CROYDON COMMENTARY: Local criminals and gang members had better watch out this week – the latest election stunt will be the televised “splintering the doors” as policing is used as part of the Mayor’s political agenda, says ANDREW PELLING
Chief Superintendent David Musker yesterday spoke of his delight that gang members in south London would very soon be woken to early morning “splintering of the doors” as police came to arrest them.
The borough’s police commander’s robust remark came as the new Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPC) made its first stop for its roadshow to the people of London in the centre of riot-scarred Croydon.
Kit Malthouse, Mayor Boris Johnson’s deputy responsible for policing and crime, hoped that the MOPC would allow better accountability than the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) that it has just replaced. The MPA, Malthouse said, had a “cacophony of voices” of the 24 MPA members “all with their own pet projects”.
Malthouse also spoke of the need for sensitivity and efficiency in the use of police powers, especially stop and search and the need for a good quality dialogue with those being policed.
His tone seemed at odds with Croydon’s most senior police officer, who took over policing in the borough after the 8/8 riots. Musker arrived in Croydon with a reputation for a tough regime in Wandsworth and as the senior firearms officer in Lambeth.
Yesterday, Musker said that he felt that the smash of glass and splintering of wood as police entered properties where gang members are believed to live will provide a clear line of communication. Perhaps somewhat more directly than Malthouse was suggesting.
A representative of Peace Keepers UK, an organisation imported from the United States and aiming at conflict resolution in the urban environment, said that they felt that the “splintering wood” phrase used by Musker was “military language” that would alienate, and that use of unreasonable force on arrest would just store up trouble for further rioting when police were diverted to Olympics policing this coming summer.
Unlike other parts of the country, London will not have a directly elected police commissioner. This role will be fulfilled by the Mayor and in reality, if the Conservatives are re-elected in the Mayoral elections in May, the job will fall to Malthouse.
But if there were elections in London, Chief Superintendent Musker’s remarks would win favour among firm law and order voters, whether Labour or Tory.
He said he wanted smartly dressed officers, who would perform better if they just looked smarter and so felt better about themselves.
It is notable that since Musker took charge of the Croydon command, that old-fashioned police helmets are back in use in Croydon.
He said that “police officers are not social workers in fancy dress” and that fighting crime was their main job where “serving people’s needs to get real outcomes” was his aim for his officers.
Musker appears to have made changes, with some other senior police officers involved with the 8/8 riots debacle moving on.
Malthouse and Musker announced that a £350,000 Home Office grant will help Croydon authorities to reach out to those young people tempted to be drawn into gang crime. Such a paltry sum does, though, seem to be more about giving the appearance of doing something, rather than actually tackling the issue.
Gavin Barwell MP takes a different view, however, seriously suggesting that this post-riots hand-out “should help to ensure that we never see scenes like that on our streets again”.
Cheap political stunt?
Barwell made the comment when saying of an answer he received from the Home Secretary Theresa May in Parliament to his pre-arranged question, “I was delighted that she confirmed that we would be receiving the fourth largest amount of funding of any area in the country (about £350,000 next year). Along with the money recently announced by the Mayor of London, this should help to ensure that we never see scenes like that on our streets again.”
It’s a grand statement that this modest some of money means we’ll never see riots again. No wonder people are tired of this type of spin. Policeman Musker’s remarks were telling regarding this modest sum.
Musker warned that such a small sum could be easily wasted, calling for the money to be employed with “financial prudence; not spread around”.
His rather more controversial views about having to spend half this money on “diversionary activities”, such as the running of youth clubs, were best demonstrated when he said, somewhat acerbically, that “the only diversionary activity for hard-core gang members will be being locked up”.
Musker also spoke of his achievement in getting police officers out of the station and on to the streets of Croydon, including 450 officers on the streets last Thursday.
Delivering “the right officers, with the right training, at the right time” would leave the borough’s police less prone to being disastrously ill-prepared and under-manned as they were in Croydon on 8/8. He hoped in future to see the deployment of more riot-trained officers, whether from within or outside London.
Inside Croydon reported at the beginning of September that Chief Inspector Mark Nanji admitted that less than 100 officers out of 700 on the Croydon command were available to go on the streets on the night of the 8/8 riots.
Police numbers are likely to continue to be an issue throughout the coming months. Londoners generally are beginning to wake up to the notion that in June, July and August this year, during the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations and the Olympics, policing in areas away from the Palace, Stratford and Games venues will be much reduced.
Neighbouring Lambeth announced in the past couple of days that its annual Country Show just up the road in Brockwell Park will be taking the year off for a lack of police and Portaloos (it is a tough call to decide which shortage is the more worrying). In Croydon, the borough’s top cop will be away, overseeing security for Olympic beach volleyball on Horse Guard’s Parade.
Poor turn-out, at public expense
Malthouse’s Saturday morning meeting was one that you typically get from incumbent politicians just before an election – spending public money to try to influence voters before the campaigning really starts, telling people what a great job they are doing.
In that respect, this Croydon event was a sad failure. Despite going to all the (public) expense of designing and printing some flash-looking cards and distributing them throughout Waddon and South Croydon, and hiring out a room at the Jury’s Inn, with tea and coffee and even a “light lunch” provided, in the end less than 50 people turned up.
That included Malthouse, Musker and some City Hall staffers. There were even fewer left by the end, as many drifted away, disillusioned or bored, or a bit of both.
Most of those attending came armed with a social or political agenda. There was strong and vocal representation from Lambeth Community-Police Consultative Group, and the Bromley Police Community Consultative Group also had a table. Lee Jasper, the social justice and race equality campaigner, was in the audience, but he was not permitted to pose a question. “Consultative abuse”, he called it.
Croydon’s London Assembly Member, Steve O’Connell, found himself on a table with stalwart council meeting attendees Peter Collier and Malcolm Felberg. Not many votes to garner there for the May election.
Malthouse only joined the Assembly in 2008, the same time as O’Connell. A former deputy leader of Westminster council, Malthouse represents and area from Westminster to the Hammersmith flyover. His financial industry career is somewhat more illustrious than former mortgage salesman O’Connell’s.
Malthouse was at Touche Ross, is chairman of County Holdings and is a founder director of Alpha Strategic plc, a “fund of funds” hedge fund on the Alternative Investment Market. The perfect background, someone must think, for running London’s policing.
Malthouse was able to talk of the separate roles of the new MOPC, based in an office by Scotland Yard at St James’s. The MOPC would be made up of an internal audit team to follow the Met and its £3.3 billlion budget, a public engagement unit and a policy body. Matlhouse emphasised that the MOPC was about crime as well as policing and that he hoped that the Crown Prosecution Service, local councils, the Probation Service and the Youth Justice Board “will work under the MOPC”.
He emphasised that victim support would be under the Mayor’s purview and Jeff Gardiner of Victim Support London said that London will maintain a higher degree of support for crime victims than other police authorities during the upcoming cuts.
Malthouse set out his political store. Transport crime down by as much as 30 per cent, teenage murders halved to 15, a new strategy on gang crime to come on Wednesday (watch for the camera crews from local TV stations at the “splintering of the doors”), a special £90 million government grant to keep policing levels close to 32,000 in London for “a couple to three years”, though he admitted that there had been more snatch robberies as the price of gold has risen rapidly.
Malthouse hoped that the MOPC would be contacted if riots were imminent again. Malthouse said the MPA had no such calls in August. That was an admission of failure of the MPA and of the second rank of politicians in London, the Assembly Members and the London MPs.
Malthouse admitted that he and senior officers watched helplessly from a command centre as events developed over that weekend in August, and in Croydon and elsewhere on 8/8.
Perhaps with the exception of Malthouse, many politicians absented themselves in the August riots. They have been too keen since to blame the police and not look at their own performance on the night of 8/8.
Mayor Johnson did not come back from his holiday after the rioting in Tottenham which kicked off on August 6.
O’Connell, as Croydon’s Assembly member, called for help from Malthouse only 12 hours after the first information of impending trouble for the borough was released by Croydon police; by then, Reeves Corner and London Road were ablaze.
Croydon Central’s MP actually drove away from the town centre to his home in Sanderstead, only seeing the smoke rising in his rear view mirror.
Barwell’s own account of the evening states: “I was at the AGM of the South Norwood Residents Association this evening. As I drove home, I saw several plumes of smoke rising from Croydon town centre. Given what’s happened elsewhere in London over the last two days, I feared the worst and sure enough when I got home and turned on the TV I saw the shocking pictures of Reeves, a family business that has been in Croydon for generations, burning to the ground. My heart goes out to the residents whose homes and businesses have been devastated by this mindless criminality.
“Tomorrow morning, I will have to explain what has happened to my eight year-old son.”
When he was challenged on this abandonment of Croydon in its hour of need, Barwell said that the police had told him to keep away.
As Barwell’s predecessor as MP for the area, I had no such qualms in staying, to witness was really happening on our streets that night, and report for Inside Croydon on the troubles that my neighbours and friends, Barwell’s constituents, were going through that night.
- Andrew Pelling is a former Croydon MP, leader of Croydon Conservatives, London Assembly Member and councillor
- Inside Croydon: brought to you from the heart of the borough, free of charge, an independent voice standing for freedom of speech for the people of Croydon
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- Will police become less accountable in London? (guardian.co.uk)