Cost of St Paul’s protest eviction revealed by police

St Pauls occupy london eviction police cost

The Occupy London camp at St Paul's Cathedral. // Photo: KOREphotos

The police spent £103,981 removing peaceful protesters from St Paul’s Cathedral, a Freedom of Information Request has revealed.

The eviction, named Operation Hawley, saw 464 officers from the City of London Police break up the Occupy London camp on February 28.

Campaigners had been in the square outside the cathedral since October, but were evicted after a decision by the High Court not to allow an appeal.

London Mayor Boris Johnson said he supported the eviction because of the economic damage it was doing to the city.

He said: “I’m glad that finally the law has taken its course. My interest is in the economic interest of the city and I want to make sure the businesses in that area can flourish.”

With cuts being made to emergency policing, the £103,981 spent on Operation Hawley was clearly money well spent.

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Let sleeping watchdogs lie

I wrote the following article for Private Eye (06/03/12).  You can view the full FOI disclosure of emails sent between Wintebourne View care and the CQC here (PDF, 3.53MB).

The correspondence also included a CQC-written report which chronologically summarises incidents at Winterbourne View prior to the Panorama documentary which exposed abuse in 2011. Here, it is published for the first time. You can read it here.  

 

Claims of ill-treatment and abuse, numerous police investigations and concerns over safeguarding at the Winterbourne View were reported to the failing Care Quality Commission (CQC) as far back as 2009 – it has emerged.

But the watchdog did nothing for nearly two years, until it was forced to act last May by a  BBC Panorama investigation showing patients with learning disabilities being verbally and physically being verbally and physically abused. The private hospital for adults with learning disabilities was then closed and 10 staff arrested.

The health and care regulator has consistently blamed the hospital for failing to notify it of serious incidents. But documents obtained by the Eye reveal that the CQC had been officially alerted to at least four separate allegations of staff abusing patients, which were also been reported to the police, dating back to October 2009. During the previous year the local authority had also informed CQC that there had been two unspecified safeguarding issues.

The first serious incident when police were called involved Ben Pullar, a patient who lost a tooth amid allegations that he was punched while he was being restrained. Although the local safeguarding board, run by South Gloucestershire Council, met with the patient’s family, no arrests were made.

The following year, police investigated at least three more allegations of abuse by staff. In February, a patient claimed she had been pushed and struck for not going to dinner with other patients. In July, a support worker reported witnessing a patient being slapped twice, once in the shower and once in her room. And in August 2010, another patient alleged her neck had been “squeezed” and she was having difficulty swallowing. That month CQC also received a notice from Castlebeck, which owns Winterbourne  View, that it had given a verbal warning to a support worker for “shouting and pulling a patient with some force”. Officers came to the home and took witness statements but made no arrests.

The number and frequency of reports and incidents should have alerted both the CQC and the local authority that something was wrong at Winterbourne. Tom Pullar, whose brother made allegations against staff at Winterbourne, told the Eye that the official account given by care workers of Ben’s injury was “unbelievable”. The report from the hospital sent to the CQC stated that while under restraint he “bit the alleged perpetrator on his hand. The alleged perpetrator pulled his hand out several times to free it and in the process a bottom incisor came out of the patient’s mouth.”

Mr Pullar says his brother was punched, and the investigation relied completely on the staff members’ evidence. He told us: “The CQC and the police were naïve to believe what people said without questioning it. It was one person’s word against a vulnerable person’s word.”

The documents, obtained by the Eye under the Freedom of Information Act, suggest there was at least one other attempt at whistleblowing which could not be revealed because the people involved expected them to remain confidential.

The CQC’s Director of Operations, Amanda Sherlock, said last year that the home “effectively misled us by not keeping us informed about incidents as required by the law. Had we been told about all these things, we could have taken action earlier.”

And even now, the organisation remains in denial, claiming that “the incident books weren’t available to us. We were not being given a full picture of what was going on. If a care home is not telling us what is going on, it’s very difficult for us to do our job.”

This neatly ignores the CQC’s responsibility to send in inspectors in and demanded the incidents books – as it did once the BBC investigation had done the job instead.


How Scotland Yard monitors prying bloggers and journalists

Photo credit - Metropolitan Police

'You MUST obtain approval from press office', Scotland Yard's Freedom of Information team ordered

Although the police were happy to turn a blind eye to phone hacking at the News of the World, they’re making a habit of keeping tabs on innocent journalists and bloggers.

When a Freedom of Information (FOI) request is made it is meant to be dealt with “applicant and motive blind”. But, Scotland Yard have a system in place where requests from journalists are flagged up. The ‘High Profile Request’ list is circulated to all internal departments in the police force, along with the full name of each requester.

The Met have admitted: “The list includes the applicant and if they are a known journalist that information is included”.

FOI staff are banned from releasing any information to journalists without getting express “approval” from the Met’s Press Bureau. It is unclear whether any disclosures have ever been denied because of pressure from the Bureau.

An email to staff  said: “You MUST obtain approval… before release if this request is from a journalist or identified as high risk.” It said that “high risk” FOI requests include “any request involving an identified member of the media.” It also includes requests from “VIP’s (MP’s etc)”.

Another email, sent in November, again reminded FOI officers of the policy. It said: “All High Profile FOIA requests – particularly those from journalists – continue to be of interest to DPA [Directorate of Public Affairs].” The message continued:  if “you feel a request is generating issues which could result in media coverage and you have not already been contacted by DPA please contact Ed Stearns, Chief Press Officer.”

In a phone conversation I had with Ed Stearns in November he defended this policy. “We’d have to be aware if something is likely to become high-profile,” he said. “I don’t think that would be unusual to have that sort of flagged up.”

But how far does the Met pursue its interest in journalists and bloggers? Three individuals, who have asked to remain anonymous, have told this blog that Scotland Yard informally “investigated” them after they asked questions to the force. In one case, the Police Central E-Crime Unit (PCeU) scrutinised articles written by a political blogger after he had  talked to a police officer about his work. He claimed he was never charged for a crime and says he “found out accidentally” about the (informal) investigation when an officer “confessed” to having personally investigated his website.  The PCeU said there had been no formal investigations into online media.

In my phone conversation with the Met’s Cheif Press Officer, Ed Stearns, I asked him whether the Met made a habit of investigating bloggers.

“Can you categorically say that it’s not regular practice of the Press Office to find out information about journalists?”  

Well, I mean… if… umm… it depends, it depends what – I mean obviously if a journalist has… I mean… In what way do you mean ‘find out information’?”

“I wouldn’t rule it out that we would search on something like Twitter or Google News.”

This is probably fair enough – it is a press office after all. But the question is, does this research into journalists and bloggers affect what information is disclosed – and how quickly? Is this one reason for the Met’s continual FOI delays? After all, “flagging” is one thing, but why does the press office need to give “approval”? What happens if the Press Office does not grant approval?

The Met have attempted to justify their policy on FOI, saying: “The process is not intended to hinder or delay the release of information but to ensure that we release consistent information and are properly prepared for any potential consequences of the release.”

The Information Commissioner’s Office, meanwhile, states: “The correct approach in considering requests for information and the application of the exemptions and exceptions should be on the basis that the application could have been made by anyone, anywhere in the world, for any (non vexatious) reason.”

Top cops pocket £70,000 in private healthcare

Photo credit - Metropolitan PoliceSenior police officers are being handed thousands of pounds of private healthcare by the Scotland Yard, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.

Top officers who are already paid up to £260,000 a year are given the medical premiums – but lower-ranking officers have to pay for them themselves.

The Met spend a total of £70,000 each year on the healthcare premiums, with an average spend of £1,000 per senior officer.

An explanation of the payments stated: “The policy is in place primarily to help ensure senior officers and staff receive prompt treatment for medical conditions which might otherwise impair their ability to do their job effectively.”

Clearly, the NHS is not good enough for London’s senior cops.

Mapped: Were “racist” stop-and-search tactics a factor behind the riots?

INTERACTIVE MAP: Markers show riot incidents. The shaded areas show how much more statistically likely it is for a black person to get stopped and searched by police. Darker shades = more disproportionate. (Data: Guardian, Metropolitan Police).

Racist stop-and-search tactics by the police are widely recognised as a key factor behind the Brixton Riots, and the same has been suggested of the recent rioting in London. But is it true?

The FT recently reported that “young men from the area told the FT that if any single motivation to riot could be isolated, it was existing methods of police control – particularly the practice of stop-and-search, in which officers search people regardless of whether or not they have grounds for suspicion.” Local London papers also reported on the potential link – The Tottenham Journal wrote: “Community leaders and young people spoke of disproportionate use of stop and search powers on young black men as a cause of resentment.”

As chance would have it, at the end of August the Metropolitan Police published detailed data on stop-and-searches undertaken (available here under “Week ending 28th August”). Using data from July, it is possible to work out how racially disproportionate police stop-and-searches were just weeks before the riots started – in other words, how much more likely it is for a black person to be stopped than a white person. This has been worked out with the Met figures showing the total number of S&Ss per 1,000 white population and per 1,000 black population (the Met use 2001 Census data for this).

This data has been mapped and then merged with data from The Guardian showing the locations of the riots.

The result: (1) There doesn’t appear to be any significant correlation. It seems stop-and-search tactics may not have been such a major factor behind the riots after all. (2) The level of disproportional stop-and-search is shocking. This data on its own is not sufficient to dub the use of stop-and-search as ‘institutionally racist’, but it certainly isn’t looking too good. Whether or not it is linked to the riots, it is a serious issue and should be looked at more closely.

***The map was created exclusively for accessdocs.wordpress.com by Martin Williams with a great deal of help and data analysis from John Burn-Murdoch. Thanks also to Matt Stiles.***  

Criminal Police Officers: the data

I recently did an article for The Mirror, which revealed that more than half of police officers who commit crimes are allowed to keep their jobs. It was quite a short piece, so I thought I’d put the full data up here, just for the record.

It’s here: Police Officer Crime (2008-2010) – updated

The PDF document above summarises the FOI responses from all police forces in England and Wales. I’ve only listed police officers who committed crimes – it doesn’t include other non-criminal misconduct because the document would be hundreds of pages long! Officers who kept their jobs have been highlighted.

UPDATE:  Here are a select few of the documents listing all disciplinary action, including non-criminal misconduct, taken against police officers. (NB: a few of the entries may be outside of the period 2008-2010, but are not listed in the above document. The same goes for police forces who have listed police staff as well as police officers. Also, some Met data is on a separate document which I can’t find at the moment.) 

Avon & Somerset (Excel),  Derbyshire (PDF),  Essex (PDF),  Gwent (PDF),  Humberside (PDF),  Lancashire (Excel),  Metropolitan Police (Word document),  Norfolk (PDF),  Staffordshire  (Excel),  Thames Valley (URL),  Warwickshire (PDF),  West Midlands (PDF).

Revealed: How the police lost your personal data

A document published by the Metropolitan Police this week lists every accidental loss of personal data that has been recorded since 2009.

The data they have lost includes names, addresses, court details and details about people’s criminal offences. Data has also included information about the race, sexuality and disabilities of Metropolitan Police staff.

Ways in which the data was lost included:

  • “Waste sack split, spilling Restricted waste into street”
  • “Misdirected documents – sent to incorrect individuals”
  • “Box of paperwork found in street”
  • “Unredacted FoI request sent in error”

Altogether, the personal data of at least 113 people was “lost”.

View the document here:

http://www.met.police.uk/foi/pdfs/disclosure_2011/july/2011060000530.pdf