4:15 pm - April 22nd 2009
Guest post by Guy Aitchison of Our Kingdom
I received an email yesterday from the Evening Standard Letters page asking me to comment on Sir Paul Stephenson’s response to the fallout from the G20 protests and the article in the Guardian by former Met commander David Gilbertson blaming a systemic crisis of leadership in the force for police violence.
I took the opportunity to point out the remarkable shift in editorial policy at the Standard in the short number of weeks since the protests. So far there has been almost no self-reflection by the media on their pernicious role in hyping up the prospect of violence in the run up to the G20 and then uncritially reporting, and, in the case of the Standard it seems, exaggerating the police’s version of events in ways that smeared protesters.
Here’s the letter anyway.
Stephenson has since popped his head above the parapet to condemn officers hiding their ID badges as “unacceptable” but my main point about his weak initial reaction still stands. Can’t think why but the Standard didn’t run with it.
THE Evening Standard is right to call for a “proper investigation” into the “culture and tactics that led to violent clashes at the G20 demonstrations”. It is a measure of the impact the shocking footage of brutal police behaviour at the protests has had that the same paper which on April 2nd covered the death of Ian Tomlinson under the headline “Police pelted with bricks as they help dying man”, is today warning that “parts of the force are out of control”.
Former Met commander David Gilbertson is surely right when he says in the Guardian today that “G20 has become a tipping point”. This is a wake up call. It should be a cause of serious concern to all those who aspire to live in a free society when former police chiefs are warning us of a culture in which officers are taught to see the public as the “enemy”.
So far, unfortunately, Sir Paul Stephenson has given little indication that he grasps the severity of the problem. He was silent until the release of the most damaging footage of the police attack on Ian Tomlinson a week after his death and has notably failed to offer unequivocal reassurance to the public that a culture of violence will not be tolerated in the Met and that his force is committed to protecting and facilitating the right to peaceful protest. Stephenson must address the crisis of leadership and accountability identified by Gilbertson and carry out a proper review of the way in which demonstrations are policed, especially the tactic of kettling peaceful protests which is provocative, counter-productive and a threat to our democratic traditions.
If Stephenson fails to carry out reforms and instead clings to the comforting notion that the problem is limited to the few “bad apples” involved in the individual allegations of assault, as advocated today by Sir Ken Jones, president of the unaccountable private firm ACPO, then serious damage will have been done to the public’s confidence in the police, and, ultimately, to the health of our democracy.
Guy Aitchison, openDemocracy
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