A pawn in their propaganda machine

Was my arrest on 2005-07-28 part of a well orchestrated propaganda machine?

The UK Government and the Police want to give a strong message that they're tackling terrorism head on. What better way to demonstrate visible force than by cordoning off a whole block, stopping a London tube line and conducting an arrest. Such success for the Police was even covered by news agencies like Reuters. The arrest will also eventually be reported by the Police in the aggregate number of arrests they conducted under the Terrorism Act in during that period. Aren't we glad to have such an efficient Police force arresting such dangerous suspect?

Of course when I was released a month later without charge, this was done much more discreetly. Five minutes in a bland office in a police station and that was it (apart for the fact that it took another month and half for my possessions to be returned, and even longer to update the Police National Computer so that it contains only a record of 'non conviction'). The Police seem to have forgotten to inform the news agencies and newspapers. Their press office must have been too busy.

In the financial year 2003/4, the Metropolitan Police conducted 5,245 ‘Stop and searches’ of pedestrians under section 44(2) of the Terrorism Act 2000. Only two of these were arrested in connection with terrorism, and a further 57 for other reasons.

In 2004/5, the Metropolitan Police conducted 4,206 ‘Stop and searches’ of pedestrians under section 44(2) of the Terrorism Act 2000. There were 66 resultant arrests: 15 in connection with terrorism, and a further 51 for other reasons.

A BBC survey, in October 2005 indicated that stops and searches under anti-terror laws had risen dramatically since the London suicide bombings of 7 July. On 12 December 2005, Sir Ian Blair is reported to have said at the ‘ Together Against Terror?’ conference organised by the Metropolitan Police Authority: ‘London police have arrested 130 suspects since suicide bomb attacks in July, yet the threat of terrorism continues to increase’. And on 22 January 2006, former Home Office criminologist Professor Marian Fitzgerald visiting professor at Kent University mentions in a BBC One debate that ‘under the Terrorism Stop and search [legislation], the arrest rate there is only 1% and very few of these arrests are anything to do with terrorism.’ And the Home Secretary keeps manipulating the figures.

The official 2005/6 statistics were eventually published: the number of pedestrians stopped and searched under section 44(2) by the Metropolitan Police jumped 2.7 times to 11,407. Fourty-nine, still less than half a percent were arrested in connection with terrorism; 148 were arrested for other reasons. (In 2006/7, the number of pedestrians stopped and searched under section 44(2) by the Metropolitan Police was 10,939. Thirteen, less than an eighth of a percent, were arrested in connection with terrorism, and 159 for other reasons.)

As pawns in this propaganda machine – innocent victims that we are – we obey the rules of the game. Most of us follow our solicitors' advice of keeping quiet about our arrests because of all the alleged stigma associated with having been arrested and investigated. You're not as innocent as you used to be! The Police know that and rely on such behaviour. (With few innocent arrestees speaking up, another consequence is that many are still under the illusion that it couldn't happen to them.)

As the Metropolitan Police Service is asking for additional resources, one may ponder if they shouldn't start by making better use of what they already have? Money and time spent on arresting innocents would be better spent on effective intelligence work – this would reduce the risk of a terrorist attack.

It is sad that in a time when the Police need all the help they can get from the public, they are alienating themselves from this very same public. The British Police was one of the best integrated and most respected force (even being given positive nicknames such as ‘bobby’!). By abusing terror and harassment laws to penalise dissent, arresting innocents and sometimes even shooting them (lethally in the case of Jean Charles de Menezes), charging students for thought crimes and preventing the freedoms that have made this country so good to live in and so well respected, they are losing the trust that they most need. We don't want to fear false arrest.

We also do not want to be confronted with security theatre. The reaction to the alleged aircraft terror plot of August 2006 is yet, one year later, another example of irresponsible hype on an unimaginable and unprecedented scale. Either it is possible to create a dangerous explosive from two bottles of some chemicals brought into a plane as alleged by the Police and widely discredited by chemists, and then it is irresponsible not to impose similar security measures on Eurostar and other Eurotunnel trains, or it is impossible and then the new measures air travellers have to go through and the ensuing chaos is a pointless exercise. Before any of the arrested suspects has even been charged (though some have already been released), Paul Stephenson, Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said: ‘We are confident that we have disrupted a plan by terrorists to cause untold death and destruction and commit mass murder. This was intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale’ and John Reid, the Home Secretary added the ‘loss of life would have been on an unprecedented scale’. So much for professional risk assessment.

Don't fall into this propaganda. Reclaim your civil liberties.


David Mery
Document first published: 2005-10-01
Document last modified: 2008-09-16 (added latest statistics)