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
Show Hide image

Peter Hitchens on Twitter seemed barely human – then he came round for tea

During his visit I realised I had an awkward duty facing me.

But what about Peter Hitchens?” everyone is asking after my last encounter with him. He came round to the Hovel, you see, the day before the column, in which I said all sorts of nasty things about him, appeared. The reason why he came round is complicated and boring, but suffice it to say that books were exchanged, in a spirit of mutual diplomatic tension.

I offered him a choice of red wine, whisky, or tea. It was five o’clock. (He was punctual, which unsurprised me. He chose tea; he is not a fan of intoxication. Aha! I thought, he’ll love this: as a foe of modernity in many of its aspects, such as duvets and central heating, he will appreciate the fact that I do not use tea bags. Loose Assam leaves, put into a scalded teapot. “Conservative in everything except politics” was a formulation – originally, I think, applied to George Orwell – that Peter’s late brother was fond of, and I thought my old-fashionedness would soothe him.

Not exactly: he noticed I was pouring semi-skimmed milk into the mug. Of course you put the milk in last when you are using tea bags. When pouring from a pot, you put the milk in first. Milk poured in afterwards does not emulsify satisfactorily. If you are one of those people who say “but how do you know if you’ve put in the right amount of milk?” then I exhort you to start trusting your pouring arm.

Semi-skimmed milk, I learned quickly, is a no-no in the world of P Hitchens.

“But Orwell himself,” I replied urbanely, “said that milk that was too creamy made the tea taste unpleasant. Not, of course, that I believe everything Orwell said, but on tea-making he is sound.”

Mr Hitchens demurred, saying that Orwell was referring to the equivalent of what we know today as Gold Top. This allowed me to go off on a little rant, a positive, life-enhancing rant, about how good Gold Top is, how my children love it, etc. We moved into the living room. I noticed my shoes were more old-fashioned than his. Come to think of it, they may have been older than him. They’re almost certainly older than me.

There was a mood of civility in the air. Slightly strained, perhaps, like his tea, but unmistakably present. Part of the reason was that I had mentioned our forthcoming meeting on a social medium, and two of my friends, one a well-known novelist, the other a well-known columnist, both women, both left wing, had asked me, extremely sincerely, to pass on their best wishes. They knew him of old, had worked with him, were fond of him. These are two women whose opinions I take very seriously indeed. The Peter Hitchens I knew, of column and Question Time panel, was clearly not the whole picture. If these women say he’s Basically All Right, or All Right enough to ask me to pass on their best wishes, then that is pretty much good enough for me.

During his visit I realised I had an awkward duty facing me. I was becoming increasingly conscious that, the next day, in newsagents throughout the land, the latest edition of this magazine would appear, and in it, on page 82, would be a column by me, which contained several jokes at the expense of P Hitchens, Esq. And I knew that this column would not escape his vigilance. I massaged the bridge of my nose and launched into a pre-emptive apology. “I think I had better tell you...”

He seemed to take it fairly well, though I’d not given him the full nature of my assault. When we were tossing insults back and forth on Twitter, he seemed barely human; now, in my living room, he all too clearly was. I suppose this is how we all see our enemies on Twitter: as botched versions of the Turing Test, spouting opinions that are quite clearly wrong in spite of all our well-reasoned arguments. The only variable is how quickly the arguments de-evolve into base invective. I have my own theory about this. It involves Lacan, so I’ll spare you.

A couple of days later I received an email from him, courteously asking after me and my latest troubles, the ones I can’t write about due to their immensity. It also contained the precise quote from Orwell regarding milk in tea. (“Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.” You have to love that “ninthly”.) “Tempus mutatur,” I replied... but noted, too, that there was no mention of That Column. I was rather impressed. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear