A round-up of retired graffiti artists for the London Olympics?

Allegations of widespread arrests denied by the British Transport Police but "Olympics" bail conditions imposed

It was the sort of information that makes one despair of the police generally and their attitude to public order matters in particular. 

According to the London Vandal website, ex-graffiti artists – most of whom had given up illegal graffiti 15 years ago – were being arrested without reason and being placed on bail conditions so as to prohibit any graffiti to do with the Olympics.

The London Vandal reported that “raids were being carried out on addresses across the length and breadth of London” and that once the arrestees “arrived at the station, the ex-graffiti writers spotted thirty or more familiar faces from the past”

The website added:

It was around then that the graffiti artists realised what point the police were trying to make with them. Having been arrested, they were questioned about what they considered petty matters – accusations of criminal damage in the ’90s, questions about websites and magazines that they were involved in. After being briefly questioned about these seemingly irrelevant matters, they were told that they were to be bailed until November on the condition that they did not use any form of railway in London (overground, tube or tram), carry spray paint (or other graffiti tools, presumably) at any time, or travel within a mile of any Olympic area.

And:

They felt that they were arrested for one reason – in order to place bail restrictions upon them that would supposedly discourage graffiti from being painted during the Olympics.

 

These allegations are serious.  It would be deeply inappropriate as well as unlawful for arrests and bail conditions to be used in such a contrived way.  Process should never be used as punishment, and nor should process be used as a means of public order control for such an ulterior motive.

However, much of the substance of the story is not supported by the British Transport Police. 

Not only do the British Transport Police (reasonably) point out that the station in question only has a custody suite for five arrested people rather than for “thirty or more familiar faces from the past”, they also provided this statement:

BTP officers arrested four men on the morning of Tuesday, 17 July, on suspicion of conspiracy to commit criminal damage.

This was in connection with a live and ongoing criminal investigation into linked incidents of criminal damage committed between January 2007 and July 2012.

Two of the men were also further arrested on suspicion of inciting criminal damage.

Arrested were:

  • A 38-year-old man from Kent
  • A 25-year-old man from Kent
  • An 18-year-old man from London
  • A 32-year-old man from Surrey

The men were taken to a police custody suite in Victoria for further questioning before being released on bail until November, with the following bail conditions:

·        Not to enter any railway system, including Tubes and trams, or be in any train, tram or Tube station or in or on any other railway property not open to the public unless to attend a written appointment with a solicitor, to attend court, for a legitimate business or educational purpose; one direct journey each way

·        Not to be in possession of any spray paint, marker pens, any grout pen, etching equipment, or unset paint

·        Not to associate or communicate with the other persons arrested and on bail for this investigation

·        Not to be at or within one mile of any Olympic venue in London or elsewhere in England

So it would appear that much of the detail of the London Vandal story is simply incorrect.  There were only four arrests, only one of which was in London, and the arrests were in relation to an ongoing and live investigation for events from 2007 to 2012.

That said, that last bail condition does seem out of place for one imposed by the British Transport Police. 

What business is it of the British Transport Police to impose as a condition that those arrested should not be "at or within one mile of any Olympic venue in London or elsewhere in England"?  That would not appear to be a matter directly relevant for those responsible for policing the transport network.

In response to the "Olympics" bail condition beinq queried, a British Transport Police spokesman said:

Investigating officers applied for the bail conditions, which were accepted by the custody sergeant. The conditions are proposed to defendants, and to any legal representation present, and they are entitled to appeal.  On this occasion no objections were made to the conditions.

The justification for the final bail condition was to prevent the commission of offences and to protect the integrity of the Olympic Games.

 

In my view, this would appear not to a sufficient or good explanation for the additional "Olympics" bail condition. 

The London Vandal seems not to be correct in much of its story; but it does appear that "Olympic" bail conditions are being imposed when people are arrested in respect of non-related matters. 

If so, that is less of an outrage than the grand round-up described.   However, it is surely not the purpose of bail conditions to exert control over conduct not relevant to the arrest and investigation.

And it is certainly should be not the proper function of any part of our criminal justice system to "protect the integrity of the Olympic Games".

 

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman

London graffiti: is there an Olympic crackdown? Photo: Getty Images

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.