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Letter to Sir John Stevens, Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police

Written exclusively for Salaam by al-Maktabi

Dear Sir John,

Speaking to one of your Muslim officers at the Muslim News Awards Ceremony in March, I was struck by something he said: “I can go up to the boss and tell him what I think, and he listens”. I thought this was refreshing and it has prompted me to raise a few matters of concern.

Firstly, the need for change in the coding and recording of certain types of police actions; secondly, the recent comments relating to policing by Mr Khurshid Ahmed of the Commission for Racial Equality, and finally concerns with what is going on in the Muslim Safety Forum – the outcome of a joint initiative by your predecessor Sir Paul Condon and barrister Mahmud Al-Rashid and others of the Muslim Council of Britain in 1998, and to which you kindly continue to assign senior officers like Mr Tucker.

A report from the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) issued in May 2004 revealed a 41% rise in persons stopped by the police in 2001-2002 - mainly of Asian origin - and an arrest rate of only 4% of those stopped and searched. This ‘arrest first, ask questions later' approach is particularly directed at young Muslim men. Apparently even your Muslim staff based at New Scotland Yard find themselves stopped and searched on the way home because of the profiling that goes on in practice!

Some officers will no doubt come back to you and say there is no evidence of bias. Of course there is no evidence - because the forms used to record such incidents do not require the affected individual’s religious affiliation to be logged! Please note that this also applies in the case of hate crimes - no attempt is made to capture the religious affiliation of the victim. I know for a fact that these matters were brought to the attention of Sir Paul Condon – six years is a long time to wait for such obvious changes. It is not adequate to record ethnic origin alone.

Secondly, Sir John, your command and control structure should take on board the important observations of Khurshid Ahmed of the CRE: “Anti-terrorism laws have given licence to racist and religious bigots employed within the security services to unleash a form of terror on innocent people up and down the country” (BBC News report by Dominic Casciani, 23 April 2004). Your staff receives our community newspapers reporting incidents of racist and Islamophobic behaviour at places of worship or in homes. For example an officer shouted outside a mosque in Hackney, “I know your community oppresses women and you cannot oppress me”; during a home raid in Tooting: “Where is your God now? Pray to Him! You're in prayer now!' - see the April 2004 and December 2003 issues of ‘The Muslim News’ for the details. The officers assigned to anti-terrorism and port duties at a minimum need more intensive cultural awareness training. Better still, of course, is that racist elements should not be tolerated within the force. London after all has a Muslim population of over 600,000, with over a third of its boroughs with a population of 10% or more. You cannot afford to alienate such numbers. Can we please have quick and effective enquiries on the Tooting and Hackney incidents.

Your reputation is based on the now famous – and still on-going – ‘Stevens Enquiry – in Northern Ireland; you need to draw on this experience to nip a potential problem.

The strange lives of Freddie Scappaticci (‘Stakeknife’) and Brian Nelson are now in the public domain. Both were agents of the para-statal Force Research Unit (FRU) under instructions to infiltrate the IRA and UDA respectively. Both men participated in brutalities and murder to reinforce their cover – and were offered protection by the security agencies for their criminal behaviour. There is a wide-spread perception within the Muslim community that the more bizarre characters in our ranks too are controlled by the security agencies. Some handlers may tell you that it is useful to nurture the hotheads because their actions flush out sympathisers. But this is a twisted cost-benefit: the identification of a few immature adolescents is outweighed by the damage to community relations and the ammunition it provides to the BNP. Please rein in your handlers while there is still time. Nobody wishes to see a ‘Stevens Enquiry’ on the mainland in 2010s.

You know more than anyone about the ‘dirty war’ practices of the security forces in that region. Heaven forbid that acts such as the murder of Catholic solicitors Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson, in which the agencies have been implicated, should creep into the mainland as part of the so-called ‘war on terror’. Please be alerted that there are Muslim solicitors here in London who feel threatened by the agencies for defending Muslims that have been charged under the anti-Terrorism laws.

As I mentioned earlier, the Muslim Council of Britain began regular discussions with senior managers at the Met in 1998 that provided a mechanism for the main representative body of Muslims to raise concerns and issues with the Commissioner and the ACCs. It seems that at some point a mandarin, perhaps in the Home Office (or may be the PM’s office?) decided to marginalise this channel of communication and launch a new forum as a distinct organisational entity – now referred to as the Muslim Safety Forum (MSF).

It is not clear to me what is to be the nature of the beast - is it a Muslim civil rights group (of which there are already a number, for example the Muslim Parliament), a registered charity (and hence with many constraints on its lobbying work); a security firm advising mosques on safety issues (surely this would need commercial management), an association of interested individuals, or a group that seeks to represent the broad cross-section of British Muslims in discussions with the Met? I believe that discussions are well under way to constitute the MSF as a registered charity. There are officers on your staff who are closely involved – albeit as members of the ‘Association of Muslim Police’. May we please have some clarifications before it all becomes a dog’s breakfast.

One cannot conclude, Sir John, without reference to your statement earlier this year in which you referred to the ‘inevitability’ of a terror strike here in Britain. You said: "We do know that we have actually stopped terrorist attacks happening in London but, as the prime minister and home secretary have said, there is an inevitablity that some sort of attack will get through but my job is to make sure that does not happen." (BBC, 16th March 2004). This has given the conspiracy theorists something to chew on. And surely it is you who is the professional in risk assessment, not the political masters.

In any case your statement was co-opted in opportunistic ways. Rather than focus on its chilling import, Lord Janner, for example, appropriated it to justify Israel’s murder of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin - “Just as Britain seeks to rid the world of Osama bin Laden and of his cronies in Afghanistan, so the death of Yassin should be seen as a major victory in the free world’s war against terror. Sir John Steven has warned a terrorist attack against London is ‘inevitable’.” (23rd March 2004, Sun)

Given your stature and reputation, it is appalling that your statement should be used for such one-upmanship. However quite rightly, the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain made an important point in his report to the body’s General Assembly on 22nd May, “We are however puzzled when government or security officials speak not just of ‘possible’ but of ‘inevitable’ terrorist attacks. Why ‘inevitable’ we are forced to ask?”

Yours cautiously

Al-Maktabi
28th May 2004