The Police – Perverting the Course of Justice at a Trial Near You…

A year on from the Mark Kennedy/Stone scandal any attempt by the authorities to portray it as an aberration is looking ever more questionable.

In the mid 90s Det. Con. Jim Boyling posed as a Reclaim the Streets activist called ‘Jim Sutton,’ maintained his cover during privileged legal defence conferences and during his trial.   He also began a relationship with an activist while using his false identity, then disappeared, later returning to admit to her he was a policeman.  They married and the couple had two children.

That a police officer compromised meetings between lawyers and their clients, that he lied under oath, that he rendered the convictions of those he appeared with unsafe and that this all happened with the knowledge of senior officers raises profound constitutional questions.  Perjury, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and perverting the course of justice are all crimes.  Perjury carries a maximum sentence of seven years, perverting the course of justice can carry a life sentence (though no court in living memory has apparently imposed a penalty of more than ten years).

The manner in which the investigation of the actions of the police in the case of Jim Sutton/Boyling is carried out will tell us whether the IPCC has the ability and the will to hold the police properly to account or whether, as with the Tomlinson killing, it shies away from its responsibility and signals to the police that they can act more or less with impunity.

More worrying still is the fact that the police were prepared to cross lines both moral and legal to such an extent simply to monitor ‘a bunch of hippies on bicycles’, whose crime was (and I’m not making this up)….cycling too slowly.

Ever wondered why police budgets are stretched?  One might be forgiven for concluding that we’re pouring millions of pounds into unconstitutional operations to subvert campaigning organisations simply because they’re people that the police, don’t like.  Actually there is a more credible explanation and it’s one I’ve made before – simply that environmental and anti-corporate activists pose a bigger threat to the bottom line of our major corporations than any other group – political or terrorist.  It’s almost always about the money.

But before we pour more oppobrium onto the heads of our police services we might do well to remember a senior police officer who died earlier this month.  John Alderson (Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall 1973-82) was a copper who had a genuine grasp of the relationship between police and citizens in a democracy; a man who described Special Branch as ‘the government’s police force’ and who ordered destroyed files where he felt they compromised the subjects’ civil liberties.  Let me offer you Alderson in his own words (courtesy the Independent’s obituary):

On policing in a democracy: “What is in dispute is whether the police are to be a remote, threatening, repressive arm of government, or a body of public servants protecting, befriending and advising the meanest as well as the grandest of our citizens.”

Of the policing of the miners’ strike:  “The British people should never accept colonial-style policing. It is forceful, repressive policing. Instead of exporting the developed British traditions to the colonies, we are now importing colonial policing into Britain.”

On surveillance and subversion (from the Guardian’s obituary): “If something is not tinged with criminality then, to me, it is not subversive and I don’t think the civil police should be involved.”

If Northern Ireland taught us anything it is that if we restrict the democratic space then entirely reasonable impulses for reform and justice find whatever outlet they can, some of them illegal and undemocratic.

One thing that autocratic states never seem prepared to accept is that change is inevitable – it’s like death and taxes.  You can either allow that change to take place slow and steady or you can block it and have it catch up with you all at one.  By seeking to prevent instability and revolution they inevitably create it.

Trouble is the wind in the sails of the ship of state – in moderation it keeps the vessel moving calmly along.  Let it arrive all at once and you’re sunk.

Our current policing model is simply storing up trouble for later.  We need a style of policing, and a style of government, that responds to its citizens and doesn’t try to corral them, but that listens and responds.  Far from bringing about unrest giving people a way to air their grievances and have them addressed is a pretty failsafe means of preventing it.


4 Responses to “The Police – Perverting the Course of Justice at a Trial Near You…”

  1. Chapman Baxter Says:

    Did he marry and activist and have two kids? It says ‘reportedly’ above. Does anyone know?

    • headstrongclub Says:

      The Guardian has this

      I’ve amended the post to reflect that. Apparently when they married his partner had become aware of his true identity however it apppears he may not have told senior officers he was involved in a sexual relationship with someone he was supposed to be keeping under surveilllance. Apparantly it’s ‘unrealistic’ not to have sex with your targets. That’s apparently the official police version of ‘I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself.’

  2. It seems GK Chesterton’s metaphysical novel ‘ The Man Who Was Thursday’ isn’t so farfetched. Secret policeman Gabriel Syme discovers all the other members of the anarchist cell he has infeltrated are also secret policemen. I’m pretty sure the EDL and other extreme right groups have been infiltrated by the security services. Certain arms and explosives finds in the 80s and 90s can only be explained by insider knowledge.

    John Alderson – a great Liberal Democrat activist after he retired

    • headstrongclub Says:

      Yes, I’m quite prepared to believe that the EDL has been infiltrated. I’m going to resist the temptation to make cheap jokes about undercover police officers and relationships with targets in that context – it would be too easy and indefensible. Perhaps I shoud be generous and suggest that all this came to light because Mark Kennedy/Stone ended up having a lot of sympathy wit the people he had infiltrated and that the same isn’t true of police officers who have gone undercover into the far right – and that underneath it all police officers do have a sense of right and wrong.

      As for John Alderson – I’m sure he would have been a great asset to the Lib Dems had he been elected and would have made an even more profound contribution to the debate on policing in Britain. Let’s hope that more like him rise through the ranks.

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