Wednesday, June 22, 2005

A Tangled Web

There was a story on the front page of the Press and Journal on Monday last week which I've been meaning to blog for a while. It wasn't online but I kept the paper aside and intended to provide a scan. I haven't got round to that yet (but more on that later). The Sunday Times seems to have led the way on this story with this article from 12th June. The article is a statement of fact:
Police to use new terror powers at G8
POLICE are to use special anti-terror powers that will allow them to jail protesters at the G8 summit for up to a week without charge.
Tayside Constabulary is expected to become the first force in Scotland to be granted the powers under the Terrorism Act 2000.
Do you hear the sound of another little bit of our freedom leaving the country? If true, this is another sad day for democracy. What are our elected representatives saying about this state of affairs?
Here's an exchange from PMQs, 9th March:
Howard: At the weekend, the Prime Minister said that its provisions could be used against protesters against the G8 meeting in Scotland. Did he mean that?

Blair: I have read that I am supposed to have said that, but I confess that I have absolutely no recollection of saying it. There are people who want to protest against the G8 meeting—incidentally, protests happen on a very wide range of issues, and I obviously see many of them on my travels around the place—but the control orders are specifically designed to defeat terrorism. For people who want to come and protest in this country, there is a long-standing democratic right and they are perfectly entitled to do so.
It goes on in that vain for a while but it's a straight answer free zone. It's not really possible to determine whether Blair intends for these provisions to be used. Has the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, had anything to say on the matter? Yes, on 15th May:
Policing and security arrangements for the forthcoming G8 Summit are a devolved responsibility for the Scottish Executive and Scottish police forces. Scottish Executive and Tayside Police have confirmed that US military personnel will play no role in the security operation.
Nice swerve. Imagine this though; Bush phones Blair to ask about the security arrangements, and Blair says "don't worry George, I've got Jack McConnell on the case." "Who in the hell's that Tony?" "You know, Jack McConnell. Don't worry, I have every confidence in his abilities." (Photo via Independence.) Er, right, it might have happened that way. I've no evidence to say it didn't.

Other than that, there's not much to be found on the subject. Des Brown provides an excellent demonstration of the ethos of open government, Jeff Hoon adopts the swerve approach, and that about it. The Scottish Parliament may have debated the matter but their website is so poorly organised I doubt even proper journalists bother with it. As luck would have it, Tayside Police have their own G8 website which is quite useful. There's a statement of their position regarding the Terrorism Act.
The provisions of Section 44 have been used on a number of occasions around high profile events in London and further afield. We are examining how they work and how they might apply to the G8 Summit in Scotland. If the circumstances merit an application to the Home Secretary then this will be considered. It should be stressed that the provisions of Section 44 are there to allow the police to take a proportionate approach when judged necessary to assist in the prevention of acts of terrorism.
Statement, 03/06/05
This statement was made before the Sunday Times article (12th June) and it appears that this is still the position of Tayside Police. In fact, the Evening Telegraph and Post, a locally owned Dundee newspaper, seem to have confirmed this with Tayside Police the day after the Sunday Times article. They report using a more considered headline on the 13th: Police consider terror powers bid

So, where the did Sunday Times source the information that "Police are to use special anti-terror powers"? The police in question don't appear to have decided yet. Reading the Sunday Times article again, there is no mention of who provided the information for their claim. It implies that the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland supports their story but it's no more than implication. The official position is still undecided as far as I can ascertain. I thought it best to fire off an quick email message to the Tayside Police G8 media relations unit:
Would it be possible to clarify the position of Tayside Police with regard to the use of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 during policing of the G8 summit at the Gleneagles Hotel? Has a decision been reached as to whether Tayside Police will be making the necessary application to the Home Secretary?
Brief and to the point. It's already dangerously close to journalism as it is (for this blog anyway). I'm hoping this will clear up the confusion over this issue. We shall see.

It is, in some sense, unfair to focus on Tayside police though. There is no doubt that this is a political rather than an operational decision. In fact, the Sunday Times article, perhaps inadvertantly, highlights the ridiculous nature of the claim that there may be operation reasons for using the powers of the Act:
If they are found to possess a suspect device or weapon, they will be detained.
Hmm, so we don't already have laws we can use to arrest people carrying suspect devices or weapons? That's clearly a nonsense argument. Whether the Act is used is a matter of politics and public relations. It's almost certainly a decision for Downing Street. It's tempting to suggest that the Sunday Times article is a softening up exercise, testing the waters before the official announcement is made. Downing Street does love to work with Murdochs' evil empire after all.

One thing can be said without a doubt. The article is a classic example of how the sections of the press make unjustified connections between protestors and terrorists. The first two lines, quoted above, are a perfect illustration: we get "Anti-terror powers - jail - protestors - Terrorism". Nice.

This post is already rather long, but there is a marginally amusing twist in the tail. It's the "more on that later" I mentioned in the first paragraph. I'll post that later on today.

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