Police accountability

Thirty years ago:

“At one point the police surrounded a coach and it stopped. A woman inside stood up and held her baby up – in a very melodramatic fashion, you wouldn’t normally hold a baby that way for fear of dropping it. But she did. She yelled at the police that there was a baby on board. “There was a pause of about five seconds, then from the back of the police ranks, whistling over our heads came a very large flint that exploded the windscreen over the baby.” Yet that was not the worst thing [the Earl of Cardigan] says he saw that day. “At some point in the crazy melee there was a heavily pregnant woman wandering around. Two policemen came up behind her with batons and clubbed her around the head and shoulders, and down she went.”

Wiltshire PoliceThese were travellers going to the Stonehenge Solstice festival in 1985, attacked by the Wiltshire Police. The police attacked the convoy using “police tactics used in the miners’ strike to prevent a breach of the peace” (such as mounted South Yorkshire Police attacking picketing miners in Orgreave, on 18th June 1984).

Ten years ago, in 2005, Tony Thompson, the Guardian’s crime correspondent, wrote with apparently sincere bafflement:

It remains a mystery why the police felt compelled to use such violence. With evidence that radio logs of conversations between officers on the day have been altered, the full story may never be known.


The Wiltshire Police regard the attack on the convoy in 1985 as a slur on the reputation of festival goers and a reason to demand high fees for policing such festivals in future:

“You have to realise that the events at Stonehenge polluted the reputation of festival goers in the eyes of Wiltshire Police.”

No one from either the Wiltshire Police nor the South Yorkshire Police has been held accountable for those violent attacks, nor held accountable for the false testimony provided to cover the actions of the violent police officers. The IPCC have announced today that they will not investigate the “allegations of assault and misconduct” at Orgreave, since it all happened nearly 31 years ago and anyway the miners whom the police tried to frame for the attack were all acquitted.

The miners were acquitted because the defence was able to show that the police evidence was untrustworthy:

The prosecution fell apart after 48 days of police evidence, challenged by Mansfield and other defence barristers. Some officers’ oral evidence differed from their written statements. The defence had collated photographs from many sources, and used it to argue that officers’ evidence was inaccurate, and that several who claimed to have arrested men had not even been at the scene.

One officer who had apparently signed the statement of his fellow officer was challenged by barrister Vera Baird (later a QC and Labour minister) that it was not his handwriting. Baird requested a handwriting expert to analyse the statement – over lunch, it went missing. A copy was analysed by a Home Office expert who concluded the signature had not been written by the same officer.

Yet the police officers responsible for providing the evidence were never held accountable for trying to frame the miners. While the officers responsible are presumably mostly retired with their police pension, the problem for the rest of us is not so much where they are now, as who they influenced in their career. (Norman Bettison’s career after Hillsborough is a case in point.)

Redditt Hudson wrote this in May 2015

“On any given day, in any police department in the nation, 15 percent of officers will do the right thing no matter what is happening. Fifteen percent of officers will abuse their authority at every opportunity. The remaining 70 percent could go either way depending on whom they are working with. That’s a theory from my friend K.L. Williams, who has trained thousands of officers around the country in use of force. Based on what I experienced as a black man serving in the St. Louis Police Department for five years, I agree with him.”

Police are not held accountable. In the UK, at least a government agency is tasked with reporting how many people die or suffer injury after contact with the police (which is not the case in the US) but knowing how many people have died is only the first step: the bodies at Hillsborough were counted and named but the police were never held accountable for either the mistakes that killed the 96 or the lies told in court to justify throwing the blame on the victims of the police error.

George Monbiot wrote in April 2011:

Justice is impossible if we cannot trust police forces to tell the truth. The remedy I’m about to propose should not be difficult for any government to adopt. It offers, I think, the only chance we have of addressing what seems to be an endemic problem: anyone who works for the police and is found to have made false statements – to the prosecution, the defence, the courts, parliament, public inquiries or the media – should be sacked. No excuses, no mitigation, no delays. It sounds harsh; it’s not nearly as harsh as a system in which the police malign both the living and the dead, and use the law against innocent people in order to protect themselves.

Mark Duggan, London, 2011

The police shot Mark Duggan on 4th August 2011, the man whose death sparked the 2011 riots, when he was holding a mobile phone, not a gun: the police who claimed they saw a gun and saw Duggan taking aim at them, were contradicted by two witnesses whom the police could not have been aware of, who saw a mobile phone in Duggan’s hand and saw that Duggan did not look as if he were aiming a gun.

Liam Foard raped and nearly got away with it – Winchester, 2012

Hampshire ConstabularyIn April 2012, a 17-year-old woman was raped in Winchester by Liam Foard. Her mother reported the attack to the police a few hours later, and gave her daughter’s t-shirt, which may have held the attacker’s DNA, to the police as forensic evidence. With two days, the Hampshire Constabulary decided the rape victim was lying, and the detective inspector supervising the inquiry told a junior colleague:

“Fucking nick her.”

The rape victim was arrested for “perverting the course of justice” and during the arrest, a detective told her:

“This is what happens when you lie.”

Six months later further investigation made the Hampshire Constabulary decide they’d made a mistake, and Foard was eventually tried and convicted.

Four officers could have faced disciplinary action, but three of them promptly retired or resigned, thus escaping any penalty for harassing a rape victim and perverting the course of justice, and the fourth got only a written warning. Hampshire Constabulary, incidentally, have a whole page called Don’t Cross The Line, which says they “treat all reports of rape and serious sexual assault very seriously” and they even have four posters – three of men saying “I don’t cross the line” and one woman saying “I know how I’m getting home, I’ll be with a mate”. (I planned to use one of the posters to illustrate this page, but discovered that Hampshire Constabulary have a copyright-protection notice on any attempt to download them.)

Jordan Begley, Manchester, 2013

The police killed an unarmed man in Manchester in July 2013 – the inquest found that the police restraints rather than the taser were probably responsible for Jordan Begley’s death: the officer who tasered him claimed to be afraid that Begley had a knife.

Sheku Bayoh, Kirkcaldy, 2015

On 3rd May 2015, nine police officers “restrained” Sheku Bayoh on a pavement in Hayfield Road, Kirkcaldy, using pepper and pava spray, handcuffs, leg restraints and batons. Bayoh died on the pavement, probably asphyxiated. He was 31, he had two children, he was from Sierra Leone originally but had lived in Fife for 14 years.

The Scottish Police Federation claim that Bayoh died “after officers responded to a call of a man brandishing a knife” and that a female police officer was injured. None of the nine officers have been suspended from duty after Bayoh died. The lawyer representing Bayoh’s family, Aamer Anwar, said “the body had arrived at the hospital with handcuffs and leg restraints still attached to his limbs”. The police initially told the family five different stories about how he died.

Bayou’s family say:

We still do not know how Shek died. All we know is that he was taken into police custody in the early hours of Sunday morning. Now he is dead. His family and friends want to know how and why. We are disappointed, hurt and upset that the police refuse to give us clear information of what occurred. We need Shek to rest and then his family can also begin to heal. We cannot do this until the truth is known.

On 7th June, Bayoh’s funeral cortege stopped for a two-minute silence outside the Kirkcaldy police station.

Police Scotland has questions to answer. But they can’t be required to answer to us.

In March 2015, Police Scotland commanders got the agreement of the Crown Office to issue new guidelines to amend the old rules for inquiries into police conduct by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC, the Scottish equivalent of IPCC). These new guidelines mean that PIRC can no longer compel the police to hand over their notebooks or give formal interviews, as was possible under the old guidelines if a police officer faced a possible criminal case or if an inquiry was ordered by the Lord Advocate. Now, the rule is that Police Scotland themselves will decide if the police officers will provide their notebooks or give formal interviews on a case-by-case basis.

Redditt Hudson noted that in his experience:

About that 15 percent of officers who regularly abuse their power: a major problem is they exert an outsize influence on department culture and find support for their actions from ranking officers and police unions.

Sir Stephen House, Police Scotland, 2014

PC Daryl McKillion, who was suffering from depression, was seen drunk-driving and reported by a fellow officer: DC Janice Scott didn’t give her name when calling in that she’d seen McKillion buy a bottle of whisky and get into a car when obviously under the influence. She recognised McKillion and knew he was a fellow police officer, but didn’t say so when she reported him because “she feared the incident would not be dealt with properly if she had”.

The senior of the two officers sent to find McKillion, David Carmichael, knew McKillion and may have guessed he was suffering – McKillion is reported to have later killed himself. But rather than report that McKillion had been drunk-driving and needed help, Carmichael decided not to breathalyse him, not to say he’d seen him, and warned the probationer PC who was with him, Justyna Niedzwiecka:

“You don’t want to grass on another cop or you have no future in the police.”

Rightly, the judge who sentenced David Carmichael to a custodial sentence said that the testimony of Niedzwiecka and of Scott suggests

“there may be a perceived culture that police officers are willing to prevent the arrest and prosecution of a colleague.

“If that culture exists, then every superior officer and anybody involved in the training of the police must ensure that it is stamped out forthwith.”

We can and we should applaud officers like Janice Scott and Justyna Niedzwiecka, who were willing to do the right thing: David Carmichael was held accountable, the only police officer in this blogpost who was made to face a criminal penalty for his actions in behaving as if police officers need not be held to the same standard as ordinary citizens.

The judge, Sheriff Robert Dickson, was right to raise his concerns publicly: corrupt police officers are not a private matter.

Sir Stephen House, the Chief Constable of Police Scotland since the post was created with the unified police force on 1st October 2012, has been a police officer since he joined Sussex Police in 1981, then transferring to the Northamptonshire Police in 1988, rising to Chief Inspector in that force until 1994, then transferring to the West Yorkshire Police as a Superintendent in the Performance Unit: he became Assistant Chief Constable of Staffordshire Police in 1998, and then Deputy Assistant Commissioner in the Metropolitan Police Service in 2001: he worked in the Territorial Policing unit from 2003 and became Commander of the Specialist Crime Directorate in 2006: he was appointed Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police in 2007.

You’d think Stephen House would understand the importance of upholding the integrity of the good 15% and publicly condemning the corrupt 15%, to keep the 70% on the right track. (I think Redditt Hudson’s friend’s theory applies to all police forces, not just American ones.)

According to The National, from emails obtained under FOI, Stephen House’s reaction to the judge’s comments was anger and outrage.

In his first letter House criticises Dickson for raising concerns about Police Scotland’s integrity in public and says he should have raised them directly with the police or through the Sheriff Principal.

Why? Surely the Chief Constable of Police Scotland agrees with the judge, from his long experience in so many British police forces, that no police force can afford a reputation of corruption and any culture of cover-up by police officers of each other’s crimes must be stamped out?

But who can hold Sir Stephen House to account, if there is literally no legal authority in Scotland with the power to do so?

The Bayoh family lawyer Aamer Anwar told those gathered to mourn Shaku Bayoh:

“The family have never asked for anything unreasonable, they have simply asked for answers of what happened. They have tried desperately to keep an open mind and they still try to do so.”

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