Steve Baker and Dominic Grieve: Saturday’s vigil, its mishandling – and why we should be wary of this plan for more police powers

16 Mar

Steve Baker was a Minister in the former Department for Exiting the European Union, and is MP for Wycombe.  Dominic Grieve is a former Attorney General and MP for Beaconsfield.

Sarah Everard’s killing and the subsequent charging of a police officer with her murder are horrors which will have struck us all. Men need to relearn the basic courtesies that enable women to feel safe in public – including challenging those who continue to ignore them – and heed the message that so many women have tried to convey over the last few days.

In its aftermath, Saturday’s events on Clapham Common were a disaster for the image of policing by consent and a vivid illustration of the consequences of the enactment of bad law. Policymakers and lawmakers must learn the right lessons from this as we consider the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

The police have been put in an invidious position by poorly enacted Coronavirus law. The police may consider that protests are banned, but as a briefing by Big Brother Watch explains that “whether or not protests are legally prohibited remains unclear.”

While the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020 contain a specific exemption on gathering for protests in Tiers 1-3, in Tier Four this exemption has been removed.

However, there is a credible argument that silent protest is still allowed as a common law right which has not been specifically banned. That has created an ambiguity which inevitably undermines Dame Cressida Dick’s claim in relation to the Clapham Common events that “unlawful gatherings are unlawful gatherings”.

Given the testimony to Parliament that there is very little evidence of outdoor transmission and no outbreaks linked to crowded beaches, it is hard to see how it was a good policing decision at this stage in the pandemic to break up a vigil for Sarah Everard by force – a vigil attended privately earlier by the Duchess of Cambridge for very good reasons.

This serious fiasco has also become the context for the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, but it is not necessarily the right context through which to consider all the public order powers in the Bill. The willingness of contemporary protestors to use non-violent mass law breaking to pursue political ends by bringing our cities to a halt and by placing massive pressure on policing resources cannot just be ignored.

In January, Brandon Lewis clarified in the Commons that the Government did not consider Extinction Rebellion an extremist group. But others have suggested that some within it may aspire to undermine liberal democracy by mass protest of this kind, although it must be rather doubtful that this is the agenda of most of its supporters.

If the powers available to deal with such improbable radicalism in practice are really insufficient at present, then this may justify changing the law. But in doing so MPs must uphold the fundamental right to protest along with the rights and freedoms of those whose lives may be seriously disrupted by such demonstrations.

The problem is that there is much in Part Three of the Bill to raise concerns that it may create uncertainty by giving far too much discretion to the police in determining this balance, and far too much power to the executive to change the law by decree if it chooses – a practice of which our experience over Coronavirus ought to make us very wary.

In a free and democratic society, the right to protest in public is fundamental, and the presumption in favour of maintaining that right, even at the risk of its being occasionally abused, is paramount. The criticisms of this part of the Bill from many quarters should not be ignored, even as we ask critics to face up to new policing challenges.

The Bill, being so wide in its scope, also deals with many other issues unrelated to public order and demonstrations. Those voting against it at Second Reading, as the Official Opposition apparently intends to do, must explain and justify their doing so when there will be much in it that their constituents will want. South Buckinghamshire residents will want to deter unlawful encampments, for example.

Conversely, those MPs voting for the principle of the Bill today, because they wish to see parts of it enacted, must make clear their intent to improve it at later stages and address the fundamental matters that go the heart of our civil liberties. Meanwhile, at this stage in the pandemic and the vaccination programme, the Government should proceed immediately to repeal all Covid-related restrictions on the right to protest, and remove the possibility of a recurrence of Saturday’s events.

Iain Dale: Biden seems to forget his Defense Secretary’s name, and the media says nothing. Imagine if it had happened to Trump.

12 Mar

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.

Poor Piers Morgan. Said no one ever. A narrative has grown over the last few days that he has been “cancelled” by ITV. He has fuelled that by alleging that he has been sacrificed on the altar of free speech.

Sometimes being a professional controversialist can come back to bite you on the backside. Personally, I am very sorry he has left Good Morning Britain. In the five years that he has been presenting on it, its audience ratings have been lifted out of the doldrums to a point where the show could have potentially outgunned BBC Breakfast. That is in large part, but not exclusively, down to Morgan.

Even people who can’t stand him found themselves tuning in to rubberneck some of his poor interview victims. It was often compulsive viewing, even if at time it seemed to be too much about him, rather than the people he was talking to.

He was the cock of the walk who ruled the roost. His fellow presenters knew their roles and were happy to play them. Susanna Reid had a lot to put up with but she was brilliant in playing the yin to his yang. She became mistress of the well placed eye-roll.

So what happens now to both Morgan and GMB? Morgan will come up smelling of roses. He always does. He’s already being courted by Andrew Neil and GB News. It wouldn’t surprise me if he re-emerged on the new News UK channel. He’s know to be close to Rebekah Brooks. They’ve already signed by Lord Sugar, if rumours are to be believed. A show with both of them on it would be a surefire ratings hit.

As for GMB, it’s got a big decision to make. Do producers seek to replace like with like and recruit a Morgan sound-a-like or do they go the more conventional route? It’s a big decision to make and will define the show for the next few years.

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It is profoundly shocking that a serving Metropolitan Police officer should have been arrested in connection to the disappearance and murder of Sarah Everard.

Cressida Dick looked crestfallen in her live news conference on Wednesday evening. I was in the middle of presenting Cross Question, and members of my panel found it difficult to maintain their composure. City AM’s Andy Silvester was close to tears. So was I.

The conversation about women’s safety is rightly continuing to dominate the news. While no one should run away with the idea that all men are misogynist women-hating bastards, it’s clear that a lot needs to be done to educate men on how not to spook women who are quite innocently walking along a dark street late at night.

Apparently the police have been knocking on doors around the streets where Sarah lived in South London and asking women to stay in and be more careful. While I understand the motive for doing that, their time might be better spent talking to men and asking them to think about ways they can help women feel safer. For example, if you’re walking down a street behind a woman late at night, just cross to the other side.

I took a call on my show from a mother who had been attacked in the woods by a man and the first thing she was asked by the police was “what did you do to provoke him?” The man was spoken to but unbelievably wasn’t charged. A few weeks later he committed a very serious offence against a woman and was sent to jail.

It is hardly surprising that so few women come forward to report incidents of sexual harassment or assaults if they don’t feel they will be taken seriously, or will be blamed by the police. That’s where attitudinal changes really need to be encouraged. And enforced.

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This week Joe Biden appeared to experience a “senior moment” at the White House when he forgot the name of his Defense Secretary.

It was excruciating to watch. I covered it on my radio show but I hardly saw a mention of it elsewhere.

Imagine if it had happened to Donald Trump. Imagine the acres of newsprint that would be devoted to it. Imagine the US talks shows. They would have talked of nothing else. Imagine if Donald Trump hadn’t held a news conference for 40 days. Biden hasn’t seen fit to call a single one, I’m told.

And this is where people understandably lose patience with the media. They don’t like double standards. Biden is getting a free ride from the US media in a way that Trump never did. Nor should he have.

– – – – – – – – –

The Premier League has written to clubs, managers and players asking how VAR could be improved for next season. It’s very simple. Abolish it. It’s ruining people’s enjoyment of football. It really is as simple as that.

More restrictions considered, as compliance with the “stay home” message drops. But which measures can be strengthened?

11 Jan

This week the UK has had some of its worst rates so far in its battle with the Coronavirus. The number of patients in hospital now stands at over 32,000, and the country has also seen its highest daily toll of 1,325 deaths.

The NHS has now reached the “most dangerous time” in its history according to Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, with firefighters having to help London ambulances respond to emergency calls. Just anecdotally, it seems there’s much more footage of nurses and doctors on our TV screens compared to during the first wave, speaking out about how dire the situation is.

In answer to this, the Government has escalated its Coronavirus measures and launched a public awareness campaign to encourage people to comply with the latest lockdown rules. Whitty has been doing the media rounds to get the message out; over the weekend he wrote for The Sunday Times of the “material risk of our healthcare services being overwhelmed within 21 days” without intervention, and he has also taken part in a TV advert asking people to stay at home.

Nadhim Zahawi has also been on the television, asking people to behave in the coming weeks, and at today’s 5pm’s press conference Matt Hancock drove home the message that it’s “Your actions now that make a difference”, encouraging the nation to “follow the rules”. Ministers clearly hope that if they say it enough the public will start to comply. But there are signs that this will not be the case.

Paradoxically, as the crisis reaches its worst stage – with a mutant strain of Coronavirus and the NHS clearly about to reach breaking point – people are getting more relaxed about their own, and others’, safety.

One piece of data that indicates this comes from Citymapper, a transport app, which tracks how much people walk, cycle, or take taxis in London, Manchester and Birmingham. In the first lockdown, mobility fell to less than 10 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, and now it has fallen to just under 20 per cent. There have been other signs of falling compliance, such as the below:

What does this mean for the Government? Boris Johnson has never wanted to use draconian measures, hence why he was one of the last leaders in Europe to order a lockdown in the first outbreak.

At various points in the crisis the Government has tried to resist strengthening restrictions or adding any more rules to those we now live with. Michael Gove, for instance, previously said face masks in shops should not be made compulsory in England, only for this to eventually happen.

As complaints about how the Government has managed this crisis grow louder – as they are now – it almost always adds a harsher measure.

Given the ferocity of the second wave, it wouldn’t be surprising at all if ministers go further, especially after Johnson said today “if we need to tighten [the rules] we will.”

It has also been reported that Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, recently took part in a meeting of the Covid O committee, which sets new measures, indicating a growing requirement for more policing.

But where could the Government tighten restrictions? This is perhaps a more pertinent question than if it will do this in the first place.

One suggestion has been outdoor exercise, which people are currently allowed to do with another person under the guidelines. That could come to an end.

Another idea could be scrapping support bubbles, although the Government has apparently ruled this out. No doubt it would be an extremely unpopular move given the misery single households have faced under lockdown.

Keir Starmer has also said nurseries being opened “needs to be looked at”.

Many of the decisions will no doubt depend on data about how the virus spreads. It would make sense to see tighter regulations in supermarkets, for example, as Public Health England identified them as one of the most frequent exposure settings for those catching Coronavirus.

The Government has, at least, given itself leeway to move the current restrictions, as well as laying the foundations (media messaging) for harsher measures – a common tendency in this crisis – so that the public will be prepared.

What happens if even stronger restrictions don’t work is a question for another day…

Gary Powell: The politicisation of the Metropolitan Police is obvious to many. But the Government is turning a blind eye.

12 Nov

Cllr Gary Powell is a councillor in Buckinghamshire

Last year, I complained to the Met about one “Mark Powell” (no relation), known on Twitter as ‘MarcHayo #FBPE’ (@markhayo). In his Tweet of August 20, Powell had incited terrorist murder, writing:

“I dearly wish a reactivated IRA would successfully blow up that scumbag Johnson and his evil cabinet. At least their useless, morally-empty lives would have served a purpose.”

Any reasonable person would agree that terrorist incitement against politicians should not be taken lightly. In October 1984, the IRA placed a bomb in the Grand Hotel, murdering Sir Anthony Berry, Eric Taylor, Lady Shattock, Lady Maclean and Roberta Wakeham, and injuring many others, including Lord Tebbit and his wife, Margaret.

Now, we will recall that Met officials recently fell over themselves to persecute the conservative journalist Darren Grimes, whose apparent “public order offence” consisted of publishing an interview where his guest made an ill-chosen and disrespectful reference to black people that was probably no more than misfired humour.

Grimes now has a police record: a “hate incident” logged against his name. However, the Met’s enthusiasm to enforce political ideology instead of British law finds a counterpart in cases where people really have committed serious crimes but receive police dispensation, apparently for being on the “correct” side of the political fence.

Back to Powell and his terrorism incitement. My screenshot of his Tweet revealed it had received 47 “likes”, 49 shares, and no fewer than 1,247 replies, the vast majority urging him to delete, or reporting it to the Met’s Twitter account. Perhaps Met officers were too busy kicking down doors for Twitter “misgenderspeak”, or investigating conservative journalists, because, to my surprise, no reports of Powell’s arrest appeared in the media in the following days.

On August 23, I therefore sent a full account to Commissioner Cressida Dick, copied to my MP, providing screenshots and urging police action. My letter was ignored, so I wrote to both again on September 12.

Then Powell helpfully shared on Twitter the letter he had received from the Met:

“I apologise for the unsolicited nature of this letter, and do not wish to cause you any undue alarm. I do need to discuss some sensitive issues that may concern you – I would like to stress that this letter has not been sent as part of any criminal proceedings, nor are you in any trouble whatsoever. If you could, please contact me on the telephone number shown on the letterhead above or my colleague […] in order to arrange a convenient time to meet.”

Note the difference in the Met’s treatment of Powell and Grimes. No interview under caution for anti-Government Powell: he is invited to suggest a “convenient time” for a visit “if you could”, and he even gets an apology for the “unsolicited nature” of the police letter and assured he is not “in any trouble whatsoever”. This is a guy who was inciting terrorists to murder the Prime Minister and his Cabinet.

Powell provided his own commentary when he published the police letter:

“Two local coppers visited me 2 hours’ ago & warned me about my recent intemperate language about our cabinet of vipers, a language from which I refused to recuse myself. To be fair, they were very civil about it, despite the expletives that I threw in their direction.”

Even after the nice officers’ visit, there was clearly no hint of contrition.

On October 3, Cressida Dick’s office informed me the post I had reported was deemed by the National Counter Terrorism Network to be an offence, sharing that, “[b]ased on all of the information available, including the fact that this appeared to be a single criminal post,” their response had been to visit Powell and offer him “words of advice”.

 

However, this was not a “single criminal post”. On September 30, Powell had Tweeted again, posting his letter sent to the officers following their visit, which contained a clear reiteration:

“I should be happy to meet you to explain why I shouldn’t be sorry to see this cabinet of traitors blown up by a rejuvenated IRA, though I don’t intend to contribute to their coffers.”

My report of this to Dick’s office merely resulted in the following stonewall:

“(I)t has been determined that a proportionate and appropriate policing response has been taken.”

The police were clearly determined that this individual was going to be let off without any consequence. Since then, my MP’s office has written three times about this matter to the Home Secretary, yet there has still been no reply. The Metropolitan Police is turning a blind eye to anti-Conservative terrorism incitement, and our Conservative government is turning a blind eye to the Metropolitan Police’s self-evident politicisation. A miserable milestone in the Conservative Party’s own masochistic colonisation by woke, left-wing ideology, which needs to stop.

“Committing a crime while woke and left-wing” is being revised by the Met into a rational impossibility: an oxymoron and paradox that offends the very logic of post-modernist plod.

This long march through the institutions is making cherry-pickers of our law enforcement agencies, where regulation boot-prints leave their impression on the face of fundamental British values, undermining us as a state based on justice and integrity.

Peter Hitchens wrote about the Met and Powell in his Mail on Sunday column a year ago, yet it was ignored by other news outlets. There is no place in Britain for complacent and fatalistic attitudes towards the plundering of our basic freedoms by a vicious woke mob and their ideologically-captured, taxpayer-funded facilitators. Surrender will mean the end of our free society, and we must not give in so easily.

Fight crimes not Grimes

11 Oct

The Metropolitan Police are doubtless pursuing Darren Grimes as the publisher of the David Starkey interview as well as the interviewer.  That doesn’t make the decision any less sinister.

Such non-Conservatives as Tim Farron and Nick Cohen suggest that the Met’s decision to interview Grimes under caution is wrong.  Our readers are likely to agree.  So we won’t waste words attempting to talk them into a view they hold already.

Instead, we ask for the Met to be held to account for its push to curb free speech.  Did Cressida Dick approve the decision?

If she did, she needs to explain why it doesn’t represent a vendetta by the force against an innocent man who won in court against the established might of the Electoral Commission.  If she didn’t, and the officers have never heard of Grimes (or the Commission either), she should make it clear why they are pursuing him.

It will be claimed that this decision is an operational rather than a strategic matter, but there comes a point when the first blurs into the second.

Is it now Met policy to muzzle free speech, and intimidate journalists in this way.  There are three potential sources of accountability: the Mayor of London, the Home Secretary, and the Home Affairs Select Committee.  Sadiq Khan will do nothing.

Priti Patel has tweeted for freedom of speech, but has fallen into the trap of seeing this incident as an operational matter only.

She should haul in Dick for an interview without coffee, and get the bottom of who in the Met made this decision, and why.  We gather that Tim Loughton, a member of the Select Committee, intends to raise the case when it meets this week.  Good for him.

Meanwhile, Karl Turner, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Legal Aid, tweeted: “Freedom of speech Darren doesn’t afford people the freedom to make racist remarks or generally offend”.

But its inherent to free speech that it will sometimes offend, and it’s important to note that at least one member of Keir Starmer’s front bench either doesn’t get the point, don’t understand it, or don’t care.  The tweet has since been deleted.

The last word on the Met’s decision belongs to Kristian Niemietz of the Institute of Economic Affairs, who tweeted the following yesterday:

-“Hello? Police? I think there’s a burglar in my house…”

-“Sorry, we’re a little busy right now.” -“

…and the burglar just muttered something that sounded a bit like “All lives matter.””

-“We’re on our way.”