach the content the IWF deals with has been virtually removed from UK networks. As sexually abusive images of children are primarily hosted abroad, the IWF facilitates the industry-led initiative to protect users from inadvertent exposure to this content by blocking access to it through their provision of a dynamic list of child sexual abuse web pages.

I am proud to be associated with an organisation that has successfully:

  • Assessed over 390,000 web pages over the last 16 years;
  • Had 92,000 URLs removed for containing criminal content;
  • Reduced the proportion of child sexual abuse content hosted in the UK from 18% in 1996 down to less than 1% over the last decade;
  • Gets child sexual abuse content that is hosted in the UK removed within 60 minutes and cut the time taken to remove content hosted outside the UK by half to 11 days; and above all
  • By sharing intelligence with police, aided the identification and rescue of 12 children in the past two years.

 

 

Thursday
Nov 1,2012

There was a debate today in the House of Lords on the challenges to the police service of the new system of electing Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs).  I posted about it yesterday on the Labour Lords blog.

In my speech I talked about the experience in London of effectively having the new system since January with the (unelected) Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime acting as a quasi-PCC, saying:

“London has already shown up some of the problems. The first is a lack of transparency. Information about the operation of the police service or about key financial decisions that was previously made available in published police authority committee papers is no longer available or is available only in very abbreviated form. The second is the lack of visible answerability of senior police officers. A few weeks ago, the new deputy mayor for policing and crime instructed Bernard Hogan-Howe, the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, not to attend the London Assembly’s police and crime committee eight minutes before the meeting was due to begin.

The third problem is that the deputy mayor has to act on his or her own, as PCCs will have to do. As the current incumbent has commented to me, he does not have what he calls the “band width” to address all the topics that the public might expect him to pursue. It is simply impossible for one person to do so. When I chaired the police authority in London, I had 22 members to whom I could delegate matters. Those 22 members could also keep an eye on me, which meant that capricious decisions could not be taken. But the Government, in their wisdom, have declined to provide a standards framework in which PCCs or their equivalents in London should operate. The Government seem to believe that having police and crime panels will be a sufficient safeguard against misconduct.

However, the money being made available for the servicing of these panels outside London is to be just £53,000 per year, which is barely enough to cover the cost of one member of staff who has to co-ordinate the work of and support a disparate group of local councillors drawn from up to a dozen or more different local authorities. Even in London where the police and crime committee of the London Assembly has been better resourced and the 12 members all know and work with each other on a regular basis, it has struggled to get the answers that it wants. There is the potential for problems and inappropriate interventions in operational matters.”

I then went on to pose some questions about Mayoral behaviour:

“Will the Minister tell us whether he regards it as appropriate that an elected PCC should be regularly briefed about the course of a policing operation and should then, almost as a matter of routine, have contact with those who are subject to that operation, and, what is more, then fail to disclose that those contacts have taken place? Perhaps your Lordships will think that such a scenario is far fetched but I have to say that it is not. On 10 January last year, the Mayor of London was briefed by Assistant Commissioner Yates. The mayor later told the London Assembly that he could not remember the briefing in detail but acknowledged that it may well have been about Operation Weeting, the investigation into phone hacking at News International. Four days later he had lunch with Rebekah Brooks and 10 days after that he had dinner with Rupert Murdoch at his London home. Neither of those two meetings was disclosed in the published mayoral diary and they were omitted, initially at least, from the list of contacts with News International that was requested by the London Assembly. There were further briefings from John Yates on 21 April and 3 May. Remarkably, days later, the mayor had more initially undisclosed contacts with News International, including a telephone call with James Murdoch on 6 May and, five days later, with the News International lobbyist, Frederic Michel. I could go on. I have a long list of meetings and contacts.

At the same time, the mayor’s deputy was raising, in an ostensibly jocular way, concerns that too many detectives were involved in investigating phone hacking, so much so that assistant commissioner Dick had to remind him, as she disclosed to the Leveson inquiry, that operational policing decisions were a matter for senior police officers, not elected politicians. The Mayor of London has form for this sort of thing. In February 2009, an investigation was conducted by Jonathan Goolden, a solicitor, at the request of the monitoring officers of the GLA and the MPA—roles that will not exist as far as PCCs are concerned—into the behaviour of the Mayor of London in contacting Damian Green MP at the time of his arrest on suspicion of involvement in breaches of the Official Secrets Act. Mr Goolden found that the mayor’s action in contacting a potential suspect in a criminal investigation was “extraordinary and unwise”. These contacts followed briefings that the mayor had been given about the case.”

Suffice it to say when the Minister, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, replied he chose not to address the question of the behaviour of the Mayor of London, saying merely:

“As this House will know, the police and crime panels—the PCPs—will also form a key check and balance in the model. As a result of amendments that this House argued for, PCPs will both challenge and support PCCs in making good their important role. This balance was emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, who has enormous experience on this matter.”

Was I surprised at the non-answer? Well no – defending Boris Johnson’s behaviour would probably be a career-limiting move for a member of the Government …

Sunday
Oct 21,2012

Lord Blair of Boughton (the artiste previously known as Sir Ian Blair) has made a particularly silly suggestion.  Interviewed on Sky News, he has suggested that people should boycott the elections on 15th November for Police and Crime Commissioners:

“I’ve never said this before but I actually hope people don’t vote because that is the only way we are going to stop this.”

Like most other people, Ian Blair thinks the proposed system of elected Police and Crime Commissioners is flawed. There are no proper checks and balances in the governance arrangements, many of the police force areas make little sense as electoral districts, there is a risk of politicising aspects of operational policing that should not be politicised, and the changes are a waste of money at a time when frontline police budgets are being cut as never before.

However, the legislation rightly or wrongly was passed last year with a its flaws intact (despite the best endeavours of some of us in the House of Lords). The elections ARE going to take place in just over three weeks time (holding the elections in November when it is likely to be cold, wet and dark was an incomprehensible sop to the Liberal Democrats).   And yes, the turnout will probably be low – maybe very low – but a boycott is simply going to mean an even lower turnout and an even greater risk that maverick candidates will be elected.

Police accountability matters.  This may be the wrong system, but on 15th November forty-one Police and Crime Commissioners will be elected in every part of England and Wales with the exception of London (where we have the “benefit” of an elected Mayor in charge of the Metropolitan Police and where the Corporation of London retains its own medieval system of oversight of the City Police).

A boycott will achieve nothing.  I am confident that before too long this new system will have to be changed – probably drastically.  In the meantime,  because police oversight is so important in any democracy, everyone will have to make the best of the flawed arrangements. And that means ENCOURAGING people to vote on 15th November.

Monday
Oct 15,2012

The Conservative Party has a tendency to froth at the mouth any time there is any mention of Europe.  Such a tendency means that the Government is increasingly adopting policies that are designed to appease the worst of the backbench frothers – irrespective of whether the resulting impact on wider policy makes any sense at all.

Today the Home Secretary announced that the Government plans to opt out of 130 European Union measures on law and order.  Or at least that was the spin put on the announcement, no doubt for the benefit of the frothers.  What she actually said was:

“the Government’s current thinking is that we will opt out of all pre-Lisbon police and criminal justice measures and then negotiate with the Commission and other member states to opt back into those individual measures which it is in our national interest to rejoin. However, discussions are ongoing within government and therefore no formal notification will be given to the Council until we have reached agreement on the measures that we wish to opt back into.”

This convoluted wording reflects – just for a change – disagreements within the Coalition, but it also reflects the mess that will be created in the UK’s participation in Europe-wide cooperation on policing and crime fighting.

The Government’s intention would put at risk – amongst other things – the UK’s involvement in the European Arrest Warrant.  It was the European Arrest Warrant that ensured that Hussain Osman who targeted a Hammersmith and City line train to Shepherd’s Bush in the failed 21/7 bombings was brought back from Italy so speedily to stand trial.

And as my colleague, Baroness Angela Smith, said  in the Lords this afternoon:

“If the European arrest warrant had not been in place, what action would have been available to UK police in co-operating with their French counterparts to ensure that the French police were able to arrest Jeremy Forrest and ensure that he and Megan Stammers were returned to the UK in the same timescale? No one is suggesting that the European arrest warrant is perfect, but the independent Scott Baker report commissioned by the current Home Secretary strongly recommended keeping it. Yes, it could be improved and updated, and that very process is taking place now; it is being reformed. As a further example of this Statement being premature, the Government do not even know at this stage what they would be opting out of.

The European arrest warrant is responsible for nearly 600 criminals being returned to the UK to face trial. It has allowed 4,000 citizens from other European countries to be sent back to their home country or another European country to face justice. In light of some of the Government’s briefing on this issue, your Lordships’ House might like to be aware that 94% of those sent back to other European countries to face trial under the European arrest warrant are foreign citizens.”

Earlier this year I was a signatory – along with a large number of much more distinguished former police chiefs and experts in criminology – to a letter sent to the Prime Minister on this threatened opt out.  This spelt out why this international cooperation is potentially so important and said:

“This hard work is producing real results today. Take ‘Operation Rescue’: a 3 year operation launched by British police and coordinated by Europol across 30 countries that led to the discovery of the world’s largest online paedophile network, producing 184 arrests and the release of 230 children, including 60 in the UK. There are now hundreds of similar cross-border police and judicial success stories and Europe as a whole is a more hostile environment for serious organised criminals to operate, making Britain safer and more secure in the process.

This is an active agenda, and we must continuously improve our international policing and justice instruments as criminal activity develops and to ensure they remain necessary and proportionate. This includes the European Arrest Warrant, a totemic issue for some. The Warrant has been improved in recent years and further improvements may be needed. But scrapping it altogether would be entirely self-defeating. It has become an essential tool in the fight against cross-border organised crime delivering fast and effective justice across Europe. Since 2009 alone, the Warrant was used to return to the UK 71 foreign nationals over serious crimes including 4 robberies, 5 murders, 5 rapes, 6 child sexual offences, 9 cases of GBH and 14 cases of fraud.”

No doubt the Government, when it has finished appeasing the frothers, will say that these benefits will still be achieved because the UK can negotiate its way back into those areas of cooperation that it wants to keep.

However, each opt-in can only be negotiated after the opt-out has taken effect and requires the approval of all the other participating EU states before it can take effect.  Such a process will take months or years and there is no guarantee of certainty that the UK will be allowed to opt back in.

And this is where the frothers come back into the equation.  The European Union Act 2011 – another fine piece of constitutional tinkering by the Coalition – requires that a referendum be held throughout the United Kingdom on any proposed EU treaty or Treaty change which would transfer powers from the UK to the EU. And each opt-back-in would be a transfer of power from the UK to the EU, so triggering a referendum on each change.

The effect is that appeasing the frothers now will lead to a succession of EU referenda simply to return us to the position on cooperation with the rest of Europe that we are in today.  And that really will please the frothers, but will seriously damage the UK’s ability to fight crime effectively.

Sunday
Sep 23,2012

Don’t get too excited but the LibDem Conference sometimes passes halfway sensible motions.

Earlier today in fact the Conference called for a strengthening of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. In particular, the motion calls for the powers of the IPCC to cover explicitly the role of contractors to police services and their employees. Given the current debate about getting private firms to provide some police functions, this is an issue that must be addressed.

The motion also called for an end to the IPCC practice of allowing some investigations into alleged police malpractice to be investigated by the police themselves (subject to supervision by an IPCC Commissioner) and the motion called for the IPCC to be given the resources to employ enough of their own independent investigators to enable this to happen.

Strange then that this sensible proposal should come just after Nick Clegg has surrendered all LibDem influence over the Home Office by making it a LibDem-free zone following a reshuffle that left the Home Office without a single LibDem voice in the ministerial team.

 

UPDATE: I am reminded that Jeremy Browne is a LibDem and is also the new Minister for Crime Reduction. My only excuse is that I always thought he was a Tory …..

Anyway, it will be interesting to see what progress he makes in strengthening the IPCC over the next few months.  I wish him well with that one.

Friday
Aug 31,2012

The Garter King of Arms is, as I am sure you know, the senior of the three English Kings of Arms. The office takes its name from the Order of the Garter. Henry V instituted the office of Garter in 1415 just before sailing for France.

My experience of his office is recounted here when he argued with me about the correct spelling of Haringey given the way it was done in the Domesday Book.

However, the College of Arms keeps itself up-to-date and in these straitened times is always on the look out for new sources of income.

A little bird tells me that he has written to all Chief Constables to remind them the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act abolishes police authorities and transfers their powers to elected Police and Crime Commissioners.

You may wonder why this is of concern to the Garter King of Arms (Chief Constables haave their own concerns about this).

The answer, of course, is straightforward: the Armorial Bearings used by most police forces on cap badges, letterheads, websites etc were granted to Police Authorities.

And, if Police Authorities disappear, the right to bear the Coat of Arms lapses with them.

This would potentially make the cap badges on police helmets illegal.  I am sure many police officers – and certainly their Chief Constables – would find this a deeply discomforting situation.

Fortunately, the Garter King of Arms has a solution and says in his letter:

“The Kings of Arms think that it would be appropriate for a Royal License to be issued transferring the Armorial Bearings to the office of Chief Constable for use by the Constabulary.”

And just in case elected Police and Crime Commissioners feel hurt he has a solution for them as well:

“In such cases, the Kings of Arms would also be prepared to grant a variation of the Shield alone to the office of Police and Crime Commissioners for each authority.”

A wise compromise you may feel.  However, such matters cannot be done on a shoe-string as Garter goes on to make clear:

“If you are interested in pursuing this I should be happy to give you particulars of the procedure and cost.”

And please form an orderly* queue outside the College of Arms …..

 

*Any disorderly behaviour will be dealt with the City of London Police – as the College of Arms lies within their territory – and of course they are one of the few forces not affected by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act and will not have an elected Police and Crime Commissioner.

Tuesday
Jul 31,2012

I have just returned from a powerful adaptation of Jack Mapanje‘s prison memoir “And Crocodiles are Hungry at Night” at the Africa Centre.  The memoir tells the story of the arrest and imprisonment without charge of Jack Mapanje, an academic and poet, in the dying days of Hasting Banda’s Malawi.  The arrest, probably generated by academic jealousy, led to incarceration for 3 years, 7 months and 16 days and had a profound effect not only on Jack but on his family.  His release followed a lengthy campaign by Amnesty International and PEN International.

The production presented by Bilimankhwe Arts (of which I am a trustee) has an impressive central performance by Misheck Mzumara as the poet, but the entire ensemble are highly effective – particularly in showing the interplay of the prisoners sharing a single cell and their relationship with their guards.

The play runs to 18th August and tickets can be obtained here.

Monday
Jul 16,2012

My attention has been drawn to a statement from the National Association of Retired Police Officers saying that many of their members could have been available to G4S as security staff for the Olympics but there has been no approach to their Association for help.

Eric Evans, the President of the National Association, has said:

‘ At a time when unemployment is so high and many police officers are retiring earlier than planned because of Government cut backs, it is difficult to understand how G4S have failed to recruit the required number of security staff. I am sure that many of those of our members, who have recently retired would have been glad of an opportunity to get some employment at the Olympic Games not only for the money but also to be involved in such a major ‘lifetime’ event. I am frankly very surprised that G4S have not sought our assistance in recruitment.’

He goes on to comment:

“It is however the case that we at the national office of NARPO have not at any stage been approached by G4S to assist in recruiting security staff for the Olympics and certainly have not received any memorandum from G4S this week or at any other time requesting such assistance.”

How serious were G4S to get themselves out of the mess in which they have got themselves and why haven’t the Home Office told them to use retired police officers in this way?

Wednesday
Jul 4,2012

I have only just caught up with this story (courtesy of Naked Security from Sophos) and it is a salutary reminder to make sure that your home wifi connection is properly secured – as otherwise you don’t know who else might be using it and what else they might be doing.

According to the Sophos summary:

“After spotting threats posted online, a heavily-armed police SWAT team broke down the door of a house in Evansville, Indiana, smashed windows and tossed a flashbang stun grenade into the living room where an eighteen-year-old girl and her grandmother were watching the Food Network.

Can you imagine how terrifying it must have felt to have been in that room when the grenade was thrown in, and the house stormed by police with their guns drawn?

Oh, and just a small detail – the police had the wrong house. The home had an open WiFi connection, which meant that it could be used from an outside location.  ….

The somewhat rattled Stephanie Milan and her family were released without charge once the mix-up became obvious, and police looked further afield for the culprit who had posted messages like the following online:

"Cops beware! I'm proud of my country but I hate police of any kind. I have explosives 🙂 made in America. Evansville will feel my pain."

…  The Milans’ door and window are now being repaired at the city’s expense. And presumably the family are taking steps to secure their WiFi connection.”

To make things worse the Evansville police had invited the local TV cameras along for the raid ….

It couldn’t happen here, or could it?

Guess who: Mayor of London Boris Johnson joined riot police on raids of addresses as part of a Met crackdown on burglary and robbery