Human rights violations are discovered to be commonplace within civic police force. The British State doesn’t care and the practice will continue. Laura Cameron Lewis has a plan.
It’s fair to say that intimacy isn’t something I ever thought I’d be sharing with the police.
I’ve made love with a number of people. I’ve fallen in love a few times, and then once in a big time. Then I gave birth some times. I can say unreservedly that the last of those things on that list was the most intimate and vulnerable thing I’ve ever done.
When I read that a woman had been tricked into bearing the child of an undercover police officer and that she spent 14 hours in the labour ward with him as part of his ‘undercover duties’, it feels like a violation of the most fundamental human trust. It doesn’t get more intimate than that. Rarely is a grown woman more vulnerable… physically, emotionally. Her entire future life and right to a family life was at stake and, subsequently, ruined, 20 years ago by a man whose job it was to protect.
When the news starts reading like the script of an American spy-pulp-telly-drama, you have to start questioning the entire world’s grip on reality. Sadly, this is not a fantastical plotline from JJ Abrams’ noughties thriller, Alias, this is the true to life institutional practice of the metropolitan police of the UK.
Note, this is not some ‘black ops’ group. Nor the secret service.
This is our civil police force.
This kind of violation turns out to have been commonplace in the Met, who have admitted to the BBC that they were ‘expected, not ordered’ to ‘engage in relationships’. Fellow former Special Demonstration Squad officer Peter Francis told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that sex was “used by almost everybody who was serving in that unit”. It turns out that the violation of a woman’s body and the creation of a child’s life isn’t a crime. When the officer disappeared forever when the child was two years old, returning to his other wife and family who knew nothing of his other child or partner, the young woman and her fatherless son were heartbroken. It turns out that the violation of that child’s life and right to have a father are deemed to be within an acceptable code of behaviour for our law enforcers.
These women and children appear to have been viewed as ‘collateral’ damage, by undercover officers who kept other wives and other children secret and safely back in the comfort of their ‘real’ lives. That the police do not view the abuse of innocent women and their children as a criminal act, perpetrated by themselves upon the citizens they are appointed to protect, is a fundamental break down of the social contract.
This woman was hardly a criminal. The reason she was targeted? She was an environmental campaigner.
Like most sane people, I believe in promoting environmental awareness and ecological sustainability. Talking about wee problems such as destroying our food supply, or scientifically evidenced issues that threaten public health such as underground coal gasification or fracking, are not instances of terrorism. People raising awareness of these issues are doing a public service. Are people like me now considered, by officers within the police, to be a danger to public safety? Even if someone was proven in an independent court of law to be a public danger, would any jury decide that person should be fair game to a randy police officer who needs an ‘in’ to their ecological grassroots?
But we’re not talking about a court, or a jury. What has happened is that police officers have made these choices themselves, and the entire Metropolitan police has upheld that decision. In fact, they’re still denying 10 other women who are seeking reparation after their lives were ruined by being sexually and emotionally exploited by undercover officers.
When faced with such a systemic abuse of power, it is hard not to respond in any other way than within the behaviour allowed by such a psychologically abusive situation. It is difficult to avoid lowering your expectations and internalising this abuse. Who are we as women to think that we can engage in political campaigning or activism without being seen as collateral?
The questions we should be asking should not be directed at women, we should all be asking of ourselves ‘who are we? What kind of society have we become that we allow our police to behave like this?’
This is reprehensible. These women are not extremists. They are not dangerous. They only want to be able to campaign and spread awareness of how society can be a better place. The news of the admittance of liability by the Met comes in the same week that UK police were more heavy-handed than police in Hong Kong. In Parliament Square, renamed ‘Democracy Square’, people were arrested simply for participating in gatherings and discussions about how to create open democracy.
There is a pattern emerging. This year the government have also made it illegal to campaign during the year prior to election campaigns, which allows them to put through any contentious legislation, and the public cannot dissent or organise to petition against this. At the Tory party conference the Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced their intention to protect ‘British values’ from ‘extremists’. Given that we know the police already consider people with environmental and democratic views ‘extreme’, this leaves a very bad taste in the mouth indeed.
The Conservatives promise that their election manifesto will introduce ‘banning orders and extreme disruption orders’. Theresa May also said that ‘getting access to communications data – details of who called who and when, but not the content of the calls – was vital.’
These new powers will be employed by government ministers wherever they decide there is a ‘threat to democracy’ or ‘if there is a pressing need to protect the public from harm, either from a risk of violence, public disorder, or other criminal acts’. Theresa May promises that, following such a ban, any membership or funding of a banned organisation would become a criminal offence.
Charity regulators are to police their members for activities that might fall under the broad headings of ‘public disorder’ or ‘threat to democracy’ and the police are to be given the powers to impose these extreme disruption orders on individuals using the same criteria.
Who defines democracy? Is it the public who choose to gather together in civic space to define democracy themselves? Or is it the police who can decide to arrest such members of the public on the basis that they are causing a ‘disorder’ and such ‘disorder is a ‘threat to democracy’?
You can see how quickly this new legislation could escalate to include the banning of all forms of debate, campaigning and dissent.
They now have the power to prevent any campaign during the entire election year. They have to power to read your emails, monitor your phone calls, track your social networking activity, and now they want to make it possible to shut down debate and stop people from organising and coming together in a way that constitutes a ‘disorder’.
So if you find yourself wondering if there’s a balance to be struck between then need to protect people from terrorism and the need to protect human rights, the example of the police being ‘expected, not ordered’ to ‘engage in relationships’ with women shows you just how far over the line we already are. When our police force consider it acceptable to stalk and target women sexually, violating fundamental human rights and destroying their right to have a family life, you begin to understand why it is a priority for the Tories to get us out of Europe and out of the European Commission of Human Rights.
So what, if anything, can we do about this? Protest and campaign? But we’re not allowed that during election time. Then choose who you’re going to vote for, except that the Sun, The Daily Mail and most of the rest of the mainstream press continue to promote the views of the government and, sadly, truly democratic alternatives like the Green Party get no coverage. Organise yourselves to create democratic discussion and momentum, while you still can. Publicise the things that are worrying you, talk to as many people as you can and tell them about the better alternatives out there.
As a last thought, I find myself wondering if we have to cultivate a new way of being and operating that is devoid of privacy – an ultra public existence. Like teens who never knew the world before open surveillance, could we become our own form of open sousveillance, watching, recording and posting every undemocratic action from our police and our government. If the entire public do it, they can hardly put us all under an ‘extreme disruption order’ can they?