It pains me to say so but the police detention of David Miranda at Heathrow airport on 18 August was in fact entirely legal. That surprises you? That the police should be acting legally? Me too. And our surprise is the measure of the scale of the problem in the British Police State – that nasty little boil on the arse end of Europe which used to be known as the United Kingdom.
In this instance, what was to all intents and purposes a police kidnapping was rendered legal by the terms of Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act, which allows the coppers to hoik anyone out of the transit lounge without necessarily having any grounds for suspicion. They’re allowed to do that, and they do it frequently. They can haul you off to an interrogation room and keep you there for up to nine hours; and you’re obliged to answer their questions, because if you don’t you are ipso facto guilty of “failing to cooperate”, and that’s an offense for which they can then – you guessed it – arrest you. They used this one to force Miranda to divulge his passwords under threat of imprisonment. Then, adding insult to injury, they confiscated a whole stack of his kit – PCs, memory sticks, etc – again legally. Schedule 7 allows them to keep that stuff for a week, but as far as I know ten days later they still haven’t given it back.
Miranda is not the only victim of this heinous law. As John Kampfner puts it (here):
Think of the capacity of a large football stadium. That is the number of people – 61,000 – who were stopped at entry points into Britain last year under the infamous schedule 7 of the 2001 Terrorism Act (the one used against Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda). Amazingly, the total has actually gone down compared to a few years earlier. Ask yourself, are there really that many people transiting the UK who may pose a terrorist threat? [My emphasis]
Interestingly, it’s taken the Miranda case and the context of Snowden’s revelations about the NSA to get this onto the front page. In fact, police (ab)use of Schedule 7 had already been exercising the IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Commission) for some time. There were 18 cases causing them particular concern and in February of this year, asking and cajoling having failed, they ordered the Met to conduct investigations into those cases. The force agreed to investigate two months later, following the threat of legal action, but then refused to hand over the resulting investigation documents! The IPCC has now given them a week to hand over the results and the Met has replied with the following statement:
“The Metropolitan Police Service recognises the IPCC’s role in scrutinising complaints related to Schedule 7 stops and has been working hard to agree a procedure for dealing with such investigations that is acceptable to all stakeholders. As a result of these efforts, legal action has been unnecessary. We hope to be in a position to finalise a way forward with the IPCC in the future.”
…which is a little masterpiece of patronising mumbo jumbo revealing to extent to which the Met considers itself to be beyond the law. [The Met] recognises the IPCC’s role in scrutinising complaints – well, that’s nice to know, even if scrutinising is an interesting choice of word; … has been working hard to agree a procedure for dealing with such investigations – what investigations? The whole point was that the Met refused to open investigations! As a result of these efforts, legal action has been unnecessary – i.e. we have reluctantly agreed to comply with IPCC’s demands. We hope to be in a position to finalise a way forward with the IPCC in the future – you hope? In the future? FFS, this is not a negotiation! You’ve got your orders, all you have to do is hand over the documents – by the end of the month!
Watch this space. But don’t hold your breath!