Who Will Guard the Guardians

Ten years after the Macpherson inquiry declared the police an “institutionally racist” organisation, calls are once again being made for an independent judicial inquiry, this time into the arrest and torture of Babar Ahmad at the hands of anti-terrorist police officers in December 2003. The calls come following the conclusion of Ahmad’s civil action against the Metropolitan police at the high court at which the police commissioner admitted full liability for the sustained and brutal beating which caused Ahmad multiple injuries. The commissioner admitted officers repeatedly punched and kneed Ahmad, grabbed his testicles, twice placed him in a potentially life-threatening neck hold, and deliberately wrenched him about by his handcuffs causing him excruciating pain. The commissioner further admits that Ahmad offered no resistance whatsoever throughout the ordeal which began in his home, continued in the police van and outside Charing Cross police station.

The commissioner admits that at one point Ahmad was forced onto his knees with his forehead on the ground into the Muslim prayer position and taunted, “Where is your God now?” Ahmad’s family described this as a direct attack on every single Muslim in the UK and indeed, it was this initial allegation that united and mobilised the British Muslim community behind Ahmad. Now that the commissioner has admitted that such ridiculing of the Islamic faith was done during the course of such a sadistic beating at the hands of the arms of the state, one can only wonder what this will do for community cohesion. It is worth mentioning that Ahmad has never been charged with any offence. Yet, despite admitting to all of the above and more, the commissioner has refused to apologise for the actions of his officers and does not propose to take any action against any of those responsible, betraying an infuriating arrogance. The Islamic Human Rights Commission described this refusal as a “slap in the face of every Muslim in the UK” and a sign of tolerance of Islamophobia within police.

However, this case is not just about the physical, sexual and Islamophobic abuse of one innocent man offering no resistance to officers during a pre-dawn raid on his home; this is about a systematic failure of the complaints system to offer him any redress and to hold to account those responsible. In his five-year struggle for justice, Ahmad exhausted all means of redress before bringing his action to court. He first complained to the police, who referred the case to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). In September 2004, the CPS announced that there was “insufficient evidence” to prosecute the officers involved, with the officers claiming that Ahmad had assaulted them. He then took up his complaint with the now-defunct Police Complaints Authority (PCA) and the (hopefully soon to be defunct) Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). The only action the IPCC took was to direct an internal police misconduct tribunal to bring disciplinary action against one of the officers, for the allegation that he charged at Ahmad. The tribunal refused to criticise the officer involved and instead commended him for his “bravery”.

The IPCC has been frequently criticised by the legal profession and civil liberty organisations for its inability and unwillingness to take effective action against police officers. In February 2008, the Police Action Lawyers Group (PALG), a nationwide coalition of lawyers representing members of the public on complaints against police, withdrew their participation from the advisory board of the IPCC due to its failure to properly handle complaints about police misconduct, ranging from racism, violence and fabrication of evidence, to corruption and even deaths in police custody. Earlier in December 2005, the Islamic Human Rights Commission published a critical report, Who will Guard the Guardians, into the failings of the IPCC, with specific reference to the case of Babar Ahmad. The report found that rather than hold the police to account on behalf of the taxpayer, the IPCC was “simply pandering to the sensitivities raised by the case and allowing the police authorities to dictate its agenda to it”. In such circumstances, it is incredible that the commissioner has now referred the matter of the refusal of officers to give evidence to the IPCC, the very body that completely exonerated those officers who have now admitted their crimes.

By limiting the inquiry to such terms, the commissioner is refusing to acknowledge the full depth of the corruption at the heart of the body he leads, and hoping to get premature closure on this issue with the complicity of the IPCC. For numerous important questions will remain unanswered if the matter is referred to this toothless body. For example, what was in the briefing given by the officer in charge to the other officers prior to the raid? Unfortunately the officer in charge is said to have been “too scared” to give evidence and the recording of his interview at the time has mysteriously disappeared. This is not the only evidence to have gone missing – so too did the incident report books of the officers involved. Several large sacks of evidence regarding a pattern of similar allegations against the officers involved which the police were ordered to disclose to Ahmad’s solicitors also vanished into thin air. The commissioner claimed they had been “mislaid in the internal dispatch of the MPS”. It was actually only after the trial judge demanded further investigations to locate the missing mail sacks that the commissioner admitted liability. Rather than investigate corruption within his organisation, which could lead to further incriminations, the commissioner took the easy way out and admitted liability to the assault. This also raises the question as to why there was no effective response from the police and the IPCC against these officers prior to this, despite the sickening nature and volume of complaints against them. And now, in light of the admissions, will these officers be prosecuted for what was a sadistic hate crime?

Ahmad’s solicitor Fiona Murphy queries whether all of this could just be put down to horrendous bureaucratic incompetence. In order for true justice to be done, the director for public prosecutions must bring criminal charges against those officers involved. Further, unless and until there is an independent judicial inquiry into this case and an overhaul of the entire complaints system, the issues raised will remain unanswered, and cases like that of Babar Ahmad and Jean Charles de Menezes will continue to haunt an establishment that 10 years after Macpherson, is still institutionally racist.

By Fahad Ansari: Ansari is a researcher and spokesperson for the Islamic Human Rights Commission where he specialises in anti-terror legislation. He is the author of numerous reports including, “British Anti-Terrorism: A Modern Day Witch-hunt“. He is also a solicitor at TRP solicitors and a member of Cageprisoners.

This was first published on Comment if Free here.