It was the sort of information that makes one despair of the police generally and their attitude to public order matters in particular.
According to the London Vandal website, ex-graffiti artists – most of whom had given up illegal graffiti 15 years ago – were being arrested without reason and being placed on bail conditions so as to prohibit any graffiti to do with the Olympics.
The London Vandal reported that “raids were being carried out on addresses across the length and breadth of London” and that once the arrestees “arrived at the station, the ex-graffiti writers spotted thirty or more familiar faces from the past”.
The website added:
It was around then that the graffiti artists realised what point the police were trying to make with them. Having been arrested, they were questioned about what they considered petty matters – accusations of criminal damage in the ’90s, questions about websites and magazines that they were involved in. After being briefly questioned about these seemingly irrelevant matters, they were told that they were to be bailed until November on the condition that they did not use any form of railway in London (overground, tube or tram), carry spray paint (or other graffiti tools, presumably) at any time, or discourage graffiti from being painted during the Olympics.
These allegations are serious. It would be deeply inappropriate as well as unlawful for arrests and bail conditions to be used in such a contrived way. Process should never be used as punishment, and nor should process be used as a means of public order control for such an ulterior motive.
However, much of the substance of the story is not supported by the British Transport Police.
Not only do the British Transport Police (reasonably) point out that the station in question only has a custody suite for five arrested people rather than for “thirty or more familiar faces from the past”, they also provided this statement:
BTP officers arrested four men on the morning of Tuesday, 17 July, on suspicion of conspiracy to commit criminal damage.
This was in connection with a live and ongoing criminal investigation into linked incidents of criminal damage committed between January 2007 and July 2012.
Two of the men were also further arrested on suspicion of inciting criminal damage.
- A 38-year-old man from Kent
- A 25-year-old man from Kent
- An 18-year-old man from London
- A 32-year-old man from Surrey
The men were taken to a police custody suite in Victoria for further questioning before being released on bail until November, with the following bail conditions:
· Not to enter any railway system, including Tubes and trams, or be in any train, tram or Tube station or in or on any other railway property not open to the public unless to attend a written appointment with a solicitor, to attend court, for a legitimate business or educational purpose; one direct journey each way
· Not to be in possession of any spray paint, marker pens, any grout pen, etching equipment, or unset paint
· Not to associate or communicate with the other persons arrested and on bail for this investigation
· Not to be at or within one mile of any Olympic venue in London or elsewhere in England
So it would appear that much of the detail of the London Vandal story is simply incorrect. There were only four arrests, only one of which was in London, and the arrests were in relation to an ongoing and live investigation for events from 2007 to 2012.
That said, that last bail condition does seem out of place for one imposed by the British Transport Police.
What business is it of the British Transport Police to impose as a condition that those arrested should not be “at or within one mile of any Olympic venue in London or elsewhere in England”? That would not appear to be a matter directly relevant for those responsible for policing the transport network.
In response to the “Olympics” bail condition beinq queried, a British Transport Police spokesman said:
Investigating officers applied for the bail conditions, which were accepted by the custody sergeant. The conditions are proposed to defendants, and to any legal representation present, and they are entitled to appeal. On this occasion no objections were made to the conditions.
The justification for the final bail condition was to prevent the commission of offences and to protect the integrity of the Olympic Games.
In my view, this would appear not to a sufficient or good explanation for the additional “Olympics” bail condition.
The London Vandal seems not to be correct in much of its story; but it does appear that “Olympic” bail conditions are being imposed when people are arrested in respect of non-related matters.
If so, that is less of an outrage than the grand round-up described. However, it is surely not the purpose of bail conditions to exert control over conduct not relevant to the arrest and investigation.
And it is certainly should be not the proper function of any part of our criminal justice system to “protect the integrity of the Olympic Games”.
David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman