On BBC2’s Newsnight yesterday there was an interesting report by Richard Watson looking at the involvement of the Territorial Support Group (TSG) in the policing of the G20 protests in light of the high level of complaints against its officers and the HMIC’s report, which came out on Monday.
There then followed a studio discussion about the points raised, which was all the more interesting for the involvement of Keith Vaz MP, who chairs the Home Affairs Committee, which published its own report into the policing of the G20 protests a week earlier.
Neither the HMIC nor the HAC reports dwelt on the involvement of TSG officers in much of the most violent incidents, such as the fatal assault on Ian Tomlinson by a TSG constable (who had apparently resigned from the police previously over allegations of violence, before rejoining with no investigation), the ‘Fisher hitter’ TSG sergeant, or the violent clearance of the peaceful Climate Camp by massed ranks of the TSG.
Indeed, in the Newsnight discussion it quickly becomes apparent that Keith Vaz does not seem to have realised that the highly experienced, well-trained public order specialists of the TSG had been on the frontline throughout the policing of G20. Lest we forget, his Committee found that ‘inexperienced’ and ‘untrained’ officers on the frontline had been a major contributing factor of the many problems.
I find his lack of awareness regarding the involvement and presence on the frontline at G20 of the TSG rather astounding. On the day the HAC report came out, I wrote to Keith Vaz with my concerns that his Committee’s report appeared to overlook the integral involvement of specialist units such as the TSG, the Forward Intelligence Teams, and the City of London Police dog units at each of the most controversial contact points. I also pointed out that the commanding officers both on the ground and directing the operation from headquarters were experienced in public order matters, and named them.
The next day I received a reply from a representative of the HAC which expressed the view that the Committee had not been able to comment specifically on matters which may be subject to court proceedings. However, it was clearly stated that the Committee might further look into specialist police units such as these in the future.
So, can we expect Commander Bob Broadhurst and other senior Met officers to be dragged back before the Committee to explain just why they gave such a plainly inaccurate picture? Only time will tell.
In the meantime, in case you missed Newsnight, you can (if you are in the UK) still catch it on the iPlayer until late next Tuesday night (the segment begins at around 14mins into the programme).
The audio of the report on the TSG and subsequent studio discussion is also available here. A full transcript of the studio discussion (which begins at around 6mins45s into the audio clip) is below.
Transcript of Newsnight studio discussion on TSG, 7/7/9
- EM = Emily Maitlis, Newsnight presenter hosting the discussion
- BP = Brian Paddick, former Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Metropolitan Police, and onetime LibDem candidate for London Mayor
- JJ = Jenny Jones MLA, Green Party member of the Metropolitan Police Authority
- KV = Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee
EM: Now joining me in the studio Brian Paddick, a former deputy assistant commissioner in the Met; Jenny Jones, who’s a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority; the MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, which also recently released a report into G20 policing, welcome to all, thanks for coming.
Brian Paddick, you were in charge of south east Territorial Support Group in your time, does what you’ve heard here this evening surprise you?
BP: Well, it’s a great concern of mine because it appears to be history repeating itself. The Special Patrol Group, the predecessor of the Territorial Support Group, which was disbanded when Blair Peach was killed in a demonstration in 1979, started out as a very professional outfit, they were the elite of the Metropolitan Police, and gradually the gang mentality took over, and in the end they had to be disbanded.
What I am very concerned about is the Territorial Support Group – again, the elite, um, took very great pride in their appearance, their fitness – could be showing signs of going the same way as the Special Patrol Group.
EM: But you think you know it wasn’t like this under your command? How well did you know it?
BP: It certainly wasn’t like that under my command, and I went out with the officers, on patrol, and it was a very different situation in those days. But the alarming thing is, one of the things that young man said, about being hit with the hat, one of the traditional TSG punishments amongst officers is a ‘hatting’, which is to hit a fellow officer with hats. So that story has a very sinister ring of truth about it.
EM: Jenny Jones, this didn’t just happen overnight, this doesn’t even reflect what happened in the G20…
JJ: I think that probably there is a much wider problem, I think the TSG has deep problems about the sort of robust policing they are trained for. But I think also, I’ve heard senior officers for example, say things like, they ‘differentiate between things like innocent people and protesters’, as if a protester cannot be an innocent person; now to me that suggests there is a deep thought process, and they can’t understand the real function of protest, and that it can be utterly peaceful.
EM: Keith Vaz, isn’t it extraordinary that we’ve had a whole report on the G20 and the policing of it, and barely a mention of this controversial group?
KV: Well, I’m very disappointed with what I’ve just seen on your programme. The fact is I think this is a very strong report, it’s very critical of certain aspects of what the police did during G20, and it very much echoes what we said in our select committee report a week ago.
But what we were told in evidence, that the people on the frontline were inexperienced and untrained officers, we were not told in our evidence, something that Brian has just told me, as we were going on this programme, that actually the Territorial Support Group are usually in the frontline as far as these protests are concerned…
EM: …But that was pretty obvious, that was pretty obvious from the footage we’ve seen in the last few months, why would you put inexperienced officers on the frontline?
KV: Well… It may be pretty obvious, but we can only produce reports on the basis of the evidence that we have received, and certainly the evidence that came to us, the evidence that was given to us in this inquiry, was that the people on the frontline were untrained and inexperienced, and basically that’s why we concluded that the police were pretty lucky in this instance…
BP: …The worrying point, Emily, is that the most senior, the most serious complaints that have been made, for example the ones regarding Ian Tomlinson, all involve Territorial Support Group officers, not the young inexperienced, untrained officers that the senior officers who gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee say were to blame for losing control during that situation.
In my experience it is the experienced Territorial Support Group officers who are more likely to overstep the mark rather than beat officers who are drafted into that situation.
EM: I mean, you talk about overstepping the mark, look at that case study: A young man, picked up off the street, called a ‘fucking Paki’, slapped around… The police have recognised that this is a legitimate complaint…
KV: They have, and they should, it is totally unacceptable behaviour, even though in certain circumstances what the police do in terms of tactics they say is within their rulebook, it’s totally unacceptable behaviour for any individual to be beaten, or…
EM: …But why then, 137 outstanding complaints, we’re talking about one in three officers.
KV: …Well there shouldn’t be, and one of the problems that I think we’ve had is what G20 has spawned, quite rightly, is a number of complaints that cannot be dealt with in the timeframe, that’s why one of the recommendations we put forward, is that additional resources have to be given to the IPCC in order to be able to deal with these complaints. At the moment a third of the entire caseload of the IPCC is actually complaints against officers who were participating in the G20 protest.
EM: Jenny Jones, it does seem extraordinary that at this point we’re just talking about the process to handle complaints. Do we actually need the Territorial Support Group?
JJ: Well, as a Green I’d like to say ‘no, we don’t need them’, but in fact of course I think there will be times when you need that sort of very strong policing, because there are extreme incidents, but I think they are used too frequently, I think that the officers themselves are not rotated enough so they get out of what Brian calls this ‘gang culture’, and I think there could be better training about civil liberties. They’re clearly not doing their job properly.
BP: Let’s put some balance in here though, because these are allegations, they’re being investigated, these officers have not been convicted of any wrongdoing, and we have the word of one person, at the moment, who has made this complaint about their treatment at the hands of the Territorial Support Group, that investigation has not concluded yet.
The second thing to say is what Chris Allison said, which is Territorial Support Group officers quite often are put in the frontline, and so you would expect to some extent them to have more complaints, perhaps, than other officers who are not put into those very stressful situations.
EM: Alright, but let me put you back as, in charge, if you like… These are allegations and you have to deal, let’s imagine, with those allegations. What would you do now, from inside the Met? I mean a complete reshuffle, a complete retrain? Would you disperse them so there isn’t an elite force as such?
BP: Well, you need to have a highly mobile force ready to deal with either a spontaneous outbreak of disorder or to deal with, we’re on the anniversary of the seventh of July bombings, the Territorial Support Group was an extremely useful resource in that sort of situation.
But what you’ve got to make sure is that there’s rotation of those officers on a regular basis so that these cliques do not develop, that they don’t become a law unto themselves, which is the problem we had with the Special Patrol Group before.
EM: Keith Vaz, I come back to my previous point, neither in the report today nor in your report from the Home Affairs Select Committee did we hear any mention of the problems or the scale of the complaints against this force. Don’t you think that’s a pretty bad mess?
KV: It is a pretty bad mess, but you can only produce reports on the basis of evidence that has been given to you, and if a Select Committee is given evidence about the type of officers who were on duty during protests of this kind, we can only conclude on the evidence that we’ve got.
But don’t forget, Denis O’ Connor’s report is an interim report in any event, this was brought out relatively quickly, in order to ensure that some of the main points were dealt with.
But we will certainly return to this subject as a result of the consultations that we will have following the publication of this report. This isn’t the end of it, I think the debate about policing with consent of major events of this kind, which, frankly, this report very helpfully talks about, is something that we have to return to…
KV: What the G20 gives us is the opportunity to have that debate with the public.
EM: Jenny Jones, you’ve had that pledge here from Keith Vaz tonight, from the MPA’s perspective, what would you actually like to see in concrete terms?
JJ: Well, I think we have seen the start of a public debate which has not happened before, over many years I have complained about police tactics and mostly I’ve been ignored on the Police Authority, because people just haven’t believed them, we are now in a different era, when we’ve seen some very bad behaviour, the police, I think have got to change.
EM: Thank you very much indeed, thanks for joining me.