EXODUS - Keeping Up The Momentum
Squall 10, Summer 1995, p. 15.
The long fight to obtain a public enquiry into strategic operations levelled against the Exodus Collective in Luton, were detailed in the last two issues of SQUALL. Since that time Bedfordshire County Council have voted almost unanimously in favour of backing such an enquiry.
At a council meeting conducted on April 27th and attended by around 72 councillors, only one Tory voted against the motion, with four Tory abstentions; the others voted in favour. Due to a lack of local authority funds available to finance the enquiry, Bedfordshire County Council voted in favour of an application for funding from the Home Office.
It would of course be an irony worth celebrating if the Home Office did indeed finance an investigation into the strategic police operations and political manoeuvres, designed to halt the progress of a dance and squatting collective. However, the road to justice is dogged by devious mal-intention and the Exodus Collective are being forced to stay on their toes every step of the way.
Following the Council's decision to support the public enquiry council Chief Executive, Dennis Clegget, sent a letter addressed to the Right Honourable (?) Michael Howard. The letter informed him of the Council's decision but subtly changed the Council's request in a way that has roused the Exodus Collective once again.
"It's a right sly letter," comments Glenn Jenkins, spokesperson for the Collective.
The letter read
"I am writing to you to bring your attention to a matter considered by the County Council at its meeting on the 27th April 1995, when it passed a resolution expressing it's belief that a public enquiry should be held into the activities of the Beds Police and others, against members of the Exodus Collective and others, in order to examine claims and allegations of malpractice by the police in the investigation and prosecution of cases.
The Council requested that I should pursue the need for this enquiry with you and offer to make available a venue for an enquiry. The text of the resolution, passed by the Council, is attached to this letter. [The text says that the council were in favour of Michael Mansfield QC as chair of the enquiry].
It may be helpful if I explain the background to this matter, as the Council has not to my knowledge previously called for an enquiry into the activities of the local police force and would not likely make such a request to you. The matter has been considered by the Council on a number of occasions and in October '94, it was resolved to refer the matter to the former Police Committee of the County Council with a request that they consider to refer it to the Police Complaints Authority. In the event, the Police Committee in January '95 noted this request but did not take any further action. The Council's concern essentially arises from the circumstances and outcome of a series of prosecutions against members of the Exodus Collective. A large number of cases have not resulted in any conviction and the circumstances have raised questions about the gathering of evidence and the preparation and presentation of evidence to the courts, which have not been satisfactorily answered. As background I enclose a copy of an article in the New Statesman and Society dated 21st April '95, which was circulated at the Council meeting and also the Chief Constable's report to the Police Committee of the 17th June '94, which describes incidence related to the Exodus Collective.
I should add that it was clear from the County Council meeting on 27th April 1995, that the proposal for an enquiry has broad support from all political groups on the Council and that the Council has only reached a view that an enquiry is necessary after prolonged debates on a number of different occasions. It was felt that there were a number of unanswered questions that only you could satisfactorily resolve because of your powers touching a range of agencies other than the police over which neither the PCA, nor the County Council or new Police Authority have any jurisdiction."
What the letter seems to be asking for is not the funding to press ahead with the enquiry, but for the Home Office to investigate the matter themselves.
"We're hardly gonna object to the Police Complaints Authority and then give the enquiry to the Home Office," says Glenn Jenkins. "The Council motion said, and what they should be asking for, is that the Council agreed to an independent public enquiry chaired by Mansfield, although they didn't have the funds to finance it. The Council's decision was that the Home Office should be lobbied for funds, not that Michael Howard should come up with his own enquiry; a whitewash and an explanation rather than an investigation."
Meanwhile, the leader of the Tory group and new leader of the Police Committee, Cllr Phillip Hendry appeared on the front page of the Luton On Sunday (30/4/95) saying: "I don't think Exodus are whiter than white and maybe our police force is not whiter than white either - these are things that need to be established." The newspaper also reported that the Council had asked for a Home Office enquiry.
Exodus replied to the article saying: "We have done our time in court and we were cleared of the charges - this enquiry is into police operations, not whether we are whiter than white. Furthermore the Council did not ask for a Home Office enquiry, they asked for funding for a Michael Mansfield independent enquiry." Exodus stated that they would not accept a Home Office whitewash saying: "Any impartial look at our case would shake the conscience of any so called democrat."
The Luton on Sunday printed the letter (7/5/95) with an editor's note agreeing that the motion carried by the Council was indeed that a request be made for Home Office funding, not a Home Office enquiry.
The Chief Executive's letter to Michael Howard concludes:
"I should be glad to provide any further information that you require and would be happy to attend any meeting if it would be helpful to you in reaching a decision. Similarly, if there are any points that require clarification please let me know."
Local Councillor, John Jefferson, has now approached Council Chief Executive Dennis Clegget, saying that if any meeting does take place with Howard, or representatives at the Home Office, Exodus want to be present, considering themselves in a better position to clarify points about the case than Clegget himself.
"What we'll be telling the Home Secretary, whether through Clegget or to his face, is that we wouldn't let him touch this case with a barge pole. What we want is the funds to be released from the Home Office," says Glenn Jenkins.
Exodus are also approaching the Labour group on the council, in order to instigate a complaint against Clegget's misrepresentation of the Council's decision.
Whilst Exodus await the outcome of the latest manoeuvres, they have started up their twice monthly raves again, with local police taking a less antagonistic stance. Exodus have informed Bedfordshire Police that they will liase with members of the local police force because they are not against community policing per se. As such their dialogue with the local police is now conducted through Chief Inspector Andy Nash. He has attended meetings with the collective at HAZ manor, promising to put in writing police support for Exodus's plans to turn a disused warehouse in Luton into a community centre. Exodus have also secured assurance from Bedfordshire Police headquarters at Kempston that they will not pull Nash off the job. Nash's predecessor, Chief Inspector Brown, came to be vocaly and publicly supportive of Exodus' initiatives and was consequently transferred to an office job miles away. One of the recent Exodus dances held in May was conducted at a quarry and landfill site just a quarter of a mile from Bedfordshire Police Headquarters at Kempston. Exodus told the local Kempston newspaper that the party was a demonstration. Indeed, Exodus's original plan was to organise three parties and then wait a while, holding it down whilst negotiations on the community centre and the public enquiry were taking place. Their decision to hold a fourth party so near to Bedfordshire Police Headquarters, was taken to demonstrate their intention not to stop their activities whilst negotiations take their time, so robbing them of momentum.
"We're not talking to the trees anymore," says Glen Jenkins. "We know that negotiation can be just lip service, so we're showing that we intend to continue doing our work for the community without permission until something concrete is established from all the talking."
Indeed at 6 am, as the rave was entering its final furlong, local police actually asked a nearby shopkeeper to open early so that members of the Exodus Collective could buy more water for the ravers. Meanwhile they have had some hard and constructive talks with Chief Superintendent Gary Banks, divisional commander for the area.
"They know we know what's been going on. They know we're wised up to their ways," says Jenkins. "So Chief Superintendent Banks is beginning to talk to us like we're not stupid. And now maybe something will get done."
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