Queen Speech: my response to the crime and justice sections

My Lords, it came as no surprise to me that there was nothing to delight my soul in the Government’s programme. For example, a fair justice system that keeps people safe takes more than a royal commission; it takes resources. When budgets have been cut by one-third, the system does not function well and justice suffers. I hope that the royal commission will examine the impact of austerity on fairness and access to justice. I also question any attempt to impose longer sentences when we are failing to deal with the care and rehabilitation of the large number of people already in the system. The probation service and the Prison Service are unable to cope properly with the existing numbers. If you add to that number, you are adding to those pressures and problems.

The tighter rules on carrying knives repeat the same rhetoric we have heard for years and fail to address the fear on the streets and the lack of a visible police presence, which can lead many to arm themselves for so called self-protection. The deaths and injuries from knife crime are a horrendous outcome of bigger social problems. We should be debating legislation that strengthens the family and community bonds that stop knives being seen as the solution to anything except eating dinner. Increasing Section 60 stop and search is not the answer. Research by the Times into the use of stop and search in London throws doubt on its effectiveness. In Enfield and Camden, two of the boroughs where the tactic was used most, knife attacks over the past year rose by 28% and 13% respectively. Use of this tactic risks alienating communities that could assist in combating knife crime.

We should be getting drugs off the streets and out of the hands of organised crime by regulating their use and selling them at pharmacies. We should be focused on breaking the cycle of violence experienced by far too many who come to see it as an inevitability in their lives. While I welcome the government support for action on domestic violence, the rest of this proposed legislation lacks the vision to deal with the problems we face. In fact, many of the big issues are not discussed at all.

The preventable deaths of five people a day on our roads is a scandal. The facts that these deaths are taken for granted by the Government and that our efforts to address road danger have stalled in recent years display shocking complacency. This level of criminality receives no attention from the Government, when the obvious solution is to hand out a lifetime ban to anyone who fails to stop and take responsibility for their actions as a driver.

Instead of action on the big issues that impact on the well-being of hundreds of thousands of people, we have a government proposal to criminalise unauthorised encampments. This is targeted at Roma, Gypsy and Traveller communities, which is discriminatory and adds an extra threat on top of existing prejudice against those communities. I am also deeply concerned about how criminalising encampments will affect a whole form of peaceful protest that was previously a civil matter. It means criminalising the setting up of protest camps for the pettiest of reasons. It is because the Government and their corporate backers have been losing the debate. For example, Extinction Rebellion has changed the debate by being inconvenient. That can involve blocking roads, but obviously that is nothing like our Prime Minister, who today blocked the cycle lane on the Embankment so that he could get to work. I do not know where he was coming from. Extinction Rebellion sets up temporary protest camps to co-ordinate its actions, provide advice, handle liaison with the authorities et cetera. Last year, these actions sent a message to people and to Parliament, and Parliament responded by declaring a climate emergency. It showed that protest can be a powerful positive legitimate force in our democracy.

Local people setting up anti-fracking protest camps as a way of mobilising a continual presence on the doorstep of the frackers was very important. The frackers lost, despite all their powerful connections and party donations. Powerful people do not like losing, and they look at ways to make life more difficult for the protestors. That is the inspiration behind the proposed legislation to make this form of trespass a matter for the police and to give them the ability to seize property and vehicles. There are other protest camps. For example, local people protesting against HS2 are camped out near water meadows and ancient woodlands that face destruction, for example at Harvil Road in Hillingdon. They have been pushed out today.

I welcome the setting up of a constitution, democracy and rights commission, but could we not open that up to citizens’ assemblies to consider the way forward? The process should be designed to obtain maximum public consent and create a democracy fit for the 21st century. Obviously, the first issue of constitutional reform should be an elected second Chamber using proportional representation. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, for so passionately advocating proportional representation and for pointing out that Greens have to work much harder for a seat than any other party. The problem for me is that this Government will attempt to use this constitutional commission to cement their own power and give even greater autonomy to Ministers. We need a Parliament elected via a fair voting system which can take back control.

Met Police acted unlawfully in Extinction rebellion ban

This is an historic win because for the first time we’ve challenged the police on overstepping their powers and we’ve won. It’s great.

This shows how the police have gone beyond their powers when dealing with peaceful environmental protests, There is a pattern in recent years of the police being under pressure from the government to help impose fracking on communities that don’t want it and to stop the highly successful Extinction Rebellion from raising the issue of climate change. Government Ministers were very vocal in wanting the police to clamp down on Extinction Rebellion’s October protests, after the summer protests led to Parliament passing a motion declaring a climate emergency.

Court date 24th October – Extinction rebellion ban

Extinction Rebellion’s application for Judicial Review has been scheduled for an urgent day-long hearing in the High Court on Thursday 24 October from 10.30am. Baroness Jenny Jones, Caroline Lucas MP, Clive Lewis MP, David Drew MP, Ellie Chowns MEP, George Monbiot, and Adam Allnut are bringing the action on behalf of Extinction Rebellion to challenge the police’s blanket ban on our protests across the whole of London for the remainder of the week. Continue reading “Court date 24th October – Extinction rebellion ban”

Austerity and deaths on lawless roads

If you are a pedestrian who gets killed or suffers serious life changing injuries as a result of being hit by a car, there is more than a one in ten chance that the driver will fail to stop. One of the reasons our roads have become so lawless is the lack of resources put into police investigation and enforcement of road crimes.

Latest figures from RoadPeace (the charity for victims of road crime) shows that the number of traffic police outside London has been nearly cut in half since austerity started in 2010. London remains exceptional due to additional funding from Transport for London which began during my time as Ken Livingstone’s Road Safety Ambassador. London remains far from perfect, but Greens have made a small difference.

A RoadPeace report in 2016 found that cuts to traffic police resulted in declining levels of enforcement and prosecution of crimes like drink driving, driving without a licence and a failure to stop. Whilst there had been more camera-based enforcement of speeding, any prosecution involving an actual officer on the road had gone down.

The latest figures from 2017 show that hit and runs involving a death or injury are just over 40 a day. I believe that there should be an automatic life time driving ban for anyone failing to stop when someone has been injured as the result of a road collision and will be lobbying the Government on this.

Total casaulties hit and runs 14,571 in 2017, which is around 40 a day

Total Pedestrian KSIs 6628 in 2017, of which 829 were hit and runs. 12.5%

Podcast. Neil Woods “Ending the war on drugs”

I talk to Neil Woods, one of Britain’s most successful (ex) undercover police officers. 

Neil has authored two fascinating books about his experiences as an undercover cop turned whistle blower “Good Cop, Bad War” and “Drugs Wars”. 

Neil’s personal experience as one of Britain’s most successful undercover officers deserves our respect and attention; he has played a key role in putting away numerous dealers for a collective total of over a 1,000 years. He survived the grave personal toll that brave officers can suffer in their losing fight against drugs gangs.

Having a knife to your throat, or being stripped naked at gunpoint can take a personal toll on the undercover officers who have tried to fight a war on drugs that can’t be won. Neil suffers from Post-Traumatic Street Disorder. Year after year the trade becomes more violent, as the police are more successful. The drugs war is an arms race. Police develop new tactics and drug gangs push back. Neil realised that the escalation by the gangs was a reaction to his work as an effective police officer.

County lines is the latest reaction by the gangs to that success.  Use of children is another innovation – a result of police success. Not so easy for police to infiltrate using established means. Gangs see the children as very disposable.  That is why some of the police want to increase the use of juveniles as police informants – child spies. Exposing this has been one of my big campaigns and is now the subject of legal action by a children’s charity.

Two things changed Neil’s personal view of the war on drugs. He got to know drug addicts and started to understand the traumas (often childhood abuse or neglect) that turned them towards drugs. He also realised that it was a war the police can’t win, despite all their success. In fact, the successes made things worse in the longer term.

Police now talk about ‘disruption’ not reduction. A stable market is less violent. Police often gather the low hanging fruit of dealers on streets, which thins it out, makes easier to create monopolies.

Drugs money has caused escalating violence on the streets and supports other forms of crime. It also provides the resources to finance endemic corruption within the authorities. Neil talks about how his instincts saved him from being betrayed by a fellow officer who had been planted into the police by a powerful gang.

Since prohibition started, the banned drugs have become stronger and cheaper. Neil had to take drugs on occasion as part of his cover.  One packet “smelt like urine from a glue sniffing cat”. Legislation from the 1980s onwards has moved away from harm reduction towards a moralising agenda of criminality.

It’s no coincidence that Brixton Riots happened ten years after Misuse of Drugs Act. The police were given a war chest of powers that government Ministers expected them to use. Persecution of black people was driven by drug policy and a clamp down on cannabis. 90% of stop and search has been for drugs.

The police have been lumbered with this war on drugs. It’s a huge drain on resources. For example, it’s a big impact on murder detection rate since declaration of the war on drugs. Despite scientific and forensic advances, the murder clear-up rate is down.

Society is paying a big cost for the war on drugs. People in prison cost money. Authorities are damaged by the corruption of drugs money.

The way to win the War on drugs is to stop fighting. Regulate them. Treat each drug differently, so for example with Heroin you go to the doctor.

A recent survey shows that 59% of people want to decriminalise or regulate cannabis use. That shows how public understanding is running ahead of the politicians from the two main parties. A big change is urgently needed.

Crowdfunder: referendum law breakers

For democracy to work fairly and effectively, all campaigners and parties must operate on a level playing field; no one can be above the rule of law.  Whichever way we voted in the referendum, we should all agree that wrong doing needs to be dealt with.

That is why I have joined with other concerned politicians and ex-politicians, Tom Brake MP, Ben Bradshaw MP and Fiona Mactaggart who believe in accountability and that is why we are asking for your support in our legal action. Continue reading “Crowdfunder: referendum law breakers”

Letter to Minister about systematic use of child spies

Dear Minister

Thank you for your positive response to my Oral Question on 18th March when I raised the issue of juveniles being used as Covert Human Intelligence Sources. As I mentioned during my question, I have information provided by a whistle-blower that there appear to be formal targets being set for regions to increase the use of juvenile CHIS to help in the tackling of county lines’ drug gangs. Continue reading “Letter to Minister about systematic use of child spies”

Question to Minister on protecting the right to protest

Today around 3pm I’ll be raising the issue of freedom to protest with questions to the Government in the House of Lords about the Court of Appeal’s striking out an injunction obtained by INEOS in a secret court. The successful appeal was brought by two individuals and Friends of the Earth, representing an enormous victory for the right to protest. It will hopefully pave the way for more successful appeals by peaceful protestors who have had their human rights restricted by the frackers and other environmental vandals. Continue reading “Question to Minister on protecting the right to protest”

Minister agrees to examine police whistle-blower claim on child spies

I have asked the government to investigate a claim by a whistle-blower that the police are setting targets for regional police services to increase the use of juveniles as Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) as part of their efforts to combat county lines drug gangs. The whistle-blower approached my office with the information, but I can not verify the claim and have asked the Minister in the Lords to find out if this is happening. Continue reading “Minister agrees to examine police whistle-blower claim on child spies”

Government will count number of spy kids used by police

At last, after much nagging, the government is starting to count the number of juveniles used as police spies, or as they call them, Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS). In a Lords’ debate, peers criticised the government for extending to four months the time that children can be used by the police before the operation is reviewed and can be extended. I have organised another airing of this issue with an oral question to the Minister on 18th March. 

Continue reading “Government will count number of spy kids used by police”