Sunday, December 16, 2012

institutional corruption

A Metropolitan police officer says that black people aren't evolved and 'live in mud huts in Africa'. PC Kevin Hughes also told a black colleague that she was 'going home to cook bananas'. She was insulted and he was prosecuted. He told the court that it was 'upsetting' that anyone might think he was racist. The court found that actually he hadn't insulted anyone and acquitted him along with a colleague who had made similar comments.

It comes barely a month after another Metropolitan police officer was cleared of racist abuse after arresting a black man, strangling him, calling him a cunt and saying 'your problem is you'll always be a n*gger'. Mauro Demetrio managed to record the abuse on his phone, leading to a court case. PC Alex MacFarlane argued that he was trying to help Demetrio with low self-esteem. The court believed him.

If you're a well built white man with training in physical restraint, go out and try that on a young black man. Have it recorded so you can't deny it. See if you get cleared as well.

Police officers get acquittals or minimised sentences when the rest of us would be sent to jail. Judges often cite their record of service and their loss of career as mitigating factors. In fact they should be treated as exacerbating factors. They are in a position of authority, entrusted with special powers that require a higher standard of behaviour than the average citizen.

If a teacher uses racist insults against a pupil in their class it is worse than if it came from another child in the playground. By the same token, intimidation and coercion should be more unacceptable from the police officer whose every word is subtexted 'and you have to obey me because I can put you in a cell on a whim, and nobody will believe your word against mine'.

Yet the establishment identifies with them and pities them. A fortnight ago a New Jersey police officer was sentenced after the court heard he raped an informant. He admitted the assault and yet judge Thomas F Scully did not send him to jail, saying

You are not going to jail, as we traditionally know the concept of jail, today. But with many respects, given what your childhood dream was, you’re going to be in jail the rest of your life. You’re going to have to live with this the rest of your life.

It echoes the words of Justice Hooper who decided not to imprison the officers primarily responsible for the Hillsborough disaster even before the trial began. The Crown Prosecution Service had decided not to take action against David Duckenfield his deputy superintendent Bernard Murray, so the families of the victims brought a private proseuction. Judge Hooper was appointed even though he had been an advisor to the CPS about Hillsborough.

As the court convened Hooper declared he was

making it clear that the two defendants will not immediately lose their liberty should they be convicted.

He explained - smearing the justice campaign as a bunch of vigilantes and openly siding with the defendants - that

neither the defendants or members of their family have given evidence but I have no difficulty in inferring that they must be suffering a considerable amount of strain...

these two defendants, if sentenced to prison for the manslaughter of, in effect, 96 people would necessarily be at considerable risk of serious injury if not death at the hands of those who feel very strongly about Hillsborough.

By this logic, we shouldn't be sending anyone accused of paedophilia to jail.

Why is it that a ruined career and a presumed troubled conscience are enough punishment for a police officer yet not for anyone else who responsible for mass killing or rape?

The privilege given to those in power inevitably leads to a sense that they're entitled to that privilege. Others who are similarly entrusted will always give them the benefit of the doubt. This leads to impunity which leads in turn to widespread and casual abuse and violence.

So we don't just see this commonplace corruption with periodic cases of clearly racist and killer cops walking free, or Hillsborough's trial and two judge-led inquiries utterly failing. We also get the cynical protection of that privilege, from everyday false statements to horrific covers-ups, all of it persecuting those they were supposed to protect.

When South Yorkshire police were accused of the responsibility and cover up for Hillsborough, they were investigated by West Midlands police. Their objectivity can be judged by the way the lead officer told witnesses to say they had seen Liverpool fans forcing their way in to the stadium. When the witnesses insisted that was not true their interviewing officers threatened them, alleged they hadn't even been at Hillsborough, and marked their statement 'witnessed unauthorised entry' anyway.

And in an echo of last month's New Jersey case, another West Midlands Hillsborough investigator used his position to sexually harass a traumatised survivor, grabbing her and saying 'my wife will never know'. She felt unable to accuse a man of such authority until this year.

The spread of corruption to the rest of the establishment is underlined by other contemporaneous West Midlands police activities. Their Serious Crime Squad tortured and framed suspects and was disbanded for corruption. Dozens of convictions have been subsequently quashed. We know who those officers are and where they live, we are still paying their pensions. Yet not one of them has faced any charges, let alone a conviction.

This week's report into the killing of Pat Finucane was dismissed as a whitewash by the family. Whilst I don't doubt their position, nonetheless the report has the British government clearly admitting that a civilian lawyer was murdered by loyalist terrorists with the help of British police, who also gave identifying details to enable other murders.

Again, don't try this at home. What would happen if you went and provided key information to people planning a string of assassinations? And yet will any officers see the inside of a jail cell for collusion in the murder of Pat Finucane?

Today we have the newly elected Police and Crime Commissioner for the Northumbria area, Vera Baird, saying that as a barrister during the miners strike she saw swathes of

invented allegations, copied notebooks and allegations from officers that weren't even at the scene

You can count the number of convicted officers on the fingers of one leg. 

How many examples do we need before it is generally accepted that this is institutional corruption underpinned by a supportive network of judiciary, government and other arms of state? 

The root problem is the concentration of power. This is why devolving and decentralising are preferable, but wherever power occurs it needs proportionally increased accountability to, and greater scrutiny by, those it purports to serve. Yet self-serving denials are their response because they see their main task as maintaining their power. 

Eveline Lubbers' book Secret Manoeuvres in the Dark recounts how, in the aftermath of the McLibel case, a Freedom of Information request was lodged asking for Special Branch records on people with alleged affiliations to London Greenpeace. The police information manager responded in October 2006, readily admitting that records existed and it 'would contribute to the quality and accuracy of public debate' to release them. However they refused to do it as it was 'not in the public interest'.

They explained – and get ready to have to read this twice to believe it - 'The Public Interest is not what interests the public, but what will be of greater good if released to the community as a whole.' Disclosure is not in the public interest because it could 'undermine their goodwill and confidence in the Metropolitan Police and could result in a lack of engagement with the MPS' and may 'endanger the health and safety of our officers'. 

In other words, if you really knew what we were doing to you, you'd lynch us.