This investigation is about more than Mark Duggan

It is time for the police to prioritise the issue of community engagement.



Few people realise that the first riot in Tottenham didn’t happen in August 2011. It happened in the April of that year, in Northumberland Park, when a few police officers were attacked by a group of thirty or so men, after they saw a man being stopped by them. It got a couple of lines in the local press: it just wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. The relationship between the community and the police in this area has always been strained – right back to the Broadwater Farm riots, largely instigated by frustration over Sus laws – the Stop and Search of their day, and the death of another local.

Many find the strength of feeling in Tottenham over Mark Duggan incomprehensible. If you say that swathes of people there think he was executed, they won’t believe you – but it's true. There’ll be plenty of comments below this asking why we should care about transparency issues over the death of an alleged gangster. The first reason is that it’s a golden opportunity for the Met to prove, in a time of almost unparalleled media pressure, that it doesn’t act with indiscriminate violence.

But there’s a much bigger reason. It's becoming clear that the Duggan case is about a great deal more than the death of one man. There are now issues surrounding it which go to the core of our civil liberties. 

This week millions of TV viewers saw television footage of police officers in the moments after Mark Duggan was killed. The broadcasting of this footage was condemned by the IPCC, who are investigating the incident: the same day, we learned that the man who fired the fatal shot – along with 30 other officers - is refusing to be interviewed by the watchdog.

The watchdog seems toothless and the situation absolutely ridiculous, but terrible headlines are becoming the norm. The IPCC has had a torrid time from the moment a press officer inadvertently told the press that Duggan had been killed in an ‘exchange of fire’, to the day two members of the community reference group it had set up resigned in protest over the removal of evidence from the shooting scene.

One has to feel for Rachel Cerfontyne, the unfortunate commissioner who has twice had to sit before the locals at the Haringey Police and Community Consultative Group. The first time round, she was called an idiot and a whitewasher. This was before the second visit, when she had to break it to them that the IPCC might have information that couldn’t be disclosed to the coroner or the family; this could mean an inquest doesn’t happen.

Neither of the issues at stake – the police’s refusal to be interviewed, the information that can’t be made public – are the IPCC’s fault. On the first issue, a fault line is clearly opening up between the watchdog and the force – one which is starting to undermine the constant complaints that it isn’t ‘independent’ at all. The IPCC claims that the officers' lawyers are advising them not to speak to it for fear of incriminating themselves. Other lawyers claim that there’s nothing stopping them being hauled in other than the watchdog’s cowardice. Whichever way one looks at it, it's an almighty failure of the legal system to provide transparency, and one which might be best solved with diplomacy.

But more troubling is the latter issue. It seems a safe bet the law which is preventing the IPCC from revealing the information is Section 17 of the Regulatory of Investigatory Powers Act, which prohibits the use of intercept product as evidence – we don’t know for sure, because as poor Cerfontyne had to tell the incredulous locals, to tell them which law is blocking them would in itself break it.

The condemnation has been almost universal. The only bodies that seem to want to keep this law in place are the security services, who say it could compromise their sources or make suspects less likely to talk on the phone. These criticisms don’t apply to the Duggan case. Deborah Glass, the IPCC’s Deputy Chair, has said the law simply stops her from doing her job. As David Lammy told Radio 4 last night, the Home Secretary doesn’t like it, the police don’t like it, but nothing’s being done. There is a review of the law (the eighth, in fact), which will report back “in due course”.

In the meantime, the tension and mistrust in Tottenham continues to simmer and ferment. In the absence of concrete proof that there was no malpractise in the Duggan case, the police can just try their best: working with Neighbourhood Watch groups and voluntary sector bodies, holding more public meetings, stronger involvement with schools – in short, committing to community engagement in the long term. It should have been prioritised long ago. Thanks to our ludicrous legal system, it has to be prioritised now.

Alan White's work has appeared in the Observer, Times, Private Eye, The National & TLS. He lives in London and tweets as @aljwhite. As John Heale, he is the author of One Blood: Inside Britain's Gang Culture, republished this year.

Source: Getty Images

Alan White's work has appeared in the Observer, Times, Private Eye, The National and the TLS. As John Heale, he is the author of One Blood: Inside Britain's Gang Culture.

Photo: Getty Images
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Bomb Isil? That's exactly what they want

The government appears not to answer the nature of its enemy, warns Maria Norris.

As MPs are set to vote on further airstrikes in Syria, it is difficult to shake off the feeling that the government does not fully appreciate the complexity of the problem Isil poses. Just a cursory glance at its magazine, the pronouncements of its leaders and its ideology reveals that Isil is desperate for Western bombs to fall out of the sky. As Martin Chulov argues, Isil is fighting a war it believes was preordained since the early days of Islam. Isil’s obsession with the city of Dabiq, in Northern Syria, stems from a hadith which prophesises that the ‘Crusader’ army will land in the city as a precursor to a final battle where Islam will emerge victorious. Dabiq is also the name of its magazine, which starts every issue with the same quote: "The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify -- by Allah's permission -- until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq". Isil wants a war with the West. If we don’t negotiate with terrorists, then we also should not give them what they want.

Further, bombs are indiscriminate and will inevitably lead to the suffering of those trapped in Isil territories. Isil is counting on this suffering to swell their ranks. Civilian suffering from airstrikes only underline the narrative that the West is at war with Islam, which plays directly into Isil’s hands. And despite misleading headlines and the genuine government concern with individuals fleeing to Syria, Isis is supremely unpopular. It is no wonder that its magazine is filled with glossy adds begging people to move to its territories.  You cannot be a state without people. Terrorist attacks such as Paris thus have a two-pronged purpose: they provoke the West to respond with its military, and they act as a recruitment drive. The fact that fake Syrian passports were found around the sites of the Paris attacks is no coincidence as Isil are both seeking to stem the flow of refugees from its territories and hoping to provoke an Islamophobic backlash. They hope that, as more Muslims feel alienated in the West, more will join them, not just as fighters, but as the doctors, nurses and teachers it desperately needs.

In addition to this, airstrikes overlook the fact that Isil is a result of what Fawaz Gerges calls a severe, organic institutional crisis in the Middle East. In a lecture at the London School of Economics earlier this year, Gerges pointed out the dysfunction created when a region that is incredibly resource rich also is also deeply undemocratic, riddled with corruption, food insecurity, unemployment and poverty. This forms an institutional vacuum that is filled by non-state actors as the population does not trust its political structures. Further, the civil war in Syria is also the site of the toxic soup of Middle Eastern state dysfunction. Iran supports Assad, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries, fund anti-Shia groups in Syria. Throw in the Kurdish conflict, Turkey’s ambiguous position and Russian bombs, it is difficult to see how airstrikes will solve anything.

Finally, it is crucial that Isil is seen as a direct result of the Iraq war. The American-led invasion destroyed the institutions, giving the Shia majority power almost overnight, creating deep dissatisfaction in the Sunni regions of Iraq. On top of this thousands of foreign fighters flooded Iraq to fight the invaders, attracting disenfranchised and angry Sunnis. The result is that since 2003, Iraq has been embroiled in a sectarian civil war.  It is in civil war, inherently connected to the Iraq War, that you find the roots of Isil. As even the Prime Minister concedes that ground troops are necessary, albeit it regional ground troops with its own set of problems, it is important to consider what further monster can arise from the ashes of another ill-thought out military intervention in the Middle East.
We have had decades of military intervention in the Middle East with disastrous consequences. Airstrikes represent business as usual, when what we actually need is a radically new approach. Who is funding Isil? Who is buying its oil? How to curb Isil’s recruitment drives? What can be done about the refugees? How to end the conflict in Syria? What happens to Assad? These are questions hopefully being addressed in talks recently held in Vienna with Russian, Ira, the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states. Airstrikes do not answer any of these questions. What airstrikes do is give Isil exactly what it is asking for. Surely this is reason enough not to bomb Syria. 

Maria W. Norris is a PhD candidate and a teacher at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her PhD is on the UK counter-terrorism strategy since 9/11 and its relationship with identity. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.