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
Show Hide image

The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.