Corrupt to the core
We should welcome the fact that state institutions, in particular the police, are being so thoroughly exposed, writes Eddie Ford
Given recent headlines, only someone in a massive state of denial could fail to recognise the extraordinarily corrupt nature of Britain’s key institutions, particularly the police. Last week there were explosive revelations published in The Independent, which got hold of a secret Scotland Yard report from 2003 investigating corruption in the Metropolitan police force and other state bodies.1 Though perhaps the most shocking thing of all is how under-reported this story has been - not even The Guardian has covered it. Too hot to handle?
Anyhow, this inquiry - called Operation Tiberius - was written by a team led by Andy Hayman, the Met’s former assistant commissioner (2005- 07), whose team spoke to informants, used intelligence from intercepted telephone conversations, interviewed officers and scoured thousands of old police files. The authors of the report soon discovered that some of Britain’s most notorious criminals had “compromised” multiple agencies, including HM revenue and customs, the crown prosecution service, the City of London police and the prison service, as well as the criminal justice system, including juries and the legal profession. Well, that does not leave much.
Of course, the devil - or the scandal - lies in the detail. So we have jurors being bought off or subjected to threats if they did not return ‘not guilty’ verdicts, corrupt individuals working for HMRC both in the UK and overseas, and “get out of jail free cards” being bought for £50,000 - definitely good value for money. Other allegations are that police officers jointly owned houses and racehorses with suspected gang leaders, that some were paid £15,000 to destroy surveillance logs. One is said to have accessed police records in order to change details of a female drug supplier with whom he was having an “ongoing sexual relationship”. Not to mention the curious case where a police statement from a sensitive witness was found in a night club controlled by a family of suspected gangsters or the incident in which an officer threatened an informant’s handler with reprisals if he dared release any details about certain organised crime activities. All in a day’s work, keeping the streets safe for law-abiding citizens.
Some of the examples of dirty practices that appear in the Tiberius report are especially illuminating. One involves a “leading” drugs dealer being acquitted after he allegedly “bought” members of the jury hearing his case, with a named police officer being “involved in some way or another” in the transaction. True, the man was finally jailed in 1998 for more than seven years - but only because his family wanted to teach him a lesson for getting involved in crimes “they had not authorised”. Whether or not you regard that as honour amongst thieves is up to you.
Another particularly grim story concerns a 2000 investigation into the importation of £10 million of heroin by a gang in north London. The deal went disastrously wrong, and the informant was tortured in a cellar, where an “attempt was made to sever his fingers with a pair of garden shears” - whilst his associate was also attacked and had “three fingers chopped off with a machete”. Rough justice. However, it turned out that the henchman Tiberius alleged had committed the assaults was the son of a named Met detective who repeatedly tried to impede police inquiries into the case. Even better, this officer also had a corrupt relationship with a named detective sergeant then based in Marylebone police station, who is suspected to have “organised cheque frauds” - and later the Turkish drug dealer under investigation told the police he was actually an HMRC informant who knew of “corrupt contacts within the police” and had a Cyprus-based customs officer as a handler who “took money off him”. If you did not know it was true you would have to make it up.
The inquiry named 80 corrupt officers - more than half of them were still serving at the time. But that is surely the tip of the iceberg. Damningly, we are told the sheer level of infiltration made it “almost impossible” for police and prosecutors to successfully pursue organised gangs. Indeed, it seems that some of Britain’s most dangerous crime syndicates were able to infiltrate Scotland Yard “at will” - and the fact that none of these syndicates had been seriously disrupted over the previous five years provides an insight into the effectiveness of their networks. Unsurprisingly, the writers of the study come to a desperate conclusion: “Quite how much more damage could be done is difficult to imagine.” Or, in the words of the Independent article, the “entire criminal justice system was infiltrated by organised crime gangs” (my emphasis). Welcome to the heart of darkness.
Sure, the Met issued a statement in response to the story, pontificating about how it does “not tolerate any behaviour by our officers and staff which could damage the trust placed in police by the public” and insisting that the force has “changed vastly” since the report was completed. But a former senior officer who has recently retired from the Met told The Independent that “nothing has changed”: the force is “still every bit as corrupt as it was back then”. You choose who to believe.
The story about Operation Tiberius came out, of course, in the same week that not only saw one of the police officers in the ‘Plebgate’ affair admitting he had lied about Andrew Mitchell, former Tory chief whip, but also the verdict of an inquest jury that Mark Duggan was found to have been “lawfully killed” - even though he did not have a gun on him at the time he was shot. Yet another insight into how the British police force operates.
With regard to the long-running Plebgate saga, PC Keith Wallis pleaded guilty to “misconduct in public office” at the Old Bailey. As everyone must know by now, he falsely claimed in his dodgy email to his MP - the Conservative deputy chief whip, John Randall - that as a member of the general public he had witnessed a confrontation on September 19 2012 between Andrew Mitchell and diplomatic protection officers at Downing Street. During this now legendary row, Mitchell was supposed to have called another police officer, Toby Rowland, a “fucking pleb” (apparently the worst words anyone can ever utter) when he was refused permission to cycle through the main gate.
There was only one problem with the Wallis story - it was utter baloney. He was neither at Downing Street or at work that day. Wallis, a former diplomatic protection officer himself, could be jailed when he is sentenced on February 6. So far though, he is the only police officer to have faced criminal charges over Plebgate - which saw Mitchell lose his cabinet job, well and truly stitched up by the rozzers. A further seven officers are facing disciplinary action over the affair, including four who will be subject to “gross misconduct” hearings in March over claims that they leaked information to the media - ie, The Sun, that well known impartial truth-seeker.
Having said all that, it is worth noting that the police are still trying to protect the other officers involved in Plebgate, even though the evidence has clearly stacked up against them. Hence the Police Federation - never upset them if you want a successful career in mainstream politics - is launching judicial review proceedings against the Independent Police Complaints Commission over its decision to reinvestigate three officers accused of lying about Mitchell. Explaining its decision to challenge the toothless IPCC, a federation spokesman said that the watchdog had acted “unlawfully” by relaunching the investigation, seeing how it had “previously acknowledged” that it could not take this course of action”2. Quiet farcically, Toby Rowland - who Mitchell accused of lying as part of his own libel appeal against The Sun - is taking libel action of his own against Mitchell, still maintaining that the former whip called him a “fucking pleb”. Poor thing. What is truly remarkable about the Mitchell affair is the chutzpah of the police constable in doing over such a senior figure. He obviously felt he and his ilk exercise just as much authority as government front benchers.
The disturbing implications of Plebgate are obvious. If this can happen to a privileged, white Tory cabinet minister, educated at Rugby and Cambridge, then what hope is there - as Mitchell himself pointed out - for a young black man in Brixton, or indeed, a young black from Tottenham like Mark Duggan - the victim of what amounts to a “summary execution” (Carole Duggan), which in turn prompted the most serious riots in modern English history.
Insofar as we can tell, Duggan was shot after armed officers forced a cab he was travelling in to stop - supposedly acting on ‘intelligence’ that he was part of a gang and had a gun. The inquest, which began in September, was told by police that Duggan was shot twice after he “brandished” a firearm when surrounded by armed officers. After he was shot, however, the gun - wrapped in a sock - was found on the other side of a fence several metres away from where he fell to the pavement. Neither the gun nor the sock had any DNA or fingerprints from Duggan on it - very suspicious. The Duggan family certainly thought so, accusing the police of deliberatively placing it there to incriminate Mark. A video of the aftermath of the shooting taken from flats opposite the scene in Ferry Road, Tottenham, was presented to the court and it appeared to show a police officer disappearing behind Duggan’s cab for around 11 seconds. Even more suspicious.
To put it mildly, the ‘lawful killing’ verdict was a surprise even to some on the police side. Especially so, as before announcing the decision the jury had announced by an eight-to-two majority that they were sure Duggan did not have a gun in his hand when shot, which just about everybody had assumed was the issue at the heart of the inquest. But apparently not. Instead the jury declared that they believed the firearms officer had “acted lawfully” in shooting Duggan down - the aforementioned officer, known as V53, had testified he was “sure” he had seen a gun in Duggan’s right hand and believed the suspect was “preparing to use it”. Yeah, right, we believe you.
Nor should we forget, now we are on the subject, the police murder of Ian Tomlinson - the unlucky passer-by who died after being deliberately pushed at the 2009 G20 protests by PC Simon Harwood, who was never convicted of anything. And the appalling case of Jean Charles de Menezes, shot dead by armed police in Stockwell tube station for his ‘suspicious’ behaviour and the crime of looking a bit “Asian”.
Thanks to Andrew Mitchell’s class and political connections, the truth (more or less) about Plebgate was established within a year or so. Compare that though to the quarter of a century it took for the working class families of Hillsborough to get answers - they were up against a vicious establishment that undermined, smeared and slandered them in any way possible. And they still have not secured justice. The police lied from the very beginning in the foulest manner imaginable, systematically doctoring witness statements in order to show themselves in a more favourable light - yet re-examination of the medical evidence strongly indicated that nearly half of the deaths of Liverpool football fans could have been prevented, had the police not been so aggressive and then delayed the ambulance service. But where are the convictions? Obscenely, the average compensation payout for police officers traumatised by the disaster was £93,000, 30 times the statutory level of compensation received by parents whose children were crushed to death.
Now we have the developing scandal of the miners at Orgreave, attacked by the same South Yorkshire Police - which still employs 195 officers who were on duty at the ground on the day of the tragedy - who fabricated statements on a mass scale, as they later did at Hillsborough: still fighting the enemy within. There is voluminous documentary evidence detailing arrests at Orgreave; but with notes written up by somebody other than the arresting officer - as crude and obvious as that. Then there were the Kent miners prevented from travelling to picket lines - their cars were stopped and they were told to turn back as they tried to access the motorway. Story after story of miners getting arrested for alleged violence, for which many were convicted by vengeful courts - part of a ruthless state machinery determined to crush the miners by almost any means necessary (Margaret Thatcher, as we know, seriously considered declaring a state of emergency and using troops to move coal stocks around).
When it came to the vicious propaganda battle against the miners, the BBC, like virtually all the mainstream media to one extent or another, colluded with the state. Thus we have the notorious 1984-ish BBC news report on June 13 1984 about Orgreave, showing miners chucking pavement slabs and other missiles at the police, which apparently caused the police to charge them in response. Only it was the other way round. It was the miners who got beaten black and blue by the police deploying ‘classic’ Northern Ireland-style military techniques, the Darth Vader riot police bludgeoning unarmed strikers unconscious as they lay on the floor. Mysteriously, all the scenes of extreme police brutality ending up on the cutting room floor. But the state was fully prepared to unleash its violence and repression, aided by intercepts, infiltrators, secret services, the tame media, etc. The miners, on the other hand, went into battle uncoordinated and misled.
Yes, for leftwingers and progressively minded people it is not exactly a shocking idea that the police are institutionally corrupt - that we are not dealing with rotten apples, but rather with the normal running of the state. However, it is an excellent development that this knowledge is becoming more widely known - so, thank you, Andrew Mitchell, Keith Wallis and ‘V53’. Every article, every report, every scandal that exposes the rotten nature of the police and the bourgeois state as a whole is to be positively welcomed - no more illusions in the force. It can never be transformed into a neutral, let alone benign, institution - it is our enemy. We look forward to a time when the juries are instinctively hostile to the police and all other agents of the bourgeois state.
1. ‘The corruption of Britain’ The Independent January 10.
2. The Guardian January 12.