Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Police Must Not Whitewash Greengate

Shamed government supporters are hoping the police's own investigation into the Met's handling of Greengate will put a lid on the heavy-handed outrage, as the embattled Force makes a desperate attempt to wriggle out of its share of the blame. 

A police investigation is welcome as long it is quick and to the point but here the police are investigating themselves when at the centre are issues of public interest, the sanctity of parliament and the role of the police as agents of the state. 

Those are political not police matters. Opposition parties have united in outrage and condemnation. The whole affair requires a high-level independent inquiry.  

British Transport Police chief constable, Ian Johnston, a former police chief at the Met and top officer at ACPO, will report back to the Met within two weeks. Only a referral to the PCA would remove any hint of a whitewash. 

But the police conduct in this disturbing affair was only one part of the picture. The anti-terrorism squad arrested the senior opposition MP Damian Green over home office leaks and held him for nine hours searching his home and office in the House of Commons.

Any police inquiry cannot answer fundamental issues at the heart of this scandal. Why were the heavy mob used for the arrest when clearly this did not involve any state secrets? Who authorised the police search in the sacrosanct precincts of the Place of Westminster? And, as the Orange Party asked earlier, what did ministers know and when did they know? 

Former shadow home office spokesman David Davis has, however, made a valid point over the police inquiry: "He can look at how disproportionate this was, how heavy handed it was. He can certainly look very hard at how the protection of parliament was trampled over in this investigation."

Only the leader of the House, Harriet Harman, has come close to expressing any sense of 'concern' as she tries to dig the government out of its hole. 

But then she has the experience of sitting on the other side of the fence.  As legal officer for the National Council for Civil Liberties (now Liberty), she was found in contempt of court in the landmark House of Lords civil liberties case Home Office v. Harman 1983 A.C. 280, 308, still cited as an important legal precedent to this day.

With both the prime minister and his hapless home secretary still in denial, a police investigation by police into the police must not now allow government ministers to once again hide behind a police inquiry and make little or no comment while that inquiry is taking place.

No comments: