Justice groups are calling for the Metropolitan Police to scrap its “shady” gang intelligence database as a major report is set to reveal that more than a third of the people on it have not committed any serious crimes.
A MATRIX OF ‘MEDDLING’
Other concerns raised to HuffPost by criminal justice groups are that the matrix is being used to influence its subjects’ education, employment and housing opportunities and in “extreme cases”, to remove children from family homes.
Police have also used it to try and influence other agencies, like the DVLA, to say “this individual is not worthy to drive”, criminologist Patrick Williams, who is leading the StopWatch report, claims.
Williams – who in January last year published a report along with his university colleague, Becky Clarke called Dangerous associations: Joint enterprise, gangs and racism – is interviewing young people who have been, or are thought to have been on the matrix, and highlighted how little, even its subjects know about it.
As an example, he cited the case of one London youth who a community worker helped get off the matrix, only to find out a year later he was still on it.
Veteran racism campaigner Stafford Scott, the corner-man for the families fighting the Metropolitan Police over some of the UK’s most controversial cases, is blunt in his assessment of the impacts the matrix has on young men. When someone is added to it, “that kid is fucked, and when I say, ‘fucked’, I mean … ‘they are fucked’.”
The Met declined to comment on the level of criminality of those on the database or respond to other criticisms levelled at it, but in a statement said the database – formed after the 2011 London riots – provides it with “an up-to-date picture of the different gangs operating in London, something that had never previously been available”.
The statement continued:
“The matrix measures gang membership and violence. There needs to be multiple intelligence indicating gang membership and the violence criteria is either based on intelligence or violence convictions.
“It can be used to identify those individuals who are more likely to commit offences, as well as those at risk of being affected as victims; providing the police and partners with an opportunity to offer support and take steps to prevent further offending or victimisation through an appropriate intervention, such as a diversion programme.”
A DATABASE BORNE OF ‘FALSE BELIEFS’
For Scott, the Matrix is rotten to its core, having been borne out of a “false” narrative propagated by authorities after the riots – that gangs were to blame.
That same contested plot-line was present in the police shooting of Mark Duggan on 4 August 2011, an event, that, in part sparked the riots which raged for four days, causing £200 million of property damage, and leaving five dead.
In the aftermath of the riots, then Prime Minister David Cameron promised a “concerted, all out war on gangs and gang culture” and launched a task force, led by his successor, then Home Secretary, Theresa May.
However, just two months later Home Office and Ministry of Justice analysis concluded gangs did not play a pivotal role, making up just 13% of those arrested.
“They wanted to deny any social or economical reason or rational for those young peoples’ behaviour,” Scott recalls, before explaining how instead of the Gangs Matrix being shelved off the back of those findings, it was fast tracked, in part, he claims, by the Home Office “redefining” the number of people required to constitute a gang – three – which allowed authorities to “inflate the (gangs) risk”
“That’s absolutely fucking stupid… I mean come on man, three people make a fucking gang,” Scott says of that decision.
“A gang is an organised structure where everybody has a role and a rank and everybody is working for the same ends. Three people? They did that so they could re-define the number of gangs there are across London.”
A further concern to Scott is who police classify as gang members. He claims the “bias” goes beyond ethnicity – police are picking “easy targets”.
Despite Green Lanes, the 6.3 mile strip between Newington Green and Wichmore Hill, in Harringay, being as well known for its Turkish and Kurdish residents, as its heroin supply, Scott says the gangs database for the area – which he has seen – records no Turkish gangs and lists only one Turkish boy out of 100 listed gangsters – the other 99 are black. The Tottenham Boys, the main gang in the area is absent from the list. In Scott’s home borough of Hackney, the Hackney Bombacliar are a notable exception from the data.