‘Botched’ Counter-Terror Operation: Who Holds The Police Accountable?

In this week’s feature article, the London Campaign Against Police and State Violence calls for greater accountability of police conduct in counter-terror operations.  

Serious concerns have been raised about the conduct of counter-terrorism officers after the CPS dropped the remaining charges against the subject of a ‘hard stop’ operation in Woolwich, South London last June. Following the operation conducted by officers from SO15, the Met police’s Counter-Terrorism command, Husani Williams was arrested and charged with possession of a Class A drug. Husani has always denied this charge, and the CPS dropped it in a court hearing at Woolwich Crown Court on 8 January.
The Williams brothers testify to having experienced a traumatic ordeal, while the authorities’ investigation into the incident is ongoing. The London Campaign Against Police and State Violence [1] are demanding an inquiry into the ‘botched’ operation. When seen in the context of past ‘hard stop’ operations that have ended with fatal shootings, it’s clear that we need to be asking urgent questions about police use of force and a culture of impunity.
‘Hard stop’
Youth worker Husani Williams says he was driving with his brother and two friends in Greenwich at around 6pm on 1 June 2013, when the vehicle was abruptly brought to a ‘hard stop’ by officers from SO15, accompanied by SCO19, Specialist Firearms Command. Officers apparently shot out the car tyres, and, according to Williams, smashed its window and dragged him and his brother out of the car. Officers used tasers and ‘pain compliance’ techniques on the men, who say they did not resist. The Williams brothers say they were also accused of being terrorists.
Husani Williams said: ‘I was in shock. The officers did not identify themselves, they just dragged me out of the car and held me down. At one point I asked them why they were doing this. They said, “We’ve got you down as Mr. Nasty, and this is what we do to Mr. Nasty”.’
Asanti Williams, the front passenger in the car, was taken straight to hospital as a result of the injuries sustained in the stop. He said that the police accompanied him to the hospital but left after a wait of around six hours after receiving a call to release him.
Police told the two other passengers that the car had been targeted because it had come from an address associated with the Lee Rigby murder in Woolwich on 22 May 2013. The address in question was that of Mr Williams’ cousin, a black Muslim, who has not been approached by police to date.
Neither of the brothers were even questioned on any matters relating to terrorism. Husani fervently denied the possession of Class A drugs, but did admit possession of a very small amount of cannabis, and received a twelve-month conditional discharge for this offence in court last week.
Husani said of the dropped charges: ‘This decision was a great relief to me, this entire criminal process has been a time of incredible stress and trauma on me and my family. I’m grateful for the support I’ve received so far and I’ll continue to demand answers and fight for justice.’
He is now preparing to pursue a civil case against the officers. Alongside this, an official complaint about the way they were treated is being supervised by the IPCC.
Monitoring the police
The incident raises urgent questions about the way in which counter-terrorism policing is being conducted. The fact that neither of the brothers were even questioned on any matters related to terrorism, despite having been stopped and dragged out of the car and subjected to racial and physical abuse, is extremely worrying. How many others were stopped, searched, harassed, or abused by police in South London in the wake of the killing of Lee Rigby, with no justification? Only through effective monitoring of the policing of our communities can we begin to put the picture together.
The tragic deaths of Azelle Rodney in 2005 [2] and Mark Duggan in 2011 at the hands of firearms officers following pre-planned operations, necessitate a much larger public outcry, and a serious debate about police powers and lack of accountability. In both cases, firearms officers were deployed to use ‘hard stop’ tactics using extreme physical aggression designed to ‘shock and awe’ subjects into submission. In both cases it has been established that there was insufficient planning, limited intelligence, and someone shot dead who did not pose a threat. In both cases it has emerged that the accounts given by the police marksmen were untrue. The tragedies that have resulted have not attracted criminal prosecutions. It is worrying to reflect that even though traumatised, the Williams brothers may be lucky to have escaped with their lives. Unless the police are held properly accountable for their actions, these abuses of power will continue, and it is only a matter of time before another tragedy occurs.
[1] Husani is being supported by the London Campaign Against Police and State Violence (LCAPSV), which is based in South London. The group has attended court in solidarity with Husani, and has helped to collect evidence from witnesses to support Husani’s case. LCAPSV supports the victims of police assault, and monitors the policing of communities, and of BME communities in particular.
[2] Azelle Rodney was shot dead by a police marksman during a ‘hard stop’ operation in April 2005. An inquiry into his death found that a police marksman had fired eight times, and that the use of force was unlawful. The report can be read here. (http://azellerodneyinquiry.independent.gov.uk/)
London Campaign Against Police and State Violence