Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (20-39)

THURSDAY 22 NOVEMBER 2001

MR DAVID RAY AND MR PAUL CROWTHER

Chairman

  20. Except in Staffordshire of course. The chief constable is sitting behind you and I am sure his lads are excessively polite to everybody.
  (Mr Ray) I am sure we would not want to compete with Staffordshire. We have a number of community initiatives already like the drug abuse scheme. We have security vigilant areas, which is virtually neighbourhood watch against terrorism, in a number of areas where we are working in the public community, for example, Hereford. Perhaps one of the most dramatic examples is Kosovo where, after three weeks' special training, our officers, straight from their normal duties, go to Kosovo, policing probably the most hostile policing environment in the world at the moment. They could manage that with credit and they were well received. After 18 months, they had fully established themselves as probably one of the most respected forces in that country, doing civil policing tasks under difficult circumstances. Even in the Pitcairn Islands two of our officers are policing a remote community of 50 members of the public. Unfortunately from our point of view, we lose a number of officers to Home Office forces. They transfer out from us and we lost 31 last year, ten of whom to Essex, which was unfortunate. Nearly all those officers are taken straight into their force with no further training or very little, apart from local familiarisation, and put straight out on the streets. Home Office forces have confidence in our officers and their ability to deal with the public. I do not think we should have too much concern. I am happy that they are already doing it, and on a daily basis up to 500 of our officers can be working amongst the general public anyway in the area police teams, the unit beat officers and the CID, who work very much in the community and carry out inquiries in the community. We are even having regular contact with the public outside the main building of the MoD directing tourists more often than we are doing security, dealing with the public in Whitehall. I think we are well experienced and quite competent to deal with members of the public.
  (Mr Crowther) Could I pick up the last point about cordons? The proposals in the Bill only permit that power on defence land or when acting at the request of the home department police force, so it is not an unlimited power by any means.

Mr Howarth

  21. I am not aware that the MoD Police are different in Aldershot. They do not appear to be and I am sure that experience is similar in the rest of the country. At the moment, I am not aware that an MoD police officer would make his identity as an MoD police officer known to a member of the public under the new proposals. If the MoD police officer is acting in support of the local constabulary will they be required to identify themselves?
  (Mr Ray) I think it is self-evident if they wear a uniform and that is adequate to produce evidence that they are a constable. It is not strictly relevant whether they are Ministry of Defence or not, although that is evident in a subtle way by the badging. If they are not in uniform, they will have to produce documentary evidence. They will all carry a warrant card that will identify them as Ministry of Defence officers.

Chairman

  22. If you are being robbed, I do not think people will say, "Excuse me, are you home department police force or non-home department police force?" These arguments can be taken a little too far. Not to be too partisan, one of the worst decisions the last government made was in my view to flog off the MoD housing estates. One of the arguments used was on the lines that if anybody could buy a house near the wire or indeed inside the wire who did not come from the defence establishment and families this might pose a more serious threat potentially from a terrorist organisation that might insert somebody, to send them on to purchase the house and then would find him or herself very close to very sensitive property. Has that been a problem? Have you had any recourse to vetoing the purchase of a house near an MoD estate because of the person's criminal record or potential links to terrorism?
  (Mr Ray) I would not think it was in our remit to veto the purchase of a house. The situation you describe does create a problem for us in the sense that you are not always sure when dealing with a married quarter estate if the property is still an MoD property or has been sold. If you are called to deal with an incident at that house, you cannot say first of all, "Who owns the property?" before you can deal with an incident. This is again a reason why we need to have certainty about our powers.

  23. How do you go about that?
  (Mr Ray) By and large, they work in conjunction with Home Office forces. If there is any ambiguity or uncertainty, they will contact the local force and say, "Look, this is the situation. Do you want us to deal?" Invariably, they are within the vicinity so they can be asked to deal but it is a very unsatisfactory situation.

  24. I can understand why you would not want to veto a sale. I am sure Addington Homes would be irritated. If somebody turns up who is known to be on the police computer as belonging to or linked with somebody in Abu Nidal or Al Qaeda I would hope that the Ministry of Defence Police would express some reservations about that person being located within 50 yards of a sensitive military establishment.
  (Mr Ray) We are not consulted as a matter of course.

  Chairman: You ought to be. Perhaps we might recommend that in our report.

Patrick Mercer

  25. The Anti-terrorism Bill in relation to MDP officers having the full powers of a constable would be broadened to persons whom they suspect on reasonable grounds of having committed or being in the course of committing—in other words, carrying out any offence whatsoever. Inside those proposals to give MDP officers full constabulary powers when they come across incidents outside the defence estate, they are considerably broader than those previously proposed in the Armed Forces Bill. Do you consider this necessary? I appreciate you have already given an insight but could you expand?
  (Mr Ray) Are we dealing with a situation where we do not have time to request from the local force authority to deal with them or whether they want us to deal with them, to give us jurisdiction? We are looking at an emergency situation?

  26. Exactly.
  (Mr Ray) I think we do because of the situations I have described. If you are carrying out protective patrolling around the vicinity and you come across something which you know is terrorist related, from intelligence for example, someone fits the description of a known terrorist, you need to exercise power there to arrest or to stop and search. You have to be sure that you have full jurisdiction to do that; otherwise you are liable under criminal law. The only way to do that is to be certain you have the power to deal with that. The sort of offences that we envisage do not necessarily involve violence. Because they are so far down the road from the actual offence of pure terrorism, they may not involve violence. For example, just being a terrorist or supporting terrorism or supplying information to terrorists under the Terrorism Act. That is the sort of activity, a reconnaissance by terrorist related people, people who support terrorism, who are known to us. If we come across those people, with no act of violence to give us the power, no risk to life immediately, we still need to deal with them. Otherwise, they have a free rein to do all their preparations for terrorist acts without any intervention from us. More likely than not, you are going to come across those people very quickly and there is not much time to seek the authority of a local force.

  27. Picking up on an earlier point about intelligence gathering and the intelligence lean in your operations, how do you link in with the local force? How is that exchange of intelligence conducted?
  (Mr Ray) Since the 11 September incident, we have established our own intelligence cell which is a national coordination of some intelligence in this field. We are working very closely with special branches around the country so we have a very close relationship with special branches and the anti-terrorist organisations. We have a very good sharing of intelligence which makes our job a lot easier and more effective because without intelligence you are really groping around in the dark.
  (Mr Crowther) I think you started off by referring to the clause which talks about defence personnel as victims, so to speak. The background to this is that the existing legislation, the 1987 Act, is ambiguous on this point. It is quite clear that it gives the Ministry of Defence Police jurisdiction where defence personnel are suspected of having committed an offence but it is quite unclear whether it refers also to cases where an offence is committed against them. This particular provision is designed to clear up that ambiguity. There is no intention of using it on a blanket basis but only in cases where the offence is related in some way to the person in question's employment by the Ministry of Defence.

  28. Going back to the emergency situation that you describe outside the defence estate, when arrests are made, where would you see the arrestees being taken?
  (Mr Ray) That is already an established practice. We always take them to the local force custody suite. We do not have any PACE custody suites. We are obliged to take them to the nearest licensed PACE custody suite under PACE. There it is handled by and large by the custody officer of that force. It is subjected to an external review, if you like. He reviews the evidence. He also reviews his detention of that person subsequently, so we are being accountable and reviewed by that force in that process.

  29. The presumption that those whom you have arrested will be handed over to the local force at the earliest opportunity stands?
  (Mr Ray) That is an inevitable part of the procedure.

Chairman

  30. You are driving around a council estate; you see some old lady getting mugged. What happens? Do you say, "I am going to arrest that guy?" There is no problem? You do not need to look like a terrorist, Middle Eastern or Kashmiri? You would intervene?
  (Mr Ray) This is the dilemma posed when you are patrolling in public areas in uniform. People cannot distinguish you from any other police officer of the local force and you cannot walk away. If someone is being subjected to a crime, particularly a serious crime, you cannot say, "It is nothing to do with me. I do not have jurisdiction." That is again an area we have been looking to remedy. It is linked to terrorism because if terrorism takes us way outside the wire, patrolling in public areas, it is more likely that we will come up against those situations. While you are there, not looking for this, I stress, if you come across it and someone says to you, "Officer, I have just had my wallet stolen", you cannot say, "Did they hurt you when they did it?" or, "Was there any violence used?" You need to be able to deal with it and that would be enabled by having this power we have described. It saves being in the invidious position of having to say, "I am sorry. If you had been hurt, we could help you. If you have not, we cannot."

Mr Howarth

  31. Is that happening at the moment?
  (Mr Ray) It happens sometimes and more often than the officers have to stand there, dancing around, trying to detain people. It is a bit of a bluff sometimes because they do not have power to lay on hands. If the suspect chooses to walk away, you can use a citizen's power of arrest under section 24 of PACE, but you have to then show that the offence actually has been committed. If it turns out it was not committed ever and there was just good suspicion, then you cannot make that citizen's arrest and that is somewhat difficult.

Chairman

  32. If things are going to be clarified, it would be helpful. If it is as confused as this, it is the answer to Mr Jones's question as to why such legislation is required.
  (Mr Crowther) This is one place where we have done some further thinking since the Armed Forces Bill.

Mr Cran

  33. Cooperation with local police forces is clearly going to be a key issue around the extension of your jurisdiction. As I understand it, that is governed by protocols between the local police forces and yourselves. I was interested in a quote from the Armed Forces Bill Committee: "It is clear to us that the detailed arrangements reached in the revised Protocols between Home Department police forces and the MDP will be the determining factor in how well the extension of the MDP's powers work in practice." Would you agree with that as a proposition and could you tell me what steps are being taken to revise these protocols?
  (Mr Crowther) Let me take this in two stages. First of all, yes, I do agree with the statement that you have made. Cooperation with Home Department police forces is knitted into these legislative proposals right the way through. We are talking about two powers essentially. One is acting at the request of a Home Department officer, so they are in at the beginning there, and then there is the emergency power which is only available when a Home Department officer can neither be summoned nor contacted. Cooperation with Home Department forces is right at the very centre of this. The protocols will certainly have to be renewed, reviewed and revised. There are two reasons for this. One is the prospect of changes in the legislative framework, which we are talking about now, but in addition to that the force at the moment, as a defence agency, is being subjected to what is called its quinquennial review. All defence agencies have to be reviewed every five years. This amplifies the point the Chairman was making about the frequency with which the Ministry of Defence Police are reviewed. The likelihood is that at the end of that process changes will be required to the protocols to reflect that review as well.

  34. How lengthy a process is all this going to be? You have said how important the events of 11 September have been and the ramifications of all of that. It really means we have to get on with it. What timescale are we talking about?
  (Mr Crowther) I would anticipate that we shall get on with it very promptly.

  35. That is hardly an answer. You must have an idea of timescale.
  (Mr Ray) I can elaborate. I have set them a timescale to have draft guidelines drafted before the end of this month, the first draft, and then we can start working beyond that.

Chairman

  36. With 20 years' experience of dealing with the Ministry of Defence the answer, "We have to move promptly" is about the most honest reply I have ever received. I can think of a thousand alternatives that could have been issued so thank you very much. "Promptly", I presume, means the next two or three months?
  (Mr Crowther) I think we may be talking about two separate things here. There will have to be instructions to the force as to how they will deal with the new powers from the moment that they come into force, hopefully before that. We then have the process of renegotiating the protocols with the Home Department forces and, like any negotiation, this may take a little longer.

  Chairman: We shall ask the chief constable as the first question how long will it take. Hopefully it will be done fairly quickly.

Mr Cran

  37. Do I take it that these protocols by definition are confidential documents?
  (Mr Crowther) No.

  38. Is it going to be the case that these protocols will answer some of the questions that Mr Jones was pursuing earlier on about the definitions for when you act and when you do not act? Am I correct?
  (Mr Crowther) They do indeed. Their primary purpose is to indicate a modus operandi in those places where the Home Department force and the MoD Police have an overlapping jurisdiction.

  39. Therefore, in answer to Mr Jones's question, the publication of your protocols might go some way towards answering his question?
  (Mr Crowther) Yes, I should think it very likely.


 
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