« View all Articles

News Roundup Week Ending 25 July 2014

Charlotte Rowles

By Charlotte Rowles on 24/07/14

News Roundup Week Ending 25 July 2014
24 July 2014

Rob Evans and Vikram Dodd write in the Guardian on the publication of a report on undercover policing and those campaigning for justice. 

Undercover police gathered evidence on 18 grieving families. 

Intelligence covering high-profile campaigns was collected between the mid 1980s and 2005 and affected families including those of Jean Charles de Menezes and Stephen Lawrence.

Undercover police officers secretly gathered intelligence over two decades on 18 families fighting to get justice from the police, it was revealed on Thursday.

The intelligence covering high-profile campaigns was collected between the mid-1980s and 2005, and affected grieving families whose relatives had been murdered or had died in police custody.

In a critical report, police chiefs admitted that undercover officers collected intelligence about funerals, disagreements among campaigns and protests being organised by the families.

One reference was to an unnamed individual planning to go to a funeral, even though "there was no intelligence to indicate that the funeral would have been anything other than a dignified event".

Relatives of the Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes are already considering legal action against Scotland Yard after they were told that information about their justice campaign was found in the secret records. The Brazilian electrician was shot dead by police in 2005 after being mistaken for a bombing suspect in the aftermath of the 7 July attack on London.

Information was also recorded on the relatives of Cherry Groce, whose shooting by police in 1985 sparked the Brixton riots; Stephen Lawrence, who was murdered by racists in 1993; and Ricky Reel, who died in mysterious circumstances in 1997.

The campaigns for justice for Harry Stanley, an unarmed man shot dead by police, and Wayne Douglas, whose death in custody triggered riots, were also under police surveillance.

Stanley was shot dead in Hackney, east London, in 1999 after police mistook a table leg he was carrying in a blue plastic bag for a shotgun. An inquest jury later found he was unlawfully killed.

Douglas died in December 1995 at Brixton police station, south London, after being restrained. Riots broke out after his death, which an inquest found was accidental.

On Thursday, Mick Creedon, the Derbyshire chief constable running an internal investigation known as Operation Herne into the Special Demonstration Squad, heavily criticised Scotland Yard for collecting and wrongly retaining information about the familes in secret files.

He painted a picture of an "isolated and insular" undercover unit that operated in complete secrecy, and branded the management of the undercover officers "complacent and possibly negligent".

He said: "I cannot justify the way this information was subsequently handled. Quite simply put, unless the information could have prevented crime or disorder, it should not have been retained and certainly not for the period it has been.

"I can understand why this is likely to be distressing and astonishing for those families and friends who campaigned, often for years, for justice; to know that details of your deceased or innocent family member and your campaign was mentioned in reports stored – often stored for years – in special branch records. This must seem inexplicable."

In his report, he said: "Over the 40 years that the unit existed, senior Metropolitan police management of the day either knew nothing about the existence and activities of the unit or, when they did, they appeared to have allowed the SDS to exist in secret isolation in a manner that was complacent and possibly negligent."

Undercover officers did not use notebooks, and hoovered up and passed on information wholesale to bosses that was then kept in its entirety, he added.

"The practice of the mass collection and retention of knowledge identified by Operation Herne undoubtedly begs the question: why report, record and retain this information if it provided no operational benefit in targeting crime or preventing disorder and if it was not disseminated outside special branch for any operational or investigative purpose?"

The investigators have spoken to a number of former SDS officers, who said they received no training in terms of "collateral intrusion", which protects private information.

Creedon went on: "Ultimately the Metropolitan police service failed in not working to the nationally accepted Home Office guidelines on the workings of special branch.

"Had they done so, this activity may well not have taken place, the intelligence would not have been recorded and, if it had been, it would have been rapidly weeded as it did not relate either directly or indirectly to the discharge of special branch functions."

Creedon said the scale of the retention of the documents kept by the unit was staggering, and it was an "irony" that if it had stuck to the rules no evidence of wrongdoing would have remained.

Creedon's report was published following revelations by the whistleblower, Peter Francis, an undercover SDS officer who infiltrated anti-racist groups between 1993 and 1997. He had said that his superiors asked him to collect intelligence on the so-called "black justice campaigns", which were seeking justice for mostly black or Asian men who died either in custody or after contact with police.‬

Many of the campaigns were led by grieving relatives, although political groups campaigned alongside them.‬

24 July 2014

Jack Simpson marks one year of cuts in legal aid for the Justice Gap.

Access denied: one year after the legal aid cuts. 

In April 2013, the government brought in the Legal Aid, Punishment and Offenders Act – otherwise known as LASPO – which introduced drastic cuts to the legal aid budget. Over a year later and the impact of these cuts is becoming clear. Law centres have had to close across the country and Britain’s most vulnerable have seen their right to fair civil justice drastically impaired.

In a series of special investigations for www.thejusticegap.com, journalist Jack Simpson talks to those that have been hardest hit by the cuts and finds out what LASPO has means for civil justice in the UK.

In the second of four articles, Simpson looks at the effect LASPO has had on the agencies that offer advice and representation to those that most need it. You can read the first here. Also read Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi’s How to Build a Law Centre.

Over a year ago, Wythenshawe Law Centre sat in Europe’s largest council estate and provided legal advice and representation in housing, immigration and employment law for hundreds of people in Manchester. A lifeline to the city’s residents, it was Manchester’s main provider of publicly-funded legal advice.

In February, a statement was released by the centre announcing that after 29 years Wythenshawe Law Centre would be closing. The reason for the closure, Wythenshawe was ‘no longer able to absorb the LASPO cuts’. Just a month before, Manchester’s Trafford Law Centre had to do the same. Similar reasons were given. In a statement released by those at the Trafford Law Centre they said: ‘It is with great regret that we announce that Trafford Law Centre is closing due to significant cuts in funding.’

Now in a city of over 500,000 and with a poverty level of nearly 40% there are just three places where Manchester’s most in need can seek free legal advice and representation.

Rochdale Law Centre and Bury Law Centre are over nine miles away from the city centre and the other one, South Manchester Law Centre, deals exclusively with asylum and immigration cases. The situation in Manchester is by no means unique.


Law Centres and solicitors’ firms which once relied on legal aid funding have suffered as funding from housing, employment, immigration and family were removed from the scope of legal aid last April.
Across the country, Law Centres – ‘the frontline of non-profit legal help’ – are having to close, while law firms have been forced to abandon their legal aid work.

According to the latest figures from the Law Centres Network, the organization that oversees all of Britain’s not-for-profit law centres, nine of their centres had to be closed down last year directly as a result of their inability to absorb the LASPO cuts. ‘The legal aid cuts are a massive worry for all of our law centres,’ says Nimrod Ben-Cnaan, head of policy at the Law Centres Network. ‘The cuts have focused mostly on the areas Law Centres specialize in. For Law Centres legal aid is significant. For many it is their primary source of income. And with cuts to funding from local authorities too, it is getting more and more difficult to survive.’ Pre-LASPO, the Law Centre Network reckoned that approximately 46% of funding came from legal aid and around 40% from local authorities. In one centre (North Kensington) legal aid represented about 73% of funding.

End of an era

Many of Britain’s major cities like Birmingham, Leeds and Leicester have all seen their Law Centres closed within the past 12 months. Other more specialized Centres have also had to cease operations as a result of the cuts. In September last year, Streetwise Law Centre, a Law Centre that gave legal advice to some of London’s most vulnerable young people had to be cut after many of their services went out of legal aid scope and London Councils stopped their funding.

This was followed in February this year with the closure of the Royal Association Deaf People Law Centre in Newport, Wales. The only Law Centre in the country aimed at providing expert legal advice to Britain’s deaf community. It had to cease operations in February after its legal aid contract was removed. Those that have managed to stay open have been able to do so but at a severely reduced level.

Sheffield, Britain’s fourth largest city, once had 12 different providers of free advice and representation for the city’s population of over half a million. Its largest was the Sheffield Law Centre. A lifeline for those who were unable to finance their own legal representation, it dealt with well over 500 cases per year in areas such as employment, housing and immigration.

‘At one point I think we had about 17 people working here, three in each area easily,’ says Anne Hodson who has worked at the centre for 20 years. ‘We had a real specialty in employment law. However, that’s all finished now.’
After the cuts came into effect last year, Sheffield Law Centre had to go through a process of streamlining and restructuring. Their funding shrunk, so did their services and staff members. ‘It has definitely reduced our ability to give advice to the most vulnerable,’ she says.

Its immigration and asylum services were removed and in their employment law advice also had to be restricted. It then had to cut its staff down from 17, to just five. ‘These are people that have spent their whole lives in legal aid and have spent time targeting people that cannot get help in any other way,’ Hodson adds.

With no legal aid contracts and Sheffield City Council’s budget drastically restricted, it was decided that it could only fund one legal advice service. This led to the Sheffield Law Centre, along with the other 11 not-for-profit legal advice providers, having to pool their resources together into one. While the merger has ensured Sheffield Law Centre’s survival as the Sheffield Citizens Advice and Law Centre, the services they are now able to provide have shrunk significantly.
‘This concentrating of resources into smaller organizations has been one of the big changes that has come from legal aid cuts in our sector,’ explains Hodson. ‘It has been happening in cities everywhere.’

The worry for Ben-Cnaan is that while the number of Law Centres continues to drop, the number of law firms has also seen a massive decrease. ‘If there aren’t any alternatives to our law centres, where are these people going to go?’

On their knees

A paper published in April by the Law Society looked into the impact of LASPO and said that the removal of many civil cases from the scope of legal aid had led to a number of private firms either closing or shifting their focus from legal aid to privately funded work. A similar study by the Legal Aid Practitioners Group said that those smaller firms that were providing social welfare law were ‘on their knees’ as a result of LASPO.

Nowell Meller, in Burslem Staffordshire is one of those firms having to rethink as a result of the LASPO cuts. Specialising in family law, they have seen a massive decrease in their number of cases they now see.
On an average month before LASPO came in, Nowell Meller was seeing 41 clients a month for legal help and representing 21 clients in court. They now see, on average, just fewer than two people seeking legal face-to-face legal advice per month and six people seeking representation.

Losing just under a quarter of their income, this has inevitably led to redundancies. Before LASPO was introduced, their staff included 17 lawyers. After two rounds of redundancies it now has just nine lawyers.

‘What we are developing is our own private client offering, to try and reduce our dependency on legal aid,’ says Steve Kirwan the managing director of the firm and former member of the family lawyers group Resolution.

However, Kirwan is keen to do whatever it takes to ensure Nowell Meller are able to continue the important work they carry out.

‘I have been a legal aid lawyer since 1986,’ he says. ‘I am not going to give it up easily. I can’t imagine what damage it would cause, especially in such a deprived area if we suddenly have to start turning people away when they are so in need of help.’

19 July 2014

Aled Blake reports on a case referred back to the Criminal Cases Review Commission for Wales Online. 

Disgraced ex-soccer star Ched Evans has applied to the body which reviews possible miscarriages of justice to send his rape conviction back to the Appeal Court.

With only a few months left before he is freed from prison, Evans submitted an application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

The former Wales and Sheffield United striker, 25, has always maintained his innocence of taking advantage of a drunken 19-year-old woman in an hotel room near Rhyl.

With the help of his loyal girlfriend and their families he has campaigned relentlessly for his conviction to be overturned.

A statement on a website set up to clear his name declared: “It is still difficult to comprehend how he was convicted in a case where no individual ever accused him of rape and where a co-defendant who stood trial at the same time and who faced an almost identical prosecution case was acquitted.”

The statement claims “many thousands of people have offered support to Ched.”

Lawyers have reviewed the evidence and the way the trial proceeded at Caernarfon crown court in 2012. Private investigators have also looked into “a number of previously unexplored areas of the evidence.”

The statement added: “As a result, an application has been submitted to the Criminal Cases Review Commission raising serious concerns about the safety of this conviction. The application submits that the case should be sent back to the Court of Appeal on the basis that there is a real possibility that the conviction would be quashed.

“Ched has served almost two and a half years of a five-year sentence for a crime which he has consistently denied and is due for release in October this year. He looks forward to returning to the family life he used to enjoy and to his career as a professional footballer. He will continue to fight to clear his name for something which he did not commit.”

In the aftermath of Evans’ conviction the victim had to be relocated after her name was circulated on social networking sites. Following a number of arrests nine people – including Evans’ cousin Gemma Thomas – admitted breaking the law by naming the victim and were given fines.

Last year Evans instructed a new legal team to re-examine the case against him.