Two stories in the media this afternoon, each quite different in nature but both pointing toward the same dark, disturbing and authoritarian shift that continues unabated in Britain today.
The first is from The Telegraph, serving up video footage of a police sergeant in Gloucester threatening a photographer, admitting to swearing at him and threatening him with physical harm:
The officer is heard to say, “we’ll nick you now and I will make your day a living hell, ‘cos you’ll be in that cell all day. What I’ll probably do is I will ask for you to be remanded in custody and I will put you before the magistrate.”
He added: “You’re lucky that I didn’t knock you out. I swore at you, yeah. It got your attention, though, didn’t it?”
Because apparently taking pictures or video of the aftermath of a road accident is now illegal in our country, as is showing anything but the most fawning and servile deference and adulation to the most power-crazed and high-handed officers in the police force.
The second article is chilling on an altogether different level, and chronicles the process by which the UK’s anti-terrorist police decided that it would be in any way appropriate and proportional to haul a twelve year old boy out of his class at school to question him about an event that he had organised on Facebook to protest the planned closure of his local youth club:
Wishart said that after the school was contacted by anti-terrorist officers, he was taken out of his English class on Tuesday afternoon and interviewed by a Thames Valley officer at the school in the presence of his head of year. During the interview, Wishart says that the officer told him that if any public disorder took place at the event he would be held responsible and arrested.
Speaking to the Guardian, Nicky Wishart said: “In my lesson, [a school secretary] came and said my head of year wanted to talk to me. She was in her office with a police officer who wanted to talk to me about the protest. He said, ‘if a riot breaks out we will arrest people and if anything happens you will get arrested because you are the organiser’.
The event was organised in the Prime Minister’s home constituency of Witney in Oxfordshire, but in what possible dark, dystopian world is it okay for the police to make a mountain out of a truly tiny molehill and question the intentions of a young boy who was doing nothing but being an engaged and activist citizen? Our country would be vastly better off if there were more children like Nicky Wishart, who actually care about local issues enough to take a stand rather than festering away in front of the television for hours on end.
But it is the next quote attributed to the police that is truly terrifying:
“He said even if I didn’t turn up I would be arrested and he also said that if David Cameron was in, his armed officers will be there ‘so if anything out of line happens …’ and then he stopped.”
If anything out of line happens, the armed officers will do what, exactly? Shoot a twelve year old boy as some kind of sadistic punishment? What reason is there to mention the potential presence of armed officers, other than to imply that they might do the one thing that regular police officers do not?
The truly scary thing is that we don’t even have to worry about our politicians using their power and influence to get the security services to intimidate and threaten the population on their behalf – the security services seem perfectly willing to proactively do so of their own volition!
We must also ask why it was the anti-terrorist police (who apparently have no real serious threats to the nation on their agenda at the moment to be wasting time on routine public intimidation work, for which I suppose we can all breathe a sigh of relief), of all the many branches of our national law enforcement apparatus, who seemingly felt it necessary to bully a small child about his planned political protest. Has GCHQ intercepted terrorist chatter that Al Qaeda intends to infiltrate local community action groups in order to launch their next attack? Whatever next – fears of ricin or anthrax being baked into scones at a Women’s Institute cake sale, and elderly ladies being detained in their kitchens?
The police make the predictable but ludicrous claim that their intention was not to cause distress or to intimidate Wishart, but was simply part of their standard community outreach efforts:
“On Tuesday 7 December, our schools officer for west Oxfordshire attended the school in Eynsham and spoke to a 12-year-old boy in the company of the pupil’s head of year, about a planned protest. This was not with the intention of dissuading him from organising it, but to obtain information regarding the protest to ensure his and others’ safety. As with any demonstration, we always aim to facilitate a peaceful protest.”
Perhaps the police need to apply the “ordinary person” test and reconsider the likely effect of being yanked out of class and spoken to by police in the presence of a senior teacher with no parents or legal representatives present, on the psyche of a young boy. Is doing what they did more likely to “facilitate a peaceful protest” or to stamp out a potential protest before it ever sees the light of day?
David Cameron needs to send a very clear message to the nation in response to this outrage, as a matter of urgency. And through the locally elected police commissioners, he needs to publicly rebuke and call off the police attack dogs currently biting at the ankles of the British citizenry. Cameron and the commissioners must make clear that individual police officers will curry no favour with their superiors by overzealously applying extreme interpretations of public order laws, and that those higher in the law enforcement hierarchy will receive no special favour from their political masters by using their extensive powers to bully and silence any protest that could be politically embarrassing.
Semi-Partisan Sam is quite unequivocal on this matter. The apology from the police to the family concerned is all well and good, but it is quite insufficient. It is high time that the British police are brought to heel once and for all.