Posts Tagged 'Old Bailey'

Wolf at the door…

How far is too far when it comes to demonstrations? A review has been ordered following this Unite protest (Image from BBC)

If I owned a front drive then on it I’d probably expect to see my car, some weeds and possibly next door’s cat.

An auto-mobile, dandelions and a feline are all perfectly acceptable things to have on a driveway and so wouldn’t cause the owner of said drive to phone the police, or at least if they did then attending officers wouldn’t be particularly impressed.

Replace the visiting cat with thirty demonstrators waving banners accompanied by an inflatable rat though and it’s a different story.

As you’ll probably have noticed in the news recently, this was the form a protest by Unite union members took during the course of the dispute over the closure of the Grangemouth refinery last month.

With industrial relations at a low point and job losses threatened, Unite members had turned up at the home address of one of the refinery bosses to show that they had “nowhere to hide”.

The PM described the union’s tactics as ‘shocking’ and now Bruce Carr QC is going to conduct an enquiry into the demonstration tactics used by the union and whether the law needs changing to prevent harassment and intimidation.

The inquiry I find interesting as I’d been wondering about the course of action I may have taken had I been one of the officers sent to attend the protest when it happened.

The right to peaceful protest is an important one – I’d describe it as a legal ‘biggie’ – and is rightfully protected in law as one of the basic human rights.

Infringements on the right to protest have to be very carefully considered and us police have a duty to ensure that people are able to hold demonstrations to uphold their views, even in cases such as BNP whose views and values the same officers will totally abhor.

Set against this though, the right to protest doesn’t equate to a right to bully and nor does it allow people the right to cause people fear and upset in their own homes.

The articles of the Human Rights Act 1998 set out the balancing act that needs to be achieved, it guarantees freedom of expression and at the same time, the right to respect for privacy and family life.

As such the first thing I’d have done on arrival would probably have been to grab my legal scales, throw on an Old Bailey-style dress and to think how to weigh up the two competing demands.

The decision I’d make would be based on the understanding that whilst the right to protest is important, I’d feel very uncomfortable should this right extend so far as to allow a ‘mob’ to descend on a person’s home and no doubt cause great distress to young children or other persons completely unconnected with the dispute who may be present.

Targeting a demonstration outside an office is one thing, taking a giant rat to someone’s front door quite another.

As such I’d be requesting the demonstrators dissipate which I’m sure they’d do peacefully, hopefully that could be considered the end of the matter.

As a bobby it can be tempting to look at such incidents in relation to what criminal action could be taken.

Due to the sensitivities outlined above I’d be reluctant to go down this route although for serious occurrences, such demonstrations may drift towards being considered to represent a public order offence or perhaps give grounds for an allegation of harassment.

Arguments over the public interest to bring about prosecutions and whether the protests were ‘reasonable’ would then invariably spring up left, right and centre.

It’s hard to judge how appropriate considering criminal charges would be when it comes to policing demonstrations such as that in Scotland, rather though it’d be much more preferable were the organisers of the demonstrations to conduct them in such a way that these questions need not be asked in the first place.

Weak become heroes…

Gary Dobson and David Norris - today sentenced for the murder of Stephen Lawrence

Yesterday David Norris and Gary Dobson were found guilty of Stephen Lawrence’s racially motivated murder in Eltham in 1993. Today they have been sentenced to life imprisonment – Norris for a minimum of fourteen years and three months, Dobson for a minimum of fifteen years and two months,

I wanted to use this post to reflect on both what the case has meant for me as a police officer about to end my first two years in the job and also a little on what the legacy of the trial ought to mean.

In the wake of the murder, the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, led by Sir Macpherson, branded the Metropolitan Police to be ‘institutionally racist’.

The damning conclusions reached by Macpherson suggested that because of racist attitudes within the Met, they had been unable to conduct an effective investigation appropriate to Stephen’s murder and that justice had suffered as a result.

A major change in attitudes was clearly needed.

As a direct result of Stephen’s death and the campaigning of his family, changes for the better have been achieved and continue to be achieved.

In legal terms visible examples include the overturning of the double jeopardy rule and the passing into law of the Race Relations Amendment Act which places upon public bodies a duty to eliminate discrimination and promote equality.

In terms of police training, much of the legislation we are taught when we first join the job is set against a background of how in the past errors have been made and what the lessons are.

Showing how importantly this consideration – the desire to learn from history so to avoid its repetition – is taken, the first week of the eighteen week course is dedicated to looking at issues surrounding diversity and discrimination.

Past cases are discussed – the Brixton Riots, Toxteth, Lawrence, Climbie, Baby P to name a few – and the learning points discussed so that new officers understand the consequences of previous failings.

One of the most important things I’d taken away from looking at such tragic examples was a stark reminder that when I applied to be a police officer, I didn’t apply to offer protection to only some members of society. I didn’t apply join a service in which public confidence in ability to do our job varied according to the colour of someone’s skin, their background or where they come from.

Appreciations about racist and hate crime of course don’t end with the finish of training school and actively permeate throughout the police force, be it in the regular training inputs available or in the practical way in which we tackle crimes involving a hate element.

Hate crimes in particular attract specific attention from specialist evidence review teams whilst cases are still with the police to ensure the highest quality of investigation and then once they reach the courts, a perception of a hate motivation qualifies for the passing of tougher sentences.

As for the legacy of the trial, it’s taken eighteen years to bring those responsible to justice. The strain on Stephen’s family who had campaigned tirelessly ever since his death is unimaginable and it may be tempting to see the conviction of Norris and Dobson as ‘case closed’.

This I think would be the worse possible outcome – Stephen’s legacy is something that lives on, that continues as a force for positive change and that is, and always will be, an important lesson on how we police.

As Mark Easton writes on the BBC News website, “Problems still exist but Britain is much more at ease with its racial diversity than it was two decades ago. And that tolerance, in no small part, is the legacy of a teenage boy: Stephen Lawrence.”


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