In a recent police raid on "terror suspects" in Forest Gate (East London, UK), a young man was shot and wounded by the police.
The case provoked some negative criticism, because the police had not found any evidence that the suspects were preparing some "terrorist act". So the raid was seen as unjustified. The police issued an apology for the disturbance caused to the local community. And the Prime Minister's Intelligence and Security Committee is to investigate the "intelligence failures" leading to the abortive raid.
But is the "faulty intelligence" the real issue in this case?
The police has a duty to protect the public, and, if there are reasons to believe that a criminal act is about to be committed, it is their duty to seek to prevent such act. And it is possible that some of the alerts can be false.
This is like the fire brigade. Sometimes they arrive to a location of a reported fire and find that there is no fire at the place. So, they go away.
So, the issue is not that the police staged an operation which proved to be abortive. This is normal part of the police activities. Some suspects are arrested and found innocent. Some searches are made, and nothing is found. And, if in such cases an inconvenience is caused to some people, apologies are made. And, if damage is caused, compensation is paid. This is normal part of the police work. When acting on a reported crime the police can never be 100% sure, that the reported case is indeed a crime.
So action by the police on a "tip-off" in which no evidence of an alleged crime was found is not an issue in this case.
The other issues involved in the Forest Gate case are (1) use of physical force by the police and (2) use of firearms by the police.
The powers of the police to the use physical force and firearms follow from the duties of the police, as an institution, to maintain law and order.
The police has neither duties nor powers to punish anybody, nor has it duties or powers to decide guilt or innocence. The duties and powers to punish lie with the Prison Service. And the duty to determine the guilt and degree of punishment lies with the courts.
The police is not an army. The duties of the police are not to kill enemies, but to arrest suspected criminals, or to restrain them from committing a crime.
Thus, the use of physical force by the police is limited to the need to overpower a person offering physical resistance, or committing a criminal act.
And the only circumstances when the police is justified to use firearms are, when confronted with armed resistance or to prevent a person from using a firearm or some device capable of causing death or injury to others. For example, a person about to shoot at another person, or about to explode a bomb.
Yes, there are cases, when killing of totally innocent people by the police can be justified. An example of such case would be a policeman shooting at an armed criminal, but accidentally missing him and killing an innocent person. Such case would not be seen as a crime by the police, but as an unfortunate accident. And the victim's family would be paid compensation.
But it would be a criminal abuse of his powers by a policeman, if he shoots at, or uses physical force against the vilest of criminals who is unarmed and offers no physical resistance to being arrested. Such vilest of criminals should be arrested by the police, his guilt or innocence should be determined by the courts, and the punishment administered by the Prison Service - not by the police.
But in the Forest Gate case an unarmed person offering no physical resistance was shot and wounded, and allegedly beaten by the police. And to use firearms and physical violence by the police against an unarmed person offering no resistance is a criminal act, regardless of whether such person is guilty or innocent of an alleged crime. This is because in such case the police is acting outside of its powers.
And the questions here are:
The superior police officers, the government ministers, and the Prime Minister himself, all had made comments on the case. But neither of them, and not even the Prime Minister himself, have raised the issue of "use of firearms and physical violence against an unarmed unresisting person by the police". This can be only explained by them seeing such actions by the police as normal.
Does this mean that the Prime Minister has changed the role of the British Police and has granted to the British Police the powers to punish by shooting or beating any unarmed unresisting person?
This is a major change in the role of the British Police, and Tony Blair has duty to explain to the British Public the need for such major change.
And it is the duty of the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition to make sure that the Prime Minister does not evade this duty, or shifts the blame from himself onto the Intelligence Services.