Comment | Incompetent, sleazy and corrupt: why Scotland Yard must be dismantled

Recent scandals, from undercover agents stealing the identities of dead children to senior counter terrorism officers trying to sell information to the media, have further tarnished the Met Police's long record of incompetence, greed, corruption, mendacity and sleaze. It is not fit for purpose and should be dismantled, argues Yvonne Ridley.

New in Ceasefire, Politics - Posted on Friday, February 8, 2013 9:54 - 3 Comments

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People think I’m anti-police. I’m not, but I do despise corrupt coppers who think they are above the law. And when it comes to the guardians of the law in the UK the main target of my criticism is usually the Metropolitan Police – and with good reason.

My first memories of their bad behaviour stem from the 1980s when I was working as a regional journalist. Coming from a coal mining community in the North, I will never forget how the “London Filth” , as they were referred to by strikers, waved their payslips and overtime bonuses at the pitmen on the picket lines during the Miners’ Strike of 1984.

They goaded the heroic colliers, especially during the Battle of Orgreave, which will soon be the subject of an investigation into claims of fabricated and co-ordinated police evidence. A public inquiry will probably be too little, too late, but – like Hillsborough – the liars need to be exposed and justice needs to be delivered.

But back to the reputation of the Met. During the Miners Strike not even police colleagues bussed in from other outside forces felt at ease sharing their South Yorkshire billets with the London cops, such was their reputation for dishonesty. I remember one Durham policeman telling me how he and his fellow officers had ‘set about’ the men from the Met warning them if any cash went missing from wallets and lockers they would be the chief suspects!

Sadly, three decades on, nothing much has changed. Not a week goes by without someone further tarnishing the image of the world famous Scotland Yard through greed, corruption, lies and sleaze.

Last week an anti-terror cop was sent down for 15 months for trying to sell a story to the News of the World. April Cashburn wasn’t some lowly grunt at the bottom of the pile – she was a detective chief inspector involved largely in counter terrorism.

I wonder how many so-called Muslim terrorists are languishing in prison on her evidence. A woman of integrity she’s not, as her own trial revealed. Some of the convictions brought about by her work must now be regarded as unsafe.

In fact the Yard’s counterterrorism activities leave much to be desired, as a catalogue of incompetence and flawed intelligence attests. Take, for instance, the shooting of the innocent Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes, who was mistaken for a suicide bomber in 2005.

And who can forget the fiasco, a year later, of the Forest Gate raid in which hundreds of officers swooped on an East London street, claiming one of the homes was a base for the manufacture of deadly chemicals? During the raid Mohammed Abdul Kahar was shot at close range inside his own home. As they frantically back-pedalled when not even so much as an asprin was found, police had plenty of words to say about the shooting of an innocent man but “sorry” was not one of them – until officers were ordered to apologise for the botched raid.

There have been plenty more cock-ups and bungled ventures emanating from the so-called elite squads housed in Scotland Yard. Perhaps one of the most revolting emerged this week when we learned that undercover detectives, employed on a secretive but now disbanded unit, stole the identities of around 80 dead children.

The sickening revelation emerged in an investigation by the Guardian newspaper. Its reporters revealed how police infiltrated protest groups for three decades using the identities of dead children, without informing or consulting their parents.

Keith Vaz, chair of the home affairs select committee has said he is “shocked” at the “gruesome” practice. I am shocked Mr Vaz is shocked – surely he is by now hardened to the excesses of the Met, mired with institutional racism, Islamaphobia and corruption. Indeed, only last month Mr Vaz was “shocked” when it emerged undercover cops were ‘sleeping with the enemy’ as revealed in this article on the Cageprisoners website. Not only did they have sex with their unknowing targets but they even fathered children and then abandoned their offspring. If this had happened in America the offending officers could face rape charges for tricking their way into a target’s bed.

But today, just when you thought the Met reputation couldn’t sink any lower it slithers beyond the gutter and into the sewers. We now know undercover cops ruthlessly harvested the identities of dead children without the permission of their parents.

I worked as an undercover journalist for nearly 30 years and assumed all sorts of identities using subterfuge to achieve this while striving to work within the confines of the law. I find it incredible that veteran detectives chose identity theft to achieve their cover; there really are far simpler options.

Commenting in The Guardian, Ken MacDonald, one of the most respected figures to have emerged from the Crown Prosecution Service in years, described the identity theft as:

..a careless and bullying intrusion into the most shattering human grief. The crassness and cruelty of this quite unnecessary technique is beyond belief – and that undercover officers have employed it persistently, presumably at the behest of their commanders over many years, should be a matter of deep shame for British policing.

It also raises the most serious questions about the planning and execution of undercover police work in this country. While making several astute observations perhaps the most damning is this: “Of course undercover work is intrusive, that is its whole point. But the state is not entitled to assume ownership of people’s souls, even in the face of grave crime. Clearly, the police service has not always understood this.”

While dismissing the effectiveness of Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) he believes the time has come for a public inquiry into what he describes as the “steady drip of exposure and seediness”.

But this is where I part company with the former Director of Public Prosecutions, a man I much admire and respect. What needs to be done is to dismantle the Metropolitan Police Force from top to bottom. It has become toxic, (this is the same word a former News of the World executive used when explaining the decision to close Britain’s largest circulation newspaper).

The reality is that public confidence is shattered. Even the trust of Tory stalwarts and other traditional police supporters must be wavering especially in the wake of Andrew Mitchell’s ‘plebgate’.

Of course it would be wrong to prejudge ‘plebgate’ – but if it emerges that police are prepared to ‘stitch up’ a government chief whip on the doorstep of Downing Street, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Yvonne Ridley

Yvonne Ridley is a British journalist and a patron of the London-based human rights NGO cageprisonners.com as well as being the European president of the International Muslim Women's Union and the Vice President of the European Muslim League. Her website is www.yvonneridley.org and she's on Twitter @yvonneridley.

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Paul Seligman
Feb 10, 2013 13:40

In the 7 years in the late 70s and early 80 that I lived in teh Met’s area, I experienced numerous issues with their officers, something that hasn’t happened to me before or since. For example:

My next door neighbour was a policeman with far right views on immigrants, “rent-a mob” (aka lawful protestors) and so on..

The cops that eventually turned up after a young teenager lost control of a stolen car and crashed into many of the cars parked in the street were more concerned to check our licences, MOTs, insurance and tyres (all OK) than to go after the offender.

And then I was viciously assaulted and injured in Southall on April 23rd 1979 by the Met “Special Patrol Group”, the same night and area that a known group of Met officers in the SPG killed a young teacher, Blair Peach. A crime for which no one was prosecuted.

I cooperate with the police in a number of ways in Cardiff where I now live without problem and I do not consider myself ‘anti-police’. But I’m glad that I don’t live in Greater London any more.

Paul
Feb 11, 2013 1:32

I’d challenge you to find me an organisation with 50,000 employees that doesn’t have incompetence, sleaze and corruption. It’s like any line of work where the stakes are high, it obviously attracts a fair few horrible people. How would you propose dismantling the Met, exactly?

albert
Feb 14, 2013 0:14

To do that, we need to elect a government who promise to do just that. Bring back our troops from Afganistan, they are there just getting killed to protect a corrupted government, because we got our very, own Taliban, “our police forces” . Replace them by the army temporary, until we can get a newly trained police force.
Get rid of every law book in existence in UK, and write a brand new set of laws based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
It did work very well in other countries, and I now that Britain is also ready for it,

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