Blame politicians for Palestine march chaos, not the police

The Met deserve our appreciation rather than our scorn for the tough job that they do


Police officers make their way among protesters during a Pro-Palestinian demonstration in central London on January 6, 2024 (Photo by HENRY NICHOLLS / AFP)

February 26, 2024 11:55

I wonder if you saw a story a few weeks back about one of the pro-Palestinian marches in Edinburgh? Footage popped up online of a policeman advising a Jewish man to tuck his Star of David behind his jumper. He tells the guy that if some of the marchers saw it, they might get “very angry”. There weren’t enough officers to handle it (just three), he explains, if things got hairy.

Criticism of the officer in particular and Police Scotland in general flowed in a steady, depressing torrent… splashing and crashing about the internet, gushing through social media and out into the world beyond.

It all got me thinking. I was, of course, horrified by what I’d seene all are as Jews. It’s intolerable that we should feel unsafe or singled out in any city. It immediately called to mind other times in history where simple outward expressions of Judaism were inherently dangerous. But there’s a tendency now among a very vocal few to imply that the police are too fearful of reprisal or, worse still, behaving in support of the language or violence of some protesters.

I simply don’t believe that’s the case. And I certainly don’t believe it in the case of the Scottish officer.

Back when I was a full-time defence barrister a huge part of my job was taking on the police, either cross-examining them in court or combing over their investigations to discover procedural blunders. Each error was a little Jenga brick I’d triumphantly slide out until, hopefully, the whole case tumbled down. This wasn’t “exploiting technicalities”; it’s how it’s got to be. Making sure the police investigate properly and bring their evidence legally is at the core of our justice systemt’s the ticket price for democracy under rule of law.

Fast forward a bit and I had a crack at something different: prosecuting. Suddenly, I was on the other side of the courtroom, helping build a massive and complex international case very much a poacher turned gamekeeper (or whatever the Jewish equivalent is. Shabbos goy turned rabbi?

Part of my role was to avoid the flaws I’d spent years rooting out when defendingo I was there crossing each t, dotting every i (a kind of legal shomer if you will). Importantly, I was working with coppers, not against them, seeing what they do and who they were.

It gave a me a valuable new perspective.

In many ways (and with the greatest respect for those who defend) I learned it’s actually easier to shout, “You’ve missed a bit” than to construct something convincing and legally watertight. Every step the police take involves a million knotty little decisions and they have to try and get every single one right.

It also let me see the police as individuals, and I liked and respected almost every one I met. Even after I headed for TV (abandoning the fuzz for the glitter), many stayed in touch. Former officers were quick to message me when my first documentary about the Holocaust came out, with thoughtful queries and support. It was entirely consistent with what I’d come to know about them: ood people doing an impossibly demanding job.

These are uniquely difficult times. The world since October 7 will never be the same again, but it seems to me that some people demand a kind of policing that’s neither affordable practical or just. They want a hard line taken every time — PC Sledgehammer to crack every nut — when what we need is what we actually have: a sophisticated intelligence-led approach combined with common sense. One that’s sensitive to concerns from every community and working at the cutting edge of law enforcement. It came across to me very strongly when I had an informal chat with Commander Karen Findlay of the Met just a few weeks ago. Hard work we never get to see is happening all the time.

To criticise our officers for doing their best isn’t only unfair, it misunderstands the attitude of every serving senior police officer I’ve metrave men and women standing shoulder to shoulder with Jewish communities. Just ask anyone in CST who’s worked alongside them.

Their successes are never celebrated but their failures (or perceived failures) are amplified online. They are often blamed by politicians who should be working with them and defending them because the police are an easy scapegoat for failures to pass legislation, or to give them the tools and the numbers to police properly. If we should blame anyone, it should be the politicians not the police.

Not to sound too much like my grandma, but I say “Enough already” The police are not perfect, and of course we need to scrutinise everything they do. But we have to do it fairly. It’s something we seem to have lost sight of, because right now they deserve our thanks, not our condemnation.

February 26, 2024 11:55

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