Select Committee on Unopposed Bill Committee Minutes of Evidence

Sections 620-639

London Local Authorities Bill [HL]

Wednesday 19 February 2003

620. MR LEWIS: Could you name the other three boroughs that have the strategy?

(Mr Stratton) The Royal Borough of Chelsea and Kensington, Sutton and Newham, Greenwich Parks Police was formed but it has been disbanded for about two years, again their training was carried out by us.

621. CHAIRMAN: Could I just ask a question, I was going to ask which other boroughs did have similar forces to your own, you have mentioned training, you said that most of them, apart from Hammersmith and Fulham, have been conducted by yourself. How could we be assured if this power was spread across London that there would indeed be uniform standards within all of the different boroughs of Wandsworth to do this? Is there anything in the Bill? Perhaps a direct question to you, Mr Stratton, if you see what I am getting at?

(Mr Stratton) My Lord, those parks police organisations or local authorities, and some are outside London, who are currently considering going down the same avenue as we have all come to Wandsworth to discuss how they should set about it and how they should carry out their training.

622. It is my intention in the near future not to create an association of parks police constabularies but something similar so that like minds can sit down and certainly annually talk together about various issues.

623. The training is pretty standard amongst all of us and I would certainly wish to see that standardisation continue. If a local authority did not want to have the powers that they are proposing there is no reason why they should. There is no reason why they should go to a Magistrate and be sworn in as a constable. If the local authority abuses the power then that must be for the courts to resolve. I cannot see that a local authority in this day and age would take on and wish to have a constabulary without having such a constabulary well trained, wanted and financed by the community, answerable to the community and able to carry out their functions in as good and able a way as Wandsworth Parks Police do.

624. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. We have a number of questions I do not know whether now is the best time to ask them.

625. MR LEWIS: I was going to ask Mr Ausling to briefly go through a few recent examples where deficiencies have been highlighted. I do not think that will take very long. Maybe questions can follow of the two witnesses. Then perhaps Deputy Assistant Commissioner House could come and answer questions after that.

626. CHAIRMAN: What about the Home Office?

627. MR LEWIS: Of course. I am in your hands as to who goes first.

628. CHAIRMAN: Perhaps we will hear from Mr Ausling.

629. MR LEWIS: For Mr Ausling we have another document to hand in. It is a short, two page document where Mr Ausling has listed 7 recent examples which give you a demonstration of the sort of activities carried out by parks constables and also will hopefully explain how the Bill could help to have made some of these situations a little easier to deal with. If you can go through each example.

630. My Lords, I ought first to introduce Mr Ausling so that he can be on the record and explain to your Lordships who he is and what he does in Wandsworth.


Examined by MR LEWIS

631. MR LEWIS: Mr Ausling?

(Mr Ausling) My Lords, up until August 1998 I was a serving officer with the Metropolitan Police. I served there for some 33 years and at the time of my retirement I was in charge of one of the busiest child protection teams in the Metropolitan Police area, the Croydon and Sutton team. Before that, during my 33 years I spent 30 of those years as an operational detective working for 15 years on the Metropolitan and Civic Police Company Fraud Department and working in other departments that work very closely with the Crown Prosecution Service.

632. Having retired for a short while, in May 1999 I took up post with the local authority, Wandsworth, as their Legal and Training Officer. The job has digressed slightly since I have been there, and I have taken on other responsibilities, but still basically my core tasks are that of Legal Adviser to the parks police service and to assist and co-ordinate and give training as and where necessary.

633. MR LEWIS: If you would like to go through certain examples.

(Mr Ausling) My Lords, I have gone through our records and taken some examples of arrests that have been effected by the parks police in the last 12 to 14 months. The first item I have mentioned there was of public interest towards the end of last year, when the offenders were successfully prosecuted. It started in one of the car parks on Tooting Common, close to the Lido. Two officers patrolling on night duty saw a van parked in one of the car parks. Looking rather suspicious, they started to make some inquiries about the vehicle and realised that there were a number of youths inside. Initial inquiries revealed that the vehicle was of interest to the Metropolitan Police, that the youths inside had possibly been involved in a racist incident earlier that evening and the officers chose to speak to the youths to find out the reasons why they were parked up on the Common.

634. Eventually the Metropolitan Police officers arrived, searched the vehicle and it was found that the youths had a number of weapons and other items with them and it was their intention at some stage, during the course of the night, to abduct an Asian or Muslim person and commit him to some form of abuse or assault. In this instance, my Lords, the powers of parks police were somewhat restricted because they did not have any powers to officially stop and search the vehicle or its occupants, nor could they arrest the occupants on suspicion of committing any crime, although they were intent on doing something during the course of the night.

635. MR LEWIS: In other words, they could have just driven off and there was nothing the constables could have done about it?

(Mr Ausling) That is absolutely correct, my Lords. In fact, what the constables did here was park the vehicle across the entrance to the car park which would have prevented these people from escaping. My Lords, the second incident that I have highlighted is early one Saturday morning two of the parks police dog handlers were patrolling the borough visiting various open spaces and they saw two youths attempting to start and were seen pushing a motor vehicle away. As soon as the youths saw the officers they ran off but they were stopped and detained. It was later established that the vehicle had been previously stolen by the two youths and they were attempting to re-start it for another day's joy-riding around the borough. Here there was a power of arrest which the officers effectively used, and that was defined within Section 24 of PACE because they actually found the people committing the offence at the time and they had reasonable grounds to suspect that the persons had committed the arrestable offence. The third item here is one summer's evening last year two parks police officers whilst on patrol in Battersea Park came upon - for want of a better phrase - a hue and cry. A number of younger males were chasing three older black males on mountain bikes. Initial investigation revealed that one of the youths had gone to one of the pursuing group, punched him a number of times in the face and body, pushed him off his cycle and robbed him of it. A chase ensued and eventually the youth was arrested and charged with robbery. Here the officers had no problems with their powers. In fact, they had evidence of reasonable grounds to suspect that the person was guilty of the offence by virtue of Section 24(5)(b) as set down in PACE.

636. On another occasion during the summer a young woman was walking through Battersea Park. She was accosted by a youth who immediately indecently assaulted her. He then stole items of her personal property and made off into the park. The park police were called, and she with the officers toured the park in a parks police vehicle and later positively identified the young offender. The youth was arrested but suddenly the victim refused to substantiate the allegation and subsequently the youth was released without charge. If it had not been for the positive identification being made and working on the grounds as previously mentioned, the officers had no power to arrest this offender on suspicion of having committed the two offences which had taken place.

637. On another occasion during the busy Chelsea Flower Show week last year two officers were patrolling traffic in the park where the park is used for car parking during the show. Again, their attention was drawn to a security officer who was chasing two men into the park. The two men went to ground in bushes and under parked vehicles and it was established from the security officer that he believed strongly that they had committed a burglary in a nearby office complex. As a result of this the parks police officers actually detained the people, arrested pending the arrival of the Metropolitan Police. It is interesting here, perhaps, again, to mention that if the parks police had full powers they could have arrested the persons on suspicion of having committed a burglary, not just relying on the evidence of the security officer which, at the time, was slightly scant as his attention had been drawn to the two men by other people in the building. During an evening in August a youth was seen walking through Battersea Park by one of the parks police safety instructors. The officer noticed that possibly the youth had with him a knife-like object protruding from his waistband. The officer here, having no powers to actually stop and search the person, merely engaged the youth in conversation. As a result of which the youth handed over a four-inch, bladed knife that he was carrying with him. The youth was arrested and subsequently taken to the police station and charged. Again the issue here is one of stop and search.

638. MR LEWIS: In that case it was a matter of pure luck that the chap decided he would engage in conversation, but you have no powers to engage him in conversation.

(Mr Ausling) That is correct, my Lords. Finally, mention has been made by Mr Stratton of the drink-drive problem. Early one morning over the Christmas period last year there are a number of scheduled events which take place on the British Genius Site. Parks police were policing this very large event in the early hours of one morning, and a man left the tented structure, obviously the worst for wear for drink. He was seen to get into his wife's brand new Lotus sports car and then proceeded to give a display of wheel-spins and handbrake turns in the car park. He lost control of the vehicle, crashed through a fence and ended up embedded in one of the trees in the park. Parks police officer went over and took the uninjured person from the car and merely had to detain him - hold on to him, for want of a better phrase - until the Metropolitan Police arrived to apply the breath-test, where they arrested him for a drink-drive matter. In recent years parks police have been involved in many such incidents within the park where people have attended events and tried to drive off. Sadly, I have to say that on one recent occasion officers were forced to let a person go because the Metropolitan Police could not respond to a call for assistance and they felt it abusive to detain this person for much longer.

639. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr Ausling.

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