Why Greengate row matters for the Police and policing

In England, we have police men and women who carry out their roles with the utmost level of integrity and probity. I know quite a few, whom, despite the huge changes within their respective policing areas, remain committed to the concept of policing by consent – while barely touching on what the government does or doesn’t do. One recently said to me, “I stay well away from the politics thing. I care about my community and my job is to catch criminals. Changes are inevitable”.

This attitude really impressed me and is somewhat of a stark contrast to what is unfolding in the case of Damian Green, the current deputy Prime Minister. There is no need to go into details of the allegations now being made by a retired London Metropolitan police detective, Neil Lewis, who was part of a 2008 investigation into Damian Lewis while then a Shadow Minister.

Though the investigation ended up being dropped due to lack of sufficient evidence, it appears that Neil Lewis, then a forensic examiner for the counter-terrorism command unit was required to erase data collected from Damian Green’s computer which he did, but – he also kept copies.

This surely begs the question as to why he would do so. Given that any other ‘discoveries’ on the computer were not considered for referral to the Crown Prosecution Service, what motive could he have for holding on to investigation materials from 2008 right through till the present – even after retiring from the police in 2014. Listening to the amount of detail and disclosure about this investigation from Neil Lewis on Radio 4’s Today Programme was just astounding! How could anyone trust the police – ever, when private details could be aired so publicly like this? Surely, this cannot be a normal thing. While I cannot definitively state what his motives are, the timeline of events certainly causes one to raise an eyebrow or two.

Whatever the rights or alleged wrongs of what Damian Green might have done, the London Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick needs to look into the way materials and information from an investigation have been used in this case. It will also be a good thing to reassure the public of her force’s policy on the use of investigation material by current or retired officers. These actions are particularly important, especially for a city where police often struggle to investigate serious cases due to – among other reasons, a lack of information from witnesses. The public need to be sure that policing and personal vendettas by the police are incompatible.

Operation Tiberius which, in 2014, highlighted the serious internal failings within the London Metropolitan Police’s safeguarding of witnesses’ details from criminals among other things, showed how far the police still has to go in this regard. There are large parts of British society who absolutely, but wrongly, refuse to have anything to do with the police at all. A closer look at what is unfolding in this Greengate row would give cause for concern, if I was the Police Commissioner.

I believe that British policing is one of the finest in the world with some of the most brilliant officers working to keep us and our communities safe, despite the challenges they face each day. For this to continue, the trust between the police and the policed must be preserved. I suspect this ill-advised action of a retired police detective in disclosing such sensitive investigation material for what seems like a smear campaign will not help matters.

Now here is the eye opener. Damian Green has powerful and influential people who can go on the airwaves to defend and make the case on his behalf. Not everyone has the same clout with which to fight back against the mighty power of the police. This apparent abuse of privileged information by retired detective Neil Lewis, require some helpful clarification from the London Metropolitan Police if public trust in the police is to be strengthened or improved

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