Justice for Mark Duggan demands that we change the law on intercept evidence

Our absurd laws mean there may never be a public inquest into Duggan's death at the hands of the police.

On 4 August 2011, Mark Duggan was killed by police in Tottenham. Two days later, a peaceful protest escalated into a riot. The looting and arson that followed saw five people killed, dozens injured and businesses destroyed. This summer British troops protected Olympic venues. Last summer some wanted them brought in to restore order on London’s streets.

Yet remarkably, there may never be a public inquest into Mark Duggan’s death. The reason? Britain’s rules on the use of intercept evidence. For justice to prevail, the law must be changed.

Since 1194, coroners have held inquests to investigate deaths which are suspicious, violent or occur at the hands of the state. These inquests are public. They ensure not only that the facts are found, but also that justice is seen to be done. They satisfy our need to understand why the death happened and how future tragedies can be prevented.

As things stand, intercept evidence – records of tapped phone calls and intercepted emails – cannot be used in British courts or at public inquests. Therefore, because vital evidence regarding Duggan’s movements in the hours leading up to his death is intercept evidence, there can be no public inquest.

This is not the first time the British tradition of open justice has been hamstrung by these rules. Londoner Azelle Rodney died after being shot six times by Metropolitan Police officers in April 2005. Intercept evidence exists which could shed light on his death, but since this cannot be used in open court, no public inquest has ever been held.

The year after Azelle Rodney’s death, counter-terrorism police arrested 24 suspects in connection with a plot to bomb airliners by detonating explosives hidden in soft drink bottles. Yet even for this trial, intercept evidence obtained in Britain could not be used. In the end, prosecutors were able to show the jury some evidence but only because it came from the Yahoo server in the USA, not Britain.

The government has promised an inquiry, but that is not good enough. We need a full, public inquest led by a judge, with a jury deciding on the evidence. It is intolerable that in a civilised, democratic society the relatives of British citizens killed at the hands of the state can be denied a public inquest into their deaths. It is even more intolerable when that death led to days of chaos. We all have a right to an inquest.

The law is not only wrong – it is absurd. Intercept evidence is treated differently to other surveillance evidence. So if the police follow you, they can use what they see as evidence in court. But if they tap your mobile phone, they can’t even tell the court that they did it, let alone tell the court what they heard. On this issue, Britain stands alone. There is no law like this in the rest of Europe or the US. Indeed, the Americans would not have been able to jail mafia bosses like John Gotti without the use of crucial intercept evidence.  The Independent Police Complaints Commission agrees with us, as do the Metropolitan Police and politicians of all parties.

The communities affected by the riots are still tinder boxes. To avoid a repeat of that appalling violence, we need a public inquest which is open, fair and completely beyond suspicion. We need a renewed commitment to our country’s history of open justice. This is not the first time a death at the hands of the police has passed by without an inquest. If this law on intercept evidence is not changed, it will not be the last.

David Davis is Conservative MP for Haltemprice and Howden. David Lammy is Labour MP for Tottenham

Friends and family attend the funeral of Mark Duggan at the New Testament Church of God in Wood Green on September 9, 2011. Photograph: Getty Images.

David Davis is the Conservative MP for Haltemprice and Howden

David Lammy is the Labour MP for Tottenham

Photo: Getty Images
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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.