Boris, the police and the pre-dawn raid

Heavy-handed, politicised policing leaves our communities less secure.

Boris Johnson with Met police commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe in September, outside Scotland Yard
Source: Getty Images

A pre-dawn raid under Operation Hawk saw a mother woken by banging and shouting this week. Officers charged into her flat with rolling cameras, bright lights and none other than the mayor Boris Johnson when she was half dressed. They were looking for suspected drugs on her eighteen-year-old son, and they had brought along the BBC to make a high-profile point about it. Safe to say they didn't find what they were after, and left the South London flat without any arrests.

This raid was just one of over 500 actions taken across London on Thursday as apart of Operation Hawk. Led by the new Scotland Yard commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe, the sweeping crack down came with its own Twitter hashtag and fleet of journalists. It was a perfect opportunity for the new commissioner to make his mark and give Boris some publicity in the process. According to the Met's news feed, some progress was made. Over 200 premises were searched with 278 suspects arrested and 39 weapons seized.

But in a number of areas including Peckham and Chiswick, officers brought back little but damaged community relations. As for bringing along Boris, this was a flagrant and dangerous example of politicising the police.

The night it happened I knocked on the door of the raided flat in Peckham and found the mother still shaken. I explained I was a councillor for the area who lived down the road. She talked off the record to me about her experiences, but didn't want to be quoted. She was shocked with the existing coverage as it was. The BBC reported Boris being asked to wait outside her home because there was a "scantily-clad lady" inside.

Power has no idea how humiliating it can be.

But this is not about whether it was justifiable to break into this particular home. It's obvious that raids are sometimes necessary, and they can't always be expected to deliver results. Many of my constituents continue to complain that the police don't do enough. But to bring along a mayor and a set of camera crews on a raid is unnecessary and degrading. It reduces important police work to a press affair for the mayor, who joked about the need to "bring in the heavies" with a coy smile.

"It was disgraceful," one neighbour outside the Peckham block who has lived there for sixteen years but didn't want to be named told me, "We didn't know what they were doing. Boris has never come here before and now his black land rover was parked up with its tinted windows and they were having a press conference outside here."

"I'm not surprised people were frightened. I've never had trouble in this area but coverage like that gives it a bad name. I don't know what they were doing to be honest. I only found out about it by looking at Youtube when I got to work."

I spoke to a number of other neighbours who said the same thing, most of whom were still understandably frightened and didn't want to speak out. A lady living below the suspected flat opened the door a crack and said the raid woke up her small kids. She said she had never had problems with upstairs before, but raids like that begin to breed suspicion amongst neighbours.

Hogan-Howe said the aim was to "put the doors in as quickly as possible, right around London". He said this could have "positive effects" even when they find nothing. But he underestimates just how corrosive such raids can be in areas that are already suspicious of police. Yes some will be pleased to see action being taken, but many will be left with nothing but the story of a bewildered mother and the signs of a smashed door. They will ask why other methods were not used first, and why different areas with less stereotypes were not chosen for a public raid.

What makes all this even more infuriating is that Boris Johnson is presiding over massive cuts to police numbers. In Southwark we are losing our community police officers and being forced to cut safer neighbourhood teams. Presumably we are going to have to rely on these grand, top-down show cases to offer demonstrations of strength, rather than building community knowledge that is better able to handle these concerns sensitively. If you ask me, this heavy-handed image will leave us less secure in reality. And I still want to know who is going to pay for that door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rowenna Davis is Labour PPC for Southampton Itchen and a councillor for Peckham

Getty
Show Hide image

Q&A: What happened at Barnet's polling stations this morning?

Eager democrats who arrived early in the morning to vote in the London elections were turned away. 

What’s going on?

When polls first opened at Barnet’s 155 polling stations at 7 this morning, many registered voters found that they were not on the station’s voting lists, meaning they were unable to cast their vote. Many reports suggested that the overwhelming majority were turned away. Rules were later relaxed in some, but not all, polling stations to allow those who arrived with their polling cards (which explicitly state they are not needed to cast a vote) to vote.

Why is this happening?

It is, needless to say, unclear. But some reports have suggested that polling station staff only had the updates to the electoral register (that is, those who have newly-registered) rather than the entire register itself. Which makes you wonder why nobody realised before 7am that there might be rather more people wanting to vote in Barnet than the lists suggested.

Is this a conspiracy?

No, of course it’s not. And if you think it is, take the tinfoil hat off and stop watching Russia Today. Barnet is a Tory-led council. If this mess harms any party it is likely to be the Conservatives. We don’t know how Barnet voted for mayor in 2012, but we do know the votes of Barnet plus predominantly Labour-supporting Camden: Boris Johnson got 82,839 first preference votes while Ken Livingstone received 58,354. But remember London’s not just electing a mayor today. It is also electing the members of the Greater London Assembly – and one of them represents the constituency of Barnet and Camden. The incumbent, Andrew Dismore, is from the Labour Party, and is running for reelection. He won fairly comfortably in 2012, far outperforming Ken Livingstone. But Tory campaigners have been talking up the possibility of defeating Dismore, especially in recent days after Labour’s anti-semitism ructions (Barnet has London’s largest Jewish population). Again, if there are voters who failed to vote this morning and cannot to do so later, then that will hurt the Conservatives and help Dismore.

Is it the fault of nasty outsourcers?

Seemingly not. As we’ve written before, Barnet Council is famous for outsourcing vast proportions of its services to private contractors – births and deaths in the borough are now registered elsewhere, for example. But though postal votes and other areas of electoral administration have been outsourced by Barnet, voter registration is performed in-house. This one’s on the council and nobody else.

What has Barnet done about it?

The council initially issued a statement saying that it was “aware of problems with our voter registration lists” and admitting that “a number of people who had not brought their polling card with them were unable to vote”. Which was a bit peculiar given the polling cards say that you don’t need to bring them to vote and there were plenty of reports of people who had polling cards also being denied their democratic rights.

As of 10.40am, the council said that: “All the updated electoral registers are now in place and people can vote as normal.” There appear to be no plans to extend voting hours – and it is not possible to reopen polling tomorrow morning for the frustrated early birds to return.

What does this mean for the result?

It’s very hard to form even a vaguely accurate picture of how many voters who would otherwise have voted will not vote because of this error. But if the margin of victory in the mayoral election or the relevant GLA contest is especially slim, expect calls for a re-run. Frustrated voters could in theory achieve that via the arcane procedure of an election petition, which would then be heard by a special election court, as when Lutfur Rahman’s election as Mayor of Tower Hamlets was declared void in April 2015.

Some have suggested that this may delay the eventual result, but remember that counting for the London elections was not due to begin until Friday morning anyway.

Is there a dodgier barnet than this Barnet?

Yes.

 

Henry Zeffman writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2015.