Friday, October 12, 2012

jettison bettison

Sir Norman Bettison is Chief Constable of West Yorkshire police, but not for much longer. Despite having a £225k paypacket and a contract due to run until 2015, he's stepping down next March.

This is because in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster he was one of the senior South Yorkshire officers who ran the horrific dirty tricks campaign against the Liverpool fans. They were accused of robbing the dead and dying and attacking brave police trying to save victims (much the same way as G20 protesters were supposedly pelting police who were trying to save the heart-attack victim Ian Tomlinson).

As the recent Hillsborough Independent Panel proved beyond any doubt, it was a cold calculated lie designed to deflect blame from an institution who knew itself to be primarily responsible for the deaths.

In the days after the report was published and the release of thousands of official documents supporting it, Bettison carefully said he never personally altered any officers' statements nor asked for them to be altered. He was silent on the fact that he was part of team that dealt with the doctoring. 

Despite the Panel's definitive findings that completely exonerate Liverpool fans, Bettison issued an apology but in it he tried to clear himself saying that the Liverpool fans had obstructed police efforts. This was disproven at the Taylor Inquiry in 1989, let alone by the Panel. Within hours Bettison was forced into the bizarre position of issuing an apology for his apology.

His credibility dissolved, with protests outside Leeds' main police station calling for him to resign, his position looked tenuous. But this isn't the reason he's resigned. With the Independent Police Complaints Commission now looking into whether disciplinary charges should be brought against officers, possibly even criminal charges, Bettison's resignation is a pragmatic move to avoid accountability.

By retiring you scupper any pending disciplinary charges, so avoid any sanction, and keep your full pension. The tactic is so common in the police that I'm willing to bet they have a name for it.

It is what the officers primarily responsible for the Hillsborough disaster did. Like Bettison today, in 1991 the man most responsible for the Hillsborough disater, Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, had disciplinary charges pending against him. So he too simply retired and the charges had to be dropped leaving this retired man - still in his 40s - with his full pension. He has still suffered no penalty of any kind for what he did.

As the response to Hillsborough so starkly illustrates, the police will do anything to avoid accountability. Four days after the disaster Deputy Chief Constable Peter Hayes was discussing with insurers how to avoid blame. Identifying the senior officers who'd ordered the gate open, Duckenfield and his deputy Bernard Murray, as 'in an exposed position,' Hayes suggested coming up with a junior officer who could be said to have panicked and opened the gate on their own initiative. He said this knowing that he'd have to produce such a scapegoated officer to sacrifice.

South Yorkshire officers still want to silence criticism. Last Saturday Hull City played against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough. Hull fans chanted 'justice for the 96' and 'murderers' at South Yorkshire officers who responded by baton charging them.

It is not just about Hillsborough. The officers responsible for the death of Christopher Alder - standing round the unconscious black man laughing and making monkey noises while he slowly choked to death on his own blood and vomit on a police station floor - took early retirement to avoid charges too, even though some were only in their 30s.

Bettison - still only 56 today - retired in 2005, leaving his position as Chief Constable of Merseyside to work in the private sector for two years. So technically the current West Yorkshire job is a post-retirement position. That being so, his pension will be paid by the Council Tax from the area he first retired from - Merseyside.

The Hillsborough victims' friends and families in Liverpool will be contributing to the £88k pension of the man who was at the heart of the cruel, vicious plot to deny them justice, what Michael Mansfield QC has called 'the biggest cover-up in British history'.

The Hillsborough families are livid, calling for him to be sacked before he resigns, calling for the IPCC to report before his resignation date of next March so disciplinary charges may be brought against him, and for him to be stripped of his knighthood.

Were he to end up being convicted of any criminal offence there is a power to strip him of up to two thirds of his pension, leaving him with a mere £30k a year. But it's notoriously hard to get convictions of police officers. 

Ian Tomlinson's inquest jury found he had been unlawfully killed by PC Simon Harwood's baton strike. Yet Harwood's trial jury found his baton strike had not significantly contributed to Tomlinson's death. Both worked to the same standard of proof - beyond a reasonable doubt - so one of them is simply wrong.

Like Duckenfield and Murray after their private prosecution by Hillsborough families, like the officers who let Christopher Alder die and so many more, Harwood simply walked free from court, pension intact.

Many more officers never see the dock. West Midlands Police's Serious Crime Squad was riddled with corruption, it falsified evidence, tortured suspects, and was disbanded. Dozens of convictions have been overturned. Not one officer has been charged.

West Midlands, incidentally, were the force who looked into whether there should be any criminal prosecutions over Hillsborough in 1990. With their expertise in falsifying statements, it's not surprising that found nothing wrong in South Yorkshire altering hundreds of witness statements to remove anything that blamed the police for the disaster. 

Once they had told various people to change their evidence to be more generous to the police, West Midlands submitted a report that led to the Crown Prosecution Service deciding not to bring any charges against South Yorkshire police or anybody else. The Hillsborough football ground did not have a valid safety certificate, yet West Midlands decided this didn't amount to negligence by either the club or the body reponsible for issuing them, Sheffield City Council. Total fucking whitewash.

It is clear that we cannot depend on the legal system that has so monstrously failed the Hillsborrugh families to deliver justice in this case. As has been proven with over two decades of fruitless judge-led inquiries and rigged inquests, one arm of state power does not readily hold another to account. It only happens on the rare occasions when the clamour for justice is so persistent that the truth is less of an irritant than the continuing campaign.

On the assumption Norman Bettison's retirement goes ahead as planned, the campaign should not stop. Council Tax bills give the payer a breakdown of their charge. Liverpool families with a thirst for justice should withold the proportion for policing for as long as it contributes to the enrichment of their vilifier and tormentor. 


UPDATE: There is a government epetition to postpone Bettison's retirement. Most petitions are a waste of time but these ones, especially on this issue, are different.Once these petitions get over 100,000 signatures they have to be considered for parliamentary debate. Two Hillsborough ones have done it and, thanks to long-term campaigning MPs such as Maria Eagle and Andy Burnham, the debates yielded real results such as the government agreeing to give full unredacted copies of the relevant Cabinet minutes. We've already got further down the road to accountability and justice than most of us dreamed was possible. Let's keep going.  

So please, if you're a British resident, take a minute to add your name and pass it on to your friends. It's here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

then they came for the cyclists

Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin told this week's Conservative Party Conference that cyclists have to 'do their bit' for road safety. It got loud applause despite not having any detail about what it actually meant.

Cars privatise road space. As a privately owned vehicle - the most expensive thing you buy apart from your house, an item sold to you harder than any other product - they give the driver a sense of entitlement. They also isolate the driver from other road users. Drivers will unironically complain about the problem of traffic without thinking that they are who every other driver is blaming.

Having other road users appear in your space, especially ones slower than you, feels like having someone dawdle in to your living room off the street and stand in front of your telly.

Being seriously conditioned by the adverts of motoring liberty - wide open roads and freedom, nipping through traffic and getting where you want when you want, yet finding themselves perpetually stuck in traffic - drivers find cyclists a psychological irritant. Bikes really are the quickest way around the city, zipping to the front at junctions and have free parking at - or even in - every building they go to. Also, the bike is much cheaper than the car. Spending money should buy privilege so why am I being constrained by traffic they simply pour through?

Obviously the motorist cannot admit jealousy so they must find a rationalisation, however ill-founded. They declare cyclists dangerous and demand they be taken in hand.

The truth shows the opposite; it is motorists who pose the risk to cyclists. Transport for London found that the cyclist's law-breaking is at fault in 6% of cases where cyclists are killed or seriously injured. In the clear majority of cases it was caused by a motoring offence.

For national figures a Department for Transport study found that, where cyclists were seriously injured in collisions, police said that the rider disobeyed a stop sign or traffic light in just 2% of cases. Wearing dark clothing at night was seen as a potential cause in about 2.5% of cases, and failure to use lights was mentioned 2% of the time.

The figures were slightly higher when the cyclist was killed. But even then, when we only have the driver's word for what happened, police found the driver solely responsible in about 60%-75% of all cases.

And actually, cyclists breaking certain laws may protect them. Our traffic systems have been designed to favour motor vehicles and ignore other road users. Those who push to the front and then jump the red light put themselves ahead of the traffic, in sight but out of range.

A 2007 report by Transport for London's road safety unit found that 86% of the women cyclists killed in London between 1999 and 2004 collided with a lorry, whilst lorries killed less than half of male cyclists.The report plainly said

Women may be over-represented in (collisions with goods vehicles) because they are less likely than men to disobey red lights

Obviously Transport for London couldn't be seen to encourage unlawful road use even if it saved lives, so they decided not to publish the report.

The Secretary of State for Transport, were he inclined to be proportionate, would have given his speech ten times the emphasis on dangerous motoring as to cycling. But he did not. The overarching ideology of this government is how best to provide for the rich. The rest of his speech included other projects for the wealthy such as the environmentally disastrous carbon nightmare of rich-only high-speed trains and proposing a new airport for the South East of England. They are not interested in what's fair or right, nor even what's sensible or has any credible supporting evidence.

So instead of looking at the facts of who's to blame between cars and bikes, ask only 'who is richest?'. The car costs more therefore the car is right. It's War on the Poor. Again.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

war on the poor

Last Sunday the Mail headlined the Tory declaration that there will be no Mansion Tax. The – and I use the term in its broadest sense – newspaper said that this would 'help hard-pressed middle-class families'.

A tax on properties worth £2,000,000 or more? What is that the middle of? The Tory front bench?

On the same day’s Andrew Marr show David Cameron heralded further billions of pounds in cuts to welfare (that’s ‘cuts’, BBC, not ‘savings’). Amongst these is the removal of Housing Benefit for people under 25.

They already get a lower level of Housing Benefit and the under 21s get a lower minimum wage. This is presumably because landlords give them cheaper rent and supermarkets charge them less for food.

There is a straight contradiction between the idea that those without work should move to get work and that unemployed under 25s should live with their parents. The only thing that ties these diametrically opposed thoughts together is that they punish the person without work.

Given that there are more than five times as many unemployed people as vacancies, it clearly cannot be the fault of over 80% of them. You can’t find jobs that don’t exist. Yet we punish them with workfare in which they do the same tasks handed out as sentences to minor criminals for no pay.

Cameron said it is unfair that someone can leave school and be unemployed and get Housing Benefit that is unavailable to their classmates who become students or find work. It's not half as unfair as a man who inherited £3,000,000 on his 18th birthday taking away the pittance that stands between impoverished under 25s and destitution.

Also, he's simply wrong. Those in work can get housing benefit if they’re on a low wage. Indeed, many of them do - over 90% of new Housing Benefit claimants have jobs. And students did get Housing Benefit until the last Tory government took it away from them. First they came for the students.

You can’t go up to people eating their dinner, steal a plate, then say ‘it’s not fair that only some of you have got food so I’m taking the rest too’.

But, and most importantly, it is not unfair that the poorer receive more welfare, any more than it is unfair that kidney patients get more dialysis machines than the rest of us.

I work and pay tax not because it’s a personal savings bank but because it’s fair. And actually I do actually get a personal reward. I get a society that is less grim and less dangerous for me personally. I get to live in a place where people don’t starve, where people aren’t forced to live on the streets, where the only question between someone and health care is ‘how much do you need it?’. At least, I used get to live in that place.

The majority of people hit by changes to Housing Benefit for ‘under-occupancy’ are disabled. Many of them need a spare room for equipment. Many have had expensive adaptations to their homes that will be ripped out once they move out, and then be paid for again to refurbish their new homes (if they can find them).

The genuine likelihood of this and other changes to the welfare system costing as much as they save show that it’s not about saving money. Just like the contradictions within the reasoning for the new attack on Housing Benefit payments to young people, it proves that this is ideological. It is War On The Poor.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

expanding the injustice

The case of undercover police officers who had long term relationships with their targets is as morally clear as can be. Even the most fervent supporters of police powers are unable to give any real excuse for what happened.

These officers were trained to weave themselves into peoples' trust and used it to become ongoing life partners. They shared every kind of intimacy, often for years. They fully integrated into families. Several of them fathered children with their targeted women, knowing that when the orders came they would leave. 

Eight women are suing their ex-partners' bosses for the damage done and to uncover the truth (their new support website is here). In last night's Radio 4 documentary, one of them spoke of how she has photographs and memories from years with her partner and yet doesn't even know his real name. Another spoke of her partner becoming part of her family when, in reality, he was married with children.

The women want answers. How much of the apparent affection and intimacy was in fact designed and ordered by superior officers? How much of their partners' communication was monitored by other people? How was any of this ever allowed to happen?

The police have responded with a move to have the case heard not in open court but in a bizarre secret hearing called an Investigatory Powers Tribunal. These sinister events ignore many of the fundamental pillars of fair trial. No information or documents which have been provided to the tribunal, or even the fact that they have been provided, would be disclosed to the women. The police could say, or withhold, anything.

The women would have no right to an oral hearing, nor the chance to cross-examine witnesses and see the evidence, nor read the reasons for losing the case. They would not be allowed to appeal against the verdict and could only challenge it through the exorbitantly expensive European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The tribunals were designed for the rare cases involving surveillance that might expose present investigations and place people in positions of great danger. That is blatantly not the case with these women. It is simply being used by the police as a further piece of desperate arse-covering and desire to hide the truth of what they have done.

As has been so starkly shown by the revelations about the Hillsborough disaster and the Leveson Inquiry, when faced with proof of wrongdoing it is customary for the police to mount a cover-up. Indeed, the same anti-protest department who abused these women placed an officer inside campaigns for justice like that of Stephen Lawrence's family. There was no threat to life and limb or public order there. The only danger was that the police would be seen to have acted as they did.

Rather than admit the wrongdoing that everyone knows they committed, they compounded their damage to those families by actively obstructing justice. Just like at Hillsborough. Just like they're trying to do to these women they abused.