Should All Police Officers Be Armed With Tasers?

The Police Federation, committed to the right of any constable to be trained and armed with Taser, launched a survey last month into officer views on these stun guns. This rank and file organization cites a recent Ipsos Mori poll, claiming “71% of respondents consider it acceptable for police officer to carry Taser when on patrol.”

Opponents of the tendency of police officers – citizens in uniform – to resemble RoboCop, have a coup in the case of Judah Adunbi, the 63-year-old grandfather tasered in the face just over a week ago. Imagine the red faces and swiveling eyes at Avon and Somerset constabulary’s senior management, press & PR teams, faced with headlines along the lines of:

Bristol Police Taser their own Black Race Relations Adviser in case of Mistaken Identity.

Adunbi was a founding member of Bristol’s Independent Advisory Group, a forum for fostering co-operation between the Afro-Caribbean community and local coppers.

Stopped on the street by two police officers, Adunbi was told he was under arrest. According to Adunbi, this was the second time he has been mistaken for a drug dealer. A neighbour filming can be heard criticizing the constables for intensifying the incident.

Support also came from Nick Glynn, a black man who served on the thin blue line for 31 years:

Confronting an individual based on a vague description and using a weapon that can kill is neither an acceptable nor effective method of policing. This shocking footage of police officers tasering a black man on the basis of mistaken identity only serves to alienate people who could be helping officers with their inquiries. It is particularly disturbing to see officers target a man who is dedicated to supporting the police and keeping everyone safe.

Vince Howard, speaking on behalf of the local Police Federation, defended his colleagues:

Officers try to de-escalate the situation by explaining who they are looking for and their belief that he is the wanted man. At no time during the interactions between the officers and this man does he say he is not the wanted person, he simply continues to be abusive towards the officer. The two officers then arrest the man, during which time one of the officers is assaulted and Taser is deployed. The officers were doing what the public expect of them, attempting to detain a wanted and potentially dangerous man.

As to what actually happened will be revealed by an Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation; Avon and Somerset police referred the case, in accordance with procedure, to the IPCC. Both officers were wearing body cameras.

The Adunbi affair is bound to reignite concerns by civil liberies, community relations and social justice groups about police use of tasers. Back in 2015, a Freedom of Information request submitted by the BBC to the Home Office revealed that black people were three times as likely to be tasered than their white counterparts. Forming only 4.4% of the population, black people were on the receiving end of 12.7% of Taser incidents. Though Asians, accounting for 8.1% of the population, were only involved in 4% of episodes.

Who May Carry a Taser?

The Taser X26 model, a yellow pistol shaped gun, discharges up to 50,000 volts at 0.0021 amps to a target at a maximum distance of 21 feet. Introduced to firearms officers in England and Wales in 2004, Taser use was extended to specially trained constables four years later. Policemen and women must undergo 18 hours of training over 3 days before being issued with a Taser, a 6 hour refresher course must be attended annually. According to National Police Chiefs’ Council guidelines:

Every chief constable makes a decision, based on an assessment of the risks in their own area, to train and deploy a proportionate number of officers to use Taser so that the public are kept safe and their officers are protected as far as possible.

How effective are Tasers?

Deterrence is the chief value of the Taser. An action must be recorded every time an officer draws a Taser. Home Office figures show that that Tasers are only fired at a target 20% of the time. While the number of taser actions increased from 6,649 to 10,380 between 2010 and 2013, the latter year was the first time all 43 constabularies across England and Wales issued full Taser returns to the Home Office. Despite concerns over “mission creep”, that Tasers will be used because they are available rather than necessary, that they are no longer a means of last resort. Taser firings stabilized at an average of 1,732 incidents 2013-15.

What about the consequences of being Tasered?

Last year the High Court, at the request of the IPCC, overturned an IPCC report clearing Greater Manchester Police of any wrongdoing in the death of Jordan Begley in 2013. The police were called by Begley’s mother to their house in Gorton, Manchester, she claimed he had a knife and feared for him getting into a fight. 23-year-old Begley, an ice-cream worker and known piss-and-coke-head, was tasered and died two hours later. Two years later, a jury found that Taser use and subsequent police restraint techniques contributed to Begley’s untimely death.

However, it would be imprudent to ignore a review of Taser use by the British Medical Journal in 2010:

The medical consequences of these discharges include barb injuries, localised discharge burns, and injury from falls or from the intense muscle contraction. Eye and brain injuries from barb penetration have been documented. Tonic-clonic seizure [often associated with epilepsy] after discharge of a conducted energy device to the head has been described. Pneumothorax (collapsed lung) after pleural barb penetration has been reported. Six fatal head injuries may have resulted from falls induced by these devices. Discharge of a conducted energy device does not induce clinically relevant changes in heart rate, blood pressure, or respiratory related parameters in healthy subjects. Reports in the medical literature of serious injuries associated with the deployment of Tasers are few, despite several hundred thousand estimated uses of the device.

I have no problem with the principle of police officers carrying Tasers. It is questionable as to whether this weapon should be issued to all constables. Advice by the National Police Chiefs’ Council on Taser use is vague:

Taser provides an additional option to resolve situations, including the threat of violence, which can come from any section of the public. In certain circumstances, the use of Taser is more appropriate than other use of force options in resolving dangerous situations safely and with less risk of serious injury. In addition, officers who are trained and equipped with Taser must decide on the most reasonable and necessary use of force in the circumstances. The level of force used must be proportionate to achieve the objective and officers are individually accountable in law for the amount of force they use on a person.

Will both the police and public benefit from more RoboCop?


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Shoot the Messenger

Be it Benjamin Franklin or Edward Ward, whoever said “nothing is certain except death or taxes” failed to account for the impulse of institutions to punish heretics profaning the cherished corporate image.

Whistleblowing. An affront to the Met’s “Total Policing”, an Orwellian creation of Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe.

Shoot the messenger. Police canteen culture has never been kind to the whistleblower, no one likes a grass. Watch out for the firm in a firm. But it’s nothing new.

Back in 1922 Sergeant Horace Josling was posted to London’s “C” Division, a West End manor covering parts of Soho. Within a week of joining his beat Josling’s colleague, George Goddard, invited him to the weekly divvy up from the local street bookies – off-course cash betting being a criminal offence until 1960. The bookies were on his case too. Josling declined politely.

Tiring of the situation and wary of reporting these concerns to his immediate superiors, Josling wrote directly to the Commissioner. The proverbial book was thrown. After two days of cross-examination, Josling was required to resign from the Met after ten years of duty, service record marked: “Discreditable conduct – acting in a manner prejudicial to discipline or likely to bring discredit on the reputation of the Force”.

In January 1929 Sergeant George Goddard was sent down for eighteen months of hard labour, with a £2,000 fine plus costs. Receiving 89 commendations from the Commissioner for his role in raiding nightclubs, brothels and betting houses, this guardian of London’s morals had been living the high life. On a respectable salary of  just over £6 a week, Goddard’s venal ventures had acquired him a freehold at £1,875 and a Chrysler for £400. £12,471 and 10 shillings were also stashed in three safety deposit boxes. Overall, Goddard’s realizable assets amounted to nearly £18,000. Depending on what your measuring, eighteen grand is worth around £3 million today.

History does not repeat itself, as Mark Twain may have said, but it often rhymes; echoing through to the twenty-first century.

The Met’s Detective Sergeant Pal Singh is facing a gross misconduct hearing for alleging to the Daily Telegraph that the Crown Prosecution Service is “afraid to tackle honour crimes for fear of causing unrest in Asian communities”. Singh, who has received a Metropolitan Police Service Award, amongst others, for “Outstanding Individual Contribution to Victim Care”, told the Telegraph:

Forced marriage is a violation of human rights, which invariably leads to marital rape and years of domestic abuse and modern slavery, with sometimes fatal consequences. If this is not a policing priority then I am content at being dismissed.

Within five years you’ll be reading about Mr Singh’s successful employment tribunal, an undisclosed payout – a cost to the taxpayer – and Met management bollocks-speak about “cultural sensitivity” and “lessons learned”.


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Not Impressed: Section 40 & the Death of Investigative Journalism

As the clocks strike 5 this afternoon, hark that they call “time” on the government’s press regulation consultation. Perhaps the bell tolls too for our free press. I’m open to the case for Leveson 2 – an investigation into the relationship between the police and the press – otherwise the boys in blue are off the hook. But I’m unnerved by the prospect of parliament implementing Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. Under this legislation, any newspaper that fails to join a regulator approved by the Press Recognition Panel, will pay costs if sued for libel or breach of privacy – even if they win the case.

For the first time since 1695 the British press may be compelled, all but in name, to sign up to an official “independent” regulator, Impress. Control underpinned by Royal Charter thrashed out in a cosy deal between the main political parties and Hacked Off – a pressure group of celebrities seeking command of their public image.

Senior members of Impress have voiced their hatred for the popular press. Jonathan Heawood, chief executive, and Marie Messenger Davies, code committee chair, are both supporters of Stop Funding Hate, a pressure group urging advertisers to divest themselves from the Daily Express, Daily Mail and the Sun. Impartial?

Impress will be financed for its first four years by a £3.8 million donation from the Alexander Mosley Charitable Trust, a body in turn funded by former International Automobile Association president Max Mosley. The same Max Mosley who has pursued a vendetta against the tabloid press since 2008, when he won a libel case against the News of the World who wrongly accused him of taking part in a Nazi-themed orgy. His wife wasn’t best pleased. Max being the son of fascists Oswald Mosley and Diana Mitford, a couple who were married in at the home of Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels in 1936.

Oswald Mosley forsaw for his regime:

The press will not be free to tell lies … they will stoop to any lie or any debauch of the public mind. This must be stopped and the freedom of the press … must be curtailed.

In turn Max Mosley wrote to The Times in 1962:

We do wish to end coloured immigration … To say that this is “hatred” or “provocation” is a grotesque travesty.

Whatever Max’s politics may be today, Index on Censorship raises the objection:

the idea that a single wealthy individual should control the purse strings for a supposedly independent regulator should strike fear into the hearts of those who favour a free press.

The campaign to muzzle the press gained momentum as the phone-hacking scandal erupted from 2007 and the subsequent Leveson Inquiry (2011-12) into the culture, practices and ethics of the press.

Phone-hacking pissed off the public. Murdoch’s popular Sunday News of the World, subsidizing her more up-market stablemates, was forced to close.

Let us not forget, however, that the tawdry tabloids were not alone in mixing with semi-deniable assets; seedy yet savvy private investigators. One of these hackers investigated by the Serious Organized Crime Agency revealed that the press formed only 20% of his client base. Blue chip companies, debt collectors, insurance firms, lawyers and wealthy individuals are adept at the “dark arts”. But they’re different. SOCA refuses to name those involved as “disclosing the information could undermine the financial viability of the organizations by tainting them with ‘criminality’.” The tabloids are guilty scapegoats.Writing of the Guardian, Michael Gillard and Laurie Flynn charge that questions “remain unanswered about the newspaper’s own dealings with private investigators, including former MI6 officers.”

Forget not that phone-hacking, more grist for the mill for Leveson 2, has been illegal since 2000 under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

More than 5,000 people have responded to the government consultation on press regulation through the website of Hacked Off. 52,000 pages of evidence has been submitted to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport demanding the imposition of Section 40.

Yes, there are problems with the Independent Press Standards Organization (IPSO), the self-regulatory body with 2,500 members – including the Daily MailSun, Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph. Peter Jukes points out that IPSO is funded by five (legally) tax-dodging billionaires. The National Union of Journalists, yet to take a stand on Impress, opposes IPSO for preventing journalists from being involved in the ethical code committee. As Rupert Murdoch seeks to increase his grip on Sky, monopoly ownership is an issue which needs addressing too. Trinity Mirror, the owner of the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror and the Sunday People, is in merger talks with Richard Desmond – owner of Express titles and the Star.

In his usual even-handed fashion, veteran journalist Roy Greensalde writes of IPSO:

For the most part, it works well and uncontroversially, especially for regional and local titles. But at moments when it is called on to adjudicate on high-profile complaints involving national papers, its independence is called into question. And there lies the central problem for IPSO: public perception. Whatever the reality, how can it persuade people that it is entirely free from interference from publishing paymasters, especially those responsible for having created the crisis that led to the Leveson inquiry?

But for Greenslade, his distrust of the press is trumped by his contempt for politicians:

Does the BBC feel safe from political interference because it has a royal charter? Parliamentary control of the corporation’s budget has had the effect of removing editorial staff and thereby reducing news coverage.

Even newspapers that haven’t joined IPSO – the Evening StandardFinancial TimesGuardian and Private Eye – have refused to recognize Impress. Not one national newspaper has joined the ranks of Impress. And when newspapers from the Mail on Sunday to the Morning Star oppose the new system of regulation, it gives me pause for thought. In a leader for the Spectator, Fraser Nelson comments:

When every single newspaper has decided that it would rather risk massive new libel costs than submit to a regulator sanctioned by the state, it is a sign of the depth of feeling on this matter across the press, from left to right.

Parliamentarians from former Home Secretary David Blunkett – a victim of phone hacking – to Damian Collins, chairman of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, oppose Impress.

Apart from acting as a boon for “ambulance-chasing” lawyers, Section 40 threatens the quality of investigative journalism. How did the public find out about politicians abusing their expenses? Through the Daily Telegraph. Who helped keep alive the campaign for justice for Stephen Lawrence? The Daily Mail and Guardian. Who revealed the drug-taking of cycling champion Lance Armstrong, the extent of violent thug David Hunt’s illegal activities and FIFA corruption? The Sunday Times. Andrew Norfolk, who exposed for The Times that various public authorities knew about the extent of child grooming in towns such as Rotherham, yet did nothing, warns:

Had section 40 been on the statute book when I became a trainee journalist 27 years ago, countless articles published in this and other newspapers would never have seen the light of day. The risk would have been too great. In fact, it’s barely even a risk. It’s almost inbuilt guarantee of punitive financial sanctions. 

According to a recent report, the British public trust the press less than their counterparts in Greece and Serbia. Yet a lack of trust in public institutions, an increased questioning of authority and a general decline in deference since the Second World War are mentalities fostered, albeit partially, by the fourth estate.

A free press is crucial in holding power to account. Newspapers are being blackmailed to join Impress “voluntarily”, or self-censor. You have until 5pm today to register your opposition to Section 40.


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On the Enchantment of Discovery

I confess with unconfidence to merely flirting with my greats: Shakespeare, Blake, Dickens; Evelyn Waugh, Kingsley Amis and Graham Greene. Others prove more seductive. J.G. Ballard, in his iridescent idiom, the seer of the city. Peter Ackroyd, medium for the dead. The antiquarian anthropology of Iain Sinclair’s perambulations.  Alan Moore’s magic words. Desire at the threshold of love’s jealousy and intoxication. Addiction. A compulsion to read everything. Except poetry.

Poetry. Memories. Vile mid-school verse. Staid sixth form recollections. As a pupil at an all boys’ school, poetry belonged to the province of the pouf. Neither did I feast with panthers nor experience life’s way of taking the piss. Middle-class, relatively privileged, stable (ish) upbringing. No perception of poetry’s potency. Until I discovered Sinclair’s enigmatic and esoteric Lud Heat. Childhood resurrected.

An enchanting encounter. Then a gift: Andrey Kneller’s translation of Backbone Flute: Poetry of Vladimir Mayakovsky.

Lyricist and agitator, the chain-smoking, gambling and womanizing Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930) was a Futurist poet and servant of the Soviet socialist (bureaucratic collectivist) state. He shot himself at the age of 36. Some say he was killed twice when five years after his death, Stalin beatified the “iron poet”.

A new love. And listen to this modernist meditation on the age-old question as to the meaning of existence. “Listen” was written in the late winter of 1913, published the following year.

When reading, a reaction provoked (perhaps) by the centenary of the First World War, I see the spirit of British foreign secretary Sir Edward Grey looking out from Whitehall to the sunset across St James’s Park; Sir Edward remarking to friend and journalist John Alfred Spender on 3 August 1914: “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” Listen:


if the stars are lit,

then someone must need them, of course?

then someone must want them to be there,

calling those droplets of spittle pearls?

And wheezing,

in the blizzards of midday dust,

he rushes to God,

fearing he’s out of time

and sobbing,

he kisses God’s sinewy hands,

tells Him that it’s important,

pleads to Him that the star must shine!


that he won’t survive this starless torment!

And later,

he wanders worried,

though seemingly calm and fit

and tells somebody:

“Finally, nothing can

frighten you,



if the stars are lit,

then someone must really need them?

that is essential

that at least one star

is lit

over the rooftops each night?!


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A Liberal Democratic Victory?

I fail to see what is liberal or democratic about Sarah Olney’s victory at the Richmond Park by-election. Olney is the ninth member of parliament’s rump party. The so-called Liberal Democrats, a political project committed to reducing parliament’s status to that of the parish council. A party committed to demos-defying federalism, austerity at the altar of the Euro and economic protectionism.

Elected by a majority of 1,872 votes, with only  53.6 percent of Richmond’s constituency bothering to turn-up at the ballot box, Olney sneers at the people. For she promises to vote against parliament triggering Article 50, a process for Britain to leave the European Union. A decision made by 17,410,742 people (turnout: 72.2%) voting in a referendum for Britain to leave the European Union.

But Brexit stinks. Even though I support it. I don’t blame Baroness Warsi for switching to “Remain”. The vile vitriol and vomit of Farage & Co taints us liberal internationalists seeking to shake-off the shackles of fortress Europe.

“Brexit means Brexit” is bollocks too. Let us encourage an exchange of ideas to parry populism’s phantom. A letter to The Times  (2 December) from two QCs, Anthony Speaight and David Wolfson:

Far from it suiting the UK to assert that the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement would fall away on leaving the EU, it may be a better tactic to assert the opposite. First, the EEA agreement contains provisions for free movement of goods, services and capital – but the provision on free movement of persons applies only between the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) states and “EC member states”, so arguably would not cover the UK after leaving the EU.

Second, by Article 126 the EEA agreement applies only to the territories to which the European Community treaties apply, and a list of EFTA states; after leaving the EU, the UK would be neither. It must be strongly arguable that the effect is that the remaining EU countries would have to accord access to goods, services and so on in their territory, but that there would be no obligation on the UK to allow free movement in Britain. Third, settlement of a dispute between the UK and the other 27 countries as to whether the above argument is correct would not go to the European Court of Justice.

Until the UK gives notice of withdrawal from the EEA, the UK remains a contracting party. It might well be in the UK’s interests to maintain that position, unless and until the EU member states agree satisfactory terms in the coming negotiations.

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The Miners’ Strike: Voices from the Blue Line

Monday 18 June 1984, the Battle of Orgreave. Over 6,000 police officers faced 10,000 pickets attempting to block deliveries destined for steelworks from Orgreave coking plant (near Rotherham, Yorkshire). Using what some officers described as “paramilitary” tactics based on colonial practices from Northern Ireland and Hong Kong, the police deployed armoured riot teams, baton charges, horses and dogs against a battery of bricks, bottles, paving stones and petrol bombs.

Over 100 people were injured, with 95 arrested by snatch squads for riot and disorder. All those prosecuted in the operation led by the South Yorkshire constabulary – “whose culture of malpractice with impunity” was demonstrated at Hillsborough five years later – had charges against them thrown out of court. South Yorkshire police paid out £425,000 in compensation without admitting liability.

Following a BBC documentary in 2012 concerning officer collusion in the writing of statements, South Yorkshire police referred itself to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The IPCC declined to act.

On 31 October 2016 Amber Rudd, Home Secretary, ruled out a public inquiry into the Battle of Orgreave. Rudd resisted pressure to investigate as “ultimately there were no deaths or wrongful convictions” and that”very few lessons for the policing system today [are] to be learned from any review of the events and practices of three decades ago”.

Norman Tebbit, a Thatcherite toady, praised the government for “a sensible decision which underlines that the police behaved properly at Orgreave.” Writing for the Spectator Charles Moore, former Daily Telegraph editor and official biographer of Margaret Thatcher, similarly lauded the miners’ defeat as victory for rule of law and castigated advocates of an inquiry for their “world according to Ken Loach” who wished “to turn history into a trial”.

Commenting from the opposite end of the political spectrum, Jeremy Corbyn is “appalled”, Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, is “shocked and dismayed”, while Barbara Jackson, secretary of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, called the government’s decision “a complete shock and a great disappointment.” Michael Mansfield QC may seek a judicial review.

Memories of Orgreave are talismanic, totemic. Historian Dominic Sambrook acknowledges the evocative power of this infamous battle:

That night, millions of people watched the televised pictures with horrified disbelief. Ever since, Orgreave has become a kind of shorthand for the ideological confrontation of the Eighties, which saw Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government locked in battle with Arthur Scargill’s National Union of Mineworkers … Nobody doubts that there were excesses on both sides that day, or that the police behaved with reckless abandon. But we have known that for years. 

Other measured voices may be heard above the divisive din. In response to Labour MP Andy Burnham’s accusations of an “establishment stitch-up”, Simon Jenkins writes for the Guardian that:

some suffered through being bailed is sadly true of thousands of innocent citizens each year. Why does Burnham suddenly want an inquiry into Orgreave? Back in 2005 he was a junior minister at the very Home Office he now wants to put on trial. There was no inquiry then. Could it be that Burnham was part of Tony Blair’s new labour establishment, eager to forget the taint of Scargillism, whereas he now wants to be mayor of Manchester?

Jenkins continues to comment on point of public inquiries:

Public inquiries have assumed from parliament the job of debating public policy. As such they upstage both the House of Commons and the investigative functions of select committee. They anaesthetise controversy, lancing some political boil by removing it from the theatre of parliament. But they have come to seem more like kangaroo courts, with the voices of victims loudest, and little attempt to balance blame. Chilcot lost credibility by being absurdly indulgent of Downing Street officials. Leveson sought to chain the press, yet let the police and BBC off the hook.

While a cross-party group of MPs are touting a parliamentary select committee inquiry as a cost-effective and efficient means of exploring Orgreave, The Times’s David Aaronovitch suggests it may be “better to throw open the archives and the files and leave it to the historians.” Given the glacial process with which official documents are released and the likelihood of files being “lost”, I’m not too optimistic. Yet the historians may have a hand to play. Back in the late 1980s Roger Graef – Visiting Professor at the Mannheim Centre for Criminology (London School of Economics), member of the Metropolitan Police advisory group on race and a multi-Bafta winning documentary maker – interviewed 500 police officers from 12 different forces.

Graef’s research cautions against any simplistic construction of a police mindset, revealing the boredom, the fear, pent-up aggression, and disgust. All fuelled by long shifts and alcohol after hours. The lack of radio communication, decision making on  the spot. Here are the voices of police officers serving at the front line.

Police violence at Orgreave was supported by most officers interviewed. According to one constable from a northern force:

It was late in the afternoon the horses went through. And when they came back, we all applauded. I’ve never been in a situation like it. It was great to see them smashing into all them bastards who’d been giving us grief all day. A lot of bobbies were injured. It was though as somebody thought, “Right. We’re not standing for this crap anymore. We’ll sort it out.” And that’s what they did. It was the greatest thing I ever saw.

The Miners’ Strike 1984-85 resulted in 1,392 officers injured – 10 per cent requiring hospital treatment – the cost of the police operation to the public purse being £200,000,000. Perhaps a degree of battle-hardening was fostered, as one superintendent from a home counties force recalled:

One time a group of over 3000 pickets had stoned and driven off a team of Yorkshire policemen and smashed two dog vans. It was essential that my officers moved the pickets back. There was a railway bridge which you could defend. Once they got past that, you’d had it. As we moved our first unit down, we were stoned. So we baton-charged them and moved the crowd back. Then we were stoned from the railway bridge above, so we moved two units up there and took it. We held that for an hour, but at a cost – we had thirty-seven men injured out of eighty.

The sheer weight of numbers meant trouble often escalated. Another home counties constable noted:

Some bugger at the back of the crowd starts to push and the poor sods at the front meet Mister Wood. They try to escape backwards and it creates panic. It’s usually a great barney where we get stuck in.

A Met Chief Inspector continued:

Now, if both sides are being pushed from the back, the tonnage in pressure on the front line is incredible. And eventually there’s trouble – the majority of the miners were ordinary people, but one or two were very evil men. You’d get people holding darts through their fingers. They were normally in the second row of miners – all of a sudden through the line comes pff! and hits one of my officers in the face. Immediately he goes down, and that starts an eruption because his mates straight away go for that miner.

Another Met PC went on to say:

It was terrifying. You feared for your safety – for your life! Then all the brave people at the back of the crowd started picking up rocks, flints and large stones from the field and started throwing them. So the stuff started coming over and there were police officers dropping all round and pickets as well because they were hitting their own people. In that situation what do you do? A senior officer from the Greater Manchester Police told us to draw out truncheons and we did. Then you hit the first thing in front of you. But the person in front of you wasn’t doing anything. They haven’t thumped you. They were getting hit by the stones as well.

That some officers deliberately fomented trouble was duly noted. One Deputy Chief Constable from a mining area commented:

We had off-duty police officers, partially dressed in uniform, getting drunk and then being abusive to ordinary people – like anybody who’s away from home and living in semi-military conditions. It’s not too easy to take for the people who happen to live there and see their husbands, sons or fathers out of work. People refuse to serve them, they were an army of occupation. And a lot of places were out of bounds to them. Policemen rolled money down to the pickets, shouting “You’re hard up!” Others flashed ten pound notes from the windows of police vans. These miners are proud men, defending what they see as being their right to keep their pit. These outsiders com in – men who were much younger than them – and do these things that were pretty indefensible. It was bound to lead to violence.

Allegations went beyond aggression. A Met sergeant recollected a most malign incident:

I knew from the officers involved about a rape by two Met PCs that was covered up during the miners’ strike. It was up at Nottingham. We were on duty for eighteen days straight so we all ended up on the piss down the Palais in Notts. They picked up this girl, took her back to her flat. One went upstairs where she performed, while the other waited downstairs pissed out of his brains. Finally he decided he’d have a go too and went upstairs and raped her. Then they caught a cab back to the pit, and the girl complained. Suddenly they were taken off the picket line by two plain-clothes DCs from the local force and thrown in the cell. … The blokes just put up their hands up and asked if there was anything the Notts lads could do to help them. And there was. It was talked about at high management levels – don’t know how high, but pretty high up. In the end the girl agreed that “if he’d asked nicely she might have let him”, so it wasn’t what I’d call a serious rape. She wasn’t hurt or anything. So she withdrew the complaint.

For officers hailing from mining communities, loyalties were tested:

I come from Derbyshire originally and I was going back to be billeted within fifteen miles of my parents’ house! The miners then had a march and went up to London, to Downing Street. The police cordon went along the front of Downing Street. I was there. It was a very dumb job. That day the march didn’t do anything particularly bad but for some reason a police charge was ordered. I never saw what did it and to this day I don’t know why it happened. It was really horrible, I felt sick watching it. Then all the women walked past spat at me and said in Derbyshire accents, just like all my friends at home would say “and you’re going to go home to your wives and children” – that kind of abuse. That was the most upset I ever was in the police.

With an eye to future police-public relations, scarred by the urban riots of 1981, an officer lamented:

There were a lot of incidents of violence, but it was on both sides. There’s no doubt about that. Every time it happened it got nastier and nastier. Now you’ve got 120,000 anti-police people, just on the mining side. We’ve got enough enemies out there now – political enemies, coloureds, youngsters. We don’t need the working man as well.


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Crime: An Evidence Based Approach

Review: Tom Gash, Criminal: The Truth About Why People Do Bad Things (London: Allen Lane, 2016), pp. 337, RRP £14.99

Remember that mass brawl last month, involving 100 school boys in Northumberland Heath, Bexley, South East London?

“Never seen anything like it”, Jeanne Asquith wrote on Facebook. Another local told the Guardian, “This is the first time for a long, long while that we’ve had gang-related problems round here”. A witness informed the Daily Mail, “It was just scary. It was school kids, basically, all in their uniforms, with hoods up and lots with their faces covered up. Some had knives and bats and who knows what.” Sharon McHattie, landlady of the nearby Duchess of Kent was quoted in the Daily Telegraph,“It’s a miracle no one was killed,” she said. “They all had their hoods up and balaclavas on. How they never got killed I don’t know. They were all standing in the middle of the street.”

Bloody kids. I’d forgotten too.

Commenting on the London riots of 2011, the then prime minister David Cameron spoke in parliament, to the nation:

Mr Speaker, whenever the police face a new threat – they must have the freedom and the confidence to change tactics. This government will make sure they always have that. The fight back has well and truly begun. But there will be no complacency. And we will not stop until this mindless violence and thuggery is defeated and law and order is fully restored on all our streets. … No-one will forget the image of the … furniture shop that had survived the blitz now tragically burnt to the ground.

An inference that something has seriously gone wrong with the youth of today. The age old complaint and the complaint of old age. Criminologist Geoff Pearson noted ten years ago that the trope of decline is common to public discourse on criminality:

The youth crime debate in the UK is invariably accompanied by, and embedded within, some notion of generational decline in terms of family, community, authority, tradition and morality, so that young people with their senseless crimes and their tuneless music reflect some kind of modern emptiness. For example:

“That’s the way we’re going nowadays. Everything slick and streamlined, everything made out of something else. Celluloid, rubber, chromium steel everywhere.. .radios all playing the same tune, no vegetation left, everything cemented over.. .There’s something that’s gone out of us in these twenty years since the war”. Or again:

“The passing of parental authority, defiance of pre-war conventions, the absence of restraint, the wildness of extremes, the confusion of unrelated liberties, the wholesale drift away from churches, are but a few characteristics of after-war conditions”.

We know this sorry postwar blues off by heart. However, the immediate and complicating difficulty is that these are both complaints from before the war. The first is from George Orwell’s pre-war novel Coming Up for Air. The second is a Christian youth worker, James Butterworth, reflecting in 1932 on his experiences in the boys’ club movement in the Elephant and Castle area of working class London.   

In Criminal, Tom Gash, a senior fellow at the Institute for Government and former member of the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, tackles the myths surrounding discussions of crime and adopts an evidence-based approach to further the understanding of why people commit crime.

Gash’s analysis may be boiled down to three questions: what, who and why?

What’s Going on?

“If it bleeds, it leads”, so goes the old crime reporters’ motto. “Crime”, so seductive and simple a word. A Manichean manifestation dividing the “hangers and floggers” from the “do-gooders”. Assumptions and emotions amplified by our rolling 24 hours news (shorter deadlines, tighter budgets) feeding national historical amnesia. Violence, against people and property, catches the eye.

Despite popular assertions that the world is going to hell in a handcart, violence – and tolerance of violent crime in the western world – is at an all-time low. Research undertaken since the 1980s, popularized by Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature and James Sharpe’s recent A Furious and Fiery People, shows that twentieth-century England was 95 per cent less violent than the fourteenth century. Take the case of Oxford, the homicide rate fell from 110 per 100,000 people to less than one.

Lies, damn lies and statistics. Yet the pioneering hypotheses of English murder by J.S. Cockburn and Ted Robert Gurr were confirmed by Manuel Eisner’s studies of homicide in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and Switzerland.

And while experts claim that US murder rates during the 1990s would have been three times higher if medical technology had been on a par with 1960s practices – eighteen times higher than those of 1900 – most of decline in death occurred prior to the twentieth century.

Using Norbert Elias’s “civilizing process” as an exploratory tool, Pinker writes

As Europe became more urban, cosmopolitan, commercial, industrialized, and secular, it got safer and safer.

Particularly pertinent to Tom Gash’s study is the shift from a culture of honour to one of dignity:

as Elias points out, the habits of refinement, self-control, and consideration that are second nature to us had to be acquired – that’s why we call them second nature – and they developed in Europe over the course of its modern history.

Self-control, twinned with opportunity, as the key. So forget “organized crime”, a term selling journalistic copy and justifying more resources for the police. Yes, there are “crime lords” out there – take the vicious David Hunt who remains at liberty – but most crime is small scale.

Drugs serve as a useful example. Most “drug deals” are consenting transactions, often between friends and acquaintances. Peter Reuter, Professor in the School of Public Policy and Criminology at the University of Maryland, cautions for the distinction between “illegal markets” and “organized crime”:

What I’m struck by, is how small are the firms in illegal markets, and that is a real structural consequence of product illegality … your principal cost – at least if there’s any enforcement – is the cost of the risk associated with activity. And if you make the firm larger, then the number of people who can inform against you goes up. So you want to keep it pretty small. Drug organizations are almost always quite small.

Who Commits Crime?

Did you ever buy booze before your eighteenth birthday? Smoke a spliff? Fuck a fifteen-year-old when you were in your late teens? Buy something from the “man in the pub”? Pay a plumber in cash for a reduced rate?

Chance is, you’ve committed crime, but don’t consider yourself a criminal. You’re not a murderer, rapist or robber.

In the UK, more eleven-year-olds are cautioned or convicted than 45-year-olds. The most prolific public offenders are males in their teens and early twenties. Self-control, or the lack of it. Tom Gash poses the question:

Could it be that, rather than gradually learning the skills of a criminal lifestyle, many people are born with antisocial instincts which they eventually learn to shake off?

Self-control and opportunity helps to explain why nearly 50 per cent of female murder victims are killed by a partner, or an ex, and why two-thirds of serious sexual assaults on women are committed by a partner, or an ex (52%) or family member (10%). Even tit-for-tat gang murders, with their culture of respect (honour), turn out to be exaggerated responses to the death of a friend.

Gash also examines the politically provocative province of migration and crime. Particular attention is paid to the “paradox of assimilation”, where data from across Europe shows that second and third generation immigrants often, though not always, have higher offending rates than “natives”:

they often compare their lot with that of others in the country in which they live rather than the country of their parents’ birth.

Profiling and discrimination built-in to the justice system aside, ethnic minorities do tend to be over-represented in criminal statistics. Gash offers the sensible suspicion:

There is plenty of evidence that points to the fact that resentment of perceived injustices can make people lash out – with violence or other forms of ‘expressive’ behaviour, including vandalism and looting.

Why Behave Badly?

Self-control and opportunity. Professor Adrian Raine of the University of Pennsylvania spent most of the 1990s examining the brain scans of criminals:

The main difference was that murderers generally had far lower levels of brain activity in the pre-frontal cortex area, the very same area responsible for planning, reasoning and problem solving […]. The death row murderers in Raine’s sample were clearly a particular type of criminal. But they did suggest a pattern linking brain dysfunction to short fuses and extreme violence […]. Those murderers who didn’t have deficits in the areas of the brain responsible for self-control usually did have noticeable differences in the other parts of the brain, in particular the amygdala, hippocampus and thalamus, areas that are associated with primitive human urges.

IQ appears to correlate with criminality. Gash writes:

A Swedish study measured children’s IQ at age three and followed the children throughout their lives. The researchers found that those who ended up committing the most crime had an average IQ of 88, whereas non-offenders had an average IQ of 101. Similar studies in Michigan, Philadelphia, Copenhagen and Cambridge, UK, have had similar results.

Delectation for the Daily Mail. Born criminals? Gash is quick to quash these headline-grabbing quotes with the qualification of King’s College London’s professor Terrie Moffitt:

Knowing something is inherited [in scientific terms] does not IN ANY WAY tell us anything about whether changing the environment will improve it.

Urban planners believe that it may be possible to design-out crime. The Groningen (Netherlands) experiment of 2008 showed that twice as much litter was dropped in a cycle-parking alley when the rubbish bins were removed and graffiti was present than when the walls were clean.

Research of Pittsburgh public housing also shows that high-rises tended to suffer higher violence yet lower property crime than low-rises:

Presumably it’s difficult to make a quick getaway from a burglary on the seventh floor but equally difficult to escape a fight.

What’s To Be Done?

Explaining crime trends since the Second World War, Gash observes:

The period of economic expansion from the 1960s saw a dramatic increase in criminal opportunities. High-value consumables became a tempting target for theft and at the same time shifting social values brought ever-increasing numbers into situations where violence was a risk: for example, the mixed-sex urban settings where intoxicated men could be tempted to prove themselves through violence. […] Crime only fell as society adapted to these changes with better policing and home security and far more effective supervision of social spaces. We may also have benefitted from technological advances, which made computer games much better than they used to be and kept more teenagers indoors and out of trouble.

Rather than advocating sweeping policy statements to combat crime, Gash concentrates on the local, what may unhelpfully be called micro-behaviour. Initial research into prison diet shows that supplementing food with Omega 3 and other vitamins may help to reduce violent behaviour.

Motor-cycle theft fell in Germany, Netherlands and the UK when the wearing of crash helmets became compulsory. Disposing of stolen goods through the traditional route of the scrap-metal dealer has been stymied by the introduction in 2012 of legislation banning cash-in-hand payments, compelling dealers to acquire a licence and keep records for three years, and forcing sellers to produce ID at the point of sale.

Confirming the bonds of crime, self-control and opportunity are the presence of crime spikes in most countries following pay day – more goods to steal and inhibitions lowered by drink. Knowledge is king. A study in Minneapolis showed that an area covering just three per cent of the jurisdiction accounted for 50 per cent of emergency calls to the police.

More targeted policing is critical for crime fighting. Office workers are crucial to data collection and analysis. The very workers bearing the brunt of cuts in these austere times. As historian Chris Williams reminds us:

Cut the back office too far, and we’re back to the early nineteenth century, when policing was as good as the individual police officer, but could never be any better.


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