Disabled protesters unpick litany of lies

When it comes to calculated deception, witch-hunts and cover-ups, Greater Manchester Police (GMP) are generally in the vanguard of police forces in the UK.

A recent article on this website, ‘Scandals that shame the two-faced Mayor of Manchester’ (read in full here), highlights a significant number of them, grounded in protected disclosures by the country’s best known police whistle blower, Peter Jackson.

At the foot of that article there was reference to another GMP scandal involving surveillance of disabled protesters and the passing of data to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

What has come to light since is truly shocking: GMP has admitted that it has a written agreement to share information with the DWP about disabled persons, and other activists, who take part in protests. This revelation came about despite previous denials by both the police force, and the Government’s permanently under-siege Department, that any such agreement existed.

In December, 2018, the DWP told The Independent on-line newspaper that there was “no formal arrangement” between their Department and “any police force” that encouraged officers to pass on information.

Their spokesperson said, at that time, that the DWP “could not discuss the details of any on-going cases or provide further details”. In the light of what GMP are now saying either they, or the DWP, are not telling the truth.

In a recent article published by the Disability News Service (DNS), written by John Pring, the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) said it was “extremely concerned” that its local police force was “spying on disabled protesters and passing on their details onto the DWP”. GMCDP said the agreement was “yet another example of the punitive and unwarranted targeting of disabled people”.

Concerns about links between DWP and police forces such as GMP – and the impact on disabled people’s right to protest – first emerged last December after DNS reported that forces had been targeting disabled protesters taking part in peaceful anti-fracking protests across England.

The Independent piece had also set out how neighbouring Lancashire Police had admitted passing on details, and video footage, of disabled anti-fracking protesters to the Department for Work and Pensions.

“The DWP are a partner agency and where we have information to suggest that fraud may be being committed we have a duty to pass that on, including video footage if we have it,” a spokesperson for Lancashire Police said in a statement.

“They are the appropriate agency and it is their decision what, if any, action should be taken. We will, of course, facilitate the right of anyone to protest lawfully.”

Police officers supervising protests at the Cuadrilla shale gas (fracking) site at Preston New Road, near Blackpool, claimed they became suspicious of some disabled protesters who temporarily got out of wheelchairs.

In response to their enquiries late last year and earlier this year, GMP told DNS that it had passed to the DWP information about protesters taking part in anti-fracking protests at Barton Moss, Salford. These took place in 2013 and 2014. GMP were regularly criticised over their heavy-handed approach to protesters. The force also confirmed that it had shared information with DWP from protests not connected with shale gas extraction.

This disclosure raised further concerns that GMP might have passed information to the DWP about disabled persons who protested in Manchester about the government’s austerity-related social security reforms, particularly during high-profile actions around the Conservative Party conferences held in the city in 2015 and 2017. GMP later claimed that it had not shared any information with DWP about disabled activists who had taken part in those particular protests. The heavy-handed approach of the city’s police force towards protesters was also widely reported on social media.

It is a matter of considerable concern that GMP has previously denied, in response to a freedom of information request, having a written agreement to share data with DWP. The resort to deceit, on an almost routine basis, by this police force has been well rehearsed elsewhere. Whilst their permanent approach to the Freedom of Information Act (and Data Protection Act) is utterly deplorable. A matter upon which the author of this piece can report with absolute certainty.

As referred to above, the DWP has said that it has no such “formal arrangement” with “any police force”. GMP’s press office had initially suggested that it did have an agreement with DWP, before later denying there was one.

Greater Manchester’s beleaguered Deputy Mayor for Policing, Bev Hughes, told DNS in February this year that she had “consulted with senior officers within GMP, who have assured me that there is no formal ‘sharing agreement’ in place, and that the police act on a case by case basis, sharing information in accordance with the Data Protection Act”.

The Deputy Mayor has legal proximity to one police officer within GMP, the chief constable Ian Hopkins: Whose approach to the truth can safely be described as haphazard. Not least, over another emerging scandal involving the catastrophic failings of GMP’s Integrated Policing Operations System (better known as iOPS).

But, after DNS submitted a second freedom of information request to the force, a member of its information management team confirmed that there was such an agreement. Asked if GMP had an agreement to share information from various protests with DWP, he said he had “located a multi-agency agreement to which DWP are one of many partners”, but he said this had “not yet been assessed for disclosure to you”.

He added that most of the agreement “relates to controls/rules partners must adhere to when handling information”.

The disclosure officer later told DNS, on 17th April, 2019 that he had “identified the area of the force that is responsible for the sharing agreement” and had “posed your question to them, and am awaiting a reply”.

The force, as they so often seem to do, then failed to respond to further emails – which placed them in breach of the Freedom of Information Act – until late July, 2019 when a member of GMP’s information management team said he would “risk assess the agreement next week for disclosure” to DNS.

At the same time, the force’s press office refused to comment or explain why it had previously claimed there was no such agreement.

A disclosure request by information rights activist, Edward Williams, is visible, via open source. It is lawfully due for finalisation on 27thAugust, 2019 (follow its progress on the What Do They Know website here).

  1. Provide the written agreement with GMP to share information about disabled people and other activists who take part in protests.
  2. How many people has GMP provided information about under the agreement?
  3. State the protests or other events where information was gathered and sent to you in last 12 months. By this, I mean the place the event happened, and the date(s).

This may well duplicate some or, indeed, all of the request already made by the DNS, as part of their persistent, determined and highly commendable investigation. It is unlikely that Mr Williams will receive information before the end of this year: As yet, the information request has not even been acknowledged by the force.

Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) coordinator, Kevin Blowe, pulled no punches as he told on-line, independent news magazine, The Canary:

“The police decision to collaborate with the DWP is about disrupting people’s ability to take part in protest and campaigns. It’s a perfect example of this type of disruption. It’s bad enough that the DWP already humiliates people who claim benefits. But if it’s going to go out of its way to find ways to stop people’s benefits – if they exercise what is supposed to be a fundamental human right – then I can see why people would be reluctant to potentially participate in something that may have a really terrible effect on their life.

Blowe continued: “This is a really worrying development, that I think is entirely vindictive. The suggestion that anyone who… takes part in protest if they’re disabled is likely to be committing fraud – which is what’s implied by the police getting involved in this – is about trying to make sure that the effectiveness of protest is undermined”.

Nationally known whistle blower, and retired murder detective, Peter Jackson, offers this view of his former force: “I have recently written to the Greater Manchester Mayor highlighting a large number of scandals concerning the leadership of GMP. This is a police force that is repeatedly gaining media attention for all the wrong reasons. Serious operational failings, senior officer misconduct, lies, cover-ups, deceit: Scandal after scandal. I was proud to have completed 31 years service with the force where my focus was on crime, locking up criminals and keeping people safe. Spying on disabled protesters, and reporting them to the DWP, was not what we were about during my time. I blame the leadership. GMP urgently needs a clear-out at the top, starting with the chief constable. We need proper ‘coppers’ in charge, inspirational leaders who command respect. People who can bring about changes to the embedded rotten cultures that now infest the force. We need openness, honesty, integrity and transparency. We need someone who can inspire their officers and restore confidence in policing. Sadly, for a number of years now GMP has had shockingly bad leadership and it is a broken force, failing the people of Manchester.’

Neil Wilby concludes: It is time for change, the Chief Constable is hanging on to his job by a thread, as droves of his own frontline officers lose confidence in him, and there is little or no oversight from those elected to provide it. Notably, the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Greater Manchester. The region must also have the most supine group of MP’s in the country.

Page last updated: Wednesday 21st August, 2019 at 1005 hours

Photo Credit: Disabled News Service

Corrections: Please let me know if there is a mistake in this article. I will endeavour to correct it as soon as possible.

Right of reply: If you are mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let me have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory it will be added to the article.

© Neil Wilby 2015-2019. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

Author: Neil Wilby

Former Johnston Press area managing director. Justice campaigner. Freelance investigative journalist.

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