An Open Letter to Jenny Jones
I’ve been following your thoughts on Twitter about yesterday’s select committee hearings which saw Andy Hayman and John Yates volunteer to open the parliamentary barbecue season.
I sense you are torn. I know you have faced criticism from quite a few Greens who are concerned that you are rather too friendly with the police. I sympathise with your dilemma.
My dealings with the police over the years have been mixed. As a sixth former I was briefly entangled in a police operation that resulted in my being surrounded by five police cars, spread eagled against the wall of the rail station in my Sussex villages and frisked on suspicion of armed robbery.
I didn’t do it guv. Actually Sussex’s finest were after a 6’2” crim with short curly hair driving a Porche he’d taken from one of our neighbours at gunpoint. My father (then a moderately senior civil servant) and I were in a Morris Minor van. We’re both under six foot and neither of us are remotely curly. Without a doubt having a good story to dine out on has thoroughly trumped any feelings of resentment but not my lingering suspicions that the police need to recruit cleverer people.
Actually the police compounded the sin by harassing me at the same station while I was returning from uni some two years later. I was innocently waiting for my mother to pick me up when up turns a squad car and the smug so-and-so in the passenger seat leans out and asks me whether I’ve been trying to break into the car two meters behind me.
I assured him that neither in this nor any parallel universe would an Austin Princess contain anything worth breaking the law for. He was getting shirty when my mother arrived and sorted him out (she was quietly terrifying in the way that nice, middle-class mothers can be when they feel righteously indignant.)
Yet in the years since I have met a fair number of police officers (largely through being a journalist) who were really impressive. Ironically one of those was Cressida Dick who, as a senior officer in Oxford (this was more than ten years ago), really stood out as thoughtful, intelligent and professional. Another was an officer I interviewed who led the community policing initiative in the Bretch Hill area of Banbury. The man was an inspiration. Seriously. Talking to him I got a sense of what policing could be; a service to a community of which the police were a part and to which they were fully committed – policing of the people, by the people and for the people.
I also understand that if one has substantial professional dealings with the police it’s hard not to develop an empathic relationship with a group of people who are doing what is often a really tough job.
However as a politician with responsibility for providing oversight for the Metropolitan Police you’ve also been given a tough job.
I’d argue that it requires understanding rather than empathy, detachment rather than fellow-feeling.
The police currently face some very hard questions over their handling of the enquiry into journalistic practices at the News of the World.
You tweeted: “I have a shred of sympathy for Yates. I know what it’s like to say something forcefully then find out I’m wrong. U r only as good as yr info.”
I would urge you to leave aside any sympathy you have developed for the police just as I would urge anyone in your position to also put aside any prejudice they might have against them.
In times like these going back to first principles through which we can judge right from wrong gives us a rock on which to stand.
In the case of Yates some questions are fairly simple.
Why did he decide against reopening the investigation in just eight hours and without reviewing the evidence?
Why (and this was one of Nick Davies of the Guardian’s key points) – given that a determining factor was that the investigation was being carried out by anti terrorism officers understandably under pressure to deal with people planning to plant bombs –was the investigation not simply passed to a white-collar crime unit?
There are also far more difficult questions. Why, for instance, was former Asst. Commissioner Andy Hayman given a column with News International’s The Times just weeks after leaving the Met at a reported £100,000 p.a.? Did they buy his writing (not exactly a bargain at that price) or something more?
Did Yates or senior colleagues have any suspicions at the time of his review that colleagues had been taking bribes from Murdoch journalists? Did they suspect or know of any other improper links?
If they did – and they may not admit to having had either suspicion on knowledge of shenanigans – then it becomes necessary to investigate whether Yates’s decision was in effect a cover-up.
Next, when Yates, Hayman and Clarke all protest that News International didn’t play ball and that it stymied their investigation, it rings hollow. If the police gave up pursuing any crim who didn’t ‘fess-up’ then we wouldn’t have a police service worth the name. It’s the nature of the business to refuse to be deflected by suspects’ prevarications. So the last question is, why, when NI didn’t play ball did they not push back and redouble their efforts? Surely an experienced copper would conclude that NI’s non-cooperation was a strong indication that they had been guilty of wrongdoing and were trying to cover it up.
Lastly if Yates says he won’t resign over this one is prompted to ask if there is any failure on his part that would prompt him to resign.
A culture of impunity has spread through British public life. The last principled and honourable resignation I can recall was Peter Carrington’s over intelligence failures that led to the successful invasion of the Falklands by Argentina. Since then fingernails have been replaced by talons and the buggers cling on like grim death.
So Jenny, I respect your humane instincts. It’s what allows Green politicians to bring a vital dimension to our public affairs that has been missing and you have been an admirable MLA.
However as a member of the MPA you cease to be a politician and become something akin to a judge. Justice is depicted as blind because we see things that distract us from the case in hand but we hear argument (and hopefully facts).
We need both politics and policing in which we can have confidence. That requires that due process takes place. It requires that you put aside personal feelings for the duration.
Good luck and best wishes
This is a cross post from The Headstrong Club
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