Saturday, June 21, 2014

Bye Bye Blunkett

Five years since a cow tried to end David Blunkett's political career, the longtime ex-socialist has decided to do it himself.

The media has plenty of guff about how respected he is, with the only frequently mentioned blemish being his resignation when he got caught fast tracking his lover's nanny's passport application.

Fellow pro-war New Labour schmuck Hilary Benn said

His passion for justice and his determination to fight for it define his politics.

Blunkett was the Home Secretary who introduced detention without trial, which pretty much defines injustice. He dismissed the 'airy fairy' vision of people who objected.

He was the main instigator of the plan for compulsory ID cards. People forget how close we came - Blunkett had it put in the 2003 Queen's Speech and this led to the Identity Cards Act 2006. The voluntary cards were issued, contracts with incompetent IT firms were signed and a timetable was set for making them compulsory. One of the few benefits of the Tory victory in 2010 was the scrapping of that plan, their £2m compensation for cancelled contracts was loose change compared to the billions the scheme would have cost.

His belief that civil liberties are 'airy fairy' may go some way to explaining him voting against the equal age of gay consent. His prudish prejudice extended to criticising the Paedogeddon episode of Brass Eye without actually watching it.

So remember him well. Open your wallet, be thankful that it doesn't contain an ID card, and wish him good fucking riddance.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Arise, Sir Bullshitter

When the scandal of Britain's secret police broke, those in charge still thought they could pin it all on 'rogue agent' Mark Kennedy. Just one officer, far off his given mission.

Kennedy worked for the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, run by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). Back then, in January 2011, ACPO's spokesperson Jon Murphy wanted us to know Kennedy was a solitary wrong 'un and all the other officers and their remits were just dandy.

We are left to regulate it ourselves, and we think we do a good job of it

Asked about the sexual relations with people they spy on, Murphy was expansive and unequivocal.

It is absolutely not authorised. It is never acceptable for an undercover officer to behave in that way.. It is grossly unprofessional. It is a diversion from what they are there to do. It is morally wrong because people have been put there to do a particular task and people have got trust in them. It is never acceptable under any circumstances ... for them to engage in sex with any subject they come into contact with.

Since then, details of a further thirteen undercover officers have come to light. Twelve of them had sexual relations with people they spied on, most having long-term, committed life-partner relationships. Either the 'good job' of regulation was a complete shambles or else sexual relationships are an authorised tactic and Murphy is lying. Either way, he could scarcely be more wrong.


The Kennedy case had just come to public attention after it caused the collapse of the trial of climate activits who'd intended to shut down Ratcliffe on Soar coal fired power station. Murphy said undercover policing was needed to stop people who were intent on

disabling parts of the national critical infrastructure. That has the potential to deny utilities to hospitals, schools, businesses and your granny.

He really did say 'your granny'.

As had been made clear two months earlier at the trial of another group from the same protest, if the activists had succeeded in shutting down the power station not one light bulb would have gone out. The National Grid is, well, a grid. Power stations come off and online again all the time to meet changes in demand or through faults. It's also worth noting that vulnerable places like large hospitals have their own back-up generators.

The protesters knew Ratcliffe's output would be replaced by a gas power station (these are quicker to switch on and off, so make up the slack in the system), which would result in lower carbon emissions than Ratcliffe's coal. This was the whole basis of their defence. They risked nobody's safety, except perhaps their own.

In sentencing them, Judge Jonathan Teare said

It is right to emphasise that this the planned action would have had no practical effect on the electricity supply ... It was your intention that this invasion would have been peaceable and safe. Violence was to be avoided, and the safety of the workers at the power station was paramount. You were fully equipped to carry out your roles safely.

Murphy, responsible for national security, either did not have the most basic grasp on how the National Grid works and had failed to pay any attention to the protesters he was talking about, or he was lying to exaggerate the threat and thereby deflect scrutiny and blame from himself and the others in charge of the spying. Either way, he could scarcely be less credible.

Murphy's predecessor luminaries as Chief Constable of Merseyside, Bernard Hogan-Howe and Norman Bettison, had a career path that saw them take that job, get a knighthood, then become mired in scandal. Last week Jon Murphy was was knighted for services to policing.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Nation of Obscene Publishers

Not like me to be writing in defence of a police officer, admittedly, but it's justice I'm interested in, not bigotry.

PC James Addison from the Diplomatic Protection Group shared 'extreme porn' with colleagues via Whatsapp on his phone, and last month he was convicted under the Obscene Publications Act and fined £6,000. He's also bound to lose his job.

The images

included bizarre sex acts and scenes showing defecation

Thing is, it appears to be another case of using this law to prosecute people for sharing pictures and footage of acts that are not in themselves illegal. District Judge Howard Riddle told Addison

The situation would be very different indeed if this involved children and similarly if there had been involvement of animals. I sentence you on the basis that there were no obviously unwilling participants in the films.

The images may not be to your taste. You may find them objectionable, you might even think they're morally questionable. But to treat them as illegal is another matter. If an image is of something foul but legal, it is nonsense to make it illegal - surely any judgement is about what's going on. We should be judging the picture rather than blaming the person who makes a frame for it.


The very concept of obscenity in the 1959 Act is anachronistic. It defines its target as material whose effect

if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it.

The internet has familiarised us all with unusual sexual practices. Many of us have found new things we really like to see and do. Most of us have discovered that, after a flicker of novelty evaporates, we find the majority of niche sexuality pretty boring. Whichever way we jump, if knowledge of this stuff was going to deprave and corrupt us, it would have done so by now.

Additionally, in 1959 'publication' meant something rather different to sharing something with someone individually via phone. In 1950s terms, what Addison did is more akin to showing you a picture in a magazine than publishing and selling it. But the Act allows for a single instance of sending an item to one person to count, without any commercial element. A solitary text could get you up to five years in prison and a spell on the Sex Offenders Register.

We've run into this technological rejigging of definitions on social media time and again. If it's said on Twitter, it's no different to shouting it in the street. As such, it's right that racist tweeters get bollocked. But Addison's sending things to a few friends, all of whom had given him their phone number and none of whom appear to have complained, is not the same thing.

Also, verbal or printed racist abuse is a crime so it follows that it is still a crime sent by text or tweet. Whereas consensual sex acts between adults, even if unusual, are not a crime so it is bizarre to make depiction and knowledge of them illegal. If you went through everyone's phone and computer, a significant proportion of people would be ripe for similar charges. So why pick on James Addison?


The images were found on his phone during the investigation into the Plebgate affair involving former government chief whip Andrew Mitchell and DPG officers at the gates of Downing Street, the court heard.

Aha. The government have been happy to blithely bat away outcries over a slew of indefensible police actions in recent years, as long as the victim is a Brazilian immigrant or a Millwall-supporting newspaper vendor. But at Plebgate they got a personal taste of what police do to people they don't like, and the government came out fighting.

A week after Addison was convicted, the Home Secretary stunned the Police Federation conference saying that if they didn't accept a list of dozens of reforms that cut back the body's power, then it would be forced on them by Parliament.

Could this same intense desire to take down the police around Plebgate be behind the decision to charge Addison?


The Obscene Publications Act should have keeled over and died in 1960 after Penguin Books were acquitted in the Lady Chatterley trial. It certainly should've been binned off two years ago when Michael Peacock walked free from court.

Peacock made made DVDs of legal, consensual sex and sold them. Personally, I don't want to see someone having their inflated scrotum pummelled, but if you do then as long as the pummellee is a willing participant, go right ahead.

As Johnnie Marbles said at the time,

Michael Peacock has been severely punished for not committing a crime. The vagaries of the process itself – the soul-churning moment of arrest, the months of worry that followed, the endless meetings with lawyers... These are standard ways the process punishes people, but in Peacock’s case they were coupled with revelations about his private life which must have been excruciating. Even the most vanilla of you probably wouldn’t want your mum hearing every detail of what you do in bed, particularly not if you were telling her from the dock. 

But Peacock made a stand. He was the first person charged for this sort of material to plead not guilty. He argued that his DVDs were sought out by adults wanting exactly that material. The jury agreed and acquitted him. That really should've been the end of a law whose purpose isn't to deal with any damage caused, merely to pass moral judgement.

The legislation that made homosexuality illegal prior to 1967, and kept it decriminalised but not fully legal until 2003, was nicknamed 'the blackmailers charter'. It took otherwise law-abiding citizens and criminalised them for something that did no harm to others but would nonetheless ruin the lives of all concerned if made public. It not only led to blackmail but also to police making 'soft arrests'; raiding a gay venue and nicking punters knowing that they'll all plead guilty to avoid the publicity of a trial.

By the same token, the Obscene Publications Act threatens us with unwanted exposure. In an age where we all count as publishers, the Obscene Publications Act is a vengeant dirty tricksters' charter.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Vicky Pollard in a Police Uniform

Last week the High Court hosted a hearing where women who had long-term relationships with undercover police challenged 'Neither Confirm Nor Deny' (NCND), the police's stonewalling tactic of refusing to say whether anybody was ever an undercover police officer.

It's a transparent ploy to avoid accountability, as was made clear by BristleKRS and as I said on the COPS blog too.

The excellent report of the hearing on Law Is War further expands on the many exceptions to the NCND rule. But if you've been following the case, what catches the eye is this description of

a tense moment after the Judge repeatedly asked whether the Defendant would in fact view long-term sexual relationships in this case as appropriate or not. After a phonecall it was finally conceded by the Met that this would be inappropriate.

This is the same Metropolitan Police whose lawyers were in the same building 18 months ago. On that occasion they were trying to ensure that the human rights aspect of the womens' case was not held in court but was instead sent to a bullshit Stalinist tribunal that doesn't allow the womens' representatives to even be present for the hearing and always finds in favour of the government.

In order to win that, the police had to show that the offending relationships were covered under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act - in other words, that they were, in fact, authorised.

Paragraph 37 of that judgement has the solicitor for the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police's angle.

Authorisation was granted for Mark Kennedy's deployment as a … CHIS [Covert Human Intelligence Source; undercover cop], as defined in s.26(8) of RIPA. He established and maintained 'a personal or other relationship' with your clients which he covertly used to obtain information and he covertly disclosed information obtained 'by the use of such a relationship'

Once again it seems that the sexual relationships are authorised when it helps the police refuse accountability, and not authorised when their position needs them to be ignorant. In the same way, as the women showed at last week's hearing, NCND is an absolute rule when the police want to keep quiet and a mere idea when they want to big themselves up.

They have flip-flopped on both aspects so many times that everyone can see what's going on. By not even admitting their abuse, police extend and intensify the damage and injustice they've wrought. They stand there like Vicky Pollard in a uniform, spluttering 'yeah but no but yeah but no,' then blurt the latest implausbile excuse followed by an irrelevant decoy that insults the intelligence of everyone who hears it.

Perhaps a tad more generous, the Guardian's Rob Evans said yesterday that they have air of Canute about them, becoming ever more isolated and absurd as they command the inexorable rising tide of truth and justice to turn back.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Rik Mayall

The passing of Rik Mayall is to be mourned. He was in so many great things and, given that we're now ruled by a bunch of Alan B'Stards, his talent certainly hasn't lost its relevance. But it is the more slapstick element of his work that deservedly gets remembered best.

It's hard to convey just how genuinely anarchic the Young Ones was at the time. We still lived in a land where telly was saturated with that accent - surely the only one on Earth not based on geography - that you only really hear on the Queen these days. It was years before the likes of Viz appeared. Even the cutting edge, bubble-popping satire like Not The Nine O Clock News seemed like it was talking about the right values but in that same cosy way as everything else. No use to you if you were growing up in a northern town nobody had ever heard of.

The Young Ones didn't politely ask for anything, they took a space and fizzed with a wild energy that was at once intelligent and puerile. It wasn't just funny, it was recognisable. It was the only thing apart from music that was allowed on telly that said 'don't let them fool you into being boring, you really can stay yourself'.

This gag about the people's poet being dead has an extra resonance on this sad day. But it also tells us an eternal truth - every joke should end with the teller vigorously shitting themselves.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Spycops Women Back in Court

I've started doing social media and blogging for the Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance. It's an umbrella group campaigning for full disclosure for everyone who's been spied on by Britain's political secret police.

So, some of my posts on that issue and a lot of my tweets will be under the COPS banner.

That said, as a group effort it has to be a bit drier and more factual, so the more ranty and speculative stuff will still appear on my personal Twitter and this blog. But anyway, if it's an issue that interests you then follow COPS on Twitter. By the way, I do find it weird when people put 'I do this formally but my tweets here are in a personal capacity' - if you put your job in a Twitter bio you've just stopped it being personal. Anyway.

For the blogging I'll try to remember to put pointer link posts on here.

Which leads me to this - the women who had long term relationships with undercover officers are back in court in London this week, challenging the latest police obstruction to justice. They've called for a demo outside the Royal Courts of Justice on Thursday morning. For more info on it, see the post on the COPS site.