• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

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High-Profile Victims of “Police Corruption, Incompetence and Malpractice” Join Forces

From Stephen Wright in the Daily Mail:

A landmark panel of victims of police corruption, incompetence and malpractice today call for the head of Cressida Dick.

In a bombshell open letter to Boris Johnson, they said the disaster-prone Met commissioner should not be handed a two-year contract extension as expected.

Led by Stephen Lawrence’s trailblazing mother, Baroness Lawrence, and Lady Brittan, widow of Tory home secretary Leon Brittan, the signatories all give Dame Cressida a resounding vote of no confidence.

They also demand an overhaul of the Met’s senior team, ‘urgent and long overdue’ reform of the police complaints system and a shake-up of the ‘unfit for purpose’ Independent Office for Police Conduct.

…The group of seven influential figures includes the son of D-Day hero Lord Bramall, BBC broadcaster Paul Gambaccini, the brother of axe murder victim Daniel Morgan, Edward Heath’s biographer Michael McManus and former Tory MP Harvey Proctor.

The group was brought together by the paper, and the article includes an extraordinary group photograph that encapsulate the two most serious aspects of police malpractice: persecution of the innocent, and failure to bring the guilty to account.

Leon Brittan, Lord Bramall and Harvey Proctor were famously victimised when the Metropolitan Police declared that outlandish claims by the false accuser Carl Beech were “credible and true” – Beech also accused the late Edward Heath, which explains McManus’s participation. Paul Gambaccini, meanwhile, was one of several innocent celebrities caught up in Operation Yewtree – I previously discussed a 2015 event where he appeared alongside the innocent one-time murder suspect Christopher Jefferies, in a post where I specifically highlighted the relevance of their experiences for the Harvey Proctor case.

Police failings as regards the murders of Stephen Lawrence and Daniel Morgan of course go back to the 1990s and 1980s, but Doreen Lawrence has argued that there are still lines of enquiry to be pursued and Alastair Morgan has had to overcome one police obstruction after another.

I expect that some people who are sympathetic to the cause will be put off simply by the fact that the group has been brought together by the Daily Mail. Indeed, some of those who attended the meeting might have had misgivings. Early reports (not by Wright) during Operation Midland were credulous and sensationalising, and the Mail‘s sister paper the Mail on Sunday ran several articles uncritically amplifying Wiltshire Police’s ludicrous probe into Heath – the editor at the time was Geordie Greig, who now edits the Mail. The Mail has also run at least one story co-authored by a freelancer who is close to one of the Daniel Morgan murder suspects. In contrast, the Mail has been supportive of Doreen Lawrence for many years, in 1997 famously denouncing her son’s killers by name and daring them to sue for libel.

As the former associate Guardian editor Michael White noted in May, “We all reach our own compromises on media”. I’m frequently appalled by how stories are framed by Mail titles, but dud articles have to be pulled apart on an individual basis. A blanket dismissal that says “it’s in the Daily Mail, it can’t be true” is simply inadequate given the resources at the paper’s disposal. Stephen Wright appears to be doing a sterling job holding the Metropolitan Police to account, and anyone who is offered such a huge platform would be ill-advised to turn it down just because the paper is not to their taste.

There are, though, a couple of points I would add:

1. Although the campaigners are focused on the Metropolitan Police, the issues arising are of relevance to the public across the country. McManus refers to Wiltshire Police’s Operation Conifer, and Gambaccini’s experiences are comparable to those of Cliff Richard, who was persecuted by South Yorkshire Police. Bad practice is likely to be pervasive.

2. It should be remembered that for every high profile botched case involving the most serious crimes and allegations we can assume dozens of lesser cases, often with more ambiguous outcomes where journalists may be less inclined to take up the cause.