Friday 16 October 2009

Home Office FoI Release on G20 Protests

A week ago, I mentioned that Home Office had received a Freedom of Information request asking for documemts it held or produced between 1st and 8th April of this year that were either "briefings, notes, minutes, emails or letters prepared for ministers and senior officials concerning the 1 April 2009 G20 'financial fools day' demonstration" or "memos, papers, emails, minutes or documents relating to either the 1st April 2009 demonstration at the Bank of England or Ian Tomlinson’s death".

The Home Office website indicated that these were available "in hard copy only" so I requested them on Monday and, with surprising speed, they turned up in the post today.

There are some 80-odd pages and they have been zealously redacted - in fact in one instance, a civil servant has decided to block out the name and contact details of Charlotte Philips, Head of News at the Independent Police Complaints Commission, even though this information is publicly available on the IPCC website. The lack of names on the e-mails that have been released makes it pretty difficult to follow the conversations that took place, which considering there are no massively embarrassing or scandalous admissions within them makes the process of redaction seem completely ridiculous. Whilst names have been removed and I can therefore only speculate, it is possible that at least some of the following were part of the e-mail correspondence:

Director General of the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism: Charles Farr
The then Acting Director of Policing Policy and Operations Directorate: Stephen Webb
Head of Policing Powers and Protection Unit: Peter Edmundson
Head of Public Order Unit, Sarah Severn
Special Advisor to the Home Secretary: Mario Dunn
Chair of the Independent Police Complaints Authority: Nick Hardwick

Where names have been redacted but I have been able to identify them from other sources, I have included them in the narrative that follows.

Despite these difficulties, what is interesting is seeing how the government's news machine operates.

Back in February, the Public Order Unit internally circulated by e-mail this link from the Evening Standard, a typically incendiary piece about anarchists wreaking havoc in the city, which prompted one response about the need for an extensive briefing from the Metropolitan Police, who must be "aware of the huge potential for violence this event could bring". It's interesting to note that the press appeared to be driving discussions within the Home Office from the beginning.

On 4 March, Sarah Severn replied in an e-mail that the Public Order Unit (POU) would coordinate briefings for Home Office Ministers and liaise with Bob Broadhurst, the Met Police's Commander for Public Order and Pan London Operational Support. The following day, a Permanent Secretaries meeting chaired by Gus O'Donnell, the head of the Civil Service, was held to discuss arrangements for the G20 summit. On 26 March a Ministerial briefing was prepared and circulated but there seemed to be some difficulties during March in preparing a government-wide media pack, so the Home Office instead produced a 'top lines' and Question and Answer briefing. In seeking to highlight within this document the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's wish to highlight how much planning had gone into the summit, they were warned (presumably by the Met) against "overstepping the mark in terms of improper political influence/operational independence issues".

The Home Secretary's Rapid Reaction Team was then asked to put together a briefing on policing and security at the G20 Summit for Prime Minister's Questions, which would take place on the day of the protests.

On the morning of 2 April, the day after the protests, the Independent Police Complaints Commission sent an e-mail to the Home Office saying that a man "had collapse in an alley way during the protests" but that the IPCC did "not know yet whether he was a demonstrator". That afternoon, Jacqui Smith's private secretary circulated an e-mail with suggested comments for a statement by the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, expressing the government's "thanks and appreciation to the police for their professionalism", along with a briefing for the Chancellor.

On 3 April, the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism circulated draft letters to Sir Paul Stephenson, praising Commander Bob Broadhurst who led police operations on 1 April, and to Bob Quick (the Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations, who within a week would resign over a security leak)

Six days after Ian Tomlinson died, on Tuesday 7 April, the POU were trying to find out how quickly the IPCC investigations into his death would be concluded, as well as complaining about "speculative and inappropriate reporting" over the weekend. It seemed particularly annoyed and 'depressed' about comments by the Green Party's Jenny Jones on Newsnight. It would seem, therefore, from the absence of released material, that the Home Office was completely unaware that on the previous Friday, independent witnesses told the IPCC that police had clashed with Ian Tomlinson before his death or that the Guardian had told investigators it had photographs of Mr Tomlinson on the pavement at the feet of riot officers. As a result of this ignorance, on Tuesday letters of thanks from the Home Secretary were also sent to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and to the Chief Constables of the City of London Police and the British Transport Police.

That evening, the Guardian posted, on its website, the video of Ian Tomlinson being pushed to the ground by a police officer.

On 8 April, an e-mail from Stephen Webb was sent to the IPCC asking if they would now take over direct control of the investigation rather than supervise the City of London police. The response (presumably from Nick Hardwick, the IPCC's chair) is far from firm or decisive: "on what I know now, I can't imagine that we won't do this an an independent - but we need to make a proper decision. And there are v significant resource issues - city have a huge team on the case which we cannot match."

That afternoon, an e-mail from Anna O'Rourke, the Commission Secretary, confirms that the IPCC intends to resolve the problem of lack of resources by paying the City of London police.

During the morning of 8 April, the Press Office for Policing and Counter Terrorism is busy working on a line in defence of the use of kettling (see also here) but by the afternoon, it is panicked because the Home Secretary has told the BBC that "there needs to be a managed investigation from the IPCC, overseen by police officers". The Policing Powers and Protection Unit, meanwhile, was starting to wonder whether it was altogether sensible for the Home Secretary to tell Sir Paul Stephenson in her letter on the policing of the summit that the Met had shown "admirable leadership and clarity of purpose", when someone had died. Once the IPCC has finally confirmed it is taking over the investigation, a new form of words is agreed for the Home Secretary to push (see also here).

At just after 5.30pm, the deputy private secretary to Stephen Rimmer, Director of the Home Office's Crime and Policing Group, sent out another bombshell: the Home Secretary's Rapid Reaction Team have discovered that Channel 4 has more footage showing that Ian Tomlinson was struck with a baton...

As soon as I work out a way to get all 86Mb of scanned documents online in an accessible way, I'll make them available.

The scan documents are now available in five LARGE Zip files:

FOI-01 [9.4Mb] FOI-02 [16.2Mb] FOI-03 [13.1Mb] FOI-04 [14.7Mb] FOI-05 [9.4Mb]

The following briefings and letters that have been made public can be viewed and downloaded as PDF files:

Home Secretary's letter to Paul Stephenson (Met police) 7 April 09
Home Secretary's letter to Ian Johnston (British Transport Police) 7 April 09
Home Secretary's letter to Mike Bowron (City of London Police) 7 April 09
Draft letter of thanks from Office for Security and Counter Terrorism to Bob Quick 3 April 2009
Draft letter of thanks from Office for Security and Counter Terrorism to Met Commissioner 3 April 2009
Briefing to the Chancellor on 2 April
Home Office 'top lines' and a Question and Answer briefing on 1 April
Prime Minister's Questions Briefing 27 March 2009
Public Order Unit Ministerial Briefing 26 March
Permanent Secretaries Meeting 5 March 2009


HarpyMarx said...

That is an interesting read Kevin, and lots of 'praising' top cops. Interesting too re Ian Tomlinson's death "the POU were trying to find out how quickly the IPCC investigations into his death would be concluded"....

Kevin said...

That's what I found - the eagerness to shower praise coupled with an inability to even consider that the police were in any way involved in Ian Tomlinson's death.

I must admit, I'm really confused about the idea that the IPCC were paying the City of London police to help with their investigation. How is that supposed to be 'independent'?

mat said...

Hi, I'm interested in some of the links that do not appear to be working. Is there a way to find the material that was linked, ie where the Home Sec changes tac on her lines to be taken?



Kevin said...

Damn, hadn't noticed there was a problem with the links. I'll try and sort this out tonight.


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