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In the media

A pantomime in Forest Gate

Tuesday June 06 2006
Letters to The Guardian

The recent raid on a house in Forest Gate, London, by 250 police, which resulted in the shooting of one of two men they arrested is in itself a disgrace (Officials admit doubts over chemical plot, June 5). But the absurdity of this pantomime has been further compounded by its coverage by the media which, reporting the event largely from the perspective of the police, has filled the airwaves and pages with reports of "chemical vests" and bomb factories. The absence of bombs, killer germs or chemical underwear hasn't stopped much of the media from assuming the guilt of the arrested men.

They have clearly learned nothing from the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes last July. De Menezes, we were assured by a supine media regurgitating "off the record" statements by the police, had been wearing a padded jacket from which wires were clearly visible, had run from the police when approached and had vaulted over the ticket barrier at Stockwell tube station where he met his death. None of this proved to be true.

De Menezes was a law-abiding young man going about his business until police put seven bullets in his head and one in his shoulder. The Forest Gate fiasco is an example of "intelligence-led" policing that will stand alongside the murder of De Menezes as a byword for police racism and incompetence. What is being carried out under the guise of a "war on terror" is a "war on Muslims" or a "war on foreigners who might be Muslims". A lazy media that shares their prejudices is letting them get away with it. Sasha Simic London

The news of 250 police officers being used in a massive "terror" raid on a two-up, two-down house in east London raises questions over the use of police resources. Were quite as many officers needed? How much consideration was given to the public relations impact of launching a raid in such a way? This operation came hard on the heels of the use of 78 officers at a cost of £27,000 to take away peace campaigner Brian Haw's banners from Parliament Square.

These vast expenses of resources need to be placed against the recently published appallingly low clear-up rates of crime. These figures showed a lower than 10% clear-up rate on crime generally. Surely some questions need to be asked regarding the management of police resources and the service being provided to the public. Paul Donovan London

In your news story, a senior police source is quoted as saying, "The public may have to get used to this sort of incident, with the police having to be safe rather than sorry." It is hard for me to spot the "safety" in the most recent wrong-intelligence raid, which, following the wrongful death of Jean Charles de Menezes, could lead to real attacks in an outpouring of community anger. The practice of relying on informants, after vengeful informants provoked so many misguided American raids and arrests in Afghanistan and Iraq, seems an invitation to disaster. The police claim - that for terrorism, unlike other crime, they cannot take the time to "firm up the intelligence" - shows how far off the rails they (and western society) have gone over terrorism.

Look at last week's papers, with their stories about the proliferation of knives on the street, and the number of stabbing deaths and hospitalisations that occurred last year; compare that to the 7/7 casualty toll. Which is higher? We don't even need more time to firm up this intelligence, so why aren't there 250 police on the street right now searching for knives? Surely such action would greatly reduce the number of robberies, serious injuries and deaths. How can the claim that there is time to wait for these crimes be explained to the family and friends of the next stabbing victim? We must use the resources we have to effect the greatest benefit, not to avoid (or, way too often, cause) the most spectacular headlines. Ken Belcher Chicago

More missing WMDs? At least this time no one has suggested they could have been used within 45 minutes. Trevor Curnow Lancaster





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