The topic which we will discuss is one of the utmost importance to all countries – waging the war against terrorism, whilst ensuring that normal policing operates in so far as is possible for the benefit of all the people, both those from communities in which terrorists function, and those which may be almost untouched by bombs, shootings and all the connected criminality which accompanies terrorist activity.
When criminal and terrorist activity are simultaneously been part of the ordinary business of policing, many challenges follow from this, for the police and other security forces, for communities and for individuals. Policing must be delivered in a constantly changing situation. There will be police officers who police for the thirty years of their normal police career, without ever drawing their gun, apart from during training. There will be others whose careers are spent in places which are very dangerous.
I must first explain to you that in Northern Ireland the term paramilitary does not refer to an agency of the state as it does for example in the United States – it refers to those involved in unlawful armed activities for a political purpose.
Nominally in Northern Ireland we are at peace, but there is another story to be told. In the year ending 31 March, 2015, PSNI statistics demonstrate that there were 3 deaths due to the security situation, 94 shootings and assaults by paramilitaries of which 48 were by loyalists and 46 by republicans. There were 73 shooting incidents and 26 bombing incidents. 58 firearms were recovered, 22.94 kgs of explosives and 4,569 rounds of explosives were recovered. 227 people were arrested under the Terrorism Act and 35 people were charged. During 2013-2014 government statistics show that 18 people were convicted under the Terrorism legislation and 88 charges were made.
In England and Wales 230 people were arrested for terrorist offences (only 45 of them under the Terrorism Acts) compared to Northern Ireland’s 227. There is a much higher charging rate in England and Wales: 52% or 119 people were charged. 27 people were convicted of terrorism related offences compared with 18 in Northern Ireland. There are 58m people in England and Wales compared with 1.8m in Northern Ireland. We still have a significant problem with going terrorism!
Community policing and counter-terrorist policing
Our experience of policing terrorism has taught us that the way in which policing is conducted in these circumstances is enormously important. As I said, ordinary policing has to continue side by side with counter-terrorist policing. In conducting counter terrorist policing the contribution that the people can make should never be ignored. Terrorists need community support. They need places to store things, eyes to watch what is going on, safe houses, and many other things (and people very often do these things for them because they know that if they do not help they will be attacked and even murdered.) There will be those within the community who can alert the security forces to what is going on. It may be dangerous for them to do so. However they may wish to help. Where communities, for whatever reason, harbour terrorists, those communities will become dangerous places for the police and security forces. We had 302 police officers, and 709 military personnel murdered, as well as some 2600 civilians.
However there is a big risk that in trying to deal with this situation those who live in these areas will become alienated form the forces of law and order. Working with those members of the community who are committed to the rule of law should be a priority where possible so that the them and us situation does not evolve. International experience indicates that if policing is repressive and does not comply with legal and basic human rights standards, then the people become alienated from policing, and in turn policing becomes less effective. One of the biggest dangers of counter-terrorist policing, and of the policing of international serious organised crime must be that it will grow the very problem which it seeks to defeat. Lawful and Human Rights compliant policing will encourage the mass of the community to co-operate with the police.
In Northern Ireland there was significant alienation of the people from the police on both sides of our divided community.
The Northern Ireland policing solution
Our policing situation was very difficult and as part of the negotiations for peace, following the IRA ceasefire in 1994 an Independent Commission of Inquiry into policing was established. The Commission was tasked to consult widely and make recommendations, based on a set of core principles. These were that the new Police Service should:
- Be professional, effective and efficient;
- Be fair and impartial;
- Be free from partisan political control;
- Be accountable, both under the law for its actions and to the community it serves;
- Be representative of the society it polices;
- Operate within a coherent and cooperative criminal justice system.
Those I think are basic principles which should underpin the operation of policing globally.
It is important too to observe that in a conflicted society, policing is but one element of the process which deals with security and crime. It will be profoundly important that there is demonstrable adherence to the Rule of Law in all its manifestations There must be a functioning constitutional government, including a criminal justice system with skilled and professional prosecution and defence lawyers. There must be an adequate and effective intelligence process, and there must be accountability by the police for the extensive powers which they hold over people’s lives.
Police officers have powers to arrest, detain, enter homes and offices and search them, and to take away material which may be relevant to a criminal investigation. They prepare the prosecution files which inform a court in its deliberations as to the innocence or guilt of a defendant. They also have limited power to use force which is proportionate and necessary when carrying out their duties. It is those powers, and the occasions of abuse of them which necessitate accountability for the systems, policies, practices and manner of policing.
Why do things go wrong?
When contemplating how to achieve the best possible policing in a terrorist situation there are a number of factors which must be taken into account, because they are the factors which will either prevent or contribute to policing which is not consistent with the law or with the international standards. The question I want to address first is why do things go wrong?
The style of leadership and the institutional culture of the police service are the most important factors. Excessive police use of force is very common in many countries, and is not seen as wrong, and treated as such, even when the force used is unnecessary and even unlawful.
Whole communities, such as the Muslim community or the Catholic community in Northern Ireland must not be treated as the enemy. Police culture which adopts such thinking will always antagonise the law abiding members of the community and they will lose trust in policing.
Leadership is critical to preventing policing abuses – zero tolerance approaches to violations together with apologies by senior police commanders, and positive statements to police officers about the duty to uphold and protect the law, to respect communities, such as the Muslim community, have a significant impact on serving officers.
Where officers believe that there is a culture of impunity, they may combine that with an institutional culture which approves the use of force, resulting in violations by police officers of the law. Where they know that there will be a reckoning this will impact down the line – even a few prosecutions and convictions can have a marked halo effect on the behaviour of colleagues. Low pay and lack of equipment may be causative factors for poor policing. Where there is low pay a culture of corruption is much more common. In a counter terrorist situation this is profoundly important.
Lack of training and equipment will be a very important factor. Policing riots and demonstrations is a challenge. There are ways of doing riot control which will exacerbate an already bad situation. These must be avoided. Police officers must be properly equipped and trained so that they can withstand petrol bomb attacks etc.
Lack of a clear code of ethics stating clearly what is expected of each police officer in the execution of their duty may also result in police wrongdoing.
Policing must be fully accountable to independent investigation. In terror situations this is particularly important as it has the capacity to demonstrate the criminal or wrongful policing will be dealt with, and for police officers it means that those on the ground will know that when they have not done wrong but have been poorly led then their commanders will be accountable for their criminality or negligence too.
As terrorism takes hold in any city or society, a number of consequences for policing which are common to conflict situations may emerge. In N. Ireland they included:
- The loss of police officers who were declared “a legitimate target” by the IRA. 303 0fficers have died;
- Anybody who worked for or with the police was also declared a legitimate target, that included civilians who worked on police boards, and police accountability organisations ;
- Infrastructure in terms of premises and equipment was lost;
- Repeated bomb explosions which destroyed police stations also destroyed many of the investigation files, together with the various evidential exhibits. These were critical in the battle to bring the conflict to an end;
- Terrorist attacks on forensic science laboratories led not only to extensive loss of evidence, but also to the loss of the facility and function, which also had a significant impact after the attacks as the labs had rebuild their capacity;
- On 09 August 1971 hundreds of Republican men aged from 17 years old were interned neither awaiting trial nor convicted, for up to three years The sheer injustice of internment, and its economic and social consequences, in terms of the disruption of the economic life of those interned and the response to internment, caused massive resentment, generated huge resistance to the law and, it is widely thought in Northern Ireland that internment without trial was a significant recruiting agent for the IRA;
- The use of unlawful interrogation techniques both during internment and investigation became such a cause for concern that the Irish Government brought proceedings against the British Government in the European Court of Human Rights which resulted in a finding that the UK had used techniques which amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The interrogation techniques which had been used were wall-standing; hooding; subjection to noise; deprivation of sleep; deprivation of food and drink. The British Government gave a commitment that they would never be used again. There is evidence that they were used in Iraq;
- The use of certain policing equipment such as rubber bullets, can cause problems, though I know many police forces across the world use on the basis that they are less than lethal. However they can be lethal. Their use led to further disconnection between the police and the people, particularly when children died from plastic bullet injuries;
- A breakdown of normal policing activity which became secondary to the policing of the conflict. In some areas police could not answer a call for help for many hours, if at all. This enhanced the situation in which the community turned to the paramilitary/terrorist groups for help in matters which would normally involve the police. The paramilitaries, in their turn, recognised the opportunities arising for them in this situation;
- As in many conflicts, the police were recognised and identified by many as a tool of one side (the Protestant state). Catholics joining the police service were targeted for assassination by the IRA. If they joined they very often could not return to their homes in republican areas. The number of Catholic police officers dropped to 7%. The police became even less representative of the community they served;
- Police strategy and management became seriously weakened, leading to the lacunae which facilitated the operation of corruption, or as some call it, noble cause corruption, by some officers;
- The anti-terrrorist arm of the police – the Special Branch, became very much separated from the rest of the force. Normal flows of intelligence to crime investigators became hampered, leading to frustration among CID officers. It was described to the Patten Commission by police officers as “a force within a force”
- In the absence of laws or effective internal controls regulating the handling, control and management of informants serious problems developed, leading to a situation in which some informants were able to commit serious crimes without being made amenable for those crimes.
The unlawful techniques included: - Failure to arrest informants for crimes to which those informants had allegedly confessed, or to treat such informants as suspects for crime; - Creating interview notes which were deliberately misleading; by failing to record and maintain original interview notes and by failing to record notes of meetings with informants; - The failure to deal properly with information received from informants, so that informants were able to avoid investigation and detection for crime; - Arresting informants suspected of murder then subjecting them to lengthy sham interviews by their own handlers at which they were not challenged and then releasing them on the authorisation of the handler; - Not recording in investigation papers the fact that an informant was suspected of a crime despite the fact that he had been arrested and interviewed for that crime; - Failing to take steps to hinder an attempted bombing by the establishment of an operation either to disrupt or arrest the alleged perpetrators whose names were known to Special Branch; - Giving instructions to junior officers that records should not be completed, and that there should be no record of the incident concerned; - Ensuring the absence of any official record linking a Special Branch informant to the possession of explosives which may, and were thought, according to private police records, to have been used in a particular crime; - Withholding information from CID that the UVF had sanctioned an attack; concealing from CID intelligence that named persons, including an informant or informants, had been involved in particular crimes; withholding information about the location to which a group of murder suspects had allegedly fled after a murder; - The concealment on a number of occasions of intelligence indicating that up to three informants had been engaged together in murders and a particular crime or crimes; - Routinely destroying all Tasking and Co-ordinating Group original documentary records so as to conceal an informant’s involvement in crime; - Destroying or losing forensic exhibits such as metal bars and tape lifts; - A few police officers become involved in murder and others became involved in the in corruption that is collusion, through failing to act professionally, and in some cases through the protection of those involved in murder bombing and shooting; - Carrying on policing during this protracted and terrible period inevitably led to serious levels of post traumatic stress disorder both among serving and retired police officers; - There were allegations during the Troubles that police operated a shoot to kill policy – using lethal force where lesser force would have sufficed to bring terrorists under control.
The impact on the people and police of Northern Ireland
Police officers became focussed on the need to stay alive. Their performance of their policing duties in very difficult areas inevitably took second place to their wish to stay alive. For their families there was the daily fear that the mother or father, husband, wife, daughter or son who went out to work as a police officer would be murdered that day and would not come home to them. Police officers in this situation often kept their occupation secret, so as to protect not only themselves but their families.
In Northern Ireland there was a very odd situation in which officers of the rank of constable and sergeant wore green shirts, while other officers wore white shirts. The green shirts were procured by the Police Authority at great expense as they had to be specially dyed to get the right shade of green. Since police officers were the only people wearing shirts of this particular shade of green, their wives could not hang them out to dry when they washed them as this would identify the officer as a member of the RUC. A burden for those who washed the shirts, but I could never understand why all the officers did not wear white shirts as they do now. It was one very simple solution to a nasty problem!
In essence, what happened in Northern Ireland as in so many conflict situations was that community confidence in policing diminished, and by the end of the Troubles this had happened in both loyalist and republican communities. As the police were criticised and as the calls for reform became more strident, police morale began to suffer.
In addition to this the reality is that those engaged in armed conflict need the protection and support of the community from which they operate. They need places to store things, eyes to watch what is going on, safe houses, and many other things (and people very often do these things for them because they know that if they do not help they will be attacked and even murdered.). Where communities, for whatever reason, harbour terrorists, those communities will become dangerous places for the police.. There will be those within the community who can alert the security forces to what is going on. It may be dangerous for them to do so. In Northern Ireland we saw many people abducted, tortured and left dead, usually in lonely country roads as a warning to others not to engage with the security forces.
Community policing and counter-terrorist policing
Our experience of policing terrorism has taught us that the way in which policing is conducted in these circumstances is enormously important. Despite all the difficulties, ordinary policing has to continue side by side with counter-terrorist policing. Ultimately policing can only be effective with the consent of those who are policed. In conducting counter terrorist policing the contribution that the people can make should never be ignored. International experience indicates that if policing is repressive and does not comply with legal and basic human rights standards, then the people become alienated from policing, and in turn policing becomes less effective. One of the biggest dangers of counter-terrorist policing, and of the policing of international serious organised crime must be that it will grow the very problem which it seeks to defeat. Lawful and Human Rights compliant policing will encourage the mass of the community to co-operate with the police.