Last night Gordon Brown joined other world leaders in Berlin to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall. But while he and others waxed lyrical about the joys of freedom, his government was forcing a sinister Bill through parliament which reinforces state secrecy in Britain.
Throughout its 12 year-rule, New Labour – with Jack Straw leading the charge – has tirelessly provided the police and the secret state with more and more powers. New Labour’s latest effort in this direction will reduce still further the power of the public and the media to find out why someone has died violently or from unknown causes.
The legislation was forced through the Commons with a majority of eight. This now means that those who have lost loved ones as well as the public, can be barred from attending hearings into controversial deaths. As Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews noted, “the government is handing a massive new power to the executive”.
The ancient right to a public inquest can now be overruled by government ministers and replaced with a secret inquiry simply by order under the new law, which was smuggled in via the Coroners and Justice Bill. Earlier this year, justice secretary Straw tried unsuccessfully to introduce secret inquests. Yesterday he claimed the secret inquiry measure was necessary to keep secret the snooping activities – also known as “intercepts” – by the police and intelligence agencies.
The measure went through only days after it emerged that Scotland Yard’s Territorial Support Group (TSG) – responsible for the death of Ian Tomlinson during the G20 City of London protests – has received 5,241 complaint allegations in the last four years. The figures also show that only nine – yes, you read that correctly, that’s nine, or 0.18 per cent – were “substantiated” after being investigated by the police’s own complaints department.
The results are so suspicious that even the normally pro-police Daily Mail has published allegations by a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority that the TSG “enjoys some form of immunity as far as the actions of its members are concerned”.
Scotland Yard has, naturally enough, denied this, saying complaints about the conduct of its officers are taken “extremely seriously”. Does this include the case of TSG officer, former Royal Marine PC Mark Jones, who has just returned to duty? Jones was one of the police officers present when a Muslim computer expert Babar Ahmad was arrested in his South London home. His accusations of police brutality were rejected by the Police Complaints Commission, but he was nonetheless awarded £60,000 after police admitted he had been subject to “gratuitous violence”. No less than 31 complaints have been made against Jones since 1993, 26 of them being allegations of assault, including one of racially aggravated assault. Many of those complaining have been black or Asian men.
The so-called independence of those who are supposed to monitor and investigate the activities of Scotland Yard’s finest is clear in the appointment last month of Commander Moir Stewart to the leadership of the Independent Police Complaints Commission and to its management board. Stewart, a top Scotland Yard officer, was personally criticised for failings in the bungled police anti-terror operation that lead to execution of the innocent Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes in July 2005 in Stockwell.
Back to Brown and the fall of Berlin Wall. The power of the hated East German Stasi secret police collapsed at the same time. But while Brown was in Berlin, his Home Office was announcing that it would push ahead with plans to compel communications firms to monitor all internet use in a measure that the Stalinists would have been proud of.
The Home Office says it wants to change the law to require communication service providers to collect and retain records of communications from a wider range of internet sources, from social networks through to chat rooms and unorthodox methods, such as within online games.
Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner, commented tersely: “The proposal represents a step change in the relationship between the citizen and the state." Need we say more?
A World to Win secretary