Questioning newsagents about Charlie Hebdo sales – the police need to sort themselves out

The Guardian reports that police from several UK forces have questioned newsagents about sales of the Charlie Hebdo post-massacre issue. It’s a patchy phenomenum. Police in Wiltshire have apologised for doing it. There was a phone call from a Cheshire police person. And in Dyfed-Powys a newsagent reports being questioned for half an hour by police in her shop. A police spokesman there said:

Following the recent terrorism incidents, Dyfed Powys police have been undertaking an assessment of community tensions across the force area. Visits were made to newsagents who were maybe distributing the Charlie Hebdo magazine to encourage the newsagent owners to be vigilant. We can confirm the visits were only made to enhance public safety and to provide community reassurance.

The police need to sort themselves out.

Newsagents are under absolutely no duty to reveal or discuss sales in these cases to/with the police. It is quite wrong for the police to ask for the identity of purchasers, as has happened.

These are isolated incidents but they show that the police need to have a little more discipline and standard nationwide policy and compliance in these matters.

We’re in danger of tipping over the edge into police statism here. It won’t happen but we can’t be too careful.

As Sargeant Dixon used to say:

‘Evenin’ all

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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18 Comments

  • Lots of ordinary people will see this as the Police siding with The Terrorists. WTF were they thinking ?

  • What thought processes, if any, can possibly have gone on in the mind of the people who ordered this questioning to be carried out?

    To say the police need to sort themselves out doesn’t really cover it. This is profoundly disturbing and those responsible should be fired, frankly.

  • Liberalism will always critically question the reach of the Police and other agents of the state. Here is an exceptionally clear case that shows why this is necessary.

    In addition, one might wonder what side the Police think they are on. An isolated incident in Wiltshire was bad enough, that other forces have done the same suggests that these forces have decided to interpret advice/ guidance etc, in this way from some central source.

    Any Police Force that has carried out anything of this sort needs to explain themselves: why did they do it and under what (actual or imagined) authority?

  • Alex Sabine 11th Feb '15 - 1:30pm

    Well said, Paul W.

    Visits were made to newsagents who were maybe distributing the Charlie Hebdo magazine to encourage the newsagent owners to be vigilant. We can confirm the visits were only made to enhance public safety and to provide community reassurance.”

    Well, I am not remotely”reassured” that police forces in Great Britain are taking it upon themselves to behave in this fashion – apparently seeking to recruit newsagents as spies or informants or arbiters of acceptable opinions and behaviour. In their own self-interest they should be careful where this leads: after all, a functioning police state requires no police. What we need to be “vigilant” about is Orwell’s dystopian vision drawing ever closer.

  • Alex Sabine 11th Feb '15 - 1:52pm

    And to link RC and Martin’s excellent comments, either individual police offers or police forces were acting ultra vires, in which case, as RC says, “those responsible should be fired, frankly” and the rule of law reasserted. Or, even more disturbingly, they did in fact have legal authority to act in this way – in which case their powers ought to be reviewed and curtailed as a matter of urgency.

    The idea that law-abiding citizens should have to answer for their reading habits in this way is clearly incompatible with a free society. I hope that, on reflection, most responsible policemen and women as well as our legislators in Parliament would recognise this.

  • I agree with Paul Barker, RC, Martin , Alex Sabine and Paul Walter.

    Not often I can say that! 🙂

  • On the face of it, the only query I have is what is meant by ” encourage the newsagent owners to be vigilant. ”

    Otherwise the rest of the quote can simply mean the police have been visiting newsagents to see if they (the newsagents) experienced any disturbances/threats etc. connected with the Charlie Hebdo magazine.

    However, the Guardian article does indicate that some visits/interviews have gone beyond simply asking about sales and the broad ‘profiles’ of purchasers eg. European or members of the Muslim community, which is unacceptable. Perhaps the Police need to engage one of the many market research survey organisations for some of this basic fact finding…

  • Simon Shaw

    🙂

  • Phil Beesley 11th Feb '15 - 4:20pm

    RC: “What thought processes, if any, can possibly have gone on in the mind of the people who ordered this questioning to be carried out?”

    Something must be done about an undefined problem.

  • matt (Bristol) 11th Feb '15 - 5:14pm

    This is a tangential thought, but is anyone able to name a previously prominent controversial ex-party leader who lives in Powys who might have an interest in Islamophobia?

  • Jayne Mansfield 11th Feb '15 - 5:33pm

    @ Matt (Bristol).Yes there was one, his name was Nick erm, something or other.

  • matt (Bristol) 12th Feb '15 - 10:57am

    Just wondered if he’d bought a job-lot.

  • Glad I bought my copy online.

  • Richard – yeah because THAT won’t be traceable 🙂

  • SIMON BANKS 13th Feb '15 - 8:49am

    Questioning for half an hour seems indefensible, but I can see a justification for noting which newsagents are distributing it and speaking to them. They might be targets. This might even have been based on intelligence that newsagents displaying the magazine might be attacked. That could be a real terrorist attack or a violent demonstration by a small group. These would be legitimate police concerns.

  • Tsar Nicolas 13th Feb '15 - 10:22am

    Simon Banks

    If Plod want a list of targets they should first watch the BBC’s Operation Gladio video on youtube, and then phone up NATO HQ in Brussels. If in doubt about who to speak to, ask for the ‘false flags’ department.

  • This shows lack of judgement by Police. Police tazered a blind man because they were told his white cane was a sword!
    I would suggest that a major problem with the Police is the change in the intake. In the Met and City of London up to the 1960s many sergeants and senior NCOs left the Guards and joined the forces. These were tough experienced, emotionally mature who had led others into combat and therefore had the wisdom born of experience to know when to use forces, give someone a stiff warning, diffuse a situation with a joke or do nothing. These were confident men secure in their abilities and therefore their judgement. These men had proved themselves and generally wanted a quiet life.

    Too may many Police appear insecure and inadequate and therefore over react and become gung ho. The rise of the ASBO is in part because the Police lack the natural authority and can talk to the parents. The Police do need a high degree of latitude to do their job but this requires them to have confidence in their abilities and a high level of emotional maturity, judgement and common sense which only occurs having learnt lessons from wide range of experiences.

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