Monthly Archives: November 2009

SMT Online Editor’s View: The Politics of Police Reform

In his new guise as president of ACPO, Sir Hugh Orde has certainly set the cat among the pigeons with clarion calls for police reform. Do his theories stack up? Brian Sims provides an impassioned appraisal.

Having said so very little since he took office that I’d almost forgotten him altogether, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson has not been backward in coming forward to support ACPO president Sir Hugh Orde’s bold statements on the perceived need for radical policing reform.

Substantial reform underpinned (in no small way, it must be said) by controversial proposals for force mergers.

For his part, Sir Paul – whose light has presumably been hidden under New Scotland Yard’s corporate communications bushel in a bid to banish from memory the disgraceful hounding of Tory MP Damian Green – has recently made reference to a ‘patchwork’ of police forces in the UK, the smaller ones in particular allegedly struggling to cope with serious and organised crime that’s often international in both origin and execution.

Haven’t we – and, indeed, Sir Paul – been here before, though? In 2003, I well remember Stephenson submitting a report to the Home Office in which he championed the instigation of a number of recommendations, not least this political and social ‘hot potato’ of force coalescence.

Six years on, our Top Cop is somewhat disappointed that little progress has been made (certainly in terms of tackling serious and organised crime, anyway). Speaking in The Times only last Thursday, Sir Paul stated: “I think the problems present then [in 2003] are, to some extent, still present now.”

One look at the crime statistics – not the Government’s heavily massaged ones, but the real scenarios played out on a daily basis in the national media – would suggest that Stephenson has this time hit the nail squarely on the head.

The Home Office White Paper

This whole merger debate has resurfaced at a time when, like most of us, police forces are being placed under constant pressure to eke out cost savings. On occasion, however, there’s only so much fat you can trim before the whole deck of cards collapses.

A forthcoming Home Office White Paper is fully expected to encourage voluntary mergers – that should please both Sirs, then – and, at the same time, an increased collaboration between neighbouring forces.

With a General Election in the wings, the Conservative Party’s policy on policing reform is – sadly, like many of their plans – still in its formative stages.

One Tory idea to emerge to date concerns the massively controversial desire for replacing police authorities — at present comprised of councillors and appointed members — with single, elected police commissioners who would oversee the work of given forces.

More anon of what is, for many in the police service, a jewel-encrusted rapier of a suggestion.

First, though, let’s look in a little more detail at what Sir Hugh Orde – who, in my view, should have been appointed Met Commissioner – has been saying since he stepped down as chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and sat in the ACPO ‘hot seat’ barely three months ago.

He wants more emphasis on public order tactics and training, with greater focus on considerations towards Human Rights. No real surprises there, as Sir Hugh dutifully oversaw the Patten Review in Northern Ireland where said Rights were (and still are) at the core of policing in the Province.

Sir Hugh doesn’t feel that Human Rights considerations are an obstacle to good policing, but I’m not entirely sure I’d agree with him there. Too many oily defence briefs prepared to turn a blind eye towards morality in favour of their bank balance have blatantly used the Human Rights Act as a buffer that has – more often than is healthy – protected the guilty.

That aside, focusing on Human Rights would provide a welcome antidote to the Government’s target culture of the last few years. A rancid culture that has transformed policing into a number-crunching exercise rather than one that really delivers the style of service – and, more importantly, the results – that tax payers wish to see for their money.

Only this morning, Denis O’Connor – Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary – suggested in The Daily Telegraph that policing has lost its way amid the “noise and clutter” of Government targets and laws.

O’Connor has called for a return to the ideals and vision of Sir Robert Peel, who once said: “The police are the public, and the public are the police”. Spot on.

Tax payers want protection, reassurance and the defence of our civil liberties. Not much to ask, really, from the alleged defenders of our social faith (and I’m not counting PCSOs in their number, by the way).

Apparent political indifference

The barely latent spectre of international terrorism and cross-border organised crime are huge issues which the police must address.

It’s pretty obvious the 44 forces across England, Wales and Northern Ireland are struggling to cope, largely due to political interference most readily manifested in the aforementioned targets but also, it has to be said (and rather perversely), as a result of apparent political indifference.

Put simply, there doesn’t seem to be much (if any) political will – and even less Westminster-based enthusiasm – to address this issue of policing reform, probably because the solution is every bit as complex a task to fathom as would be the case if one were to attempt to unravel the genuine elements of any given MP’s expenses claims over the past decade and more.

Is it really fair of Sir Hugh to suggest that this debate on policing reform and restructuring has somehow been ‘hijacked’ by the citizens and voters who merely want to see some Bobbies on the Beat?

Just like throwing even more money down the NHS gravy drain (yes, I did mean to say drain) hasn’t helped with the reduction of waiting lists and hospital closures in towns where the latter are desperately needed, the slavish quest for more ‘Beat Cops’ is probably not the complete answer.

As a rule, local on foot Bobbies – very important though they are, and always will be – don’t tend to catch serious terrorists. They don’t apprehend serial rapists. Rarely do they solve murders.

However, the local Boys in Blue are a vital link in the chain, and I for one feel safer in my own neighbourhood on the ultra rare occasion they hove into view either on foot (highly unlikely), with benefit of mountain bike (slightly less unlikely) or in a patrol car (blink and you’ll probably miss them).

Best possible structure for all concerned

Not unreasonably, Sir Hugh is calling for “an independent, thoughtful but not long-winded” review of policing.

The $64,000 question is this: what’s the best possible policing structure we can put in place to deal with the myriad threats now facing us?

Sir Hugh’s ideas primarily centre on the amalgamation of forces into regional units that might deal with both high-level crime and occurrences of criminality at the local level. If realised, his proposals could lead to the number of police forces being cut to less than ten so-called ‘super forces’.

As far as Sir Hugh’s concerned, the British brand of policing is a really important one to safeguard. He has “yet to find another model” in which he “would feel more comfortable as a citizen”.

By extension, almost, British policing would “continue to be founded on consent, the minimum use of force, minimal interference in the lives of citizens and operational independence for chief officers”.

That last statement is perhaps the most telling and important point of them all. Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling is still waiting for the ink to dry on his outline of how the Conservatives are committed to directly-elected local commissioners with powers to hire and fire chief constables, and set budgets and policing priorities in England and Wales. The overriding aim? To improve police accountability.

An intelligent, quick-thinking man of strong moral backbone, Sir Hugh warns that several chief constables would quit rather than serve under such direct political control.

Should the Tories come to power and enforce their planned move, Sir Hugh would “be deeply uncomfortable” and might even leave office “if the principles of British policing were compromised.”

Political influence: it’s a two-way street

Sir Hugh has insisted time and again that there should be no perception of political influence in policing whatsoever. I agree 100%, but that process demands transparency and adherence on both sides of the fence.

Chief constables, we are told, fully comprehend the need to be held accountable, but at the same time warn that direct local political control would distort their policing priorities.

Sir Hugh himself has commented: “You cannot have a democratic society where the police are controlled, or are even perceived to be controlled, by anyone in a political position.”

Undoubtedly, in this regard the Government has stuck its woefully misguided oar in on far too many occasions – the Damian Green episode and Jacqui Smith’s non-covert preference for Sir Paul to take over from Sir Ian Blair among them – but by the same equation plenty of chief officers have seen fit to nail their political colours to the mast, rabidly courting favour in the House when they should remain impartial at all times.

On that basis, I would politely suggest to Sir Hugh that he ought first to have a word or two with a few of his colleagues on the politics of policing and put ACPO’s own house in order before any stones are thrown outwards.

Sticking with the ACPO theme for a moment longer, this body has long been criticised for a perceived lack of transparency, and for demonstrating direct involvement in operational policing despite the fact that we are talking about what is a limited company.

I’ve never quite understood how that works and neither, for that matter, have many of my esteemed colleagues in the security profession. It’s not a situation that sits well with us in relation to what is, in essence, a bunch of volunteers banding together to drive forward policies (and consistency within those policies).

To be blunt, ACPO should resist all temptation to script any further codes and manuals.

As a basic exercise in law enforcement, the discipline of policing is partly scientific, but – just like security – much of it is common sense (and, not to put too fine a point on it, something of an art form in its own right). Over-complicate this process and that’s when the fog descends. In short, ACPO probably needs to back off a bit.

Workable blueprint for policing?

Is Sir Hugh Orde’s blueprint for policing – and the creation of those impressive-sounding ‘super forces’ – a sound one in the cold light of November 2009 day? There are many whose response to that question would be in the negative.

Grouping anti-social behaviour with acts like dog fouling and bike riding in the wrong places isn’t really the best way for Sir Hugh to win over the public. The former is what makes life intolerable for many, and yet nothing is being done about it.

Reports of vicious, unprovoked beatings, callous rapes, knifings, shootings and muggings are commonplace in today’s society.

Families – and, in some instances, entire neighbourhoods – are being ground down by brain cell-bereft louts who have no respect for anyone or anything. Again, it appears to me that nothing of any substance is being done to sort them out.

Often, we’re told by the authorities not to confront vandals or yobs who, for example, stick their dirty feet on train and bus seats where decent people wearing expensive suits have to sit later in the day, smash shop windows with abandon or burn litter bins. We cannot be seen to offend by way of challenge. It’s not the done thing.

Maybe the average citizen could (and would) do something about this kind of behaviour if they knew a police officer or two were close by and that the Judiciary would play its part by handing down meaningful punishment.

Under a ‘Super Force State’, who’s going to deal with the screaming, drunken, bullying and vomiting knuckle-scrapers of a Friday and Saturday night? What about the drug addicts shooting up in the alleyway? Such anti-social behaviour absolutely cannot be ignored and must never be trivialised.

Many would suggest that Janet Street-Porter’s ‘Yoof of Today’ are the most prominent form of terrorist in our midst and, given the levels to which society has now sunk, I reckon you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that would fundamentally disagree with that assertion.

Policing by consent… but is it?

In addition, why do we always hear this mantra that the police service wishes to retain policing by consent? Is that what we really have in this country? Some would say not, and that any such statement is little other than platitudinous drivel.

Consent by whom and for what purpose, exactly? In order to consent to something, surely you first have to be asked what it is you want to support?

We should be talking about policing by public consent. Mind you, the Government didn’t think twice about not asking us if we wanted these ill-fated and costly scraps in Iraq and Afghanistan, and neither will it ask us if we wish to sell England down the river by shelving the pound.

The politicians will never consult with Joe Public because they know damn well what the answer would be. Our ‘consent’ to policing is, if we’re honest with ourselves, really about as fictional as our soon-to-occur expression of democratic will and intent at next summer’s General Election.

The ideal ‘end game’ as far as policing’s concerned is that we need national forces to tackle serious crime and to quell terrorism, with greatly strengthened local policing services retained in order to mop up petty crime and anti-social behaviour.

In truth, any retention of age-old county/city-based set-ups merely to preserve the status quo of top jobs (and the over-inflated salaries that go with them) is not only pointless but arguably wasteful in the extreme.

Anyway, in all of this talk about police reform we seem to have missed the truism that fighting crime is all about ‘the deterrent’. At present, our prisons don’t hold any fear for the criminal fraternity. They’re not much more than an occupational hazard.

The day we began treating inmates with kid gloves and gave them ridiculous luxuries like portable TVs, PlayStations and gyms and so on was the day the rot set in.

Prison is supposed to be a correctional medium wherein privileges are removed due to serious wrongs having been committed, not a holiday camp from which Mr Bang-To-Rights can glibly continue to run his drugs cartel by way of a smuggled-in BlackBerry Curve.

Bobby on the Beat: a luxury

Until and unless the public is demonstrably willing to fund a massive increase in policing numbers, the Bobby on the Beat will remain a luxury.

Is that a problem? Anecdotal evidence from within says not. If you believe what the rank and file police officers are saying, it’s the patrol car officer that’s doing all the work, it seems. They’re the ones putting wrongdoers in front of Judges.

That said, however much beat patrols may be disparaged by certain newer members of the police service and dubbed either ineffective or unproductive (or both), there are plenty of old school coppers who’ll gladly tell you this form of policing produces lots of vital low-level intelligence, at the same time preventing plenty of crime and disorder. The very happenings that most upset and rile the law-abiding citizen on a daily basis.

Sadly, we have to accept the fact that the deterrent effect of a police uniform is negligible (which, to my mind, says everything about the society in which we live). TV programmes like Nightwatch, Brit Cops and Booze Britain tell us that the trouble-makers know even if they’re arrested and charged the system will not punish them.

Perhaps the most pressing need in all of this is to examine the potential separation of criminal policing from terrorist policing.

Terrorism is without doubt the greatest threat to us all in the grand scheme of things, but it’s the day-to-day ‘clean up’ of the UK’s streets that most concerns the average rate-payer. That’s where Sir Hugh Orde and Co’s skills and mindset ought to be focused.

Tips from the West Midlands

For some tips on how to balance local policing with the strategic requirement to deal with serious crime and terrorism, Sir Hugh could do worse than appraise the work of Chris Sims (we’re not related, by the way), the forward-thinking chief constable of West Midlands Police.

The basic operational command units of Britain’s second biggest policing concern – all 21 of them, and all of which have been thoroughly mired in New Labour’s ludicrous target-based system – are being dumped in favour of ten redefined force areas. These will broadly mirror the local authority borders and, what’s more, directly serve their communities.

Sims – who supports Sir Hugh Orde’s call for reform – is most insistent that each local division is to carry out local policing duties. Officers will be on the streets. They’ll be engaging with the people, combating low-level crime and stamping out the anti-social behaviour all of us right-minded individuals find so utterly stomach-churning.

This chief constable sees no contradiction at all between the demand for local policing and the need for regional policing. Neither, for that matter, do I.

It’s fair to say that the restructuring of the West Midlands Police could become the model for building larger forces while still retaining that most vital concentration on communities. In time, we shall see.

Ultimately, given the financial pressures currently constricting the public purse, there has never been a better or indeed a more appropriate moment for a serious debate to be kick-started on what society expects – and demands – from its police service.

Will ACPO and the politicians involve us mere tax-paying citizens in that discussion? If they don’t, Sir Hugh Orde’s vision of a police service that’s “fit for purpose” will have as much chance of being realised as I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! has of winning the Nobel Prize for Broadcasting.

Warning over intercept evidence

I greatly enjoyed interviewing The Security Institute’s president Lord Carlile of Berriew QC in The SMT SELECT Lounge at last summer’s IFSEC.

That’s one of the reasons why I was extremely interested to note his opinion that allowing intercept evidence in terrorism trials would “be wholly at odds with the national interest”.

As the Government’s impartial advisor on such issues, and the independent reviewer of counter-terrorism legislation, His Lordship is very firmly opposed to allowing any evidence whatsoever originating from phone taps to be permissible as evidence in legal trials.

“Despite my willingness for it to be introduced in appropriate circumstances,” stated Lord Carlile, “I have yet to see any material to justify the conclusion that the permitting of such evidence in terrorism cases would do more good than harm.”

This intervention in what has become a long-running debate will no doubt send shivers through the opposition parties and civil liberties campaigners alike, many of whom have argued that such procedures could well be used to secure more terrorism-related convictions than is the case at present.

Reports suggest both MI5 and the police service are concerned that the requirement for transcribing hundreds of hours of conversations would place an unrealistic and heavy burden on them. Fair point, particularly so when set against available policing manpower.

They also fear that surveillance and monitoring techniques could be revealed if intercept evidence were made public in our Courts of Law. Again, that’s a fair point to make.

With the proviso that, following a review, change would be instigated if deemed necessary, when all’s said and done I would side with Lord Carlile on this issue.

It’s all about your DNA… again

Around the same time that I became Editor of Security Management Today in 2000, (then) Prime Minister Tony Blair was running around town boasting that he’d have the DNA of every criminal on record within three years.

Like a lot of other promises made by New Labour, it never happened. Quelle surprise. Things can only get better? How true.

Now, fanning the flames of controversy stoked by what many deem to be the rise of the Surveillance State and ongoing erosions of necessary privacies, suggestions are rife that the Boys in Blue can be prone to arrest people solely for the purpose of catching DNA samples and adding them to the national database (which I wrote about in my last SMT Online Editor’s View). Another one of those famous targets, no doubt?

By law, of course, members of the police service are permitted to demand DNA samples from anyone arrested for a recordable offence. Samples may be obtained post-arrest, but not if there’s a report for summons.

Independent Government watchdog and advisor the Human Genetics Commission wants to see a major overhaul of the system, and is calling for a set of rules that pinpoint when (and under what circumstances) it’s right for the police to take DNA.

Akin to the debate on evidence interception, the Commission wishes a public discussion to be had on the matter because “there’s very little concrete evidence” on how useful this database – which contains more than five million individual profiles, by the way – really is when it comes to investigating acts of criminality.

Are we entertaining ‘function creep’?

The Commission’s chairman, Professor Jonathan Montgomery, is now talking of the database suffering from “function creep”, whereupon it has morphed from originally existing as a database of offenders to become one of suspects.

In other words, large numbers of people are on board because they’ve been arrested by the police rather than convicted by the Courts.

Montgomery also mentions the creation of “a spiral of suspicion” among those already perturbed by the State’s ever-increasing powers of intrusion.

The Government’s attitude towards DNA retention has engendered a ridiculous situation wherein, in some cases it seems, people are being arrested solely for the police to harvest their DNA. Under New Labour, everyone’s a potential suspect.

No bunch more so, in fact, than the politicians themselves. I always said the House of Commons was the biggest seat of corruption in the land. The expenses scandal merely proves the point.

One forms the impression that many of our Westminster ‘bastions of virtue’ would sell their granny if they thought it would gain them political and/or monetary advantage.

In line with proposals for another Royal Commission on The Future of Policing, let’s have one on politics and politicians, too.

Bring to account those who cannot account for – nor pick up the pieces of – their own actions, let alone those of the rest of us.

Until next time…


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SMT Online Editor’s View: Life for a knife

Sentencing for knife-wielding murderers, terror suspects and DNA, plans to strengthen RIPA, nuclear site security and Sir Ian Blair… Brian Sims offers strident opinions on the tense world where security and Government collide.

Well, well, well. Justice Secretary (and former Home Secretary) Jack Straw announced this very week that the low life in our society who take to the streets with knives – and subsequently kill someone with one of them – will face a minimum of 25 years in jail for their actions.

That raises the ‘tariff’ from a standard 15 years, and comes in the wake of a sentencing review ordered in the summer following criticisms in the mass media dished out – and quite rightly so – by the parents of Ben Kinsella, the 16-year-old brother of former EastEnders star Brooke who was stabbed to death in Islington last June.

Straw, who’s said to want this new legislation in place come the first quarter of 2010, told Parliament: “I propose to introduce a new adult starting point of 25 years’ imprisonment for murder when a knife or other weapon is carried to the scene with the intention of using that weapon.”

Employing all the voter-friendly vocabulary, Straw continued: “The loss of a loved one under any circumstances is heartbreaking. Even more so when they’re the victim of a senseless and appalling murder. It’s only right that thugs who carry knives with the intention of using them, potentially to kill if the opportunity arises, should go to prison for a long time.”

The menace on our streets

Apparently, Straw is “determined to do everything” within his power to tackle the “menace of knife crime” on our streets.

“This Government is very clear that if someone is caught carrying a knife there will be very serious consequences.” The current Government being clear on something? That would certainly make a nice change.

Let’s look at the facts. The proposed change relates directly to the so-called ‘start point’ used by Judges when they set a minimum tariff on life sentencing for the crime of murder. In truth, the bar could be set higher or lower than 25 years depending on mitigating or aggravating circumstances. In addition, Courts jailing juvenile killers will stick at the ‘start point’ of 12 years.

Interestingly – and not without controversy – Straw has seemingly stopped short of putting knife murderers on a par with those who would use firearms to commit their criminal acts. The latter face at least 30 years’ detention (in terms of sentencing, anyway) at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

What’s the difference between the two? Can anyone from the Cabinet enlighten me, please?

And by the way, Mr Straw, not doing anything to raise the limits for juvenile offenders is little other than a red rag to a bull. If you were wondering why kids carry knives in their tuck boxes, now you know.

Statistics have told us that four-in-five knife offenders have avoided any kind of prison term. Not surprising, really. If Judges have to continually take the aforementioned ‘mitigating circumstances’ into account then how are we ever going to have a sentencing system that’s equitable and fair?

Even 25 years may not be enough

If you deliberately kill someone with a knife (or any other implement, for that matter), you go to jail for life. Simple, isn’t it? Or rather it should be.

Increased sentencing plans are all well and good, but without the Government cutting the masses of red tape they’ve tied us all up with so that more police can be released on to our streets to catch criminals and more prisons can be built to house society’s unwanted, there’s every chance Straw’s vote-grabbing words will prove to be yet another empty gesture.

Far be it from me to be cynical, but anyone would think a General Election was just around the corner.

For certain crimes, I’d suggest that even 25 years isn’t enough. Murderers are still being let out having served only half of their allotted time of incarceration. It’s a disgrace.

Of course, there’s a massively controversial alternative. One that, for crimes like murder, might well be construed by some as better, fairer, quicker, less expensive (for the already very beleaguered tax payer) and that would reduce the crime rate on a permanent basis.

Going down that route, though, would see the Human Rights contingent rise up in arms. “What about the people who are really innocent? How do we know for sure that individuals are guilty?” Their point is an entirely valid one to make. We should never countenance the death penalty in what purports to be a civilised society.

Down the years, we’ve witnessed brash scenes on the late-night news bulletins of – apparently no longer in the wrong – alleged murderers and terrorists punching the air as they’re let out of prison on appeal after some new shred of evidence miraculously appears to disprove the original belief that they were, in fact, guilty as charged.

All I would say on that particular point is this: if they didn’t do what they were supposed to have done, then who did? Where are the follow-up investigations and convictions to bring the real criminals to justice?

Who speaks for Kunal Mohanty?

I’ve no doubt that Liberty and all of the other politically correct supporters of the Human Rights Act believe their stance is one founded on the very best of intentions, but they ought to remember a vital truism.

First and foremost, those who deserve basic Human Rights above anyone else are the decent, law-abiding members of the public, all of whom must harbour the right to dwell peacefully in a civil and safe society.

Kunal Mohanty had that right. Last March, the 30-year-old Indian naval officer was in Glasgow to sit his captain’s examinations at the city’s Nautical College, but Christopher Miller was determined that he wouldn’t have the opportunity to do so.

Poor Kunal was out walking with three friends of his in the Gorbals district of Scotland’s finest city when, unprovoked, Miller shouted racial abuse and then pounced on Mohanty, slashing his throat with a blade.

Police and doctors who later attended the scene described the assault as one of the worst they’d ever seen.

To compound matters, as Mohanty – who was about to become a father for the first time – lay dying in the street, 25-year-old Miller and his mate John McGrory were caught on CCTV. Post-assault, they were seen embracing and punching their fists in the air. Miller even completed an SPL-style goal-scoring celebration by pulling his top over his head.

In the same week that Straw attempted to be ‘tough on crime’, Miller was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment. He’ll probably be out in ten, by which time he’d have reached the ripe old age of 35. In other words, the best part of his life will still be ahead of him.

What about Kunal Mohanty? Who speaks for him? He no longer has a life, while his soon-to-be-born child will be denied a birth father.

Locked away for good

Judge John Beckett QC said to Miller in the Courtroom: “Everyone in this city and this country should feel shame for what you did?” I’m pretty sure they do, Judge Beckett.

Lesley Thomson – area procurator fiscal for Glasgow and Strathkelvin – later added: “Knife carriers have no place in our society, and people who act like Miller have no place in our society.”

Indeed they don’t, which is why Judge Beckett should have dished out a life sentence that means life. If people like Miller are capable of killing once they are more than capable of doing so again, no matter how many social workers and psychotherapists attempt to reinvent them behind bars. One need only point to the re-offending statistics to amply support this assertion.

Murderers must be locked up for good. Their dead victims aren’t going to be granted a second chance, so why the Hell should they?

A Home Office climbdown? Whatever next?

The news on knife crime sentencing comes in the same week as a Home Office climbdown – now there’s a rare occurrence (said the Editor with tongue firmly in cheek) – on DNA storage.

It has emerged that innocent people arrested but neither charged nor convicted of terror-related offences are to be treated separately to all other alleged crimes, with their fingerprints and any other genetic profiles retained (potentially, at least) on an indefinite basis.

By way of contrast, those found innocent of any other suspected crime will have their DNA records retained for a maximum of six years only.

As part of its climbdown, the Home Office plans to keep the profiles of children innocent of alleged minor crimes for three years rather than the six-year timescale originally mooted.

Those youngsters convicted of minor offences will have their details retained on the DNA database – which harbours the stats of anything up to one million innocent individuals at any given time – for five years, or indefinitely if found guilty of a second offence.

The Government had no option on this one. Home Secretary Alan Johnsons plans earlier this year would have seen some innocent peoples’ details remain on record for 12 years. An administrative and security nightmare waiting to happen, and completely unnecessary to boot.

On grounds of national security

Under the revised plans, which appear to be far better and certainly more practical, the DNA of those arrested over – but not charged or convicted for – terror offences will remain on the national database for a minimum of six years.

On the grounds of national security, senior ranking police officers will be able to review each case every couple of years to ascertain whether or not continued retention is warranted.

Johnson’s compatriot, the Home Office minister Alan Campbell, believes these revised proposals to be “proportionate” and that they’ll ensure the right people are on the database.

His own department’s document stresses that one in every ten murders and rapes from a sample size of just shy of 700 crimes were solved as a result of DNA matches to individuals not previously convicted of an offence.

There are those – Tory MP David Davis among them – who still feel the Government is continuing to demonstrate “astonishing degrees of ignorance and intransigence” over keeping the DNA profiles of innocent people on its central database.

Whatever your view, there’s one ‘immovable’ in all of this. The DNA database must remain reasonable and proportionate at all times and, just like CCTV, it has to be managed and used in such a way that it retains the full confidence of the general public.

Without that, the national security agenda will quickly degenerate into a busted flush. That cannot be allowed to happen.

Fear of being branded a criminal

Moving seamlessly on from DNA to the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB), did you know that anything up to 15,000 people have (allegedly) been wrongly branded criminals or accused of serious offences?

According to The Daily Telegraph’s Whitehall Editor Christopher Hope, fears are growing that this news “could deter innocent people from applying for jobs whose incumbents need to be scrutinised for fear of them being branded a criminal”.

Critics feel that simple errors could cost people their jobs and, in the longer term, ruin lives.

Official figures suggest that the number of upheld complaints in relation to CRB checks has more than doubled these last six years. In 2002-2003, the statistic in question stood at 1,111. Come 2008-2009, it has risen to 2,509.

A total of 15,320 complaints about checks have been upheld since the Bureau was established in 2002, and it’s thought that a significant number relate to individuals wrongly accused of criminal offences.

Over 11 million adults are going to need checking on a new database to be administered by the Independent Safeguarding Authority.

“If the CRB cannot get factual data right,” opines Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling, “then how on Earth can this new agency deal with anecdotal information without the risk of major injustices?” Quite.

I agree with David Green – the director of the Civitas ‘Think Tank’ – and Josie Appleton of the campaigning group that is The Manifesto Club. They assert that the system in place creates a false sense of security by placing far too much reliance on black and white paperwork and databases rather than any information received in person.

Surely employers would be better advised to use their personal knowledge and judgement when it comes to potential volunteers? This is the type of decision that ought to be taken by qualified people on the ground. Arriving at what are inevitably important conclusions based purely on reports and faxes isn’t always the most sage of policies.

The new vetting system is also going to be dealing with hearsay evidence, which can be muddy at best. Hardly a step in the right direction, is it?

Strengthening the use of RIPA

Interestingly, new measures have also been announced by David Hanson – the minister of state for security, counter-terrorism, crime and policing – that are designed to strengthen the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (more commonly known, of course, as RIPA).

A public consultation conducted by the Government received over 200 responses – not a huge feedback, by any means – and Hanson and Co will now bring forward legislation to implement change.

The idea is that the level of authorisation required by local authorities to sign-off on investigatory techniques will be raised to prevent them from being used for trivial matters. Following the public consultation on RIPA, a senior executive now has to approve how – and when – the techniques are used to pursue criminality.

Elected councillors in each local authority are also required to oversee the use of RIPA. New guidance will be published on how authorities should use RIPA.

The Government is keen to “clarify the test of necessity and proportionality so that techniques will not be used to investigate dog fouling or people putting their bins out a day early” – surprising that none of us liked that idea, isn’t it? – and “treat covert surveillance of legal consultations as ‘intrusive’ rather than ‘directed’, meaning that it can only be carried out by a very limited number of public officials.”

It’s fairly clear that a wide range of public authorities need to be able to authorise key techniques under RIPA in order to protect us mere innocents from those who would seek to do us harm.

That said, those same public authorities should not – and should not be allowed to – overstep the mark. They must respect our right to privacy, and only use techniques under RIPA when it’s necessary and proportionate to do so.

Will the new Government measures allow both of these objectives to be met? Only time will tell.

Cumbria: ‘open’ for business

On Monday, energy minister Ed Milliband announced the Government’s provisional go-ahead for a new generation of nuclear power stations courtesy of its National Policy Statement.

More specifically, the declaration confirms the location of no less than ten sites deemed suitable for future nuclear plants. They include three – Sellafield (couldn’t have predicted that one), Braystones and Kirkstanton – which just happen to be in Cumbria.

Prior to this – on 28 October – the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) issued a news release confirming the sale of 190 hectares of land to the north of the existing nuclear facility at Sellafield for a cool £70 million. The buyers? A consortium made up of Iberdrola SA, GDF Suez SA and Scottish and Southern Energy.

The sale of this site continues to add focus to the potential for new nuclear build on Britain’s ‘Energy Coast’, in addition to those sites already put forward by the NDA and the two by RW NPower at the aforementioned Braystones and Kirkstanton locations.

According to a statement I received from law firm Martineau, the Cumbrian Economic Strategy for the period 2009-2019 encompasses £1.4 billion of regeneration funding and capital projects, including new marinas and water-based regeneration projects at Barrow, Maryport, Workington and Kendal, new academy schools and a raft of what’s known as ‘business clusters’.

A dozen longer term projects have also been identified, including the regeneration of the University of Cumbria’s satellite sites, tidal energy projects and the mixed use regeneration of the 425-hectare site in the Derwent Forest. All of them commendable.

Talking about a revolution

Back in February, Secretary of State for Business, Administration and Skills Lord Mandelson made positive comments on new nuclear build and low carbon economic opportunities in Cumbria. There was even talk of an ‘industrial revolution’ of sorts.

This is all very laudable and (with the promise of job creation) another piece of clever spin from an ailing Government desperate for kind words from just about anywhere, but what about the security implications of this sweet talk?

Cumbria is a beautiful County, but it’s already one frequently plagued by an influx of naïve protestors who would rather this nation gave up its nuclear capability altogether and became The Vulnerable Man of Europe (not to say the developed world).

These plans could greatly increase the numbers of such ‘peaceful’ nay-sayers who think it’s acceptable to harass nuclear workers from dawn ‘til dusk.

Sellafield directly employs around 10,000 people and is one of the two largest, non-governmental employers in West Cumbria (along with BAE Systems at Barrow-in-Furness). Approximately 90 per cent of employees originate from West Cumbria, so I understand the argument for further development.

Due to the increase in local unemployment following any run down of Sellafield operations, the NDA is concerned that this needs to be managed.

Let’s just hope the vital, high level security measures that will need to be put in place and stringently managed by the Government (and yet don’t warrant a mention in any of the material I’ve read on these proposals) are being adequately addressed now that our Critical National Infrastructure is continually at risk from the terrorist threat.

What about an incident communication plan?

Speaking of potential ‘fallout’ – if you’ll pardon the pun – from any given security incident (nuclear-related or otherwise), it’s really loose tongues and prolonged national media attention that can wreak catastrophic effects on business in any sector. If you don’t believe me, ask Gerald Ratner.

To avoid such scenarios, security managers and their Boards of Directors ought to know how to take control following an incident. In this way, they can deliver an immediate response to the waiting scribes with a good degree of confidence and aplomb.

Building on the demonstrable success of its BS 25999-1 business continuity standard, the BSI has published a book specifically aimed at security and risk managers that guides them smoothly through the pitfalls of incident communications strategy.

Expertly pieced together by Jim Preen (an Oxford University-educated consultant and businessman), it will help managers think like journalists (feel free to call me for some advice on that subject!) while at the same time anticipating the questions they may face.

The book covers diverse elements including the establishment of an incident website, the importance of call cascades, how to run successful press conferences, how to set up and run and incident Press Room, post-incident evaluation and testing your plans.

Communication Strategies: Write Your Incident Communication Plan Now is well worth a read.

Policing Controversy in print

As regular readers will know, I’m an avid viewer of BBC1’s political debating ‘bear pit’ that is Question Time. I even follow the programme on Twitter.

Last night’s instalment was pretty flat, to be fair, notable only for regular chair David Dimbleby’s absence, journalist and social commentator Will Self’s beautifully acerbic broadsides and more than several incisive socio-political observations from double Olympic gold medallist rowing star James Cracknell.

One week earlier, on Bonfire Night no less, we were treated to Sir Ian Blair being one of the panel members.

In a performance that I found to be pretty unremarkable for a former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Blair continued to hint at the political leanings he appeared so readily to adopt when ensconced at the Yard.

I say this merely as a lead-in. Also a week or so ago, my esteemed colleague Alan Hyder – Editor of SMT Online’s sister security news medium Security Installer – pointed out that Blair had just published an account of his 45 turbulent months as Commissioner in a book entitled Policing Controversy.

All of the controversial moments are duly noted: the 7/7 suicide bombings in London, the infamous Stockwell shooting incident, the Cash for Honours inquiry and the Tarique Ghaffur episode among them.

Blair studied at Oxford University, and talks of the “minor but irritating streak of upper class nastiness” he believes he experienced at his Alma Mater. There’s a classic quote, too: “I understood very clearly for the first time that those with money and supposed breeding did not expect their children to be arrested.”

Shouldn’t senior policemen remain politically and socially neutral, whatever their personal beliefs may be?

Serving the public interest

Blair is clearly angered and aggrieved about his office having been convicted on Health and Safety grounds for the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes. If you remember, the Independent Police Complaints Commissions inquiry took two years and, according to Blair, “every opportunity to be as unforgiving as possible.”

That’s exactly what an independent complaints commission is meant to be, Sir Ian. If it isn’t then it’s not serving the public interest and there’s little or no point in it being there.

Writing about Blair’s book in The Times’ brilliant Culture supplement, the superb journalist and former Daily Telegraph and London Evening Standard editor Max Hastings states: “By focusing on his own beleaguerment, Blair conveys the sense of an institution forever on the back foot. His self-righteousness suggests a man unaccustomed to look in the mirror, save to check that his cap is straight. It simply will not do to assert, as he does, that the armed officers who shot Jean Charles de Menezes ‘should each have been awarded the George Medal’ for courage.”

This book merely reinforces what many people believe – that Blair was a Commissioner who seemingly dismissed any operational criticisms, and didn’t appear to be fully in touch with what was happening on the ground.

Labour ‘luminaries’ such as Charles Clarke, Jack Straw and – most prominently of all – Jacqui Smith continually praised Sir Ian. The Tories did not, which is more than likely why (alongside his apparent disdain for the Conservative voting classes) he accused them of turning the Metropolitan Police Service into a political football of convenience.

The Tories aren’t the guilty party here. Rather, the blame for this development rests squarely with the actions and comments of not just Blair but also several other senior policemen who have misguidedly spent far too much time cuddling up to Westminster.

Until next time…

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