The Blog

Plebgate, Mark Duggan and Conservative Hypocrisy

Tories are only too willing to tolerate police corruption, so long as it's people they don't like who are the victims.

Tories are only too willing to tolerate police corruption, so long as it's people they don't like who are the victims.

It's almost Conan-Doyleesque. The blundering plods exposed by the quick wittedness of the (almost) aristocratic amateur. The emotional toll of the corrupt peelers' betrayal, hitherto manfully concealed from the world, only revealed by the plaintive intervention of his loving daughter.

Except this isn't a Sherlock Holmes story. This actually happened. Three police representatives have been exposed as liars after Andrew Mitchell revealed the recording he made of their meeting. But the pious cries of corruption from Conservative MPs and their supporters in the media ring embarrassingly hollow when one considers their historic attitude to police malpractice. The reality is that, when the victim is a rich, white, Conservative, police corruption represents a threat to our very democracy. If, however, the victim happens to be poor, black or a member of a group with which the right disagrees politically, then the thundering waves of outrage become rapidly tranquil.

They have, for example, remained positively glassy regarding the case of Mark Duggan, the man whom the police shot dead in 2011, sparking nationwide riots.

Let us, for a moment, consider the unfolding Duggan inquest. The police, specifically three police officers involved, identified as W42, V53 and W70, claim that they followed Duggan from Tottenham to Leyton in unmarked cars and watched him pick up a package which, intelligence lead them to believe, was a firearm. They then followed him back to Tottenham until ordered to stop and detain him. When the police stopped the taxi in which Duggan was traveling, Duggan got out of the vehicle, apparently to attempt to escape on foot. According to the police officers he exited the taxi either with his hand already in his jacket or reaching inside. V53 alleges that he saw Duggan take a gun from his jacket, at which point he fired two shots into Duggan's torso and arm. If this is true then V53's claim that he had an "honestly held" fear for his life is entirely justified.

But crime scene evidence, eye witnesses and the inconsistencies in the testimony of the officers themselves throw doubt on the police account. For a verdict of "lawful killing" to be reached the Coroner's court must be convinced of two things: (i) The officer who fired the shot must have honestly believed that it was necessary to defend himself and (ii) the force he used must have been reasonable considering the circumstances. This is a slightly complicated test because it combines both objective and subjective elements. The jury must be convinced that V53 was subjectively in fear for his own safety but that, objectively, shooting Duggan was reasonable considering the circumstances. Put more simply, in this case V53 must have believed that Duggan was going to shoot him.

As such, whether or not Duggan had and was drawing the gun is key. It's also where the police case falls down. The police found a gun in a hedgerow 20 feet away from where Duggan was shot. No eyewitnesses saw the gun flying through the air while one eyewitness claims she saw the police find the gun in the taxi. This suggests that, at best, Duggan threw the gun away before he left the taxi and, at worst, he left it in the taxi and it was planted in it's recorded position by the police. Either way it casts doubt on the police account. More importantly the police officers on the scene are actually contradicting each other. V45 says he saw Duggan reaching inside his jacket and shouted "he's reaching, he's reaching", prompting V53 to fire. V53 claims that Duggan raised his hand inside his jacket with, what looked like, a gun, at which point he fired. Another officer, R31, suggest they thought Duggan was trying to run away, not fire at police.

Coroner's courts make decisions based on a "balance of probabilities", which is an easier test than the "beyond reasonable doubt" used in criminal courts. As such it's conceivable that the court could reach a verdict of lawful killing even if the jury don't completely buy the police story. But that's not the point. The inquest has shown clear contradictions in the police evidence, indicative of some sort of cover up. The inquest has been going on for over a month yet it has received nothing like the coverage that the Andrew Mitchell affair has enjoyed.

This is neither the first, nor the only example. When striking miners were savagely beaten at Orgreave then framed for heinous crimes, Conservative ministers were busy stoking fears of the "enemy within". When the McPherson Report exposed the corruption which allowed Stephen Lawrence's killers walked free, it was condemned by the Conservative leadership. When the Birmingham Six were tortured and falsely imprisoned, Conservative backbenchers continued to slander them five years after they had been exonerated. Where are the pages of the right wing press devoted to the personal story of Mark Duggan's family members? The reality is that the Tories are only too willing to tolerate police corruption, so long as it's people they don't like who are the victims.

Police corruption is a blight on our rule of law and Andrew Mitchell is no less a victim of it than the Lawrences, the Orgreave miners, the Birmingham Six and (possibly) Mark Duggan. Doreen Lawrence used her tragedy to raise national support behind police reforms. Unless Andrew Mitchell does the same, the Tory bellows of righteous indignation will remain nothing more than the hollow screeching of hypocrites.