Monday, July 31, 2006 

Seven Weeks On, Police Still Struggle To Answer Concerns On Local ‘Anti-Terror’ Raid


The following is the text of a newsletter distributed by Newham Monitoring Project to residents of the streets that were closed following the disastrous 'anti-terror' raid in Forest Gate. You can download a PDF copy of the newsletter here [116K]

It has now been seven weeks since an ‘anti-terror’ raid on two homes in Lansdown Road led to the closure of streets, the shooting of an innocent Forest Gate resident and two families found their lives turned upside down. And yet despite admitting that they need to ‘learn the lessons’ of the failure to communicate with local people, Newham’s police have failed to provide answers to the concerns that have been raised about both the raids themselves and the aftermath. They say they have spoken to ‘community leaders’. This update pieces together information for the benefit of everyone else.

Why weren’t local people kept informed?
On the day of the raids, 2nd June, the Metropolitan Police press bureau issued a statement (bulletin 413, subsequently altered on the Met’s website) saying that “local Safer Neighbourhoods’ officers will be working closely with affected residents and members of the community to provide support, advice and reassurance.” This turned out to be untrue. The sergeant leading the Green Street East team was on holiday but no other efforts were made to ensure that local officers with a knowledge of the area were involved in providing reassurance to the local community. As we all soon discovered, the officers patrolling the cordons of the roads that were closed were from across London. They had been given no information as to why there were road closures when there was no threat to the safety of the public or why residents had to be escorted to their homes. This led to considerable confusion about whether visitors were allowed in, whether they had to be met at the cordon and (in the case of Lansdown Rd) whether they had to provide identification.

Both the local and national press reported that the police would be delivering a letter to local people, answering some of their questions. At a meeting of the Green Street Community Forum on 13 June, Newham’s senior officer in charge of Operations, Superintendent Phil Morgan, said that a letter including ‘questions and answers’ had been drafted but that Scotland Yard had refused to agree its wording. At a meeting of the Newham Community and Police Forum on 24 July, Superintendent Morgan went further, saying that the police had been unable to write to residents because ‘logistics’ could not keep up with ‘changing events’.


However, when it came to the information that was really needed – about the cordons, about escorting residents to their doors, about how long the police operation might take – nothing fundamentally changed between 2 June and 10 June, when the cordon was finally lifted. Why was its so difficult to communicate with 300 homes?


On 22 July, a letter from Chief Inspector Derrick Griffiths was finally drafted, but it has never been delivered. It is far from adequate and far too late, but you can read its contents overleaf [see below]. It seems a shame that it has been necessary for Newham Monitoring Project to pass it on to local people, rather than the police themselves.


Why WON’T the police say anything?
There are many questions that need answering about the raids themselves and understandably, some information will not be available until after an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). This is to ensure that any possible disciplinary or legal action is not put in jeopardy. However, this only applies to the complaints that the IPCC are investigating, not to everything to do with events from 2 June onwards. On 24 July Michael Johnson, Borough Commander for Newham, was extremely unwilling to answer questions and kept taking refuge behind the IPCC’s investigations as an explanation for why he is will not comment in more detail.

The IPCC have told us: “The Metropolitan Police are not prevented from providing information to the community about the aftermath of the Forest Gate incident. We are aware that, in some quarters of the police, the perception exists that they are prohibited from divulging any information; however, the IPCC has clarified the correct position to the police whenever possible.”


Why CAN’T Newham police answer our questions?

Maybe part of the reason that senior officers are hiding behind the IPCC investigation is that they simply do not have the answers. It is clear that our local police were shut out of an operation planned and directed from Scotland Yard, making a mockery of the idea of ‘community policing’.


Borough Commander Michael Johnson has said that he does not feel his role has been undermined by the exclusion of local officers from one of the most significant and high profile police operations in Newham because the raids “were a very tiny part of the work of the police in the borough”, but that sounds unconvincing. Seven weeks on from 2nd June and despite promises that the police will ‘learn the lessons’ from the poor communication to local residents, it also looks as those Newham’s police are still shut out. Michael Johnson looks like a man struggling to talk about issues without so much as a briefing from his superiors.


We need someone who CAN answer our concerns
Andy Hayman, an Assistant Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police, was in charge of the raids in Lansdown Road and had a central role in assessing the intelligence and coordinating the police response. Newham Monitoring Project wrote to him in June expressing some of the concerns raised by local people and suggested that he is best placed to respond directly to you about those concerns. Now the Green Street Community Forum has written to him, asking him to come to the borough and answer the questions that the police in Newham are unable to address. Michael Johnson has also agreed to pass on this request.

It is vital that Andy Hayman comes to Newham and talks to local people at a public forum in person. It is clear that our local officers, pushed aside by Scotland Yard, are unable to answer any local concerns.


Text of the letter from Newham Police that was never delivered to local residents

Dear Resident, Business Owner

This message seeks to address some of the current issues that have been raised by the local community following the Police operation in Lansdown Road on Friday 2nd June.

First of all let me reassure you that your local Police understand your concerns and understand why such an operation can be unsettling to the local community. We apologise for the lack of information that has been available in respect of this operation, which is due to circumstances beyond our local control. The Muslim community is one of many that co-exist peacefully in Newham. The contribution of all of these communities is highly valued and makes Newham the vibrant place it is. The fact that so many different communities live together in peace and harmony is our greatest strength and it is only by us all continuing to speak and work together that we can grow ever closer and resist pressure from those who would seek to cause unrest and division. Despite the tensions of the past couple of weeks we find that the community are still united and we therefore seek your continued support and confidence.

I would personally like to thank those residents who kindly supported the officers staffing the cordons with drinks and other refreshments. These officers were from other boroughs, but they have asked me to pass on that your kindness was very much appreciated.

Chief Inspector Derrick Griffiths

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

WHY WERE 250 OFFICERS NEEDED FOR THE OPERATION?
Only a small number of officers were needed for the actual search of two premises. The vast majority ( about 200 ) were never deployed. Their presence was essential in order that we could ensure the safety of local residents should events have unfolded differently. Fortunately their deployment was not necessary.

HOW MUCH DAMAGE HAS BEEN CAUSED TO THE HOUSES?
Recent media reports suggested that a lot of damage has been caused. This is not the case. In fact, given the extent of the searches little damage has been caused to the houses during the operation and subsequent search. Immediately prior to handing the houses over to the control of solicitors acting for the families I arranged for them to be viewed by the Chair of the Barking and Dagenham Independent Advisory Group. This person is entirely independent of police in Newham and is also a Muslim. He shares my views about the extent of the damage, however, I do understand that any such event must be very traumatic for the families concerned and so even small amounts of damage can seem significant.

WAS THIS OPERATION CARRIED OUT BY LOCAL NEWHAM POLICE OFFICERS?
Local police had no part to play in this operation and the search of the premises. Our role was to ensure that the community were kept informed of events (as far as was possible) and to protect the local Muslim community.

WHAT IF I STILL HAVE CONCERNS?
I acknowledge that such a high profile incident happening on your doorstep must have an unsettling effect. However, if you still have any outstanding concerns then please feel free speak to one of your local Safer Neighbourhood officers or contact me at East Ham Police Station (0208 217 4372). If you do not wish to speak direct to police then you can contact one of your local councillors at their advice surgeries, they have agreed to help address any concerns that you may have. Your local councillors are Cllr Sharaf Mahmood, Cllr Rohima Rahman and Cllr Abdul Shakoor. Details of their surgery times can be found on Newham Councils website, www.newham.gov.uk

WHAT COMMUNITY CONSULTATION HAS TAKEN PLACE SINCE THE EVENT?
On a daily basis local police have contacted and sought the advice of members of our local Independent Advisory Group and community leaders both elected and otherwise. On the day of the event the local Borough Police Commander visited five of the local Mosques to explain what had happened and why. We have also worked closely with the Alliance of Mosques, other community leaders and local ward councillors to listen to community concerns. May I take this opportunity to thank all of these people and organisations for their continued advice and support.. Finally, being under the media spotlight brings with it the risk of inaccurate information being circulated within the local community. Your local Police work very closely with the people mentioned above in order to ensure that through this community consultation process we can keep people as informed as possible.


For more information on the community campaign demanding Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman comes to Newham and faces local people, see earlier posting from 14 July here

Monday, July 17, 2006 

In Other News: Sun Comes Up In The Morning...

... and the Crown Prosecution Service said today, in what must be one of its most leaked and least surprising announcements, that once again, no police officer will face criminal charges for killing a member of the public.

This time there will be no charges for the execution of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell tube station last year. We can now expect the line trotted out by Sir Chris Fox, chair of the Association of Police Officers on this morning's Today programme on Radio 4, that the police have a difficult job to
do and they thought their actions had made London a safer place, will be repeated by the Prime Minister, the Metropolitan Police Authority and everyone else with an interest in ensuring that there was no prosecution.

Fox is also quoted on the BBC website as saying that "holding people to account had to be done within the existing law of the land" but the law of the land seems pretty clear, unless of course a police officer is involved. Gross negligence involuntary manslaughter requires the existence of a duty of care, the breach of that duty of care causing death and the jury finding that the conduct of the person who owed the duty to be such as to be described as "gross negligence." Now it may seem like commom sense that the shooting someone dead because of what leaks from the Independent Police Complaints Commission describe as a catalgogue of failures by the police is grossly negligent. But it may have been that a jury would have decided that in favour of the officers and acquitted them. We shall never know. Justice [or the lack of it] is made by agencies of the state when it comes to the police, not by juries.

So if you are a coach driver who crashes killing a party of schoolchildren, or a seafarer who fails to shut the cargo doors of a car ferry, sinking it and killing hundreds, you can face prosecution, not because you deliberately set out to kill but because your actions were grossly negligent. But if you shoot someone and you are in a Metropolitan police uniform, don't worry, you'll never have to face a jury. It's no surprise that in 36 years there has only ever been one successful manslaughter prosecution for a death involving the police - and that was in 1970.

And the sun comes up in the morning and fairly soon, Sir Ian Blair will found to have acted entirely appropriately in the separate investigation into his conduct following Jean Charles de Menezes' death. All we have left is the hope that senior judges, who will hear the inevityable judicial review of the CPS' decision and who have shown a surprising degree of independence over recent months, will take a different view. Meanwhile, the relatives of Jean Charles join Irene Stanley, whose husband was gunned down by the police because he was carrying a table leg, and Pauline Ashley, whose brother was shot dead in his bed in Hastings, in wondering if the day will ever come when police officers can no longer shoot members of the public with impunity.

Friday, July 14, 2006 

Senior Police Officer Behind Forest Gate Raid Refuses to Address Public Forum

Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman, the senior officer who planned the bungled ‘anti-terror’ raid in Forest Gate, has refused to come to Newham and address a public forum where all local concerns, not just those of selected individuals, can be raised.

Newham Monitoring Project (NMP) wrote to Hayman on 19 June expressing its concern that “the Metropolitan Police’s strategy of speaking only to councillors and selected ‘community leaders’, important those this is, has excluded those most affected by the raid – local people”. Since the raids in Lansdown Rd on 2 June, promises from the police to write to residents have been broken, whilst anyone who raises concerns about the raids with local officers are unlikely to receive anything approaching an informed response.

On 13 June at a meeting of the Green Street Community Forum, Superintendent Phil Morgan from Forest Gate Police spoke to local people, expressed his wish for 'dialogue' with local communities but acknowledged that he was unable to provide any information that was not already available in the press. In its letter, NMP therefore argued that local police commanders like Superintendent Morgan had effectively been placed in an impossible position, claiming they wanted to kick-start a dialogue that by its very nature is a two-way process, but having no means of responding to questions about an operation planned and carried out centrally by Scotland Yard. Therefore, NMP said “we believe that if the Metropolitan Police Service is serious about a dialogue with local communities, then it is vital that someone with the information to properly answer local people’s questions, someone of your seniority, takes the first step.”

Hayman has responded by defending the Met’s tactics of meeting only those who have been carefully chosen not to ask too many difficult questions. He claimed “senior officers have visited Newham on a number of occasions to meet community groups” without saying whom they have spoken to and that “we have canvassed a wide selection of the community through a variety of methods,” without elaborating what these ‘methods’ are. He has also rejected the idea of attending a public forum with the bland statement that “action already in progress will provide a suitable vehicle for local officers to maintain an informative dialogue with their local community.”

It is clear the Metropolitan Police intend to arrogantly brush aside legitimate concerns about their actions on 2 June. Their refusal to make a meaningful apology to the two families whose lives were turned upside down by heavy-handed police tactics is matched by a cavalier attitude to local accountability. However, a network of community groups and members of local mosques are circulating a community letter demanding that Hayman faces questioning by Newham residents and signatures are currently being sought.

To add your organisation’s name to this letter, download the text (link below) and then e-mail Newham Monitoring Project at info@nmp.org.uk to express your support for its content.

Download the Community Letter to Andy Hayman Word document

Thursday, July 13, 2006 

Forest Gate Raid Families Speak Out on First Anniversary of Jean Charles de Menezes' death

One year to the day since the fatal shooting by police of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell tube station, the two families from Forest Gate whose homes were raided in another 'anti-terrorist' police operation will speak alongside Jean Charles' cousins at Friends Meeting House.

One Year On - Is Justice Possible?

Saturday 22 July

2.30pm - 5pm
Friends Meeting House,
173-177 Euston Rd, London NW1

Nearest tube:
Euston / Kings Cross


Speakers include Patricia da Silva Armani & Alex Pereira (cousins of Jean Charles de Menezes), Mohammed Abdul Kahar & Abul Koyair (Kalam Family - Forest Gate), Inayat Dhogra (Dhogra Family - Forest Gate), Gareth Peirce (leading civil liberties lawyer), Bianca Jagger (international human rights activist), Lord Steyn (Chair of
Justice - invited)

Chair: Asad Rehman
(Newham Monitoring Project)


To mark the first anniversary of the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, join this unique platform of the three families together with leading civil liberties figures to ask: is justice possible in the 'war on terror'?


Contact: Justice for the Kalam Family / Justice for the Dhogra Family

PO Box 273, Forest Gate, Lonon E7. Tel 07765 707 632 or 020 8470 8333

Monday, July 10, 2006 

Underground Adventures in the Arms and Torture Trade

Visit the website of the Florida-based defence company Kejo Ltd and the title of the comedian Mark Thomas' book, 'As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela' becomes clear. Amazingly it's true - they actually advertise heavy-duty leg-irons in this way, as used by one of the most vile regimes on the world's most famous political prisoner.

These and other eye-opening revelations about the arms and torture trades can be found in Mark's excellent account of infiltrating the Excel Centre for the DSEi arms fair, helping school children set up arms companies to expose the loopholes in the import of torture equipment and other magnificent mischief-making.


Mark will be speaking on Wednesday 19 July at 7pm at Stratford Circus, Theatre Square E15.

Tickets costing £3 are still available from Newham Bookshop - call 020 8552 9993 or e-mail info@newhambooks.co.uk

Saturday, July 08, 2006 

The London Bombings One Year On: Stay Silent. Be Afraid. Question Nothing.

The government resists calls for a public inquiry into last year’s bombings in London, argues Kevin Blowe, because the last thing it wants is scrutiny of the security services or the conduct of the ‘war on terror’ in Britain. Instead, we are offered two minutes of silence and encouragement to rekindle our fears, in the hope that fearful citizens will ask fewer questions about bungled police raids, the death of Jean Charles de Menezes and authoritarian attacks on civil liberties.

National acts of remembrance are rarely without controversy. Think of the Muslim Council of Britain’s boycott of Holocaust Memorial Day because it is ‘not inclusive enough’, or the absence at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday until recently of representatives of the faiths of the thousands of men and women from Commonwealth countries who died in the name of Empire. And what about the call for a memorial day to remember the thousands of victims of the slave trade? The controversy always lies in what exactly these events are for and what message they are supposed to reinforce. And it is precisely because there have been so few voices of dissent about the official two-minutes silence at noon on 7 July, to mark the first anniversary of the London tube and bus bombings, that it is important to ask – what is that we are expected to remember?

The Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell has described the two-minute silence as an opportunity to “bring the whole nation together to pay tribute” to those who have died and to the fortitude and courage of those who were injured. Jowell has argued, “It is right that we as a city, and as a nation, come together to reflect on what is still unutterable grief and loss.” But to what end? Few people can have anything but enormous sympathy for the bereaved families of those who were murdered, and the memorial event in Regent’s Park may have provided some small measure of comfort to them in ensuring their loved ones are not forgotten. But a two-minute silence is rather less than they have been demanding, which is a public inquiry into the 7 July bombings. So what is it exactly that the government wants the nation to reflect upon?

At the same time, few people living and working in London will have forgotten the feeling of powerlessness, the frantic telephone calls to loved ones and the shaky camera phone pictures from those trapped in Tube tunnels last July. A paper published in the British Medical Journal in September 2005 found that, in the immediate aftermath of the bombings, 31% of Londoners reported substantial stress and 32% reported an intention to travel less. Who benefits from asking us to relive in minute detail these experiences?

Part of the problem is that much has happened since last July. BBC newsreader Peter Donaldson’s recital in Regent’s Park of the names of all 52 victims of the bombings did not include the name of Jean Charles de Menezes, gunned down by the police at Stockwell station, because the ‘unutterable grief and loss’ of his family does not fit the framing of debate that the government seeks. Last year’s British Medical Journal paper found that Muslim respondents reported significantly more stress than people of other faiths, a situation that the government has exacerbated, through the use of its draconian anti-terrorism laws and by events such as the recent bungled raid in Forest Gate in east London. This is also something that the government would prefer we did not reflect upon.

More and more, the two-minute silence on 7 July looks like another exercise in reactivating our fear, in defining public discussion on how the government conducts the ‘war on terror’ in Britain, not by stopping us from being afraid but by reminding us why we need to be fearful. If that sounds too cynical, then consider this – as 7 July drew nearer, there has been a host of wild stories in the press, usually from unattributed ‘security sources’, claiming everything from attempts by ‘Al-Qaeda sympathisers’ to infiltrate MI5 to the claim that there are 400,000 Muslims in the UK who are “sympathetic to violent world jihad”. Prime Minister Tony Blair has once again attacked moderate Muslims for not doing enough to tackle the problem of extremism in their communities (which any seasoned Blairologist recognise translates as ‘failing to agree with everything the Prime Minister says’). The last two weeks look as carefully constructed to distract attention from the police’s disastrous shooting of an unarmed man in east London as the ’45-minute threat’ of weapons of mass destruction was to try and mislead the public into supporting war in Iraq. And as long as we are encouraged to forget that in reality, terrorists are few in number and that we are more likely to be killed in a traffic accident or even by a lightning strike than by terrorist atrocity, it is possible for MPs like Ilford’s Mike Gapes, the chair of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, to tell the BBC’s World Service on 2 July the patent nonsense that “Al-Qaeda represents a threat to our democracy” without challenge or a demand for evidence.

Equally, as long as we are encouraged to dwell on the horror of 7 July, the hope must be that we will be less likely to ask too many other questions For example, if Mike Gape’s committee can conclude that detentions without international authority in Guantanamo Bay “work against British as well as US interests”, why does it ignore the detentions in Belmarsh Prison and the introduction of control orders that have the same effect in undermining the way Britain is viewed by the wider world? And by seeking to control the boundaries of discussion, the government must also hope that the public can be encouraged to accept the Prime Minister’s “101% support” for Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair and his assertion that the “necessity and appropriateness of police actions” includes shooting someone who is entirely innocent in a police raid and then refusing to apologise.

It is easy for us in Britain to mock the US and the way that President Bush has managed to successfully limit the possibilities of debate by saying “you are with us or with the terrorists”. But our government is just as guilty of manipulating public discourse. So when Tessa Jowell asks us to “reflect on what is still unutterable grief and loss”, she is not simply asking for two minutes of silence. She is asking for a blank cheque for the government’s actions against the ‘threat of terrorism’.