April 2021: Out of control

Police chief wants videos police brutality that surface on social media censored, while Spycops hearing hears evidence of abuses of power from officers allowed to act with impunity

Dear StopWatchers,

We’ve made it through another month in which certain high ranking members of police forces have argued for even more powers than they already have (and are proposed for them) while the victims of covert operations have the details of the abuses they suffered told at a tribunal. The lack of irony, self-awareness, and respect for the liberties of the British people is frightening. For some police representatives, it seems the people are the enemy of their desire to be beyond the law. True accountability for officers’ unlawful and immoral behaviour is very difficult to achieve in these circumstances.

Still, we campaign to hold all forces accountable for bad policing until this bare minimum standard of respect for the people is met.

And we grow as a team to be able to meet these challenges. Following on from the hire of Shenna Darcheville as our new Voice Lead, this month Habib Kadiri became our new Research and Policy Manager, and he has already made contributions to the South West Londoner on racial disproportionality and InterCardiff on the issue of police abolition.

Elsewhere, StopWatch co-founder/trustee Dr Rebekah Delsol spoke at this year’s British Sociology conference on race and policing and appeared on the Stance podcast reflecting on the impact that the Brixton riots had on stop and search legislation.

Topics in this newsletter include:

  • Police chief makes audacious plea for the censorship of video evidence of police brutality

  • The trial of officers involved in the death of former Premier League footballing legend Dalian Atkinson began at Birmingham Crown Court

  • Spycops hearing takes place and there are reflections on the Brixton riots 40 years on

  • And in Terrible tech, facial recognition vans return to London’s streets

Please enjoy our roundup of stories below.

Out of control

Last month, Bristol became the epicentre of the #KillTheBill struggle, with demonstrations leading to clashes between protesters and police on several occasions.

The city’s chief constable Andy Marsh laid the blame squarely at the hands of the protesters, remarking that the ‘wanton violence and destruction’ was committed by ‘those looking for an excuse to commit disorder’.

In that case, what would the chief call the on-the-ground reports of more than 60 people injured by police during the first three protests (Bristol Post, 20 Apr)? Would Marsh have regarded the heavily armed presence of and injuries caused by his officers as necessary to quell the troublemaking?

Perhaps Marsh will soon be able to speak his mind freely on the subject after he steps down from his post later this year (Bristol 24/7, 07 Apr). And perhaps he would like to explain how the fourth protest went off peacefully despite a ‘minimal police presence and no attempt to clear out demonstrators’ from the city centre (Bristol Cable, 31 Mar)?

A simple answer may be that – as the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that is the focus of the protests suggests – the police already wield too much power over the democratic right to protest in existing legislation (notably the 1986 Public Order Act) and even more powers are unneccessary. Marsh could heed the words of an experienced officer from his own force on the issue (Bristol Cable, 07 Apr):

A retired taskforce officer from Avon and Somerset Police has told the Cable he fears that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill [PCSC] could erode civil liberties and make violent protests more common. This follows a similar warning made by a former Durham police chief who said Britain risks moving towards ‘paramilitary policing’.

Outgoing Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales Arfon Jones shared a strong enough concern about the Bill to write to the home secretary about it (Nation.Cymru, 12 Apr). Jones said:

The new powers in the proposed act are not necessary and will prevent protest as we know today. The whole purpose of protest is to disrupt and to seek change. The police have enough powers to police protests and do not need more… Policing protests has always been, and always will be, a tool of the state to control its citizens and I will have no truck with it.

The desire to control and suppress the public does not stop with this Bill. Ken Marsh, leader of the London police union, was reported to have said that it was time to end ‘trial by social media’ (Morning Star, 14 Apr). In the same article, Helen O’Connor of Women Will Not Be Silenced, a group calling for an inquiry into the attitudes of police towards women, used a familiar turn of phrase in her criticism of Marsh’s remark:

… heavy-handed tactics seen recently at public events ‘might never have come to light if filming was banned.’
‘Too many police officers are being arrested and charged with serious crimes, which suggests that the culture within is toxic and dangerous to others, particularly women… Police who operate fairly and use sound judgement to prioritise public safety have nothing to fear from being filmed.’

It turns out that ‘nothing to fear’, the latter half of that famous pro-surveillance catchphrase, can be used against the police as well as for them. And perhaps O’Connor has a point here: if we are indeed sliding into a surveillance state, then surely the police have nothing to hide from a little filming now and again? Besides, it is good to keep records, so you can spot and fix errors. Or an organisation like the joint committee on human rights can tell you to. The parliamentary group said that the coronavirus regulations, which have been changed at least 65 times since March 2020, were muddled, discriminatory, and unfair, and that all 85,000+ COVID-19 fines given in England should be reviewed (Guardian, 27 Apr).

The committee also says it is ‘astonishing’ that every single criminal charge brought under the Coronavirus Act has been found to have been brought incorrectly.

How would we know that we could never have policed our way out of this pandemic if we couldn’t keep records on officers’ interactions with the public like that one? It’s called accountability, a concept senior figures like Ken Marsh should embrace if they wish for their organisation to be trusted by the people they claim to serve.

Deaths from police contact, cases old and new

Dalian Atkinson

INQUEST report that the trial of two police officers for their actions in relation to the death of former Premier League footballer Dalian Atkinson began on 26 April at Birmingham Crown Court.
Atkinson died on 15 August 2016 aged 48, following use of force by officers of West Mercia police, including restraint and Taser. In November 2019, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced that criminal charges will be brought against the officers, one for murder and manslaughter (in the alternative), and the other for section 47 Offences Against the Persons Act 1861 (Actual Bodily Harm). The trial is expected to last six to eight weeks.

Paul Reynolds

A five-week inquest opened on Monday 19 April at Suffolk Coroners Court to examine the death of father of three Paul Reynolds (also known as Paul Gladwell). Paul died at Pontins Holiday Park in Lowestoft on 14 February 2017, following restraint by Pontins security and contact with Suffolk Police officers.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct undertook an independent investigation into the contact between Mr Reynolds and Suffolk Police. Three police officers were served with gross misconduct notices. The matters were referred to the CPS to consider prosecutions in gross negligence manslaughter or under Health and Safety legislation. In 2020, the CPS declined to bring criminal charges, and a further Victim’s Right to Review, which sought the reversal of the CPS’s prosecutorial decision, was refused. Ms Bennett and family are considering their response to this decision.

Andrew Hall

Andrew Hall, a Black man from Huddersfield, was 43 years of age when he died on 13 September 2016. He was subject to a period of restraint by officers at Huddersfield Police station after being arrested in Huddersfield Royal Infirmary where he had been physically unwell. Whilst being restrained, Andrew’s health deteriorated and he was taken back to hospital where he died shortly thereafter.
The inquest into Andrew’s death opened on Tuesday 20 April 2021 and is scheduled to continue for the next seven weeks. 

Other news

Judge kicks violent racist cop into prison: A horribly violent case of racial profiling has led to the sentencing of a Met police officer for two years (Daily Mail, 12 Apr). PC Charlie Harrison, who was acting as a plain clothes officer representing Scotland Yard's Violent Crime Task Force, attacked Carl Abrahams in front of his sons as they dropped flowers off at their mother’s grave on New Year’s Eve, breaking one of his legs in the process.
The court heard Harrison made no effort to identify himself as a police officer and threatened a passerby with arrest if they did not ‘move along.’ Judge Gregory Perrins said: ‘This was a clear case of racial profiling. I am satisfied that had [the family] been White you would have driven by without disturbing them.’ PC Harrison was sentenced after a five-day trial at Southwark Crown Court.

Spycops: The case of a social justice activist deceived into a two-year intimate relationship by an undercover officer began on 20 April before the specialist Investigatory Powers Tribunal, in what has been billed the ‘climax of an epic ten-year battle for the truth’ (Justice Gap, 20 Apr). Kate Wilson argues that Mark Kennedy, who infiltrated environment and left wing campaigns between 2003 and 2010, breached her human rights.
‘The police want us to believe that a top intelligence unit was so incapable of interpreting basic human interactions that they had no idea that we were boyfriend and girlfriend. I just don’t believe that,’ Wilson said. ‘My relationship with Mark Kennedy was documented in great detail in their secret reports for over 18 months. I am one of many dozens of women deceived into this kind of relationship by deployed undercover police officers. They used sex with women to gather “intelligence”. The evidence suggests a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach by senior officers embedded in a culture of misogyny and mission creep. I have no doubt that the police are institutionally sexist.’
You can follow Wilson’s coverage of the hearing via her Twitter account @fruitbatmania.

Reflections on the Brixton riots, 40 years on: Rapper and TV presenter Big Narstie presents a BBC Radio 5 Live podcast marking 40 years since the Brixton riots.
Brixton: Flames on the Frontline explores the series of events that led to the uprising and how its legacy still affects Britain today.
And in an article for the Independent, journalist Nadine White finds there is a feeling among those who lived through the conflict that progress in relations between the Met police and the area’s inhabitants is slipping away (11 Apr).
StopWatch’s very own Dr Rebekah Delsol appears on the Stance podcast to explain how the event became a turning point in the history of stop and search in the UK (01 Apr).

Section 60 watch*


Hackney (24 Apr), Hillingdon (16 Apr), Merton (28 Apr), Newham (26 Apr), Southwark (25 Apr), Tower Hamlets (26 Apr)

Thames Valley

Milton Keynes (01, 11 Apr)


Huyton (27 Apr)

* This is not a comprehensive list

Terrible tech

Watch out, FR’s about (again). Despite last year’s legal challenge on the legality of automated facial recognition (AFR) technology, which suggested police officers needed to: a) offer clearer guidance on where it could be used and who could be put on a watchlist; b) provide adequate ‘data protection impact assessments’ in relation to the use of AFR; and c) make the technology more race and sex inclusive in order to bring it in line with the Public Sector Equality Duty under Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, the vans were spotted by eagle-eyed legal observers for Black Protest Legal Support UK this month.

Do we think the Met police have met those three tests for its live facial recognition system? At this rate, it may take another legal challenge to find out for certain.

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