2009 Failed States Index: Britain’s security apparatus worse than UAE’s, apparently

Here in the UK, there’s much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth about the fact that it’s even conceivable that we might lose our triple-A credit rating.

But over at ForeignPolicy.com, the bad news is already here: for it emerges that our “security apparatus” is ranked worse than the United Arab Emirates, which kind of makes you question their methodology given things like this – although on the other hand, now that I think of it…

It also transpires in the full list that Iceland is regarded as more stable than Britain; and that Ireland is even better off, being a member of the coveted “most stable” club (other members: Scandics; Aussies; Kiwis; er – that’s it).  And there I was thinking that Ireland and Iceland had felt the brunt of the credit crunch among OECD countries…

Minister – jolly glad about G20 policing

The Rt. Hon. The Lord West of Spithead GCB DSC – a junior Home Office minister responsible for counter-terrorism and security – has waded into the debate on policing at the G20. And he’s determined to sound like a berk:

Thousands of officers acted absolutely professionally and proportionately, thousands were actually able to demonstrate peacefully on our streets, criminal activity in the rest of the metropolis was kept to an absolute minimum and the police also maintained high levels of security.

And I think we should be extremely proud of them. This does not excuse acts which are criminal and there are now investigations taking place for those particulars.

But in general I think we are very well-served by our police. I am very proud of them and the way I approach it generally is they are on our side and they are our people…

I have to say I do not like the thought of water cannon, baton rounds or shooting people all of which seem to occur in some other countries and I am jolly glad I live in this country. But all of those things will be looked at.

In contrast, Denis O’Conner, the policeman heading the inquiry into the protest, has branded police tactics ‘unacceptable’…  

(See also, Charlie’s concerns about how the police were hyping up the potential for trouble before the demonstrations and Alex’s account from afterwards.)

Update: It’s interesting to see what Lord West had to say about the G20 before it happened. Speaking in the Lords, he was in chipper mood. City workers might have advised to dress down during the protests, but he was planning to “dress up slightly”. Oh how his fellow peers laughed!

Asked whether young people should be allowed to protest about financial issues and climate change, the ex-First Sea Lord replied:

I have a number of youngsters myself [presumably, he’s referring to his children, not the herd of semi-feral youth he grazes on his back lawn]. The young people in this country are generally very good. I have been very impressed with the cadet forces and all sorts of groups, so I would certainly not say that they are all anarchists.

However, as I said, when there are so many thousands of people involved some will be troublemakers who are not there to be peaceful demonstrators. They do not have deep-held feelings about these things but are there for other reasons and ulterior motives. That is extremely unfortunate.

Perhaps we should expect keelhauling for troublemakers with ulterior motives to be proposed in the next Criminal Justice bill…

Update II: Here’s another weird one. Asked by Pauline Neville-Jones what monitoring of social network sites was undertaken by “government departments, agencies or bodies”, Lord West offered a flat denial: “The Government do [sic] not monitor social networking sites.” What at all? You have to be kidding me…

Now it IS an offence to film the police

Back in January, David posted a video of two police officers asking a man to stop filming them, telling him it was an offence to do so.  The man stood his ground, arguing that it was entirely legal for him to film them, and defying them to cite a specific piece of legislation that would prevent him from doing so.  The two officers then radioed their sergeant – who informed them that the man filming them was, in fact, within his rights.

Well, that was then; but things have been rather different since 16 February, when the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 entered into force. As Amnesty International UK explain on their blog, the 2008 Act

…amends the Terrorism Act 2000 regarding offences relating to information about members of armed forces, a member of the intelligence services, or a police officer.

The new set of rules, under section 76 of the 2008 Act and section 58A of the 2000 Act, will target anyone who ‘elicits or attempts to elicit information about (members of armed forces) … which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism’.

The new laws are now in place and they allow for the arrest – and imprisonment – of anyone who takes pictures of officers ‘likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism’.

In the current circumstances (Metropolitan Police embarrassed twice within the space of a week by film of its officers assaulting members of the public; two IPCC inquiries underway; Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police having had to launch an independent review of its public order policing tactics) it’s worth asking: just how much scope is there in interpreting what kind of filming is “likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”? 

Quite a lot, one suspects. Which is another reason why we ought to be clear that neither a review of policing tactics, nor inquiries into the conduct of individual oficers, nor the possibility of the IPCC bringing prosections against individual officers, is sufficient here. 

The core problem at the heart of this is legislative – not just the 2008 Counter-Terrorism Act, but also the Terrorism Act 2000, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, the Terrorism Act 2006, the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006.. and so on, and so on.

We now need to look in the round at whether we’ve lost the balace between protection against terrorism and protecting the legitimate right of citizens to protest. And that’s why why we ought to be pushing for an independent Royal Commission to undertake a wholesale review of counter-terrorism, policing and civil liberties.

“A more violent crowd in uniform than the crowd demonstrating”

Via flickr user woo-war

Via flickr user woo-war

The story of Ian Tomlinson’s death following an assault by a police officer during the G20 riots continues to develop: last night Channel 4 News found new footage providing additional context to the assault, while the Independent Police Complaints Commission announced that it will undertake the investigation into Tomlinson’s death itself – rather than (as initially planned) outsourcing it to the City of London Police, who were involved in policing protests on the day.  Now, attention is focusing on the prospect of a criminal prosection.  As former deputy assistant police commissioner Brian Paddick put it yesterday,

If it is held that there is a link between the violence he [the officer] was inflicting and the heart attack [suffered by Tomlinson], that then is an assault, resulting in death, albeit unintended. If a court held it is an assault, it is an unlawful action resulting in manslaughter.

But in focusing on whether the officer who beat Tomlinson and shoved him to the ground will be prosecuted, we risk losing sight of a bigger point – that this was far from an isolated incident.

To see why, read the following disturbing account of how the police cleared the “climate camp” on Bishopsgate that took place later that day.  The account was written by a friend and colleague, Chris Abbott – the deputy director of the Oxford Research Group, and (ironically, in view of what happened) a leading expert on conflict resolution – in an email sent to me and others, and reproduced with his permission.

I went down to the climate camp after work on Wednesday as I had heard that it was completely peaceful and I wanted to see what it was like. Unfortunately, I got trapped there when the police first charged and then penned everyone in early in the evening and none of us could get out (this was about 7.00-7.30pm). Footage of this is now on YouTube. During this first, entirely unprovoked, attack I lost my girlfriend in the crowd – but I later found out she was punched by a policeman while trying to stop another girl being trampled on after being knocked to the floor.

Once that had calmed down, my girlfriend and I found each other and were sat with others in front of the line of riot police on the south side of Bishopsgate. It was completely peaceful once again and we were even joking and talking with the police. We were there for a couple of hours when they suddenly charged again without any warning (this was about 9.30-10.00pm). We were still sat down and offered no resistance at all. My girlfriend was pressure pointed on the neck (extremely painful), dragged backwards off me and had both her wrists bent behind her back by two policemen who threatened to break them. They dragged her outside the police cordon and then said “what should we do with her now?” before the other said “let’s throw her back in”, which they did – head first, with her hands behind her back. She landed on the floor and has now got severe bruising on her legs (which we have photos of) and very painful wrists (which we actually thought might be broken).

At the same time, I was punched full in the face by one of the policemen. I was on the floor and absolutely no threat, but he still punched me. I was pulled up and shoved towards the crowd as a group of policemen descended on me, several of them smashing me in the head repeatedly with the sides of their shields. The whole time I had my hands in the air and did not fight back at all, but that didn’t stop them. Luckily someone saw what was happening and managed to pull me free from the group of policemen just before they completely surrounded me and cut me off from everyone else. It frightens me to think what they might have done had I not been pulled free. My nose and the side of my head are still very painful, but I was lucky given the damage that they could have caused from hitting me in the head.

Immediately after it happened we saw that the girl we had been sat next to had also been injured and was going into shock. We tried to get her medical attention, but none of us were offered any assistance at all by the police.

Once we had calmed down and made sure everyone was alright, we went to the other end of the camp to try and get out because my girlfriend needed to get home and take medication that she requires. We spoke to a police medic to explain the situation, detailing the medication and why it was needed, but were told that they were under specific orders not to let anyone out even for medication. We continued to try and get the medic’s attention to explain the urgency of the situation, but he ignored us. By now things were getting very tense between the police and the crowd and my girlfriend got very panicky, falling to the ground. Only at this point did the police finally let us through the line to seek medical attention (this was about 11.30pm).