In defence of the police

Why I won’t be weeping for Raoul Moat.

For once, I have to disagree with my friend and colleague James Macintyre. Yesterday James wrote that Angus Moat, brother of the dead gunman Raoul Moat, "should be heard" and he condemned the "trigger-happy police force in this country".

Let me address both these claims, which I consider to be a load of rubbish. First, "trigger-happy" police? Don't get me wrong. I condemned and castigated the Met for the death of Jean-Charles de Menezes at the hands of CO19, as well as over the 2006 shooting of the brothers in Forest Gate. I think the number of deaths in police custody is still far too high. But "trigger-happy"?

For a start, the British police remain largely unarmed. And in the case of Moat, Northumbria Police have confirmed that "no shots were fired by police officers" and that "the suspect shot himself". I'm sorry to have to point this out to James, but policemen using Tasers against an armed, wanted man, after a six-hour stand-off, can't be described as "trigger-happy". If you want to know what "trigger-happy" police look like, see here or here.

Then there is the bizarre claim from Angus Moat that his little brother Raoul was the victim of a "public execution". Is he having a laugh? Some might argue that his brother -- on the run for a week, having killed an innocent, unarmed man and shot a police officer in the face -- should have been shot on sight. He hadn't relinquished his weapon, and yet, as I've pointed out, police officers spent six hours trying to negotiate with him and ended up using Tasers, rather than live ammunition, to end the stand-off.

Perhaps Mr Moat Sr should go to China or Saudi Arabia, where they carry out rather gruesome and merciless "public executions", and see how different those look. And perhaps he should be sending his condolences to the family of Chris Brown, who his little brother murdered in cold blood, rather than extolling Raoul as a "friendly, generous soul -- a very loyal individual, warm, with a great sense of humour, just a lovely, lovely guy".

Yes, warm, friendly Raoul Moat, who, prior to his shooting spree, had been serving time for assaulting a nine-year-old child. In the words of the Independent on Sunday, "He killed a man he didn't know, seriously wounded a woman and a police officer, and assaulted a little girl. But well-wishers wanted to grant him the sentimentalising gestures normally reserved for the victims of crime and accidents."

Such "well-wishers" are, in my view, fools. And I, for one, won't be weeping over his death. Yes, there are "serious questions" for the police to answer, such as "why Moat's former partner was not protected after a warning from Durham Prison authorities, and the lack of surveillance at the homes of known Moat associates", etc, etc, but the police are not responsible for Raoul Moat's death. Raoul Moat is responsible for Raoul Moat's death (and, of course, Chris Brown's, too). Good riddance, I say . . .

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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