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Trust and consent prevents police becoming an 'oppressive instrument ...
Trust and consent prevents police becoming an 'oppressive instrument

of powerful self-interest groups', Toby Harris, chair of the

Metropolitan Police Authority told an international gathering last night.

He said that despite the 'enormous fuss' of the last few days about

the access to e-mail and other data, the most valuable source of

information - 'the lifeblood of policing' - is not, as is so often

imagined, in the warehouses of electronic data, but from the ordinary


He said:

'The reason this information flows from the public to the police can

be summed up in one word - trust.

'Trust in the police to act fairly and with integrity, trust in the

police that the information will be used judiciously and without

attracting retribution from anyone.

'Without that trust, information stops and police become ineffective.

The police would become isolated from the community it serves; it

must always act in the best interests of society and with its


Toby Harris was speaking at the Science Museum during a dinner for

250 international delegates of the Modernising Criminal Justice

conference being held in London this week by the Metropolitan Police

and the FBI. He told them that a police service cannot operate

successfully without the implicit consent of the people it polices,

or without the explicit consent of a democratically elected


'If both consents are present, then the police become nothing less

than a controlling force, an oppressive instrument of powerful self

interest groups. In some parts of the world, this will be the

military, in others local 'war lords' and in some, the senior

officers in the police force itself. If policing is thus distorted or

dictated to by unrepresentative groups, the trust of the public is

gone. The only possible result is a downward spiral that manifests

itself in corruption, organised crime and abuses of human rights.'

He said that the police in the UK, along with other public services

are more accountable now than they have ever been in their history.

Apart from the Police Authority, the Audit Commission and Her

Majesty's Inspector of Constabularies, the courts too ensure that

police do not abuse their special responsibility. He said the

Commissioner is held to account for the actions of his staff and last

year had to pay out millions of pounds in damages for litigation

against the Met for wrongful arrests, unlawful detention and other


There are firms of solicitors who specialise in suing the police, who

network with other like-minded firms to 'exploit chinks in armour and

weak links in systems'. Nevertheless, the UK takes accountability

very seriously, he said.

'I would rather it was so, than be party to a policing system which

operated without the consent of society. And I believe a police

authority meeting in public and holding its police service to account

is an essential part of this process.

'But the need for consent also brings with it another important

element: policing must have regard to the impact it is having on the

communities policed. This is not to say that you must take a softer

approach to any one community but that the approach should be


'The Met is currently mounting a highly successful safer streets

campaign targeting street crime which is bringing about a reduction

in offences and a large number of arrests. This campaign has much

community support but a significant proportion of those arrested are

from a particular community.

'For community support to be retained it is important that the

problems that lead the young people concerned into crime are also

seen to be being addressed through targeted youth services,

educational and family support and diversionary schemes.

'If that is not seen to be happening as well, community support may

dwindle and gradually the concept of policing by consent will have

been eroded. This will, of course, often be the responsibility of

agencies other than the police.

'Part of my role as chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority is on

behalf of the police service to press those other agencies to take

the necessary action to complement the work of the police to ensure

that the principle of community support and consent is retained.'

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