The Pharoah's Men Drowning Again
It's convoluted, it's devious and it's about to be publicly exposed. SQUALL investigates the latest underhand political manoeuvring, designed to halt the EXODUS and smother the public enquiry.
Squall 9, Winter 1995, p. 32.
SQUALL readers may remember the articles published in the last issue, charting the embattled history and victories of inspirational community warriors - the Exodus Collective. Well, almost needless to say, the plot has thickened yet further since then.
We last left the story with Bedfordshire County Council's Policy and Resources Committee giving the go ahead for a £150,000 public enquiry into a multitude of strategic police operations with possible high level political involvement, designed to put an end to Exodus's progress. The enquiry was to be chaired by Michael Mansfield QC and all looked set for exposures galore. No surprise was it then, that the course of events became the subject of further political manoeuvres.
Only two weeks after the council's Policy and Resources Committee had given the go ahead for the public enquiry, the decision was reversed. The Conservative councillors on the committee had always been against a public enquiry, whereas the Labour councillors had mostly been in favour. When it came to the vote, the Lib-Dems made the difference and voted for the enquiry. Before implementation, however, the decision required ratification by a full council meeting.
In the two weeks that elapsed before this full meeting, it was the Lib-Dems who mysteriously changed their position. Councillor Liz Ledster, deputising as leader of the Lib-Dems, elected to table a motion suggesting that a complaint be made to the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) about the affair, instead of holding a public enquiry. As a result of this motion, the matter was referred to the council's Police Committee for a decision on whether to file such a complaint.
Council police committees are designed to liaise between the council and the local police force. They are made up of councillors from all three parties as well as local magistrates. Top level members of the local police force are also in attendance. The Police Complaints Authority (PCA) investigate allegations of misconduct against the police, but are made up entirely of the police themselves.
The Exodus Collective had always studiously avoided any complaints to the PCA for two main reasons. Firstly, they did not trust the police force to conduct an enquiry into their own operations against the Collective. Secondly, Exodus knew that a complaint to the PCA would lead to an investigation dragging out for years, during which time the police would refuse to answer any questions put to them by journalists and councillors - 'the matter being the subject of an investigation'. Despite six named police operations against them, despite the collapse of a court case after the police were found to have planted ecstasy on a member of collective, and despite the collapse of 40 other charges levelled against them, Exodus decided not to make a complaint to the PCA.
Imagine the exasperation of the Collective when the public enquiry was taken away from under their noses and a council complaint to the PCA offered instead.
Under an obscure section of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, the council's Police Committee have the power to file such a complaint to the PCA. It is a piece of legislative knowledge that Exodus say Liz Ledster is unlikely to have known about; without assistance that is.
After being questioned by both a journalist and members of the Collective, Liz Ledster revealed that in the week prior to changing the Lib-Dem position on the enquiry, she visited the Home Office in London and had a meeting with Sir Leonard Peach, chairman of the Police Complaints Authority, at a seminar in Olympia in London. She claimed the meetings were short and insubstantial but the implications suggest otherwise.
"Liz is actually alright as a person," says Glenn Jenkins, a spokesperson for Exodus. "But they used her, they manipulated her. We think she was asked to find another way and then given help to draft this new motion - calling for a PCA enquiry and thus avoiding the public enquiry. Liz got dragged into it - she thought she was helping out."
The full public enquiry was to have investigated both the strategic and illegal police activities against the Collective, as well as the possible involvement of local politicians in helping engineer the attacks.
This latter part of the enquiry would not of course form part of any PCA investigation and yet the possible covert involvement of local politicians could be a vital link in the discovery of what went on behind the scenes.
The three local MPs are John "Banish all gypsies into the wilderness" Carlisle (Con MP-Luton North), Sir Nicholas Lyell - the Attorney General (Con MP-Bedfordshire Mid) and Graham Bright - parliamentary private secretary to the Prime Minister (Con MP - Luton South).
It was John Carlisle who spoke out against raves during the parliamentary debates on the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, citing Exodus as a prime example of why the law needed to be tightened.
He actually met members of the Collective twice, but after "having sought legal counsel", refused to do so again, despite being their constituency MP.
It also seems increasingly evident that the Deputy Chief Constable of Bedfordshire, Michael O' Byrne, was the man behind the strategic planning of the six specific police operations (four of them begin with the letter A - Anatomy, Anchovy, Anagram, Ashanti - and two are unknown - see 'Riding the Blows' SQUALL Issue 8). This is the man who walks around with a sergeant-major's stick under his arm, having been trained in both strategic planning (Scotland Yard) and law (Kings College, London - called to the bar in 1978), before careering his way to the position of Deputy Chief Constable after only 25 years in the force.
Meanwhile, a Labour councillor decided to file a separate complaint to the PCA concerning the perjury in court of an Inspector Elliot, the on-the-scene co-ordinator of several of the operations against Exodus.
One of the very few charges leading to an actual conviction of a member of the Collective, involved a statement from Elliot claiming that Glenn Jenkins, a high profile spokesperson from Exodus, had been involved in breaches of public order, after the Collective were violently evicted from a previously disused hotel at the beginning of 1993. Two other prominent members of the Collective had been similarly charged in the same incident, although their charges were later dropped.
Asked in court whether the police had deliberately targeted high profile members of Exodus for arrest, Elliot denied this, citing Jenkins as the only member of the Collective that he knew. However, in previous witness statements made by Inspector Elliot, concerning charges once again targeting the high profile Exodus members, he had claimed that he in fact knew several members of the Collective. As a result of these discrepancies, local councillor John Jefferson filed a perjury complaint to the PCA as an 'offended observer'.
Another councillor, Jim Thakordiin then asked the police why Jefferson's complaint had not appeared in the council's Police Committee documents. He was told by O'Byrne that: "Before deciding whether this allegation constituted a complaint, he had to decide the psychological and professional suitability of the person making the complaint".
"I wasn't sure whether he was saying I was mad or thick.... or both," says Cllr Jefferson. Deputy Chief Constable O'Byrne then said that Jefferson could not make the complaint because he was not the one against whom the offence had been made. O'Byrne sent documents concerning Jefferson's complaint to four members of the Lib-Dems, including Liz Ledster, in an apparent attempt to persuade her that the Police could handle its own investigations, so trying to stave off the Council's original decision to hold a full public enquiry.
"He actually leaked about 15 pages of personal correspondence in relation to the complaint, whilst the complaint was in progress," says Cllr Jefferson.
The leaking of the documents pertaining to Jefferson's complaint was in fact a repremandable break in proper procedure, as PCA complaints are supposed to be personal between the complainant and the police.
"So I faxed a three page letter to county hall demanding his immediate suspension from duty," continues Jefferson. "And there I am sitting at County Hall and my mobile phone rings. I actually had to hold the phone two inches away from my ear because O'Byrne went on one saying; 'I'm fed up with your antics'. He carried on being generally abusive so I just pressed the off button and left him hanging in mid-air.
"My argument is that at that point he shouldn't have rang me anyway because I had instigated complaints proceedings against him. As far as I could see he was trying to intimidate me."
Shortly afterwards, the Chief Constable of Bedfordshire Alan Dyer, met Lib-Dem councillor Liz Ledster outside a council meeting to tell her that by reading out O'Byrne's correspondence at a council meeting, she had got him into trouble. As a result, Deputy Chief Constable O'Byrne was required to appear before a disciplinary hearing on the matter, the result of which was a rather lame - 'there will be a tightening of procedure'; failing to acknowledge that O'Byrne had made a deliberate and improper attempt to apply political pressure on Ledster and the Lib-Dems, in order to engineer a vote against the public enquiry.
Not at all ironic is the fact that O'Byrne is in fact the officer in charge of police complaints in Bedfordshire.
"O'Byrne was actually turning up to Policy and Resources and full council meetings," says Cllr Jefferson. "Now, in all my time at the council, I've never known a senior officer to turn up to either."
Months went by with no word from the PCA's investigation into Inspector Elliot's perjury. In the meantime, and to no-one's surprise, Deputy Chief Constable O'Byrne began refusing to answer journalist's questions about the affair, on the basis of "no comment - subject to enquiry".
Meanwhile Tim Malyon, a freelance journalist and author of several articles on Exodus, rang the PCA to discover that Deputy Chief Constable O'Byrne had not filed the complaint at all. Prompted by being discovered, and with Jefferson demanding that the complaint be filed, O'Byrne then finally put the complaint through to the PCA and more months of waiting ensued.
John Jefferson then wrote to O'Byrne to find out what progress, if any, the investigation was making. O'Byrne told Jefferson that because the alleged perjury had occurred in a Magistrates court, there were no full transcripts available and therefore it was not possible to substantiate the complaint. However, knowing full well that there would be clerk-of-court's notes, as well as barristers and solicitors' notes of the case, Glenn Jenkins telephoned Birnbergs, Exodus' solicitors, and came up with a transcript within two hours. Deputy Chief Constable O'Byrne could not explain why, despite being both a trained lawyer and a detective, he had not been able to do the same.
Cambridgeshire Police Force have now been given the responsibility for investigating the complaint and have accepted Birnbergs transcript as evidence. They say that the investigation will be concluded within the next 3-4 weeks.
This episode provided the Exodus Collective with the perfect example of why they had never wanted anything investigated by the PCA in the first place. It has been a hard slog even for such a small and easily investigated complaint.
"The complaint was actually made on February 10th 1994," observes Cllr Jefferson. "So it's going to have taken over 12 months to investigate it. It took from February to September before the file was even sent! The significance of that is the fact that O'Byrne leaked correspondence about the complaint before it had been filed and didn't file it until after the council's initial decision to hold a public enquiry."
The immanent result of the investigation into Jefferson's complaint also leads to the possibility that Glenn Jenkins' conviction will be overturned as a result of Inspector Elliot's perjury. The conviction, one of the very few police charges against Exodus not to be thrown out of court, was actually secured after two female scene-of-the-crime officers signed a statement, a staggering five months after the incident for which he was convicted, claiming that Jenkins had called them both "slags". He has always denied this.
Meanwhile, the council Police Committee met in January to decide whether to refer the full investigation to the PCA. Glenn Jenkins made an application to speak to the Police Committee personally, an unusual request and not part of standard police committee procedure. Despite this however, a motion was passed by 13 votes to 8, allowing Jenkins to address the Committee.
Imagine the scene then as the council Police Committee, with Chief Constable Alan Dyer and Deputy Chief Constable Michael O'Byrne present throughout, listening to Glenn Jenkins chart the history and the evidence of the strategic police operations levelled against them, as well as the collapse in court of 40 charges against members of the Collective. John Jefferson also stood up and recounted the whole scenario of the PCA complaint against Inspector Elliot, citing it as a perfect example of the very reason why Exodus had no faith in the PCA to hold an accountable and fully investigated enquiry.
"There were audible gasps from the committee as they heard what had gone on," says Cllr Jefferson. "Even Tory councillors, who were normally going :'oh it's that fucker Jefferson again'. Suddenly they're privately coming up to me afterwards and saying: 'Something's gone very wrong here. We don't agree with you 100%, but something needs to be done here and there are definitely questions that need to be answered.'"
With the public gallery packed with members of the Exodus Collective and much to the embarrassment of Deputy Chief Constable O'Byrne, the Police Committee decided unanimously not to refer the matter to the PCA afterall, but to send it back to the full council meeting in order that they might once again consider a full public enquiry.
"A week before the Police Committee meeting, the local papers were trying to paint it like Exodus are trying to hammer the old bill," says Glenn Jenkins. "All the newspapers done a big spread on it without even talking to us. A full page and not a word - that's ethical journalism for you.
"'Exodus versus the police the battle resumes' was the headline. But the first thing I said to the Police Committee was that I'm not anti-police, I'm anti a particular type of police and that's what this enquiry is all about. I told them that my brother is a policeman and we all respect people that put themselves up in front of weaker people. Who can not respect that? But what we're talking about is an abuse of that position."
Whilst all this has been going on, Bedfordshire County Council's budget has been cut and it now looks possible that come March, when a Council decision on the Public Enquiry is expected, the money might not be available to fund it. The motion however, is to be put before the council in two parts. Part A says that the Council supports the public enquiry and part B says that they will fund it. It looks likely that the council will accept A but perhaps not B.
"This issue is so important about the method and nature of policing," says Glenn Jenkins. "We're confident of getting the enquiry no matter what."
One thing is certain, when the enquiry goes ahead there are more than one or two officials, previously arrogant in the surety of not being caught, who will be ending up with bad egg all over their face. Not least of these will be Deputy Chief Constable Michael O'Byrne, whose meteoric rise through the ranks is already rumoured to have been brought to a full stop, one step short of Chief Constable status, by the public exposure of his tactics.
To see Squall's full coverage of Exodus click here