Friday, July 20, 2012

simon harwood: typical

As is clear in the footage, PC Simon Harwood's baton strike and push on Ian Tomlinson were unreasonable force. As a result, Tomlinson suffered internal bleeding which led to his collapse within a few minutes and his subsequent death. His death was therefore unlawful.

That's not me talking, that's the inquest jury's findings. And, as the judge in this week's trial told the jury, if Harwood's actions were unreasonable and led directly to Tomlinson's death, it was manslaughter. The judge also pointed out that Tomlinson had a medical condition, but nonetheless if Harwood's actions shortened Tomlinson's life 'even by one day' then it was still manslaughter. But yesterday Harwood was acquitted.

For all the talk of Harwood's record of violence, we need to be clear that he is not exceptional. If Harwood was, as the prosecution alleged, someone with his 'blood up' compared to other officers, why do his colleagues show no surprise at any of the assaults, whether on Tomlinson or the earlier ones on the BBC cameraman and the guy he hits with the jacket? Why is there footage of hundreds of officers making thousands of similar assaults that day? Why weren't there queues of officers at Scotland Yard the next morning, as is their sworn duty, making statements reporting this unlawful behaviour?

Harwood was a typical officer, just unlucky to get the guy with the pre-existing medical condition. He told the trial if he had known of Ian Tomlinson's condition he would not have hit him, but the unfortunately vulnerability wasn't visible. Yet other officers are happy to drag people out of their wheelchairs and along the road.

Even then, Harwood nearly got away with it. The crime was systematically covered up by the police, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the Crown Prosecution Service and the compliant media.

Really, let's remind ourselves of the timeline. Everything in it contains outright lies by the police and their associated bodies.

- Police issue a statement saying they had 'no contact' with Tomlinson before his collapse.

- They said their medics tried to help him but were pelted with missiles including bottles.

- They had a dodgy autopsy done to say he died of a heart attack. (The later one found no sign of heart attack and pointed out that such people collapse quickly whereas those dying from internal bleeding collapse, as Tomlinson did, by staggering then crumpling.)

- When the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) started investigating, police witheld evidence from three officers who'd witnessed the attack.

- The IPCC said there was no CCTV in the area. When this was shown to be untrue, they said the cameras weren't working.

- When the Guardian put the citizen footage of the assault online, the police and IPCC went to the newspaper's offices and demanded it be taken down. A copper in your workplace telling you what to do isn't an easy thing to say no to.

- A senior police officer then told the Tomlinson family the assailant may have been a protester disguised in a police uniform. The IPCC said the idea was credible and needed investigating.

- The CPS decided not to prosecute Harwood. Only a year later after the inquest returned a verdict of unlawful killing were they compelled to change their minds.

Maybe, just maybe, we can believe the cameras weren't working at Stockwell tube station when the police killed Jean Charles de Menezes (even though the company operating the cameras and tube workers say otherwise). Who knows how many cameras are kept in full working order?

But the G20 was different. Ian Tomlinson died at the centre of an area in a demonstration that the police had months to plan the surveillance of. There was a dedicated control room with over a hundred officers monitoring the feeds. Those cameras were working.


Three days ago, the Crown Prosecution Service decided there was insufficient chance of success to bring charges against three G4S guards who smothered a man to death during a deportation flight. Former barrister Frances Webber responded

The prosecutor says that "given Mubenga's physiological condition" he cannot rule out that factors such as "adrenaline, muscle exhaustion or isometric exercise" might have helped cause his death because he was in an "agitated state" before he died.

The general application of this extraordinary reasoning would mean that no murderer whose victim struggled could be charged, because of the adrenaline, muscle exhaustion and isometric exercise involved in resisting attack.

And even if (as is implied) Mubenga was somehow uniquely vulnerable because of a pre-existing condition, every rookie lawyer learns the "eggshell skull" doctrine, which states that an assailant bears legal responsibility for a death even if his victim has a pre-existing condition making for extra vulnerability.

The parallels are obvious with the Tomlinson case, both in apportioning culpability and in the response to authority killing the people it should protect.

Not only is there a problem with the police protecting their culture of impunity but, as the contradiction in the Tomlinson juries' findings proves, even when the police are held to account there is a problem with our attitudes. The Tomlinson inquest jury decided about events and their legality. Harwood's trial decided a police officer's fate.

We have a jury system that is as good as anything in the world, but it is clear that juries quite often find it difficult to convict police officers.
- Len Jackson, chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission

Chico Marx could have been a police officer under oath when he said 'who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?'.


In 1998, Christopher Alder was knocked out in an argument outside a Hull nightclub. Police arrived, made no examination and decided he was just drunk. In hospital he regained consciousness and, as is common with people who suffer a hard blow to the head, he became disorientated and aggressive, volubly asking what happened and where he was. The same police took him away and by the time he arrived at the station he was unconscious. They dragged him into the lobby, his trousers trailing round his knees. There they dropped him face down on the floor.

His hands cuffed behind his back, he can be heard on the film rasping through blood and vomit for eleven minutes whilst the officers stand round joking about him and - Alder was a black man - making monkey noises. He died there at their feet.

As with Harwood, it was all caught clearly on camera. As with Harwood the CPS initially decided not to prosecute. As with Harwood, the inquest said it was unlawful killing, forcing the CPS to relent and charge them with manslaughter. As with Harwood, the police were acquitted.

A report last year found that, of 333 deaths in police custody in an 11 year period, not one had led to an officer's conviction. There are then many more deaths, such as Ian Tomlinson's, outside of custody. Inquest report that since 1990, 1,433 people have died following contact with the police, leading to 23 officers going on trial. Not one conviction.

The subsequent internal police investigation cleared the officers who taunted Christopher Alder while he died of any wrongdoing. After that the men - in their late 30s and early 40s - were given early retirement to clear them out of the way. We'll be paying their pensions for decades to come.

Simon Harwood can look forward to the same fat payoff. As can the officer who killed Mark Duggan. As can the next officer who kills someone.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

class war comes round to your house

In the last days of that runaway train of Tory evil before the 1997 general election the man seen as their next leader, Michael Portillo, was still in full twitchy right-armed Thatcherite flow.

He made a speech saying that poor people should not be allowed to live where they choose but instead should be made to live in 'housing befitting their station'.

His choice of phrasing was almost as telling as the idea itself. The vision of robust class boundaries, ensuring the lower orders were punished for their poverty, and his own sense of snobbish entitlement.

But more than a decade into Labour rule - Tory-imitating Labour rule that disavowed its belief in public ownership and hooked itself to the freemarket bandwagon, saddling us with the PFI public finance ticking timebomb - we forgot what real full-throttle Tories were like.


Despite being twice rejected by the House of Lords, the government got its way with the 'spare bedroom tax' in the Welfare Reform Act which got Royal Assent earlier this year.

The new rules for Housing Benefit will take money away from people whose homes are underoccupied. Anyone with a spare bedroom loses 14%, anyone with two spare bedrooms loses 25%.

The rules have been drawn up to make some horrifying exclusions. They are not merely harsh. They will knowingly cause real suffering and - here's the proof that it is ideologically punitive rather than drastically cash-strapped - much if not all of the savings made will be swallowed up by the costs of the knock-on effects.


The majority of those affected by the change - almost half a million people - are disabled.  Someone who has a disability that requires a carer to stay overnight retains their spare room as long as it's used every night. But someone whose medical condition fluctuates - as a great many do - cannot keep a room for a carer, even if it means they will be housebound alone for half their life. This will lead to medical conditions being exacerbated and more hospital treatment.

As Shelter noted, the National Housing Federation estimates that 100,000 tenants set to be affected live in homes specially adapted to their needs. Encouraging these tenants to move would not be cost-effective as new properties would need to be adapted while aids and adaptations would be stripped out of vacated homes.


Foster families cannot keep a room for the children they care for. Just as the Tories want to restrict marrying a foreigner to the rich, so poor people are effectively deemed unworthy to foster. This will lead to more children in care, and more people growing up without the self-esteem and social connections brought about by family life.

Children under 16 of the same gender must share a bedroom. Children under ten must share a bedroom regardless of gender. Children under three get no room at all and are expected to sleep in their parents' room. This means that a couple with three or four young children must live in a two bedroom household, with all the stress on family life and impediment to academic work it will bring.

A separated parent who does not have custody of their child cannot keep a bedroom for them. The government has already changed the rules so that someone under 35 cannot have a self-contained flat, only a room in a shared house. Clearly, a vast proportion of parents with children under 16 are below the age of 35.

So, a separated parent would have to have their child sleep in the parent's room, sharing a toilet, bathroom and kitchen with a house full of un-CRB checked strangers. Many courts will see this as a 'safeguarding' situation and prevent custody or even visits in order to protect the child. This will lead to loss of contact and reliance on sole parents. This, in turn, will lead to more single parents claiming benefits and a further increase in the number of children in care and those needing foster homes, even as the supply diminishes.


Those living in 'underoccupied' households will run up arrears and then be homeless and in debt. This will mean an explosion in the need for debt advice, more people homeless, more vulnerable people in short-stay bed and breakfast accommodation, more mental health treatment required, and more people saddled with long term debt repayments taken out of their benefits, pushing their heads further below the waterline.

The knock-on financial costs of these changes, especially to the penal, health and benefits systems, are obvious to anyone who thinks about them for more than four seconds. It proves that this, like so much of the cuts agenda, is not about reducing spending. It is straightforward cruelty and open class warfare.

Monday, July 16, 2012

the lorax: turkeys advertising christmas

As adults have to face the fact that the myriad potential of youth is largely unfulfilled, so they tend to idealise their formative years. Not just their personal youth, but everything about the times and society they grew up in. Thus people around 50 seem to think 1970s Britain - National Front marches tens of thousands strong, dogshit everywhere, queerbashing a normalised activity ignored (or participated in) by the police, and no decent curry to be found - as a glorious arcadia.

This determined nostalgia makes adults, now substantially richer than when they were 12, readily vulnerable to being fleeced by people who offer them any reminder of their youth. Thus we see 30-somethings spending 40 quid on fucking Take That tickets.

In 2003 there was a Cat In The Hat movie. It wasn't actually a movie, it was an unmitigated pile of shite. The Boston Globe said

At one point in "The Cat in the Hat," the Cat, played by Mike Myers, is mistaken for a pinata by a group of children at a birthday party. One by one, they line up to smack him, and the scene culminates with a husky lad swinging a baseball bat directly into the unfortunate feline's cojones.

That's a remarkably precise metaphor for what this movie does to the memory of Dr. Seuss. If the producers had dug up Ted Geisel's body and hung it from a tree, they couldn't have desecrated the man more.

Nonetheless $134,000,000 was handed over by people who went to see it. Even this was seen as a flop, and surely more money could be made from the Dr Seuss franchise. The lesson was learned and they decided not to make any more live action movies. Bring on the animation.and its marketing opportunities.

The thing with Dr Seuss is that it's not just whimsical tales with daft made up language and ear-stretching rhymes. The books have a clear agenda of encouraging children to explore themselves and the world, to be open minded, to not go for the greedy, destructive, mean and narrow - to reject all that marketing and advertising stands for.

The Lorax is perhaps the clearest of these. The Once-ler cuts down trees to make thneeds, a piece of junk that will make their seller rich. The Lorax come to speak for the trees, warning that if the Once-ler goes ahead then all the tress will be cut down and the forests will not regenerate.

Behold, the Lorax selling thneeds.

We're told the cars are Truffula Tree Friendly. The Mazda CX-5 has carbon emissions of 119g/km-144g/km, some 20%-50% higher than other cars presently available. And those lower emission cars are still an unsustainable environmental nightmare.

The solution is surely electric cars, a whole planet's worth of which, thanks to this ad, could be powered by a generator rigged up to the fast-spinning corpse of Theodore Geisel.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

and the lord smote the wicked with unseasonal rain

After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, some American christians said the satellite picture had looked like a massive foetus and the near-obliteration of New Orleans was God punishing Florida. It's a barking idea made even wackier by the fact that New Orleans is in Louisiana.

The Good Lord continues to move in weatherly ways. This summer's flooding in parts of the UK are also the judgment of God, according to senior Church of England bishops.

It's a novel set of skills that have you able to control the weather yet unable use a pen. I have to say, excessive rainfall is a bit ambiguous. Folk might respond better to your holy instructions if you dropped them a text instead.

All this is well and good, the easy pickings of using the gun handed to you by an outsize fish as it climbs into a barrel. But the really choice bit of this stuff, and one that does deserve our conscious attention, is the unironic arrogance of it all.

Firstly the Rt Rev Graham Dow, Bishop of Carlisle, is certain that he knows exactly what evil we're being punished for. Environmental degradation and gay rights apparently. Gay sex is, after all, unambiguously prohibited in Leviticus 18:22. Yet just three lines earlier the book of Leviticus also prohibits wearing clothes made of two types of fibre. Given the prevalence of poly-cotton shirts in modern society, I reckon the Lord's having a go at us for that. Or maybe it's for eating prawns.

And wouldn't a god of justice, infinite love and mercy act well within the norms of the Geneva Convention? You'd have thought they might want to target just the sinners as opposed to meting out collective punishment. Apparently not, sayeth the bishop.

The principle of God's judgment on nations that have exploited other nations is all there in the Bible

When did environmentally assaulted countries like Ethiopia and Bangladesh do their exploiting of other nations? Did I miss some stuff?

But there's a higher level of unintentional irony beyond the bishop's bilingual fluency in English and meteorology.

In the Bible, institutional power is referred to as 'the beast', which sets itself up to control people and their morals.

Human institutions aren't allowed to make moral rulings. That job is reserved for, er, the church.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

boris the bigot strikes again

Boris Johnson shambles along with his ill-chosen words and messy hair, and we see him as a bumbler who can't really do much harm. Ronald Reagan had a similar schtick when he went into politics, even though he was an accomplished union buster before he quit Hollywood.

Those who had personal experience of Johnson's tenure as editor of The Spectator testify to his sharp intellect, swift and complex grasp of issues, and persuasive methods to ensure he got exactly the articles he wanted out of his staff.

But, like Reagan before him, he knows the un-PC errant uncle routine is a great way to make even your opponents reluctant to call you out on your extreme right wing ideology. A laboriously constructed image of not being in thrall to spin is the way he spins himself.

Let's be clear about him. He's a vicious bigot who attacks the marginalised and favours the rich. Being in charge of a city utterly reliant on public services and containing the poorest boroughs in the country, he has special opportunity for damage and as such voting for him is far worse than voting for some quiet backbench rural Tory in Dorset.

The London Mayor's office and associated Tory establishment have sabotaged this year's Pride march. Now I know modern Pride is a far cry from the courageous political rallies of 40 years ago when it was a few hundred people being jeered by their police escort, and these days it's a pink-pound corporate jamboree. But really, I don't think that's why the Mayor has undermined it, do you? For the real reason, let's remind ourselves that Johnson likened gay marriage to bestiality.

Peter Tatchell lists many of the ways the event has been stymied, including:

- The Mayor insisted the start time be brought forward by two hours, citing 'safety issues' and 'problems' but refused to say what they actually were. This means people who already booked travel tickets wouldn't be able to join in.

- Greater London Authority insisted on Pride paying all money up front, even though guaranteed sponsorship money wouldn't come in till after, and even though the GLA didn't cough up its promised funding in time. 

 - They banned not just floats but all vehicles from the parade, effectively barring people who need vehicles for mobility.

- Westminster council sent a threatening letter to gay venues warning them that their licences could be revoked if they play music that is "audible outside of your premises", saying that Pride day must be treated like "any normal day".

It's all been done to run it down and discourage people from attending, seemingly solely because the Tories are an evil gang of bigoted scumfucks. We haven't heard much about that though, as the Mayor insisted Pride run all press releases past them first, and made changes in order to spin the Mayor's position.

And meanwhile, the much larger 'safety issues' around for the Olympics can be readily dealt with or ignored, anything needed for that is just fiiiiiiine.

Fuck Johnson, fuck the Tories, fuck everyone who voted for them.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

the dpp protecting miscarriages of justice

The Mark Kennedy affair became big news when, in January last year, a trial collapsed. Out of 114 climate activists arrested at a planning meeting to shut down Ratcliffe coal-fired power station, 26 had been charged.

The thing is, it was 113 activists and the undercover police officer Mark Kennedy. Twenty of the activists, who admitted planning the action but said it was justified, had already been convicted.

Another six activists had not decided to participate at the time of arrest and so were having a separate trial. In light of the information that one of their number had been a police officer who must have submitted a report that may well exonerate them, they asked to see what Kennedy had said. The prosecution have a legal duty to reveal any evidence that might help the defence.

Rather than disclose it, the prosecution dropped the case that millions of pounds had been spent on. (Remember that next time you hear any bullshit about it collapsing because Kennedy was going to testify for the defence. Kennedy never helped the activists, it was in fact his solid police work that caused the trial to collapse).

Faced with this scandal, a whitewash self-investigation report was commissioned from Sir Christopher Rose, a Surveillance Commissioner who had ultimate oversight over the deployment of Kennedy and other undercover officers. He said the prosecutors had seen Kennedy's fat file on the case but hadn't realised it was significant in any way, that it didn't occur to them that a transcipt of what went on in the meeting might be handy, honest guv, it was incompetance rather than a cover up.

Then in April last year the Director of Public Prosecutions, Kier Starmer, took the highly unusual step of recommending that the 20 already convicted appeal against their convictions, which were duly quashed. Starmer tried to make out that Ratcliffe was a one-off and there is no systemic problem, but if any activists thought they had convictions from other cases that may have had undercover evidence witheld, they should get in touch.

The gall of the man is hugely impressive. How are activists meant to know if undercover officers reported on them?

We can start with actions that had convictions where known undercovers were definitely present. The salient example is the Drax 29 - a train carrying coal to Drax power station was stopped and its cargo shovelled on to the tracks. Mark Kennedy was one of the drivers that dropped them off, and 29 people were convicted. Yet the DPP didn't look into that as an unsafe conviction.

But as the undercover scandal refuses to go away and more details come out, the 'one rogue case' stance has crumbled underneath them. It's taken them over a year but today they finally invited the Drax 29 to appeal, meaning it is a formality that their convictions will also be overturned. This makes a total of 49 convictions quashed (plus 6 that were reprieved at the last minute), giving Kennedy & co the high score for largest miscarriage of justice in recent legal history.

But this, too, is a fob-off. Despite the already massive total of wrongful convictions, it has the distinct appearance of an iceberg tip. In many cases, officers won't have gone on actions yet will still have reported on things they overheard or that their comrades told them about. In many cases, officers went on actions, reported and left the movement without being uncovered. How are those activists wrongly convicted to know that evidence was witheld?

Starmer knows this, so his reluctance can only be a cover-up for the police. We know he knows, because he has seen it with his own eyes. As a young defence lawyer he handled a case of hunt saboteurs where one of them, Jim Sutton, went through the case under his false name and identity. He was in fact police officer Jim Boyling. There is also serious suggestion that Bob Lambert was prosecuted under his activist alias for the deadly crime of leafletting.

If I get burgled, find a finger print and take it to the police, they're unlikely to tell me to find a name to match it before they investigate. It's they who have the fingerprint files with matching names. They are the only ones who can put that together.

By the same token, they - and only they - know exactly who all the undercover officers are, what they reported, and which cases led to conviction. The responsibility is with them to go through those files and contact those wrongly convicted. Anything else is a conspiracy to let miscarriages of justice stand.

Monday, July 02, 2012

the sinking of the arandora star

Two years ago the freshly elected David Cameron spoke of how Britain owes so much to the USA for its military support during the Battle of Britain.

the fact is that we are a very effective partner of the US, but we are the junior partner. We were the junior partner in 1940 when we were fighting the Nazis.

Robert Fisk writes of how, as the Iraq War began in 2003,

both Bush and Blair reminded journalists that the US had stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Britain in her hour of need in 1940.

In fact the Americans only joined the war in December 1941. In 1940, Britain stood alone against the Nazis. Facing vastly superior weaponry the Americans expected that, like much of Europe, we would readily fall to Nazi occupation.

Knowing that the immediate future would be one of either occupation or the protracted privation of war, the British swiftly interned all German and Italian men, even those who were here as refugees from fascism, then set about deporting them.

And so it was that around 1,400 of them were crammed into a ship called the Arandora Star. On 1st July 1940 she sailed out of Liverpool and, in the early morning light 72 years ago today, appeared to the commander of a German submarine like a slow moving prize of a troop ship. After the torpedo hit there was barely half an hour before she sank, taking around 800 men to their deaths.

Towards the end of July, as bodies washed up along the Scottish and Irish coasts, only the few whose personal papers had survived weeks in the sea could be identified. Many were buried in services paid for by the communities who found them.

If you want to know more, I wrote a piece about it for the radical history calendar site On This Deity. There's also a really well-written home made documentary on Youtube in four parts starting here.

Last month I visited Islay, one of the westernmost isles off the coast of Scotland, facing out into the Atlantic.

On Islay, as all across Britain, cemeteries usually have a few military graves tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. I was surprised and moved to find that Arandora Star passengers - civilian non-combatants and enemy nationals - are also buried in these areas. As such, their graves and headstones are tended in perpetuity out of public funds.

Both of Islay's Arandora Star passengers are Italian. The Italians had been on the lowest decks, under the most barbed wire, and a disproportionate number of them died.

Here is the grave of Andrea Gazzi, a 41 year old from Bardi in northern Italy, buried in Bowmore churchyard. He was found after more than two months in the sea on 6 September 1940. Some 48 men from his small village died on the Arandora Star, and there is now a commemorative chapel in Bardi's cemetery.

Grave of Andrea Gazzi, who died in the sinking of the Arandora Star

Down at Port Ellen cemetery there is an unknown Italian civilian. The inscription says 'Deceduto il 19 Agosto 1940' - died 19 August 1940, which is erroneous. They will have died on the 2nd July when the ship sank and, like Andrea Gazzi, the inscription should say 'rinvenuto', 'found'.

Grave of an unknown victim of the Arandora Star

They are both buried with the phrase 'morto per la patria' - 'died for their country'. This appears to be a standard motto on all Italian graves in the care of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

In the case of prisoners of war it is perhaps accurate, but here it has a sharp, almost cynical sting. They did not die fighting for anything. The Arandora Star internees - many of the Italians resident in Britain for 30 or 40 years - died for their nationality, rather than their country.