Is this really Britain?

Under cover of the greasy cloud that is Smeargate, worryingly unBritish things are happening (again).

Around midnight on Easter Monday, 114 people were arrested in Nottinghamshire. Their crime? They had not committed one. They were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass and criminal damage, if you can follow that. They were apparently arrested while meeting at a school in the middle of the night. A number of homes were raided and “specialist equipment” recovered. The following day, yesterday, all were released on bail without charge. From the Guardian:

Scores of officers raided a school in Sneinton, Nottingham, yesterday, saying the suspects posed “a serious threat” to the safe running of the nearby Ratcliffe-on-Soar plant.

Those arrested have been interviewed and released on bail, a spokeswoman for Nottinghamshire police said today.

She added: “From the information gathered, police believe that those arrested were planning a period of prolonged disruption to the safe running of Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station.”

A police spokesman said that while the group was in custody “a number of premises were searched”. Items recovered from the raids included bolt cutters and equipment that could be used to tie people to machinery.

What, you mean like, rope? Henry Porter quotes a Labour MP’s reaction:

The local Labour MP Alan Simpson has today raised concerns about whether the action was proportionate. “The scale of it makes people think we are dealing with a major terrorist incident,” he said. “We understand there were 200 officers involved and my instinctive reaction to that is to say, well there must be something to do with plans to blow something up, to commit a major disruption of society. My worry is that what we are talking about, in practice, [is] something much smaller.”

Quite. And one or two things look even odder. If the alleged offence was suspicion of conspiracy, why have they not been charged? Once you’re holding a midnight meeting, conspiracy has pretty much, I would say, been committed. If they’re that dangerous, and posed a serious threat to the safe running of a power plant, why on earth have they been released on bail?

Then there’s Iona School. A teacher there is on record in the first Guardian link as saying that the meeting was not authorised, and he is concerned about the damage done to the school in the raids. He also, understandably, wants the police to explain how 114 people were able to breach school security in the middle of the night, with a view to the school carrying out its own security review. Will the school now sue the conspirators for civil trespass? If the police’s account is true, they have the grounds. If so, what evidence will emerge for the conspirators’ activities? And/or will the school sue the police for criminal damage? And what will come out then?

Given what we’ve learned in recent weeks about quick-draw police versions of reality, I wouldn’t rule anything out.

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4 Comments

  • This is, I guess, a problem with the “conspiracy to commit…” offence – how do you define active conspiracy? What’s the difference between someone yelling in an argument “I’m going to kill you!” and actually making plans to carry it out?

    Alan Simpson was actually very good in an interview on 5Live last night – so much so that I actually thought he was one of our MPs and not Labour until I heard his name! As he said, why couldn’t the police have waited until a crime was actually committed before going in heavy handed? Why were the group allowed to assemble in the school? If – as has been suggested – there were police infiltrators, why wasn’t the information used to stop the meeting by refusing access to the school? Who’s going to pay for the damage to the school – the police or the education authority?

    Too many questions here…

  • David Boothroyd 15th Apr '09 - 5:23pm

    Whenever someone is arrested it is always “on suspicion of” committing an offence.

    If the police have intelligence that an illegal action is going to cause serious disruption, do you really expect them to do nothing about it until the action happens?

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