Friday, 1 October 2010

The Project Champion fairytale

All of my day yesterday was taken up with reaction to the police report into Project Champion. The findings are absolutely damning.

The police argued, and still do, that a key purpose of the spy cameras was to reduce general crime and anti-social behaviour in the areas concerned. But minutes of police meetings reveal that senior officers had to “formulate a narrative to support Project Champion” and that “ACCs Patani and Hyde stated that they wanted a storyline on which to hang the project”.

This ‘story’ of crime reduction was always a fairytale.

The report says there was never any plan to deliver these benefits, and no infrastructure or staff available to view any CCTV footage. The crime reduction benefits being marketed to justify the project were simply never going to be delivered.

On top of this, the report clearly shows that consultation with the community and elected councillors was at best a charade, in which the real purposes of the project were hidden.  In the words of the report, “There is no indication that the consultation process had any impact on the objectives or the structure of the project...the consultation can be summed up as too little too late”.

Even the anti-terrorist aspect of the project comes in for strong criticism. The report says that the entire plan “...should have been challenged by strong ethical and strategic leadership right from the start and questions should have been asked [by the police themselves] about its proportionality, legitimacy, authority, necessity, and the ethical values inherent in the proposed course of action”.

There is a wealth of legislation and detailed guidance on many aspects of policing and surveillance. The report finds that the police paid virtually no attention to complying with the law or acting within the framework of the regulations that govern them.

It is a truly shocking catalogue of failure.

The project was badly conceived, badly managed, sold to the public on false pretences, and covered up by a completely inadequate consultation process.

What is most worrying about all of this is the doubt it casts on the trustworthiness of the police. If they were prepared to behave in this way in setting up this project, how much could we trust them with the information they gathered? Trust is at the heart of effective policing, and (as the report itself underlines) it is especially important to counter terrorism.

This trust has to be restored. But it is very difficult to see how that can be done without making individual officers accountable for their role in this fiasco.

It is equally difficult to see how trust can be restored if the suspicion is that the police are just waiting for the heat to die down before proceeding with the project. It is not enough for the cameras to be bagged; they need to be removed.

If trust is to be rebuilt, we need action not words.