“Now it’s personal” – St Paul’s protesters target the City of London Police

The protesters encamped outside St Paul’s Cathedral are issuing a statement of demands later today.

And it is clear from the draft that is being circulated that the stand-off with the police is getting personal.

The draft states that the protesters want to see “the decommissioning of the City of London police with officers being brought under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan police force.”  A demand with which I personally have some sympathy.

However, it is hardly the sort of proposal likely to endear them to the police who may be charged with evicting them.

And why do they think they would fare so much better if the HULK was in charge?

A worryingly convincing bit of social engineering – I wonder how many businesses would be taken in by something similar?

What would the people in your office do if a couple of people looking the part turned up at your office door saying that they were there to do a fire inspection?  Or said they were more or less any other branch of officialdom flashing ID and saying they needed to do an inspection?

Here is a salutory warning:

“Let’s say I am posing as a fire inspector. The first thing I will have besides my badge and uniform is a walkie-talkie, like all firemen. Outside, we’ll have our car guy. The guy that sits in the car, and basically his job in the beginning is to send chatter through to our walkie-talkies. We will have a recording of all that chatter you’ll hear on walkie-talkies. He sits in the car and plays it and sends it through to our walkie-talkies.

We walk into the facility and make sure that all the chatter is coming loudly into to the walkie-talkies as soon as we walk in their door so that we are immediately the center of attention. When I walk in, I want everyone to know that I mean business. My walkie-talkie is loud and everyone looks over as I apologize and turn it down.

I show the person at the front desk my badge. They’ll say “Hi, how’s it going?” I’ll say “Good, I’m here to do a fire inspection.” They say “Great” and assign someone to us, like a teller. It’s generally someone who’s nice. I’ll start talking with them, flirting with them, or whatever it takes. We’ll start walking around.

While I’m talking with the person who has been assigned to us, my partner knows his job is to immediately wander away from us. So, my partner will immediately walk off. In most cases our escort will say “Can you come back here? I need to keep you guys together.” We say “Sure, sorry.” But really that means nothing to us. All it means is that we keep doing it until she gives up. My partner will wander off two or three times more times and get warned until she finally stops and gives up. She just thinks he’s a fireman and thinks “Let’s just let him do what he needs to do.”

At that point, my partner’s job is to start stealing everything he can steal and start putting it in his bag. And he also has to get under the desks of any employee he can find and start installing these little keyboard loggers. I stay with the person who is escorting me and my whole job now is keeping them entertained. I keep walking around rooms, giving them advice on keeping their facility fire safe, even though I really have no idea what I’m talking about. I make stuff up and probably give the worst advice ever. I’ll pull out cords and say “This looks a little bit dangerous.” I’ll comment on space heaters. I’m completely winging it.”

You can see how it might happen.  Read on here …..

I may be losing the will to live, but seriously what is it that the Home Office is hiding?

My regular reader (he knows who he is) will be aware that for most of this year I have been trying to find out whether Home Office Ministers have spent disproportionately more time seeing the senior leadership of the Metropolitan Police than the political leadership (ie the Mayor or the Deputy Mayor for Policing/Chair of the MPA).

I started in March with a Parliamentary Question.  I got a non-answer in May (way beyond the normal time limit).  I tried again and got another non-answer in July.  I complained about this to the Leader of the House of Lords, whilst at the same time trying for the third time to get the answer via a Parliamentary Question.  Within a week, the Leader of the House came back agreeing with me that the Home Office responses were inadequate and he wrote to the Home Office Minister asking that the Home Office supply me with the information requested.

The Home Office then wrote back to me and to the Leader of the House on 29th July, saying in essence that they always replied to questions about Home Office meetings in this unhelpful way.

So on 10th August, I made a request under the Freedom of Information Act to the Permanent Secretary asking her to supply me with a schedule of all meetings held by Home Office Ministers since 1st May 2010 with (a) the Mayor of London and/or the Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, and (b) the Commissioner and/or Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, showing the dates of all such meetings, their duration and a list of all those present.

A few weeks later, I received a letter (undated) from an official (status and title not specified, and with no contact details apart from the main Home Office postal address supplied), saying that my request was being considered as to whether it was covered by Section 36(2)(c) of the Act – ie that it might be prejudicial to the effective conduct of public affairs.  This consideration was so difficult that they would “need to extend the 20 day working day response period” (which is of course specified in the Act).  He promised a full response (presumably as to whether Section 36(2)(c) applied or not) by 30th September.

Meanwhile on 6th September, the Home Office responded to my latest Parliamentary Question, which had requested that the list of meetings be placed in the Library of the House, by saying that “Ministers do not routinely place records of their meetings in the House Library”.

I must admit that by now I was beginning to lose the will to live.

However, today – a further twenty working days having passed since the 30th September and still not having heard from the Home Office – I have written again to the Permanent Secretary in the following terms:

“Dear Dame Helen

You will recall that I wrote to you on 10th August making the following request under the Freedom of Information Act: please supply me with a schedule of all meetings held by Home Office Ministers since 1st May 2010 with (a) the Mayor of London and/or the Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, and (b) the Commissioner and/or Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, showing the dates of all such meetings, their duration and a list of all those present.

I received an undated reply from Stephen Donaghy about a month later.  This said that the request was being considered under the exemption in Section 36(2)(c) of the Act, which relates to prejudice of the effective conduct of public affairs and that to consider the public interest test fully you needed to extend the response period.  You undertook a full response by 20th September.

A further twenty working days have elapsed since the 20th September and I have still to receive any reply or any explanation of the public interest issues that you feel may apply.

Given the Government’s commitment to openness, I cannot conceive of any reasons why this information should not be supplied.  I certainly cannot understand why it is taking so long to provide the answers.

I look forward to hearing from you shortly.  In the meantime, I am copying this letter to Sir Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner.”

You might almost think the Home Office had something to hide ….



Lynne Featherstone to get a Theresa May bollocking?

Talking to your local newspaper is clearly the way members of the Coalition Government have of dissenting from the Number Ten approved line.

First, we had Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, putting the boot in to Theresa May, the Home Secretary, and her Human Rights Act deportation cat story.

But now Lynne Featherstone, a (very) junior Minister in the Home Office, has followed suit in an article for her local paper, saying:

In the Blue Corner, Theresa May (my Home Office boss) launched an attack on the Human Rights Act on the morning of the Conservative conference in the Sunday Telegraph saying that saying she “personally” would like to see it go because of the problems it caused for the Home Office. …

As for the Human Rights Act – there are times when people cynically, lazily or ignorantly quote it in a way that completely perverts its intention (and doesn’t stand up if put to the test in court). In that respect it is very similar to the Data Protection Act – often also called in aid as the supposed justification for bizarre decisions in a way that fuels shock media stories but really says far more about the ignorance of those quoting it than about what it actually says.”

So we now know what she thinks of her Home Office boss and what she said about the Human Rights Act and the cat and the deportation story.

And she goes on to assert that changes to the Human Rights Act are:

just not going to happen”.

My contacts in the Home Office tell me that the Home Secretary “gives a pretty good bollocking”.  Lynne Featherstone has already been the recipient of at least one when Theresa May told her to tone down what she said in her blog.

I would love to be a fly on the wall at Monday’s Ministerial meeting in the Home Office when the Home Secretary has a few words with her LibDem Parliamentary Under Secretary who called her cynical, lazy and ignorant.

The shabby tawdry compromise that replaces Control Orders with Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures

Today is the Second Reading in the House of Lords of the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill, which replaces Control Orders with the new TPIMs.  The Bill is a shabby tawdry compromise between the different wings of the Coalition Government and is likely to satisfy no-one.  This is my speech (without the interruptions):

“My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority with particular responsibility for overseeing the Met’s work on security and counter-terrorism.

Earlier this week, I went to a meeting with Carie Lemack.  Her mother was killed on American Airlines Flight 11 that crashed into the World Trade Center ten years ago.  She went on to co-found Families of September 11 and later the Global Survivors Network which brings together the survivors of terrorist attacks across the world and their family members.

Her testimony is an international reminder about why the fight to combat terrorism is so important: families are destroyed, individuals are left bereft and the effects last a lifetime.  I am sure no one in your Lordship’s House wants to see repeated the suffering of those terribly injured in the London transport attacks or the grief felt by those bereaved.

And that is why it is a paramount duty of Governments to protect the security of their citizens, to protect those citizens’ right to life, and to protect all of us against terrorism.

The problem that Government faces is simple to state, but is not easy to resolve. 

In essence, it is this: what does the Home Secretary do about those individuals who pose a serious risk to the lives of British citizens, but against whom there is insufficient evidence to bring them before a court charged with a terrorist offence?  The evidence may not be admissible in British Courts or it may rely on material gathered by UK intelligence agencies that would compromise the safety and security of others if it were publicly disclosed or it is derived from intelligence from overseas agencies that is provided on the basis that it must not be disclosed. 

Yet a responsible Home Secretary cannot ignore that those individuals pose a significant risk, cannot turn a blind eye to the threat that is there and cannot fail to take some action to protect the rest of us.  To do nothing would be a dereliction of that responsibility to protect the public.  Control orders were an attempt to provide us with that protection in those very small number of cases where no other action is possible.  And it is a power that has been rarely used, despite the dire warnings that were issued when the powers were first proposed.

This Bill, however, is nothing more than a shoddy compromise which weakens our security and yet does nothing to satisfy those with concerns about civil liberties. 

It is a compromise that demonstrates the weakness of this Government as it tries to square the circle between the two wings of the coalition, epitomised by a Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister and a Conservative Home Secretary – trying to reconcile the irreconcilable.

The current Control Order regime is not, of course, satisfactory.  No-one has ever seriously tried to pretend that it was.  However, it was an honest attempt by the previous Government to balance the free and liberal tradition of this country with the need for security. 

The present Government was formed with an explicit commitment to replace the Control Order regime.  It was a commitment made in the coalition agreement.  And the Deputy Prime Minister was voluble in his promises about what this would mean, telling us that this would – and I quote – “give people’s freedom back”. 

However, let us be quite clear, the Bill does not do anything like enough to satisfy those who have reservations about the previous control order regime and its implications for the civil liberties of those subject to that regime.  

Shami Chakrabati, the Director of Liberty, has said that control orders have simply been rebranded, albeit in a slightly “lower-fat” form, or as their briefing puts it:

“the TPIM regime essentially mirrors the control order system in all of its most offensive elements”

Indeed, this Bill must be something of an embarrassment for those Liberal Democrats who spent so long in this House criticising the previous Government for introducing and using Control Orders. 

There is silence today from the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, who in 2005 when the control order legislation was going through your Lordships House, said on behalf of the Liberal Democrats that control orders would constitute:

“a blatant abuse of what we have known as the proper processes of justice.”

There is silence today from the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, who again spoke out unequivocally from the Lib Dem frontbench:

“The first and fundamental issue, which is central to all the arguments advanced in this debate, is who should be responsible for the decision to make control orders. On these Benches, it is clear that the proposals made in the Bill are not acceptable.“

The silence of the LibDem lambs. 

I should say that I absolve from the accusation of silence the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, who we will be hearing from in a moment.  In 2005, he was equally trenchant, but I have faith that he at least will be consistent when he speaks.

So this Bill cannot satisfy those who feel that the current arrangements are disproportionate, draconian and destructive of our liberties.

Yet, the Bill does water down the control order regime.  It raises the threshold from “reasonable suspicion of involvement in terrorism” to “reasonable belief that the individual is or has been involved” before action can be taken against an individual. 

It limits what conditions can be placed on those individuals and crucially it removes the power to relocate individuals away from those localities where they may mix and conspire with others.

For those of us who believe that sometimes the Government must take unpalatable measures to protect us, those are crucial changes.  They leave us all vulnerable.

Let no-one pretend that the threat has gone away – the recent arrests of seven individuals (now charged) in Birmingham as the Liberal Democrats gathered there for their conference are a reminder that we must continue to be vigilant against that threat.

And the Home Secretary has had to acknowledge how critical all of this.  Within days of taking office, within days of the Coalition Agreement being signed, she was presented with information that persuaded her – a rational and responsible individual – that despite the coalition rhetoric about control orders and the need for them to be abolished – that she should personally approve the imposition on a number of people of precisely the same orders that the Government is now abolishing.

And then, only in February – after the Government had announced its proposals, she agreed a control order on a British-Nigerian terror suspect, who apparently – according to MI5 – is a leading figure in a “close group of Islamic extremists in north London”.  He was banned from living in the capital under the terms of that control order.  In May, according to the Guardian, the high court dismissed an appeal by the man, saying that his removal to an undisclosed address “in a Midlands city” was necessary to protect the public from the “immediate and real” risk of a terrorist related-attack.

So in February, it was necessary to place restrictions on that individual as to where he could live – effectively relocating him from North London to the Midlands – something which under this Bill would not be possible. 

If this Bill becomes law, that individual will be free to move back to London in the New Year – just weeks before the Olympics – to renew the associations that only a few short months ago were deemed by a rational and responsible Home Secretary to be so dangerous that a control order was needed along with the relocation of that individual.

I would like to ask the noble Lord, the Minister, what will have changed between the time when the Home Secretary approved that order and the time when the individual concerned is to be allowed to move back to London.  Are we being told that the fresh air of the West Midlands conurbation and its bucolic atmosphere will have so changed the personality of the individual concerned that he now poses so much less of a threat.

Because just eight months ago that rational and responsible Home Secretary on the information presented to her felt that the individual concerned was so dangerous that not only did he need to be subject to a control order but that he should be relocated miles away from his previous environment. 

And she made that judgement knowing that this Bill would remove that option and would tie her hands in the future. 

That rational and responsible Home Secretary made that judgement knowing that however much of a danger that that person might be thought to be such an outcome was to be taken away.  So the noble Lord, the Minister, needs to reassure us, he needs to tell us why the judgement that the Home Secretary made then will no longer apply to this individual when this Bill becomes law.

Perhaps we should not expect the noble Lord the Minister to go through such contortions: all he needs to concede instead is that, yes, the Home Secretary made that judgement then in the interests of our nation’s security, but that this shabby, tawdry compromise of a Bill would prevent her making that same judgement in the future, and that this shabby, tawdry compromise is not just a compromise between two wings of an uneasy and unhappy coalition but that it is a compromise with this nation’s security.”




Observations from Labour Party Conference 2011 – 3: Labour Party must contest elections for Policing and Crime Commissioners but will it?

The Liberal Democrats have already advertised for potential candidates to stand as candidates for the new posts of Policing and Crime Commissioners that are to be elected in November 2012, even though conventional polling wisdom suggests that none of their candidates are likely to be successful in the forty-one contests that will take place – even using the Supplementary Vote* electoral system.

Apparently, there is a major debate going on in the Conservative Party as to whether to field Tory candidates at all with a strong preference from some quarters for the Conservative Party to “endorse” (and campaign for?) so-called “independent” candidates.

What is disturbing is that I hear that there are some senior Labour figures who have similar ideas.

I have raised this now at a couple of fringe meetings.  At all the meetings I have been at there has been unanimous support for my strongly-held view that these will be extremely important elections for very powerful posts that the Party has a duty to contest.  I am not against independent candidates emerging, but the danger is that such individuals will be unknown quantities whose effectiveness and fitness for office will never have been tested.  Internal political party processes (although by no means perfect) do at least provide a mechanism for such testing.

Interestingly, when I raised it this morning with Vernon Coaker MP, the Shadow Policing Minister, he strongly endorsed my position and said he would argue for it, but then wryly commented that the Party decion-making process on such issues was sometimes rather strange – an implicit confirmation that someone somewhere is actively considering a non-contest option.




* Under the Supplementary Vote system electors cast two votes, one for their first choice candidate and one for their second choice candidate.  In the first count all first choice votes are counted.  If no candidate has an absolute majority, all but the top two candidates are eliminated and the second choice votes of those whose first choice candidates have been eliminated are then counted and where applicable added to the tally of the top two candidates.  The candidate with the greater number of votes is then elected.

Observations from Labour Party Conference 2011 – 1: Livingstone spells out the differences

Ken Livingstone was in fine form on the first afternoon of the Labour Party Conference: name-checking Ed Balls (“I will put ordinary Londoners first by backing Ed Balls’ plan for a cut in VAT not Boris Johnson’s tax cuts for the richest.”) before perorating with a loyalist paeon to the wisdom of Ed Miliband; some clear pledges on policing (“Any cut to front-line police by Boris will be reversed.”); and a series of passages emphasising the difference in his approach to Mayor Boris Johnson.

He promised to “put ordinary Londoners first” in his campaign for the Mayoral election in May 2012, pointing out that Mayor Boris Johnson has met representatives of the bankers more times than he has met the police since he became Mayor. 

And in a reference to the present Mayor’s aspiration to lead the Conservative Party and his part-time writing for the Daily Telegraph (netting him some £250,000 per year), Ken Livingstone spelt it out: “Unlike Boris Johnson I am in it for London, not for myself.  So I will freeze my salary and the salary of my senior staff for four years. And I will take only one salary – no moonlighting.”

And in a powerful dig:

“What is the difference between the rioters, and a gang of over-privileged arrogant students vandalising restaurants and throwing chairs through windows in Oxford?

“Come on Boris – what’s the moral difference between your Bullingdon vandalism as a student and the criminality of the rioters?”

The first standing ovation of the Conference followed.

Metropolitan Police (wisely) snub Home Office over recording of “Stop and Account” encounters

The Crime and Security Act 2010 allows police forces – if they wish – to stop recording “stop and account” encounters with the public, while still requiring full records to be kept if a full search takes place.

Initially, the Metropolitan Police intended to use the provisions of the Act and end the recording and monitoring of “stop and account” encounters.  The Metropolitan Police Authority persuaded the Met that it would be wise to consult the public on this and a joint consultation exercise followed.

This consultation exercise found overwhelming support for the continuation of recording and monitoring such encounters and today it has been confirmed that the new Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, has issued an instruction that the Met will continue to record all “stop and account” encounters.

This is a vindication of the stance taken on this issue by the Metropolitan Police Authority (not popular with some senior officers of the Met at the time).

It reflects the strong feeling – particularly amongst young people – that recording such encounters was an important safeguard against the over-use or inappropriate use of the power against particular individuals or groups.  (It is also incidentally a safeguard for officers who might otherwise be accused of abusing the power who will now be able to point to statistical evidence of how they have used the power properly and proportionately.)

It is, of course, true that the recording process has been over-bureaucratised and the process of recording “stop and account” encounters needs to be stream-lined.   I am sure that following this decision by the Commissioner that will now follow.

There is also an onus on the Police Authority to ensure that sensible community-based monitoring processes are in place, so that communities can be reassured that the police are using their powers in a responsible fashion.  In my experience, most communities and most young people are happy with the responsible use of “stop and account” to help reduce the use of knives and other crime, provided people stopped are treated with reasonable degree of respect.

It will be interesting to see whether other police forces now follow the Met’s lead and whether the commitment of the Police Authority in London to effective community-based monitoring will be carried forward by the new Mayor’s Office of Policing and Crime, when it is established (following the passage earlier this month of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act).

Small Government reshuffle in the Lords prompts complete drivel from Number Ten

I am genuinely sorry to hear that Baroness Browning is standing down as Minister of State at the Home Office (particularly so as I understand this is on health grounds).  Despite the lengthy (even epic) exchanges that I and others had with her during the passage of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill (now an Act), she always responded with good humour, even when she was having to defend something that was either indefensible or so poorly drafted as to be incomprehensible.  I think her approach will be missed in the Home Office.

Her retirement has triggered a mini-reshuffle in the House of Lords: Lord Henley is promoted to Minister of State rank and moves across from DEFRA to the Home Office; his place as DEFRA Parliamentary Under Secretary is taken by Lord Taylor of Holbeach; and his postion as a Junior Whip is taken by recent-appointee Baroness Stowell of Beeston.

Fairly straightforward you might think, but that doesn’t prevent the Number Ten website mangling the information and implying that all three have been thrust into Ministerial office and appointed as members of the Lords at the same time under the headline:

New appointments to the House of Lords made by the Queen

Can’t they afford proof-readers now?

An indication of differing approaches in the Home Office?

Lord Henley replaces Baroness Browning

Commissioner-designate sets a collaborative tone at Metropolitan Police Authority meeting

The Metropolitan Police Authority is in session and Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM is in the Chair.  The Commissioner-designate, Bernard Hogan-Howe, is answering questions (still wearing the Deputy Commissioner uniform – he doesn’t formally take up his new post until 26th September).

The Commissioner-designate was clearly keen to set a collaborative tone.  Asked by John Biggs AM what thought he had given about how he would relate to the London Assembly with its enhanced scrutiny role once the Police Authority is abolished, Bernard Hogan-Howe immediately said that he wanted to work closely with the group set up under Joanne McCartney AM that is scoping out how the new scrutiny arrangements will work.  Then, in answer to Jennette Arnold AM, he undertook to ensure that senior-level liaison would be reestablished with the Morgan family.

The Commissioner-designate appeared relaxed and answered questions confidently without entering into too many firm commitments at this stage.  However, his approach is becoming clearer: “You can pilot things to death or you can just get on with it”.