BBC BLOGS - Guy Smith's Met Matters

Archives for July 2010

A family torn apart by 'happy slapping'

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Guy Smith | 19:25 UK time, Monday, 26 July 2010

He was killed in front of his three-year-old granddaughter.

Ekram Haque, who was 67 and a retired care worker, was standing outside the local mosque in Tooting in August last year. He'd been there to pray because it was the Holy month of Ramadan.

CCTV was released by police of teenagers punching him. They run off as he falls backwards and his head hits the ground with such force, he never regains consciousness.

His granddaughter rushes to him but then is led away by some worshippers, who come out after the commotion.

It's a shocking case. We learn that the two teenagers sentenced today at the Old Bailey for a total of eight years for manslaughter were members of a so-called "happy slapping" gang.

Ekram Haque with his beloved step-daughter Jasmine TaylorDetectives seized half a dozen video clips where the teenagers had struck innocent bystanders and recorded it on their mobile phones. They then run off and you hear them laughing.

Well, Mr Haque's granddaughter Marian still suffers from nightmares. She says she misses "her papa". Mr Haque was her primary carer and his son Arfan, in a victim statement, said he was the best dad anyone could have.

I've just been contacted by his step-daughter Jasmine Taylor, who wanted me to publish a poem she wrote when he was in intensive care in hospital.

It's called "Prayer for My Father"

"Today I am arriving in spirit, for you
In my thoughts constantly I am trying to guide you through.
My prayers become stronger with each days that pass,
Amazing you are, these days will never be the last.
Come back to our world, God may you give life back
Days filled with grief, guide me out of the black.
My father, my uncle, my life and my heart
Open your eyes and recovery start.
Sending you my love and everything with it
You gave me your love and now I may give it
Just in case I never told you before,
You are my father, you were the cure.
Love divine and God speed, bring back the man we all do need
Your work is not done, there are years to be had
Your babies are waiting please do not make us so sad.
Open your eyes and recovery start
This world is nothing without you, how can we live without our heart?"

Hospital doctors turned his life support machine off a week later.

Have you been the victim of happy slapping? What are teenagers like in your area? Are young people being demonised by the media? Please let me know here.

Act or turn the other cheek? It's a modern dilemma

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Guy Smith | 15:38 UK time, Tuesday, 20 July 2010

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It's a shocking picture: a female passenger is waiting at a railway station just north of London. A man sitting next to her is banging a bottle against the bench. She asks him to stop.

And for that, she's followed and then attacked. She suffers a broken nose and serious facial bruising.

These CCTV pictures from the scene make uncomfortable viewing.

It's a dilemma.

Many of us have been in similar situations but may not have said anything. Only a few weeks ago, I was on a train to Slough and two passengers were sitting across the aisle with their dirty shoes on the seats.

A minor "offence" I appreciate but nonetheless irritating.

Should I have told them to do the right thing? Or stay quiet and accept selfish behaviour. To my shame and I hate to confess this but I did the latter.

Coward, I hear you cry. Others though may say it was an act of self-preservation.

The victim at Carpenders Park railway station is a 27-year-old professional dancer. The attack, which was in broad daylight, has left her traumatised.

She says: "After the incident I was very paranoid at home, I could not sleep and was worried about how to protect my 16-month old daughter."

"After an operation on my nose, I had to rely on family to care for my daughter as I was suffering from terrible headaches, which I still occasionally suffer. I still cannot feel the left-side of my nose either."

What would you have done? Would you have spoken up? Or just remained silent?

Thorny issue over man's best friend

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Guy Smith | 19:34 UK time, Thursday, 15 July 2010

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It's the "deed not the breed".

A phrase I keep hearing more and more often now.

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 has been controversial. Passions clearly run high on this subject and the law is expected to be reviewed.

Meanwhile, four breeds of dog are banned under the legislation. Many owners of so-called "attack" dogs feel particularly aggrieved when they get a knock on the door by a Metropolitan Police officer and their pet is taken away.

It's becoming increasingly common these days. More than 1700 dogs have been seized in the past 18 months by the Met's specialist Status Dogs Unit.

Today I was out with the local borough police in Harrow.

They have a new "breed" of cop called a Dog Legislation Officer (DLO). There are only 24 of them in the country.

Harrow is the first borough in the capital to have their very own dedicated dog expert to speed things along, identifying quickly whether the animal is banned and potentially saving money on expensive kennel fees.

The Metropolitan Police Authority only recently authorised £10.6 million pounds to pay for kennelling.

The new DLO role is funded by the Met and the local council.

It was a direct response to a vicious attack on a man out walking his dog in Harrow on New Year's Eve.

The borough, like many other areas in London, has a problem. It's unclear if this idea will catch on.

This afternoon, one owner who had her 11 month old dog seized was distraught.

But she can be comforted by this thought. She may have it returned even if it's categorised as a banned breed.

The DLO officer told me if the owner is deemed responsible and the dog is properly socialised, then it could be exempted by the magistrates' court.

It would, however, have to be muzzled and kept on a leash in public, registered and insured, neutered, tattooed and receive a microchip.

There are many issues here. I've reported on gangs using them not just for status but as weapons.

So do you feel safe in your local park? Have you had your dog seized? Is the Met overreacting? Your thoughts please!

A faithful look at race relations inside the Met?

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Guy Smith | 16:12 UK time, Thursday, 8 July 2010

Group of police officers

Eighty-three pages. More than 18 months. £150,000 = "The Met is not institutionally racist."

That's one of the main findings from an independent review into race and faith in the Metropolitan Police.

Clearly there's more. Nine recommendations on how the Met can better recruit, keep and progress Black and Ethnic Minority officers.

Yet what's interesting is how long it's taken to reach its conclusions.

And why was the report, heralded as a major piece of work, released at 6pm on the fifth anniversary of the London bombings?

Race campaigner Lee Jasper has accused London's Mayor Boris Johnson of attempting to "bury bad news."

We also repeatedly asked for an interview with the report authors, namely the chair of the inquiry panel Cindy Butts, who is a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority.

None were forthcoming.

So what did they find?

The question they asked themselves was:

"Have we discovered a wholly dysfunctional, institutionally racist organisation, riddled with conscious and unconscious bias and prejudice?

"No, unquestionably we have not."

However, the report continues:

"We have found a number of examples of poor processes and practice which give rise to perceived, and at times real, discrimination."

You may remember the history behind all this.

In 2008, Britain's most senior Asian officer Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur was so incensed by his alleged treatment, he went public against his boss, the then Commissioner Sir Ian Blair.

Mr Ghaffur threatened a potentially embarrassing employment tribunal.

It was settled out of court for a substantial amount of money. He retired after 34 years service. Mr Blair followed shortly afterwards.

This saga was one of the catalysts for the latest inquiry, which Boris Johnson commissioned in October 2008.

It comes more than 10 years after the Macpherson report into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence.

The three-strong independent panel heard "sad and disturbing" accounts from black and ethnic minority officers, some of whom had been "unfairly treated and marginalised."

They highlighted how statistics suggested white men were more likely to be promoted and stood less chance of being disciplined.

In a radical move, they suggested that people should be allowed to join the police at higher ranks than constable.

And they called for the Met to build better links with staff associations.

Well, no surprises there.

Two years ago the Met Black Police Association (Met BPA) issued a statement of no-confidence in how the Met treated its BME staff.

They imposed a boycott of recruitment of potential BME applicants, which was only lifted in January.

The Met BPA reaction to the review is this:

"It indicates the lack of understanding of racism and institutional racism and we believe that it is inappropriate to remove the term without the support of the Black and minority staff and communities in which the term refers."

The Met Police Authority has just told me the reason the report was published on the 7/7 anniversary was due to "diary commitments."

A statement reads:

"We challenge the assumption that it is 'bad news' In our view it is very good news and a positive step forward, indicated by the presence at the event of a number of influential partners, such as HMIC, IPCC, Doreen Lawrence, the Met BPA, other staff associations and Met officers. In fact bringing all those diverse people together seemed appropriate on a day when we commemorate the 52 Londoners that died in the 7/7 bombings."

Footnote: one of the panel members Bob Purkiss stood down from the inquiry in protest at a decision to bring in MPA officials to write the final draft. He apparently believed it threatened its impartiality.

So is it a good idea to allow high fliers to join the police without first being a bobby on the beat?

And was the timing of the publication of this report reasonable? What are your views?

7/7: The Met's response and its consequences

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Guy Smith | 09:45 UK time, Tuesday, 6 July 2010

July 7 Tavistock Bus attack

We were always told there was a serious and potential threat to London.

I can still hear one of the favourite lines used by the former Met commissioner Lord Stevens ringing in my ears.

"It's not if but when."

He was, of course, right. Yet it didn't happen on his watch.

It fell on the shoulders of his successor Sir Ian Blair. He had only been in the job six months.

I remember the stress etched on his face whenever he appeared in public.

It had been only four years previously that 19 hijackers took control of four airliners and unleashed such devastation.

The subsequent so-called "War on Terrorism" was in full swing and there were vociferous critics of that policy.

So I suppose it shouldn't have come as a shock when the capital came under attack. But I admit it did, particularly when we all found out later the bombers were home-grown.

But if I rewind to the day, the first I knew something was wrong was on a train into work. It was just after 9am.

My mum texted me to ask if I was alright as she had heard something on a 24 hour TV news channel.

I called the Met Police's press bureau and they were saying there'd been somesort of power surge on the London Underground.

It wasn't long before it confirmed there had been multiple attacks. I headed directly to Scotland Yard.

Like everyone else, my mobile wasn't working. There was a public phone box outside the police HQ so I called the news desk from there to see what they knew.

I was nervous. This was a huge story, the biggest I had ever covered and it was in the city I had worked and lived in for more than 20 years.

There was a briefing at the Yard but information was sketchy and confusing.

No one really knew how many tube stations had been affected, how many were dead or injured.

It was only later that it was confirmed as four separate terrorist attacks.

The national news was covering what happened. So I reported on how the emergency services coped.

There were harrowing scenes.

Paramedics were dealing with every type of injury from burns to amputations. The walking wounded were suffering from cuts, bruises and smoke inhalation. And then there were those who were dead.

Over the next few days there was nothing else that mattered. The police and security services were working flat out to discover who had masterminded the attacks.

The fear was would there be another. Well, exactly two weeks later there was, albeit thankfully a foiled attempt.

Armed police in London

The July 21 attacks led to the largest manhunt in the Met's history. The authorities were exhausted. There was wholehearted praise for them for their diligence and professionalism.

But the next day was to change all that.

A team from the specialist firearms unit SO19 (now CO19) shot dead an innocent 27 year old Brazilian electrician at Stockwell tube.

The Met was plunged into a maelstrom of criticism, too much to mention here.

The death of Jean Charles de Menezes and how the Met subsequently handled the fatal incident was to severely damage the reputation of London's police service.

It was a story that I was to cover in detail for the next three years.

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