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.

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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser