Cops want stop to social media scrutiny

Fury after Met union urges action to prevent people sharing videos of police

By Bethany Rielly

THE Metropolitan Police Federation came under fire today after calling on the government to censor videos of officers circulated online.

Ken Marsh, the leader of the London police union, which represents more than 30,000 officers, said it was time to end “trial by social media.”

He was responding to the police watchdog’s verdict on a complaint about footage of a stop-and-search incident last year that went viral.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) found that officers had acted appropriately when they stopped Ryan Colaco, 31, as he was driving his car in north London on May 23 before handcuffing him. Officers claimed they had smelt cannabis, though none was found.

Mr Colaco complained that Met officers had “aggressively tailgated” him, used unreasonable force and failed to wear Covid-19 protective equipment when searching the car.

Footage of the incident sparked public anger, and Mr Colaco was invited to talk on Channel 4 about institutional racism.

But the IOPC said this week that it had found no evidence of wrongdoing, except that that officers should have worn PPE.

Mr Marsh claimed that the incident was another case that had wasted officers’ time and money, calling on the government to tackle social-media firms that allow footage of police to be shared.

“It’s time to step in. We want something done,” he told Police Oracle. “Officers shouldn’t be subjected to this while simply doing their job.”

But campaigners said today that the call was an “attempt to evade the monitoring of police conduct.”

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A spokesperson for the Black Protest Legal Support Group, which monitors the policing of demonstrations, said this was “reflected in the arrests of our legal observers at recent protests in London and now in trying to censor video footage online.”

Forces including the Met have recently come under scrutiny over the policing of Kill the Bill protests and their handling of a vigil in memory of Sarah Everard on Clapham Common last month.

Helen O’Connor of Women Will Not Be Silenced, a group which is calling for an inquiry into the attitudes of police towards women, said that heavy-handed tactics seen recently at public events “might never have come to light if filming was banned.

“Too many police officers are being arrested and charged with serious crimes, which suggests that the culture within is toxic and dangerous to others, particularly women,” she said. “Police who operate fairly and use sound judgement to prioritise public safety have nothing to fear from being filmed.”

Police monitoring group Netpol co-ordinator Kevin Blowe told the Morning Star that videos showing oppressive policing have “often helped to challenge officers’ misleading version of events and has led to the disciplining of violent officers.

“Netpol argues that, in the face of the enormous power that officers wield, filming the police is one of the few effective ways of ever successfully holding them to account.”

Last year, the French government was forced to withdraw legislation banning the publication of photos of officers on social media following widespread protests.

“The British government should learn from this clumsy attempt at censorship and ignore the increasingly desperate attempts by the Police Federation to whitewash repeated cases of misconduct by its members,” Mr Blowe said.

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Highlighting the deaths of George Floyd in the United States and Sean Riggs in south London, Stand Up to Racism co-convener Weyman Bennett told the Star that the federation’s call was a “blatant attempt to stop the exposure of institutional racism.”

Last summer, a string of high-profile stop-and-search incidents sparked national concerns about racism in the police. Mr Colaco was stopped and searched again a week after the Tottenham incident on the way back from the Channel 4 interview.

Officers smashed his car window before dragging him out and forcing him to the ground.

More recently, he has said that he intends to sue the police for “severe racial profiling” after being stopped about a dozen times without charges being brought.
Big Brother Watch’s legal and policy officer Madeleine Stone said: “Social media has become an invaluable tool for holding police forces to account for their all too frequent aggressive and unlawful enforcement.
“Without it, countless injustices would never have come to light. Calls for citizens to be prevented from sharing unflattering footage of police is something that belongs in a police-state, not a democracy.”

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