Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Guess What Verdict the Cop Got (Again)

Last week I wrote about the trial of PC Lee Birch who tasered a naked man in a cell at Melksham police station in Wiltshire.

At the end of the trial yesterday neither the judge, prosecution, defence nor the tasered man Daniel Dove objected to the footage being released. However, for some reason, Wiltshire police decided they didn't want it to come out. Luckily the Guardian has got it from another source and you can watch the 26 second clip here.

It plainly shows that Dove is down to his wet socks and boxer shorts. He is not making any attempt to resist, nor is he squaring up to the officers in any way. PC Birch is one of three officers in the cell, so is hardly in a vulnerable position. One is idly looking through Dove's wallet, which is not the action of someone on their guard against a volatile threat.

After Dove removes his socks and puts them by the wall away from the officers, he starts to take his shorts off. As he does so Birch reaches out his hand, a gesture that can only be seen as asking for the shorts to be handed to him. Dove removes them and flicks them at PC Birch's face. He briefly brings his other hand up and makes as if to start folding the shorts, turning his face. This is not the act of someone challenging Birch.

Without hesitation or saying anything, Birch draws the taser that had been concealed behind his back and fires. It is less than three seconds since the shorts were flicked.


In his trial for assault causing actual bodily harm and misconduct in a public office, PC Birch said

I am not saying what he did was particularly life-threatening, but it was an indication that he was still intent on carrying out assaults. I felt he would continue to assault either myself or one of my colleagues if I didn't use that device upon him....

He was now naked and was soaking wet and I would not wish to restrain a naked man. There was nothing to grab hold off – there's no clothing to grab.

So, all those times that you see police officers grabbing people by the wrists, the arms or round the neck are presumably novel innovations that Birch and friends have never thought of. Likewise tripping someone and kneeling on their legs with colleagues pinning shoulders down.

Birch also appears to be claiming that that, though Birch was only two steps from having Dove isolated in a locked cell, the unapparent threat was so imminent that it didn't warrant any sort of warning to back off, but an immediate tasering was the lowest level of force necessary. It is plainly horseshit of the highest order. And yet it took the jury 90 minutes to acquit him.


In last week's post I covered an earlier case in which two separate taserings happened at Burnley police station. In direct contravention of guidelines on the use of tasers, officers had fired them at people in order to get them to comply with a request to be strip searched. The Independent Police Complaints Commission found that there'd been 18 uses of tasers in cells in a year among six forces and it was all fine. Yesterday's verdict at Bristol underlines this.

If being naked, unsteady and surrounded by police officers in a cell doesn't make you undeserving of being shot with a taser because an officer feels like it, I don't see what can.

But, like Sergeant Delroy Smellie whose casual assault was caught on video, once again filmed proof is not enough to secure a conviction. Even in the Ian Tomlinson case, the inquest jury found he was unlawfully killed by PC Simon Harwood's baton strike but the trial jury - working to the same standard of proof - found he was not.

Courts do not like convicting individual police officers, no matter what. Impunity makes abuse inevitable.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

UKIP Don't Hate Elephants, They Hate People

UKIP have got a freepost address so, if you want to send their leaflets back at their expense, it's easily done. It's been noted that, as they pay by weight received, adding a few extra items helps them spend the millions of pounds they've fiddled from the EU. Handful of gravel from your path? Out of date jar of gherkins? Every little helps. But few things are as heavy and handily sized as the household brick, which UKIP will surely have good use for.

It's easy to cast them as a party who hate foreigners - not least because it's true - but it misses the point and also misses a lot of the people on their hate list.


On 12 September 2013, the European Parliament voted on equal pay for male and female workers. It was carried with an overwhelming 546 votes in favour. Among the 50 abstentions were UKIP MEPs John Bufton and William, Earl of Dartmouth. For the same party, John Agnew and Roger Helmer were two of the 34 (that also included several Tories) who voted against.

This is, of course, the same UKIP who have a major funder called Demetri Marchessini, author of a whole book called Women In Trousers explaining that such people are deliberately making themselves unattractive to men and that public trouser-wearing by women is 'hostile behaviour'.


If being on the wrong side of gender discrimination is unpopular, UKIP went further. A month ago there was a European Parliament vote on transparency in clinical trials that was carried by an even greater margin than the equal pay vote. Fully 95%, some 594 MEPS, were in favour. Who were amidst the rump of 17 who opposed it? Stand up once again William, Earl of Dartmouth and his colleagues Roger Helmer and John Agnew, alongside fellow UKIPper Gerard Batten.


Nigel Farage was absent from both those votes, presumably because he was on Question Time yet a-fucking-gain. However he was present on 15 January this year for a vote to combat wildlife crime, including the illegal ivory trade. This vote managed to be even more overwhelming. 647 MEPs - 96% - voted in favour. Six of the 14 who voted against came from one party. Once again William, Earl of Dartmouth took his place alongside John Agnew and Gerard Batten, along with Paul Nuttall, Derek Clark and their overseer Farage.

This one caught a big wave of meme-inspired public attention in the last couple of weeks. Why in God's name did Ukip vote against fighting the illegal ivory trade? asked an anti-EU rightwinger on the Telegraph's blog feed. It's a fair enough question in the face of what seem like baffling political positions.


However, our befuddlement is the product of our own failure to understand what we see. We imagine UKIP MEPs as political representatives. If instead we see UKIP as a corporatist sect masquerading as a political party then it all becomes clear. They despise anything that hinders profit, which includes many fundamental human needs. Now look again at everything they do. It all fits.

Their current billboard campaign shows a British builder* begging on the street because his job was undercut by unlimited cheap labour.

In their new election broadcast video, a British builder** says

Since the lads from Eastern Europe are prepared to work for a lot less than anybody else, I’ve found it a real struggle. It’s getting hard to provide for my family.

If this were really their concern, why do UKIP oppose the minimum wage? Why do they support the ultimate undercut of workfare, where waged workers are sacked to make way for the unpaid forced labour of unemployed people?

UKIP want the end of the Working Time Directive which gives us paid holiday, paid breaks, rest of at least 11 hours in 24 and the right to work no more than 48 hours a week. Those out of work would suffer under UKIP too, with benefits being further slashed and abolished.

These are the people for whom this most full-throttle Tory government doesn't go far or fast enough. Farage - who, like so many of the Tories he pits himself against, is a public school millionaire who had a City career before becoming an expenses fiddling politician - is using racism as a smokescreen for his party's drive for full corporatocracy.

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*The British builder in the poster, David O' Rourke, is actually an immigrant from Ireland. He's not a builder, but an actor. Last Wednesday Farage told the Telegraph's political editor that UKIP was the only party not to use actors in its advertising. Two days later UKIP said using actors was 'totally standard practice'.

**The British builder in the video, Andre Lampitt, is actually an immigrant from Zimbabwe, or Rhodesia as he prefers to call it. He is a UKIP member and a serious racist.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

It Was Thirty Years Ago Today

30 years ago this morning I was arriving home from a lifechanging experience. It was REM's first UK tour and the night before I'd blagged my way into the soundcheck at the Gallery on Peter Street in Manchester. After that I hid in the bogs until the venue opened, not only saving the £1.50 entry fee but more importantly avoided being turned away for being so blatantly underage.

They came on with a cover of Pale Blue Eyes then ripped into their own Moral Kiosk, blowing the power. After 15 minutes of a capella singalongs including If I Had A Hammer they got electrified again, did surf guitar classic Walk Don't Run and continued their set. I spent the night on Piccadilly station and got pulled in by the rozzers.

I already had a strong belief that if I've understood something properly and found it meaningful then I wanted to interact with it, be it politics or music. I see a younger generation doing so readily with favourite bands on Twittter these days, actual two way communication from your teenage bedroom with the poeple who help you make sense of your world. Back then it meant sentencing myself to spending a significant part of my teenage years outside stage doors.

Other bands were important and inspiring to me, but there was nobody else like REM. Their sense of intelligence and mystery was bewitching. By taking a thoughtful, original, oblique angle to their creative work and the world at large they delivered an antidote to the overwhelm of brash commercialism and homogenous strictured suburban tedium. They said it was OK not to get dissolved into the soul sapping meaningless mainstream but hold out for something that I couldn't even name or describe yet.

And don't let the later po-facedness fool you, REM were an exuberant band in the early days who really enjoyed themselves on stage.

When I saw them that night Reckoning had been out a few days but my local shop hadn't got it yet. However we'd had So Central Rain as the flagship single. Here they are six weeks later.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

50,000 Volts of Extra Judicial Punishment

Not often you get a police officer in the dock. PC Lee Birch tasered a naked prisoner in his cell in retaliation for being flicked in the face with boxer shorts, a court has been told.

Daniel Dove, who had been arrested for being drunk outside a nightclub and in a case that was later dropped, says he was given no warning, just shot with the 50,000 volt weapon whilst not being violent and 'there was a lot of pain'.

When tasers were brought in we were told they were vital to give officers a less-lethal alternative to firearms when facing rabid marauders with samurai swords. Genuinely, samurai swords were singled out.

But, like the way the supposedly last-ditch pepper spray has become the next thing to use after a raised voice, so tasers are being used in controlled, contained situations against prisoners who are not only unarmed but unclothed.

There may be some solace in the fact that PC Birch is being prosecuted for Actual Bodily Harm and Misconduct in a Public Office, but let's wait until we see the verdict. Either way, Birch isn't the only one.

Just three weeks ago, the Independent Police Complaints Authority published its report into tasering at Burnley police station. There had been two complaints of people being tasered in cells in order to make them take their clothes off to be strip searched.

The report was unequivocal

The guidance that is issued to forces says this must never happen. Taser is not something that should be used to make people follow police orders as a matter of convenience.

It also condemned

inappropriate comments made by officers during booking-in procedures and after Taser was used in one of the cases, which suggested an unprofessional, casual and dismissive approach to use of force on detainees.

Despite the evidence that it was at least partially punitive, and the admission that officers had laughed at the people they'd just tasered, the IPCC ruled that not only is tasering of unarmed people in cells acceptable, but these two specific incidents were fine.

Looking at six similar sized forces, they found 18 uses of tasers in custody over a year and so Burnley police and the Lancashire constabulary were not using tasers disproportionately compared to others. Whether the use by all seven forces was disproportionate to the situations they use tasers in is a question that remains unanswered.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Bailed Out - A Police Tactic to Stifle Dissent

Five of the antifascists arrested at last June's anti-BNP demo at the Cenotaph were acquitted by Westminster magistrates this morning. It's good news for them, but joy should not be unconfined.

Many arrests at protests are not intended to secure convictions, merely to stifle political dissent. After 286 antifascists were arrested at another demo three months later, I wrote about how the use of mass arrests is a way to control dissent.

By the same token, today's freshly acquitted protesters were given bail conditions that banned them from attending any further antifascist demonstrations. Breach of police bail can get you arrested again and brought before a court who may well decide to put a disobedient bail-breacher on remand in prison until your trial. As today's antifascists illustrate, that can easily be the best part of a year even for a relatively trivial offence. This makes bail conditions a very effective behavioural control tool irrespective of your alleged crime, let alone your actual guilt.

As David Cullen has documented, the recent anti-fracking protest at Barton Moss near Manchester got exactly this treatment. Protesters, myself included, were picked off on ludicrous pretexts. My favourite is the sober pedestrian who was arrested on suspicion of drink-driving.

We were all given bail conditions not to return to the camp. As soon as we could get the terms challenged in front of a magistrate they were, without exception, completely dropped. And yet the next lot of arrestees were given the same onerous conditions that, even as they typed them, the police knew would not stand up in the courts that the police are supposed to serve.

But by doing random arrests they discourage anyone from protesting who has a fear of risking a criminal record, and then the bail conditions take out the ones who don't mind being nicked. It's a concerted counter-democratic strategy to deprive the campaign of gathering momentum.

The range of groups targeted by Britain's political secret police shows that it's not the threat of violent disorder or even peaceful criminal activity that concerns the authorities. They spy on and disrupt any groups who are active outside the sliver of the political spectrum represented at Westminster. Open, public groups and actual political parties such as the Socialist Party, Green Party and Socialist Workers Party have been spied on.

Effectively, last June the police convicted those antifascists of acting outside permitted political norms and sentenced them to silence.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The Name Game

This clipping comes from the Newbury Weekly News, 22 February 1996. It was the height of the protest against the Newbury Bypass, hundreds of people were obstructing work to clear the route of 10,000 trees, living in treehouses, blockading bulldozers and much more.

There were dozens of camps along the nine miles, and around a thousand arrests were made of people defending the trees. So commonplace were arrests that court cases weren't taken seriously. Two people had similar ideas of how to make their point in court.

The forces of destruction wore different coloured hard hats to denote their role. If memory serves, white hats were the drone security guards, green hats were private detective evidence gatherers from Bray's Detective Agency hired by the Department of Transport, red hats were bailiffs and sheriff's officers and blue hats were police.

Referencing this, one arrested individual gave his name as Red Hats Green Hats White Hats And Police Hats Guard The Trolls Work Of The Chainsaw Gangs Doing Their Little Bit To Build A Wasteland Where Once Was Beauty Making Dirty Money Dirty Profits The Fat Controllers Sit Behind Their Piles Of Money Weaving Their Power Plays So In This Dinosaur They Like To Call Democracy Love And Power To The Tribe Of Eco-Warriors And Mother Earth.

At his initial hearing, Mr Earth was shown a piece of paper with his name and affirmed it was correct. When his case came for trial he was again shown a piece of paper but said that as he didn't have his glasses with him he couldn't read it to check it was correct. The clerk then apologised to the magistrate and read out the full thing.

Another protester actually changed his surname legally to (spelled as one word but broken here to make it legible for you): Oddsocks McWeirdo el tuttifrutti farto hello hippopotamus bum.

He later changed it again to: Oddsocks Mcweirdo el tuttifrutti Mr farto hello hippopotamus bum I think we can all live in co-operation as free individuals without hurting our fellow sentient beings but we will have to work on it the world is for sharing.


Tuesday, April 01, 2014

IPCC: Ten Years of Excusing and Ignoring

The Independent Police Complaints Commission is ten years old today. It's also the fifth anniversary of the death of Ian Tomlinson. Let's remember how they dealt with that.

The Met had already spun the story of the man who collapsed and the valiant bobbies who tried to save him.

The IPCC, a significant proportion of whom are ex-police, took the police's word that Tomlinson hadn't had contact with them. They believed the rushed, discredited first autopsy by a police-friendly pathologist who has since been struck off that said he died of a heart attack and did not mention the injuries inflicted by PC Harwood that actually killed him, nor even the bruising on his head and body.

The Guardian got pictures of Tomlinson on the ground surrounded by riot officers. The police and IPCC didn't tell the family. When the journalist made contact with the family, the IPCC accused them of doorstepping a bereaved relatives in a time of grief, and briefed other media to say there was nothing in the suggestions that Tomlinson had any altercation with police.

Nick Hardwick, chair of the IPCC, went on Channel 4 News to say that there was no CCTV in the area of the fatal attack. After it was pointed out that there were six CCTV cameras in the area including two police-owned cameras were pointing directly at the spot, this was amended to say that the cameras weren't working.

We can, perhaps, believe that the cameras weren't working on the platform or train that Jean Charles de Menezes was killed on (even though the company operating them and London Underground staff were reported to contradict that story). It was a sudden, unexpected incident. But the idea that cameras at the heart of a massive police operation with months of preparation - over a hundred officers were monitoring the camera feeds - tests the bounds of credibility.

When the Guardian published the footage of the fatal assault, the IPCC and police went round to the paper's offices the same evening and demand it be taken down. They said it would upset the Tomlinson family. The next day the IPCC and police went and met with the family and suggested that the assailant might have been a protester in a stolen uniform.

Despite witness statements from several Metropolitan officers, the IPCC took five days to decide the police shouldn't investigate Tomlinson's death themselves.

An IPCC survey showed the Police Superintendents' Association, Association of Chief Police Officers and Police Federation are all "satisfied" with it. They appear less concerned with asking how complainants or the public feel about its performance; we're not the market it is aiming to please.

All of this came after the Police Action Law Group, a body representing over a hundred lawyers who deal with claims against the police, resigned from the IPCC's advisory body citing a pattern of favouritism towards the police, complaints being turned down despite strong evidence, indifference and rudeness towards complainants and delays stretching over several years in some cases.

Put simply, the IPCC has neither the powers nor the resources that it needs to get to the truth when the integrity of the police is in doubt. Don't take my word for it; that's a quote from the anti-establishment troublemakers at the Home Affairs Select Committee.

Meanwhile, today's news from the other IPCC  - the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - reminds us that if the authorities had not been so busy bribing, arresting, battering, infiltrating and sexually abusing those of us who stuck our necks out to prevent environmental devastation, we might have made the social changes needed in time to head off some of the worst effects of climate change.