BBC broadcasts libel apology

The BBC has publicly apologised to eight Metropolitan Police officers for broadcasting libellous allegations concerning the death of a mentally ill man.

The allegations were made on Radio Five Live's Nicky Campbell show and concerned the case of Roger Sylvester who, on a night in January 1999, was found naked in a street, behaving strangely.

The officers decided that Mr Sylvester - who, it turned out, was suffering from the combined effects of mental illness and cannabis - should, for his own welfare, be taken to hospital.

Mr Sylvester was large and strong and, at the hospital, he struggled violently. Some of the officers tried to restrain him for his own safety and, while they were doing so, Mr Sylvester suffered a heart attack. The officers tried to resuscitate him but he died a week later.

In December 2000, the BBC broadcast, on the Nicky Campbell Show, an interview with Mr Sylvester's family and a campaigner supporting them.

Speaking in court, the officers' solicitor explained: “In the course of that programme, the relative of Mr Sylvester made very serious allegations about the conduct and motives of the eight officers, which amounted to an accusation of unlawful killing against them.”

He added: “The allegations caused the police officers great distress at a very difficult time for them.”

The court heard that, after extensive inquiries and legal proceedings, a High Court judge finally ruled that “no jury would be likely to convict any officers of manslaughter” and that a “verdict of unlawful killing would not be a just verdict”.

The BBC has accepted the judge's findings.

Its lawyer told the court: “On the BBC's behalf, I apologise unreservedly to the officers for this programme, as well as for the distress it caused them.”

As part of the settlement, Radio Five Live read an apology on air and has published a statement on its website.

You send a message about policing London

We'd like to say a big 'thank you' to everyone who took the trouble to respond to our question about police officers and police community support officers (PCSOs).

We asked if you were happy at the prospect of having fewer police officers in London so that the Metropolitan Police Service could pay for more PCSOs.

You weren't.

We had 738 responses, of which 651 – that's 88 per cent – were opposed to the introduction of more PCSOs in London if this meant a cut in police officer numbers (for those visiting this site for the first time, please click here to learn about the issues involved).

Our decision to give you the chance to have your say hasn't made us popular with police management. From time to time, we still hear the dull thud of another senior officer exploding somewhere in London.

But the fundamental changes that are being made to the policing of the capital are being done in YOUR name.

Time and again we are told that it's what YOU want. Indeed, in a speech to a police conference earlier in the year, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair hinted to delegates that it's what you DEMAND.

And only a few weeks ago, the Prime Minister told the Commons at Question Time that the combination of warranted officers and PCSOs is 'enormously popular in London'.

So amid all this thundering from self-appointed spokesmen on your behalf, we felt it important that you be given the chance to actually speak for yourselves.

Our poll has been pooh-poohed in the higher echelons of the Metropolitan Police Service for lacking the sophistication of a big-company professional poll.

Hard to deny. But then, we've never done so.

What we have done is given you a voice. It remains to be seen to what degree that voice is now pooh-poohed.

• Many of you sent comments which we are currently reading and considering. A selection of these will be published on this site in the New Year.

We are also conducting extensive research among our own members - the operational officers on the streets - to discover the practical effects of the capital's new-look policing.

Their responses and yours will jointly form the basis of a Metropolitan Police Federation report on the future of community policing in London.

Stanley case: myth and fact

Above: the chair leg in a blue plastic bag and, below, a sawn-off shotgun in the same bag... or is it the other way round?

In the incredible SIX YEARS which it has taken to vindicate the officers involved in the Harry Stanley shooting, a whole mythology has grown around the case.

Many of the facts about the incident have been forgotten or have been ignored by sections of the media, even though they were presented openly as evidence in the endless series of legal hearings which have since taken place.

Instead, a somewhat misleading picture has been painted of events surrounding the incident.

Harry Stanley has been depicted as gentle grandfather who had slipped down to his local for a quiet drink prior to the shooting.

He had, in fact, been drinking in a series of pubs that day. And his behaviour in the last of them was anything but gentle.

He actually frightened the bar staff and other customers to such an extent that, when he left, they locked the doors and turned out all the lights, in addition to phoning the police to warn of the suspected firearm.

It has been implied that it was careless, if not negligent, of the armed officers who responded to the call to mistake the chairleg which he was carrying concealed in a blue plastic bag for a shotgun when, ignoring a warning, he swivelled towards them and pointed the object.

Yet a lawyer representing Harry Stanley’s family also mistook one for the other when they were presented as evidence – even though this was in the calm, quiet, ordered atmosphere of an inquest and he was under no pressure to make an instant decision.

And Harry Stanley knew how to handle the chairleg as though it was a shotgun because he was no stranger to firearms. He had a previous conviction for robbery with a shotgun – one of many convictions for offences involving violence.

We are, of course, delighted by the vindication of the officers. But we remain deeply disturbed at the way the whole matter has been handled.

Both officers have been through a terrible ordeal. Since the incident, there have been two inquests, two judicial reviews and the three referrals to the CPS – spread over more than half a decade.

The strain under which this has put on the officers and their families can scarcely be imagined.

This must never be allowed to happen again. Measures must be put in place to ensure that any police officers who find themselves in a similar situation are not denied justice for year after year.

Firearms officers have one of the most demanding and difficult jobs in policing. It is dangerous, requires a high degree of skill and can place them in situations where they have to take split-second decisions over life and death. Each one is a volunteer.

The treatment of Neil Sharman and Kevin Fagan will cause many officers who are considering taking up firearms training to think again.

At a time of increased gun crime among youths in the capital and the heightened threat of terrorism, this is not good news for London.

Measures must therefore be taken to ensure that no officer is ever again denied justice for so long.

Fewer police officers in London

Police officer numbers in London are to be cut and the process of reducing them has now begun.

Increasingly, officers are to be replaced with uniformed and plain clothed civilians who will be given limited training and powers.

Over recent months, the Metropolitan Police Federation has repeatedly sought assurances from the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) that two management projects, called 'Force Modernisation' and 'Service Review', will not leave London with fewer police officers than it currently has.

The MPS has felt unable to give any such assurances.

Most recently, the Federation publicly challenged the MPS – in the pages of the police officers' professional journal, Police Review – to guarantee that police officer strength in the capital would be maintained.

Again, the MPS demurred. The inescapable conclusion of this is that significant reductions in officer numbers are to be made.

The Federation has published a briefing paper on the background to the cuts and their implications for London's residents and business community. To read the paper, click here.

The first police officer posts to go are in the London Borough of Bexley where, under the 'Force Modernisation' project, there has been heavy civilianisation of core policing activities.

A large Home Office special grant was given to the borough police to ensure it could avoid public alarm by maintaining police officer strength as well as the new civilians it was bringing in.

Now the money has run out, leaving the MPS unable to fund its existing number of police officers as well as the new civilians. It has been decided, therefore, to reduce police officer strength, with 23 police posts being scrapped.

It is intended to extend the Bexley model of policing throughout London in accordance with Home Office wishes.

Similar experiments are being carried out in other forces, so we can only assume that the ultimate intention is to apply the 'Bexley model' – with all its implications – to the rest of England and Wales.

We hope that the Home Office and Police Service are not planning to use the upheaval which will be inevitable if the proposed merger of police forces goes ahead to mask a nationwide reduction in police officer strength.

The 'Service Review' project was explained by MPS management as a bid to identify and rectify inefficiencies in the force and use the resulting cash savings to boost front-line policing.

The Metropolitan Police Federation thinks this is an admirable idea and lends its full assistance and support to the project. With two provisos.

The first is that the savings which are identified are genuinely redistributed within the Service and not used simply to facilitate budget cuts.

The second is that money is spent on what Londoners want – policing by police officers, not civilians.

An open letter from the Inspectors' Branch Board to the Commissioner

Dear Sir Ian

I write this on behalf of the Inspectors Branch Board of the Metropolitan Police Federation as a result of serious concerns from my members regarding Service Review cuts being implemented now within OCUs.

Recently I was at a briefing where you set out the findings of the Service Review. One of those findings related to "management on costs" which you defined as middle management, which would include, on a sliding scale, managers down to the rank of Inspector being reduced.

You also informed us that this Review was a process of consultation with various bodies and then when proposals had been discussed and properly consulted upon, there would be further consultation regarding the implementation over three years.

However, it now appears that on an alarmingly growing number of OCUs decisions have been made to implement this process and cut the numbers of Inspecting ranks in particular.

From questions raised these cuts are being firmly placed at your door, by the OCUs as a result of implementation of the Service Review. I write to register my disappointment that despite your assurances regarding consultation at every stage, Inspecting Ranks are now being cut without consultation or justification, especially when you look at the need for front line supervision and resilience.

I am requesting that you stop the implementation of these cuts so proper process can be applied and for those that have taken place I ask what arrangements are being made for alternative suitable employment for these officers away from the front line where they were working?

Yours Sincerely

Mark Crake
General Secretary

The devaluing of diversity

The philosophy of diversity is common currency in modern policing – and rightly so.

No police force can effectively serve a community which is diverse in terms of ethnicity, sexual orientation or whatever unless the officers in its ranks are similarly diverse.

But the diversity coin has a reverse side and its called equality. Unless both sides of the coin are clearly minted, it represents a worthless currency.

A force in which some officers are more equal than others is not a force that will be motivated from top to bottom to do its job properly. Diversity, in this instance, will impede, not enhance, effectiveness.

The same is true for any organisation.

This is why the Metropolitan Police Federation has taken so seriously the case of three white officers who, an employment tribunal has found, were racially discriminated against by the Metropolitan Police.

A huge controversy has ignited over the case, fanned by press, radio and television. And misleading comments from the Commissioner's office at New Scotland Yard has since spread a smokescreen of confusion over events.

The legal action at the tribunal was brought by three officers, with the full support of the Federation.

One of the officers had been accused of making racist comments at a training seminar, the other two who were senior in rank, of failing to intervene.

They eventually appeared before a discipline board, comprising two chief superintendents and a commander, which found them technically guilty but decided that the offence was too minor to merit any punitive action.

The officers appealed against the guilt finding and their case was heard by Britain's most senior Asian police officer, Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur.

He then cleared them completely, saying it was incredible the case had been brought in the first place.

So far, so good. But along the way, Commissioner Sir Ian Blair attempted to hijack the discipline process, with dire consequences for London's Police Service.

So intent was he to get a finding of guilt that he tried - but failed - to find a way of legally overturning the discipline board's ruling… and this without even bothering to read the report in which the facts of the case were set out.

He had absolutely no authority for this action.

The officers maintained that he was persecuting them because they were white. And the employment tribunal wholeheartedly agreed with them, awarding them a total £90,000 in damages.

This should have been the end of the matter but the Commissioner has not let it rest.

In press interviews, he continues to level accusations at the exonerated officers, which we do not repeat here because they are offensive and, we believe, border on the defamatory. They also blatantly impugn the integrity of the senior, experienced officers who conducted the discipline process.

And he implies that a substantial part of the Metropolitan Police Service is opposed to diversity with most of the rest simply sitting on the fence - a charge for which has not produced a shred of evidence.

He told a reporter from The Guardian that he expects “turbulent” times as he strives for diversity.

We are not sure where this turbulence will come from but we can assure him it won't be generated by the Metropolitan Police Federation. We fully and unequivocally agree with him about the need for diversity.

But we are not sure that he agrees with us on the need for equality.

Ambulance crews provide body of evidence

Politicians, journalists and other commentators who, for whatever reason, want to paint a picture of rising crime in the UK, like to quote the official Home Office crime figures.

Some crime victims do not want to involve the police

Those who argue that it's falling turn to figures published in the British Crime Survey (see notes below).

Now, here are some figures which give a refreshingly spin-free indication of what London's police officers are really dealing with out there.

They come from the London Ambulance Service's latest annual report, which shows that in the past year, its crews answered:

* 40,700 calls resulting from assaults - up three per cent on the previous year

* 2,300 calls to patients with stab or gunshot wounds - up three per cent on the previous year.

* 23,270 calls resulting from alcohol-related incidents - up 17 per cent on the previous year.

Perhaps, in future, we should look to the NHS to give us an unbiased picture of crime and disorder in Britain.

• The official figures comprise crimes which have been reported to, and recorded by, the police. They can be misleading because rules about recording sometimes change - a few years ago, the vandalism of a dozen bicycles parked on the same stand would have been recorded as one crime. Now it is counted as 12 separate offences. Also, many crimes never get reported at all for a variety of reasons - the victim might be too frightened of the perpetrator, might not want to get involved with the police or simply can't be bothered.

The British Crime Survey estimates the amount of crime in England and Wales by asking 37,000 ordinary people about crimes they have experienced in the past year. But it, too, can be unreliable as it does not measure murder, sexual offences, crimes against children or 'white collar crime' such as fraud.

From the mag's pages: pretty pictures and fun and games for officers… at taxpayers' expense

Taxpayers' cash wasted on police spin magazine

Well over £1 million a year of taxpayers' money, which could fund a substantial number of additional police on the streets, is instead being squandered by the Home Office on a pointless, full-colour glossy propaganda magazine aimed at police officers.

The magazine, called The Sharp End, is being used in an attempt to overcome opposition in police ranks to aspects of the Government's police reform programme, which officers believe will not be good for the public.

It carries features which the Home Office hopes will get the police 'on message' about its reform plans. However, it has been rejected by officers as insulting and patronising.

The publication, which, inappropriately for its audience, looks just like a teen magazine and includes pages of cartoons and games, has a huge budget. It is being produced for the Home Office by a private contractor.

Police minister Hazel Blears admitted in an answer to a Parliamentary question that production of the first three issues had cost £251,397, while the bill for distributing them was £196,437.

At these levels of expenditure, the annual cost of The Sharp End - of which 10 issues a year are being published - will be £1,492,780.

This sum would pay the salaries of 67 new police constables, which the public, out of whose pockets all this money is coming, would certainly consider better value.

There was also a one-off bill to cover the magazine's development costs of £140,769.

The Sharp End claims to contain “loads of really useful stuff about new laws, new initiatives and the latest bits of kit”.

All of these topics, however, are covered in greater depth and with more expertise by a range of existing commercially-produced police publications which don't cost the public a penny.

• Among the concerns that police have about the Government's reform programme is the increased expenditure on Community Support Officers, whose basic training, which lasts a scant three weeks (compared to 18 weeks for a police officer) does not equip them to carry out a policing role effectively.

Police believe the money would be better spent on properly warranted officers.

They are also unhappy about moves to put civilians in jobs currently performed by police officers.

These include police station custody officers, who have the power to decide whether an individual who has been arrested should be detained or freed and who consequently need extensive police experience to ensure that correct decisions are reached.

24-hour drinking threatens everyone

Londoners should be frightened by the current plans to extend licensing hours. The Government may theorise about what may or may not happen under a 24-hour drinking regime. But they are not out on the streets at night.

Our members are. They don't have to theorise. They know. They deal with the violence; they're getting injured.

The buzz phrase coming out of Whitehall departments is 'binge drinking'. The problem, we're told, is simply one of people getting tanked up for a few hours at the weekend.

The reality is alarmingly different. The steady increase in the availability of cheap alcohol - from cut-price beer promotions in pubs to the expanding number of corner-shop newsagents selling strong lager and cider – has led to a corresponding increase in drunken fighting and other anti-social behaviour.

Public inebriation certainly used to be a weekend phenomenon. Now it can be encountered routinely on any day of the week. Recent figures from Mayor Ken Livingstone's office showing that assaults on police officers in London have more than doubled in the past three years bear testimony to this.

Officers' experience shows that if even more alcohol becomes available through 24-hour opening, there can be only one result: even more drunkenness.

Residents living in respectable streets away from the city centre pubs, clubs and discos should not feel that they are unaffected by this alcohol-fuelled mayhem.

Policing the drunks and their violence takes resources. Officers who are tied down in dealing with the outpourings from licensed premises are not available to do what the police should be doing and want to do - make London safe for EVERYONE everywhere. And officers who have been injured while dealing with alcohol-related incidents are off the streets completely.

London now has more police officers than ever before. What a tragedy it would be if this extra manpower, for which council tax-payers are having to dig into their pockets, was swallowed up by policing the drunks.

Metline Online
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Fewer police officers in London
Police officer numbers in London are to be cut and the process of reducing them has now begun. Increasingly, officers are to be replaced with uniformed and plain clothed civilians who will be given limited training and powers More...

Letter to the Commissioner
The General Secretary of the Metropolitan Police Federation's Inspectors' Branch Board writes an open letter to Commissioner Sir Ian Blair about cuts More...

Devaluing diversity
A race discrimination case brought by white officers has ignited in a blaze of controversy and a smokescreen of confusion. More...

Figuring out crime levels
Forget the politicians. For a spin-free indication of what's happening on the streets crime-wise, try the Ambulance Service More...

Home Office spin mag
A huge sum of money that could provide extra police officers is instead being spent on a pointless Home Office magazine. More...