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 Images
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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.