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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Saturday 28th September 2013

I have far too many websites in the ‘favourites’ folder of my web browser. I tend to see a site that looks worth further exploration or could be a useful reference and pop it into ‘favourites’ for later. Then, when I want more on that topic, I’m more likely to do a new search online rather than sift through the folder to find what I’ve already got.

Sometimes, I try and go through and weed out the sites that have long since ceased to be or the ones that, after all, aren’t as interesting as I expected but I never complete the task and I’m pretty sure I’m adding new sites faster than I’m removing old ones.

This morning, I started sorting through just one sub-folder and came across WhatDoTheyKnow? a UK site intended to help people make Freedom of Information requests and with a database of over 170k requests and their responses.

I got distracted trying different search terms and found a few things of minor interest before trying the one word ‘cannabis’. That search returned 231 results and the second nearly caused me physical harm because it is difficult laughing out loud at the same time as having your jaw drop to the floor.

The request, submitted by Taherali Gulamhussein self-described as ‘a law student and campaigner’, is given the title by the site ‘Met Police Stop and Search records without reasonable grounds’.

Let’s take a step back before looking at the information provided. Stop and Search is a controversial policy and, in fairness, the Home Office is sufficiently concerned about it that it has just closed a request for submissions on how the process is working. It will, I assume, be some months before we hear what the Home Office has made of those submissions and even longer before any changes are made. I’ve written about the lack of media coverage for ‘The Numbers In Black And White: Ethnic Disparities In The Policing And Prosecution Of Drug Offences In England And Wales’ a report from Release that includes disturbing evidence on the racial aspects of Stop and Search though I haven’t discussed those findings in depth.

Because of the Home Office consultation, Stop and Search has been featured in news reports. The most chilling comment I heard came from a black man who said he never went out jogging (something thousands of white men do every day) because his experience was that a running black man would attract a Stop and Search.

So, Stop and Search is a policy already widely discredited and under review. In addition, the FoI response referred to above detailed instances where Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary found the stated ‘reasonable grounds’ for a stop to be unjustified so we know that officialdom has recognised the failings of the policy.

The FoI request asked for ‘the text that was written in the section of the stop and search record for writing reasonable grounds’ and Appendix B of the response gives ‘a list of the grounds found in our review of stop and search records held by the Metropolitan Police which did not seem reasonable’. There’s no indication of how often these reasons were stated nor of the period during which they were used but when I read them it struck me that even if they were used only once each that is still far too often. The notion that any Metropolitan Police officer could think these statements were ‘reasonable’ is what made my jaw drop.

But what then set me laughing out loud was remembering the Constable Savage sketch from ‘Not the Nine O’Clock News’ in the early 1980s. If you aren’t familiar with it you can watch it at the end of this entry. ‘Looking at me in a funny way’, one of the ‘charges’ in the TV sketch is not that far removed from these actual examples of what real police officers believed to be ‘reasonable grounds’;

‘Apparent age 22 crime drug hotspot’
(In case anyone thinks the police have it in for young people ‘Apparent age 71’ is also thought to be ‘reasonable grounds’ by at least one officer)

‘Appeared nervous, evasive to questions’

‘near location of significance’

'wearing similar clothing worn by local gangs’
(As we all know, criminals make sure to dress so as to stand out from the crowd)

‘Wearing grey jogging bottoms, vest & hoody, blue trainers’

‘Crime drug hotspot, appeared drug [sic] no smell of alcohol’
(Obviously, if you have Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy or any other condition producing a problem with movement you need to stay off the streets because you might ‘appeared drug’.)

 ‘Repeatedly lied to police about identity.’
(Remember, these are the ‘reasonable grounds’ for making a stop. I don’t know how someone can lie to the police before being stopped. Perhaps this was PC Who returning from the future where he’d been lied to make a time-shifted justified stop.)

Writing this has actually made me think they aren’t that funny after all. It is over 30 years since TV mocked racism in the police. I must point out that the FoI response gave no ethnicity information so I can’t be certain that the people subjected to these stops were black but, given the known racial disparity in the use of stop and search, there’s a fair chance some (and, possibly, all) of them were. It really is time that more was done to end this abuse of power.

'Not the Nine O'Clock News' - Constable Savage

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