UK Politics,  Uncategorized

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The Guardian carries the story of how police chiefs are “breaking ranks” to attack the 42-day detention plan. There may be more information on other sites, but the Guardian article has quotes from a dvd of a speech given by Robert Beckley, former Association of Chief Police Officers lead on communities and counter-terrorism, and three anonymous, high-ranking police sources. 

The Guardian summarises the concerns thus:

  • Damage to relations with Muslim communities from whom intelligence to counter terrorism is needed;
  • Fears that detectives will face pressure to find, even manufacture evidence, against those held for 42 days;
  •  Damage to the police’s reputation by becoming involved in such a controversial issue. 

There are at a handful of good arguments against 42-day detention, but fear of causing irrational distrust and not doubting the ability of your own officers to stay within the law, do not qualify as such.

British Muslims want to be able to travel on public transport without fear of being blown up as much as your average Christian and Jew. Non-terrorist-supporting British Muslims i.e. the vast majority, have as much interest in sharing information with the police and seeing genuine suspects apprehended as their non-Muslim compatriots. To the extent that some British Muslims do not cooperate with the police out of some misguided allegiance to brothers and sisters of faith, this picture is unlikely to change simply because the number of days a suspect can be detained without charge is set to rise by 12.

I’m not saying it’s impossible to offer a worse smear on British Muslims than to suggest this particular subset of British society is soft on terrorism – or looking for excuses to be so – but you’d have to really give it some thought.

So far as police malpractice is concerned, it’s at least arguable that the longer detention period relaxes the pressure on police to manufacture evidence (there should always be pressure to ‘find’ evidence). The judicial oversight safeguards included in the proposals should mean it’s impossible to get to, for example, a 32nd day where the police are scrambling around trying to find something to justify a charge. They’ll need to have done better than this much earlier in the process; a suspect won’t make it to 28 days in custody if the police have nothing. If the police have ‘something’ and that something is convincing enough to persuade a judge to extend detention whilst falling short of justifying a charge on its own, then this is precisely the set of circumstances for which 42-day detention is being argued. The police will be under no more pressure to find that missing piece of the jigsaw on the 41st day then they are currently to find it on the 27th day, or used to be on the 13th day.

I think I’m right in saying that we’ve had at least 3 cases in recent months where charges weren’t brought against a suspect until a 28th day in custody. You could conclude that this is evidence the current arrangements are sufficient, swallowing the happy coincidence that the case took  exactly 28 days to put together, or you might believe that police were frantically assembling the case against the suspect until the very last minute. I’m well aware that you could use the very same argument to make a case for 300 day detention, however, I think the logic that presumes there will be a greater incidence of police malpractice as a result of 42 day detention is nevertheless faulty.

On the politicization of the police, what is the police “breaking ranks” to criticize 42-day detention if not self-politicization? The government cannot win. If the call to extend detention was being made with no evidence that the police and security services were, generally, in favour of this idea, opponents would have seized on this in an instant and the proposal would have been still-born. And when the government demonstrates the measure has the backing of those who will benefit from its use, it’s accused of politicization of those who must remain neutral.

The Guardian claims officers who spoke to them:

accept their opposition is the minority view at the upper echelons of the service, but they believe the public has been given the misleading impression that all senior officers agree with the government’s plans.

Seriously? Is there a member of the public who believes that all of the hundreds of senior police officers in the country unanimously support 42-day detention?  Every last one of them? My impression is only that the police and security services are generally supportive, an impression more than justified by all accounts and implicitly accepted as such by the anonymous officers themselves. 

The Guardian is editorially opposed to 42-day detention and this is fine, but this story is polemic dressed up as news. Move along; there really is nothing to see here.