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12 May 2009 : Column 202WH—continued

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Ms Abbott: The post-mortem is a matter of fact, is it not, Mr. Jones?

Mr. Martyn Jones (in the Chair): It is the coroner’s case that is the problem, so I think we need to move on.

Ms Abbott: What it is worth saying about the Ian Tomlinson case, without venturing into the court case or other areas that are sub judice, which Officers of the House are anxious that I should not do, is that there is some concern about the discrepancy between the two post-mortems.

Mr. Martyn Jones (in the Chair): Order. I am sorry, but it is up to the coroner’s court to decide on discrepancies between post-mortems, so the hon. Lady should move on.

Ms Abbott: All right. A number of general concerns arise from the Ian Tomlinson case, some of which I cannot discuss in detail at this point, but one concern that I can properly raise is the allegation that the police who allegedly attacked Mr. Tomlinson covered up their identification numbers. That issue has been raised not only in relation to this case, but in relation to a number of police activities on that day. The Minister will be aware that the entire reason why police have ID numbers is to enable members of the public to know whom they are engaging with and, if necessary, to make complaints. It is at the very least sloppy, and at the very worst suspect, for the police deliberately to cover up their numbers when they go into operations that involve members of the public, particularly those that involve controlling demonstrations. That is one issue on which I should like a response from the Minister.

The other general issue that arises from the death of Ian Tomlinson is the impression that was abroad that initially both the IPCC and the Metropolitan police were trying to avoid an investigation into the incident. The initial reports that were given out made no connection between his death and any interaction he may have had with the police. The only reason the general public got to know about what had happened to Ian Tomlinson was the existence of video tape that had been taken by interested observers. It is clear to many of us that there would not have been a formal IPCC investigation had that video tape not been available and put online. What happened to Ian Tomlinson—and, whatever happened to him, only the coroner’s court can tell us—would have been completely swept under the carpet. Many of us find that very disturbing.

Journalists were fed information that was not wholly illuminating, and were told that they were not allowed contact with the family. In accordance with the information that journalists had been given, the initial news reports focused on the missiles that had been thrown at police officers, but eye-witnesses said that there were no missiles. The Guardian has reported that it was repeatedly warned off, by both the IPCC and the police, from following the story, and that it was told that the family were extremely upset at its coverage of the case. Other journalists have said that the IPCC told them that there was nothing in the story that Mr. Tomlinson had been assaulted. It is now clear that the family are very happy with the coverage, which has shone a light on the truth, and, of course, it is true that it is alleged that Mr. Tomlinson
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was assaulted by the police before his death—whatever the relationship between that and his death may be, which only the coroner’s court can reveal to us. It seems to me that both the Met and the IPCC went out of their way to dissuade journalists from investigating this issue properly. Mr. Tomlinson’s family are not alone in being grateful that journalists and interested observers were anxious to see the truth come to light and justice done in this case.

That leads me to a point about the IPCC. I remember campaigning, all through the ’90s and before, for a genuinely independent body to investigate the police. In case after case and campaign after campaign that I was involved in, in London in the ’80s and ’90s, the issue that always came up was how the police could investigate themselves. I, along with many others, welcomed the setting up of the IPCC. Sadly, it has proved to be something of a disappointment. It seems to offer process, but no outcomes.

The Minister might remember the 1999 case of Harry Stanley. He was a Hackney carpenter who had the misfortune to enter a pub and have a drink while carrying a bag with a chair leg in it. He happened to be Scottish, but someone in the pub believed that he was Irish and that the chair leg was a gun. Harry Stanley emerged from the pub and was gunned down in plain sight. The IPCC conducted an investigation into the matter, which I believe was wholly unsatisfactory. The fact remains that no policeman has been held responsible for what happened to Harry Stanley. He had nothing to do with any crime, criminality or terrorism; he was a carpenter having a drink in a pub in Hackney. His only fault was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Ministers will remember the much delayed and much criticised IPCC report into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes. Again, he was a member of the public who was in the wrong place—

Mr. Martyn Jones (in the Chair): Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady yet again, but the subject of the debate is crowd control techniques and we are straying a bit from that.

Ms Abbott: I was trying to make the point that something that emerges from the policing of the G20 protests is the role of the IPCC. I was trying to show that the inadequacies of the IPCC in relation to policing the G20 have been reflected in earlier incidents. That is why I mentioned Harry Stanley and the de Menezes case.

In the case of the G20 protests, the IPCC waited several days before announcing its own investigation. The IPCC denied that CCTV footage was available at the protests when it was, and it seems clear that the only reason why the IPCC moved to announce the investigation was that the truth was being revealed online, on the internet and in newspapers. It is very relevant, when illustrating the failings of the IPCC in relation to this subject, to mention its history hitherto.

In the aftermath of the protests, the Met police released their report of the event entitled “Policing of the G20 summit 2009”. The report claims that the Met police were unable to communicate with protest leaders, but protesters have said that they found the police unwilling to talk to them when they approached them prior to 1 April. The report claims that kettling was
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engaged only after protesters became violent. The protesters say that the main protest was peaceful until they had been contained for hours and hours.

I have received many letters from constituents who were involved in the protest and were concerned about police behaviour. One constituent tried to leave the protest once the cordons were put in place and asked a police officer if she could leave. She was told that she should have stayed at home in the first place. That seems to reflect the coercive and punitive nature of some of the policing of that protest on 1 April.

The director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, says:

Although the majority of police at the G20 demonstrations did their best, I believe that the policing of those protests revealed the use of some very troubling tactics, notably kettling, and a very troubling attitude on the part of some members of the police—not all or even the majority. It also revealed something very troubling about how the IPCC sees its duties. When we have the final findings of the coroner’s court in relation to Ian Tomlinson, I do not believe that they will necessarily reflect favourably on the policing of the G20.

It is easy to demonise and stigmatise protesters and demonstrators. It is easy for middle-aged Members of Parliament to forget the days when they were demonstrators and protesters too, but, however inconvenient, troubling and challenging the right to protest may be, it is the fundamental role of this Parliament to defend the right of citizens to protest peacefully and to draw attention to policing tactics and attitudes that infringe on that fundamental civil liberty.

12.55 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr. Shahid Malik): As ever, it is a pleasure to engage in debate under your stewardship, Mr. Jones. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) on securing an important and topical debate. This important issue has recently attracted considerable interest. I have certainly listened carefully to the points made and I shall try to deal with some of them.

These debates are never long enough. I have been a Member of Parliament for four years and my hon. Friend has been an MP for 22 years, and I think that the idea is that the Minister responds to the debate, but my hon. Friend has left me with five minutes out of the 30, so perhaps my understanding is incorrect.

Ms Abbott: If the Minister is unable to respond to all my points in the five minutes remaining, I am happy to come to see him to hear what further remarks he may have to make.

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Mr. Malik: I am always happy to give time to my hon. Friend and I would be happy to oblige her in relation to that.

Some of us have personal experience in this area, so we know that all in the garden is far from rosy. I was first arrested in 1988 on my 21st birthday, which I spent in Southwark police cells, during a “grants not loans” demonstration. Hon. Members will be pleased to hear that I was acquitted at Horseferry Road magistrates. That was my first experience of the police and it was a rude awakening—but just from those police officers involved, not the police as a whole.

My next engagement with the police was in 2001 when I was arrested and hospitalised courtesy of the police during the riots in Burnley. On that occasion, I was not charged and I later received an apology. I know that things can go wrong, but it is my belief, and I think the fundamental belief of most people, that the police often have a difficult job to do, which, in the case we are discussing, is balancing the right of people to demonstrate peacefully with the security and safety of others. That is why the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has asked for the Independent Police Complaints Commission to come in.

I agree with my hon. Friend that, frankly, the IPCC’s predecessor was a joke. I experienced its predecessor. I had an officer from the same constabulary investigating other officers because of a complaint that was made. The IPCC is light years ahead. It is truly independent and my hon. Friend is wrong to say that it is not listened to, because, following Stockwell, many of its recommendations were taken on board by the police and have led to fundamental changes.

Rather than focus on my prepared speech, in the few minutes remaining I shall respond to some of my hon. Friend’s points. She is right to talk about officers being identifiable. It is completely wrong and unacceptable for any officer to have their number covered so that they are not identifiable. The Met Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, and I believe that to be the case.

My hon. Friend talked about how some of the legislation in respect of counter-terrorism powers is used. I stress that it is our view that those powers should be used only in relation to terrorism and not anything else. It is completely wrong for that to happen.

On the powers that exist in relation to protests around Parliament, for information, that is something that we are looking at, and will be reviewing and repealing. The police message on the G20 summit stressed the risk of violence—my hon. Friend is absolutely right—but it also stressed the right to lawful protest.

Unfortunately, only half that message seemed to get out there through the media. The police were clear about the fact that the coming together of a number of different groups heightened the risk of violence, but they also stressed the commitment to facilitate lawful protest. We should not lose sight of the fact that there was some violence on the day. It was minimal and we should not lose sight of the fact—

Mr. Martyn Jones (in the Chair): Order. We have to move on to the next debate.

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Middle East

1 pm

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): I am pleased that we are having this debate today, and I thank Mr. Speaker for affording me the opportunity to discuss Hezbollah, Lebanon and the middle east peace process at this important time.

The debate is timely, given the forthcoming Lebanese election, which will take place on 7 June. We need to be aware that a win for the Hezbollah-led March 8 Alliance could have a destabilising effect not only in Lebanon, but in the wider region, which is why I requested the debate.

Before I speak about the political situation in Lebanon, I would like to say a little about the nature of Hezbollah, its structure and its objectives. Hezbollah is a political organisation with a strong paramilitary force that operates independently of the Lebanese state. It emerged in the early 1980s to resist the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon during the Lebanese civil war. Its fighters were organised and trained by a contingent of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Even today, Iran and Syria are its main sponsors, providing financial, political and military support to the organisation.

The deputy leader of Hezbollah, Sheikh Nairn Qassem, stated in April 2007 that

Hezbollah is a proxy of Iran and is used by Tehran to exert its influence over Lebanon and the eastern Mediterranean.

The Hezbollah manifesto document produced in 1985, entitled “An Open Letter: The Hizballah Program”, makes it clear that the organisation operates under one command structure and shares the same goals:

Hezbollah does not have separate leaderships for its military and non-military work. The Jihad Council, Political Council, Executive Council and Judicial Council all report to the Shura Council. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times published on 13 April, the deputy leader, Sheikh Nairn Qassem, said of Hezbollah’s structure:

The 1985 manifesto outlines the objectives of Hezbollah as

bringing the Phalangists to justice for

and establishing an Islamic regime in Lebanon.

In addition, Hezbollah leaders have made numerous calls for the destruction of Israel. The manifesto makes it clear that Hezbollah intends to use armed force to achieve its goals and frames its arguments in the language of jihad.

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Hezbollah is committed to war against Israel. On 16 April, the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, was quoted thus:

Hezbollah’s objectives and how it sets out to achieve them threaten stability in the middle east and challenge the sovereignty of the Lebanese state. The violent clashes that took place in Lebanon in May 2008 were triggered when the Lebanese Government sought to challenge Hezbollah’s independent military capacity. Government moves to sack the Hezbollah-appointed head of security at the airport and to close down Hezbollah’s internal communications network were branded by Hassan Nasrallah as a declaration of war against the organisation.

Hezbollah’s response was to engage in violence, which brought civilian life into grave danger. The clashes that took place resulted in the death of some 40 people and took the country to the verge of another civil war. Ultimately, Hezbollah seized west Beirut, which forced the Government into a humiliating climbdown and led to the Doha agreement of 21 May 2008, which resulted in the election of Michel Suleiman as the new Lebanese President after 18 months of political stalemate.

The Doha agreement was nothing short of a victory for Hezbollah. It secured the militant group a veto over Cabinet decisions and allowed it to maintain its weapons arsenal as long as it was not used to resolve internal political conflicts. That means that although the Lebanese Government may no longer be a target, Hezbollah can continue to build its weapons cache for use against Israel in direct contravention of UN Security Council resolution 1701, which calls for disarmament of the group.

The international community continues to voice concerns that Hezbollah is rearming and that weapons are being smuggled across the Syria-Lebanon border, thereby raising prospects of further conflict in the near future. I would like to ask my hon. Friend the Minister what discussions he held with the Syrian Government during his visit last month on their political, financial and military support for Hezbollah. I would also like to know what steps the British Government have taken to encourage the Syrian and Iranian Governments to do more to prevent the continued rearming of Hezbollah.

Today, Hezbollah continues to maintain its military capacity in direct contravention of UN Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1701, and in defiance of the UN military mission UNIFIL—United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon—which is mandated to oversee implementation of the resolutions.

Hezbollah leaders themselves continue to maintain not only that they are rearming, but that they are acquiring more sophisticated military technology. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s latest report, published on 24 April, on UN Security Council resolution 1559 reiterates concern that Hezbollah continues to maintain a substantial paramilitary capacity and infrastructure, separate from the Lebanese Government, along with a distinct telecommunications network.

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