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

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In focusing on the famous few, we risk doing a disservice to all victims of child sexual abuse

There is a danger that we make it harder, not easier, for victims to come forward in future. 

Back in the 1970s when relations between journalists and police were somewhat different to today a simple ritual would be carried out around the country at various times throughout the week.

Reporters, eager for information for their regional newspaper, would take a trip to the local station and there would be met by a desk sergeant who would helpfully skim through details in the crime Incident Book.

Among the entries about petty thefts, burglaries and road accidents there would occasionally be a reference to an allegation of incest. And at this point the sergeant and journalist might well screw-up their faces, shake their heads and swiftly move on to the next log. The subject was basically taboo, seen as something ‘a bit mucky,’ not what was wanted in a family newspaper.

And that’s really the way things stayed until 1986 when ChildLine was set up by Dame Esther Rantzen in the wake of a BBC programme about child abuse. For the first time children felt able to speak out about being sexually assaulted by the very adults whose role in life was to protect them.

And for the first time the picture became clear about what incest really meant in many cases. It wasn’t simply a low level crime to be swept under the carpet in case it scratched people’s sensitivities. It frequently involved children being abused by members of their close family, repeatedly, over many years.

Slowly but surely as the years rolled on the NSPCC continued to press the message about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, while encouraging victims to come forward. During this time the corrosive effects of this most insidious crime have been painfully detailed by many of those whose lives have been derailed by it. And of course the details of the hundreds of opportunistic sexual assaults committed by Jimmy Savile have been indelibly branded onto the nation’s consciousness.

It’s been a long road - particularly for those who were raped or otherwise abused as children and are now well into their later years - to bring society around to accepting that this is not to be treated as a dark secret that we really don’t want to expose to daylight. Many of those who called our helpline during the early days of the Savile investigation had never told anyone about the traumatic events of their childhoods despite the fact they had reached retirement age.

So, having buried the taboo, we seem to be in danger of giving it the kiss of life with the way some cases of alleged abuse are now being perceived.

It’s quite right that all claims of sexual assault should be investigated, tested and, where there is a case, pursued through the judicial system. No one is above the law, whether a ‘celebrity’ or a lord.

But we seem to have lost a sense of perspective when it comes to these crimes with vast resources being allocated to a handful of cases while many thousands of reported incidents are virtually on hold.

The police should never have to apologise for investigating crimes and following leads. However, if allegations are false or cannot be substantiated they should say so. This would be a strength not a weakness.

It is, of course, difficult that in many of the high-profile cases of recent times the identities of those under investigation have not been officially released by the police but have come to light through other means. Yet we have to deal with the world as it is not as we wish it would be and once names are common knowledge the results of the investigations centring on them should be made public.

When it emerges that someone in the public eye is being investigated for non-recent child abuse it obviously stirs the interest of the media whose appetite can be insatiable. This puts pressure on the police who don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past by allowing offenders to slip through their hands.  And so there is a danger, as has been seen in recent cases, that officers lack confidence in declaring there is a lack of evidence or the allegations are not true. 

The disproportionate weight of media attention given to say, Sir Edward Heath, as opposed to the Bradford grooming gang sentenced this week, shows there is a danger the pendulum is swinging too far the other way. This threatens the painstaking work invested in ensuring the public and our institutions recognise child abuse as a very real danger. 

Whilst high profile cases have helped the cause there is now a real risk that the all-encompassing focus on them does both victims of abuse and those advocating on their behalf a fundamental disservice.

As the public watches high -profile cases collapsing amidst a media fanfare genuine convictions made across the country week in week out go virtually unannounced. If this trend continues they may start to believe that child sexual abuse isn’t the prolific problem we know it to be.

So, while detectives peer into the mists of time, searching for long lost clues, we have to face the unpalatable possibility that offences being committed today will in turn only be investigated fully in years or decades' time because there is not the manpower to deal with them right now.

So, now the Goddard Inquiry is in full swing, taking evidence about allegations of child sex crimes involving ‘well known people’ as well as institutional abuse, how do we ensure we don’t fail today’s victims?

If they start to think their stories are going to be diminished by the continuing furore over how some senior public figures have been treated by the police they will stay silent. Therefore we have to continue to encourage them to come forward, to give them the confidence of knowing they will be listened to.

If we don’t we will find ourselves back in those incestuous days where people conspired to say and do nothing to prevent child abuse.

Peter Wanless is Chief Executive of the NSPCC.