Tag Archives: current-events

“Shattering!” – A Personal Experience of #PTSD

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Professional advice regarding self-reflection

When you read the following, it is worth remembering that you are listening to my emotional past. Because our human psychic unconscious is vastly opportunistic when faced with an opening to unfinished business, many of my PTSD flashbacks relate to prison memories. Whilst this is connected to the present, the emotional impact still contains the shock of not just one, but many traumas. This shock, if experienced by the reader with whatever emotional triggers are felt as a result, is what is meant by projective identification. However, I am merely being myself during a PTSD episode – I’m having enough problems of my own navigating this hurricane of feeling – I don’t have time to be worried about manipulating you. Therefore, whatever is triggered has to belong to you, not me.

This is useful information for women’s desistance – please make a note of it.

The more you know about your own desistance trigger points the more you will begin to grasp where I am coming from.

 

 

As I’ve already indicated to Richard (*waves*), I am still working through the PTSD affect which I realise now, was mainly triggered by a problem I had at home with npower. My problem with npower is highly political and takes me right to the core of the problem I have with God/Queen, but hasn’t quite yet fully affected ‘my Country’. I have yet to be able to bring this to a more rational closure which means I am more susceptible to triggers that, at better times, might simply wash over instead of through me as they are now.

 

There have been a variety of triggers too – all of them related to the issue of integrity in public service and the standards we now seem to have to adhere simply to be kind and respectful human beings. But we do it. The Hurricane Sandy Storify – created by @PrinceOfRazors, himself a Katrina survivor – has integrity. It is the living story of people who, via the Occupy Movement, know how to respond to disaster from the bones of their humanity. I found this energy in prison. People from whom everything had been taken still finding that they had something to give.

 

When I remember the trauma, I am also required to report how this tragedy is balanced. My experience was validated by the prison officers who, when it got truly awful, talked me back from the edge. I was a very difficult prisoner to deal with if the officer wasn’t able to be human. What it meant, especially when I was in good hands, was that I got to meet some really amazing human beings and the way they talked me back was by telling me about themselves. I am a very easy person to talk to, or so I’ve been told. I got to hear stories about wolves, bears and helicopters in the wilds of Canada; or listen to the sorrows of grief from bereaved staff. These were the ones who understood that my rage was at the system and never personal – sometimes I got the sense that I might simply have been voicing how they were feeling themselves. I remember the small kindnesses and intelligent conversations whilst we went through the motions of the system because neither of us had any choice in the matter. I remember the astonishment on some officer’s faces when I treated them with respect and the way they always treated me fairly (but without unearned favour) as a result. They made my time in prison easier and I was grateful then and I still am now. These memories are the best human beings can be in the worst of times.

 

The officers and staff who gather in the above paragraph – and you know who you are – healed me on more than one occasion and I healed them in return. As a shaman, I can remove the harmful impacts of dealing with direct abuse from others – in my last prison, Low Newton, staff honoured me by letting me take all that crap off them. I did it for them – that kind of abuse has a corrosive power that eats away at our self-esteem. I did it for the wing or work area – because the energy of an off-balance officer affects everyone. A balanced wing has a lot of humour and prisoners can get things done – it’s a women’s wing, remember! There’s cleaning, ironing, washing, cooking, writing letters, hanging out and work. An off-balance wing is a nightmare.

 

Memory-release *In the segregation unit in New Hall, there were a couple of night staff who spent their duty healing all the wounds created by day. A softly-spoken woman who could spend hours talking down highly-provoked prisoners by, in my case, simply telling me that she saw the same things I was seeing; or the ex-miner who knew what it was to need a tab.*

 

When I remember these things, I remember the route out of darkness. At some point in any confrontation I may have had with the system – and I fought every step of the way through the proper procedures (being the good shop steward that I am) – I ‘won’ by bring transferred out of New Hall to Durham, and then subsequently transferred out of Durham to Low Newton. I owe far more than four Koestler Awards and a very great deal to be grateful for when it comes to HMP Low Newton. I notice that, as a prison, it scores as zero on prisoner suicides which isn’t quite the whole truth. There has been one suicide at the prison – I was there at the time and the Governor in Charge visited every prisoner personally. Perhaps the lass who died was on remand and not convicted, which is why she doesn’t show up in the statistics. Her death meant that every cell of its kind was changed to prevent further successful suicides.

 

*2004 memory of Ray, in F-Wing HMP Durham exercise yard, talking about creating a memorial for all our lost lives of F Wing – anyone who knows me from those days will know exactly who I am talking about*

 

The thing about Low Newton is that once officers and staff get the hang of working with women prisoners, they can ‘sense’ when a woman is in danger. This scale is measured by the near-misses Low Newton has experienced – I know exactly how near some of them have been. When that happens – especially if the woman is, in her own way, trying to desist – a shock wave goes through the prison. This is because officers and staff genuinely care about and are interested in the women as far as they are allowed to be by either system or individual. I would never have achieved Koestler Awards at New Hall or Durham. But after my recall to prison, Low Newton staff chivvied me into four of them by insisting on giving me resources I felt guilty for not using (bastards). Then they created a display along the main corridor which began with an exhibition of my paintings and was followed with commissioned Equality displays on subjects like Black History month, which was given a nod of respect for “Not bad for a white” by my beautiful black sisters. I remember each of you very well indeed and still treasure our experiences together in my memory. The compliment I value most, however, came unprompted from a highly disciplined officer and related to the display I had prepared on the Holocaust. It seemed that some of my posters had given officers an opportunity to educate prisoners about history. Not only had I got the right approach to open minds, I had also honoured the validity and integrity of those who died, civilian or service. Somehow, I had enabled a creative meeting place between prisoners and staff.

 

What we created was a cycle of validation.

 

I remember the friends I made among the prisoners. The ones who thought I was nuts. And the ones who would never dare do what I sometimes did, but were breathtakingly kind with their gratitude. I remember every hug, every tear shed, every tab and precious teaspoon of coffee shared. You know who you are as well. I remember stories too painful to share or too dreadful to relate here. This is just the beginning and the worst are forming a queue along the landing. These will be my prisoner stories.

 

The one I will tell now is of my exquisitely beautiful Muslim friend; an Egyptian woman with the long-necked Nubian look of Nefertiti – when she bound her hair, she was a dead-ringer for the Egyptian Queen. She was the one subjected to the most appalling racial and religious abuse on our landing by a treacherous old lag (a dead ringer for the ugly witch in fairy tales – a view that may be shared amongst staff as well). What was surprising was not the prisoner – she was no surprise at all – but the prison’s lack of response. My friend has to endure this for days and it had an awful impact upon her. On a spiritual level, I was once able to silence the verbal ordure with this – The Call To Prayer – and on a human level, I could be her friend and make sure that she knew she wasn’t alone. Between us and our faith, we were able to turn it around. Although we have lost touch, I hope my Egyptian friend, already traumatised through gender mutilation (she will not mind my speaking of this), understands how much I still love her. *There’s a great big hug for you tucked into this message, Nurat, wherever you are*

 

And then who’s next in this PTSD timeline trailing out along the prison wing at Durham? Hello TJ.

 

TJ is one of the loveliest souls I have ever met *”No – I haven’t forgotten you, shazza!” See, I told you they were queuing!* and one of the most honest. TJ is a local lass who could, when I knew her, only cope with life if she took the painkiller heroin. I asked her once if she could envision a life without it and she said ‘No’. In my opinion, she gave a fair answer to the life she was being forced to live. Whilst she may have given staff the run-around, TJ was always immaculate in her dealings with me. That – in my opinion – is a measure of potential desistance.

 

As for my Egyptian friend, she is already a model of desistance. During that prolonged racial abuse to which she was subjected – and which numerous prisoners, from two separate wings, complained about both during and afterwards – she never once retaliated. If she is still in prison and has not been released, she is a Corston woman.

 

And then there is shazza who, along with a member of staff at HMP Durham, was subject to predicted (by both prisoners and staff) violence causing actual bodily harm to both. I’m trusting she won’t be in prison anymore because she finally met the right woman. But the pair of them might be interested in the continuing potential of desistance (if I can find them –they are local (Durham)).

 

I carry the stories of everyone I ever met in prison, including the prisoner, whose name I now forget (a failing of mine, I’m afraid), who asked for her name to be included in the dedication of any book I wrote.

 

This how big my Prison PTSD reaches. I’m grateful for prison because it showed me, very clearly, what happens when the rules are broken. It also showed me that, sometimes, Governors and Governments – in all their forms – break these rules with malice aforethought. It is this malice that causes the trauma wound. When the wound is untreated, we get PTSD.

 

The only way to heal PTSD is with the truth. Sometimes we betray ourselves. Sometimes we are the betrayed. PTSD – the disorder, not the shock – is caused by a systemic refusal to acknowledge AND ACT upon the validity of authentic objections to abuse; a callous disregard for the existence, let alone the life of another.

 

Evidence? The governor of the Segregation Unit at New Hall who told me, to my face during a suicidal crisis, that my death would make no difference to him. Or the lazy officer on that unit who ‘lost’ my plastic knife? His behaviour resulted in my cell-spin and strip-search immediately following a 20:52 review – great way to treat a prisoner in segregation with an existing suicidal ideation. I gave every single officer absolute hell for his behaviour after that. I made sure they counted my plastic cutlery out on each and every occasion. That man also left his barbeque in the Seg’s office. I know that because I got on extremely well with the officer who told him to clear it out. So – a prisoner’s query here – with all that security, how the fuck did that man get his barbeque into that office. I was banged up in the cell opposite the office – I heard every word!

 

The SO in charge of the Segregation Unit in New Hall is one of the finest people I have ever had the pleasure to meet. The Unit’s governor – who once thought he could legislate my ability to love in a 20:52 review (I kid you not) – was a henchman for the Prince of Darkness.  The Prince of Darkness was HMP New Hall’s Area Manager – the man, who as prison governor, was named and implicated in the death of Zahid Murbarak at Feltham YOI. It was the “worry-wart” SO who went through the experience of a Catch-22 with me because he thought I was taking the piss. He learned something extremely important along the way because, forever after, he was always respectful and as kind as he was permitted to be within the rules of the unit. There are no rules that will ever confine how much gratitude I feel for that man… just for being willing to learn. When he ‘got it’, things really changed for the better for prisoners on that unit. Those with mental ill-health benefited from being there and those on C&C found it harder to misbehave. The changes that SO ordered – in full and proper accordance with rules, PSO’s, etc – and with the full support of the Governor in Charge ( a most excellent woman) included the level of legal kindness required by prison rules etc that had previously been denied. By the time I left, I don’t believe staff on that Unit would have got away with treating a prisoner the way I was treated at the outset.

 

But I’m not quite ready to tell that story yet.

 

 

Reflections on Grassroots Management

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One of great freedoms about being honest about my past is that I can draw on my experience of the consequences of good and bad management.

 

After I was sentenced, the Prison Service transferred me out of the Segregation Unit at HMP New Hall, where I had been for nine months, and sent me to the highest security prison wing for women in England and Wales. F Wing was a woman’s wing within the otherwise all-male high-security HMP Durham.  The wing overlooks the field where the Durham Miners’ Gala is held every year so sometimes, if you were lucky, you got to see a bit of green. Otherwise, it was walls or the other male wings. The windows of one male wing were so close to ours that the staff and some prisoners were driven crazy by the shouting of the window-warriors and their blooming romances complete with very precise biological descriptions.

 

In Reception at HMP Durham the day I arrived, was one of the prison officers I use as a benchmark for humane professionalism. I’m going to call him Ray; those who know me will know exactly who I am talking about but the rest of you will have to remain in the dark because that information is covered by the Official Secrets Act – for his sake alone, I will obey it. As he was dealing with paperwork, he said “Who did you piss off to get sent here then?” I don’t remember my reply but it wouldn’t have been the long story. It was an empathic question and I didn’t mind him asking. I was lucky that day. Ray sorted the cell I was located to, apologising all the while for the state of it and the wing helped me get acclimatised. It was an old-fashioned Victorian wing but it was as clean as some of the prisoners allowed it to be. Fortunately the clean outnumbered the unclean but the latter did a good version of ‘minging’. It had been a long-stay wing so there was enough ‘civilising’ energy around but otherwise it was an absolute nightmare.

 

The nightmare had been set in process by a previous Governor-In-Charge. I’d detested the man when I was obliged to meet him as Area Manager for New Hall. Some years later, the public inquiry into the death of Zahid Mubarak took the highly unusual step of naming him – he’d been the Governor in charge or on duty for the conditions that allowed Zahid to be murdered by his racist ‘padmate’ at Feltham Young Offenders Unit. Perhaps I’m not the only one who disliked him. The changes he forced upon the women prisoners when Governor-in-Charge at HMP Durham resulted in 7 suicides and levels of self-harm so high the Prison Service was forced to close it down. But I was only there for seven months – I was ghosted out to HMP Low Newton on ten minutes notice to pack and leave when the bad staff found they were all on duty together.  Some years later, I bumped into the prison’s Suicide Prevention Officer who still wasn’t happy saying it would never have happened had he been on duty. He was away advising on prisons in Iraq after the Abu Graib scandal, so he did have a good reason not to be there but it obviously still irked him.  He was as honest with me when we met as he had been when I was a prisoner. Geoff is another benchmark for professional excellence. He was an officer that got things done properly. I could rely on him.

 

When I first arrived at F Wing, there was a highly competent Wing Governor. I had time for him but I knew I was in trouble when he told me that my discipline standards were too high, even though he agreed with me on a personal level. The wing had gone past the tipping-point into bad management and there was nothing either of us could do about it. The level of psychic destruction was too deep. It might have been ‘saved’ had someone done something about the poor standards of management, but the nepotism within the prison was too strong and the bad lot colluded with each other to make some of the prisoners’ lives hell. Nor did it help that the Chaplaincy was so weak – good chaplains (regardless of religion or spiritual practice), under a multi-faith umbrella, can make a huge difference when an organism is struggling.

 

This isn’t a sob story. I’m telling it for a reason. I’m an educator and this is a module in management analysis. I’m starting to see stories on Twitter of what looks like piss-poor management to me. These kinds of problems always depend upon who is in charge. There seems to be a person issuing orders that the public vehemently disagree with but I don’t know how high the problem goes. If it goes to the top, then matters are serious indeed. To borrow a naval metaphor, if the ship has a bad captain, the whole crew is sunk – unless there is an admiral you can appeal to.

 

I earned the reputation of being a complainer when I was a prisoner. In fact, once I had learned how to do it properly as a shop steward, I’ve never stopped since – not when I thought it was important. I complain about little things and big things. A little thing might be faulty cutlery in the dining hall. A big thing might be complaining about the behaviour of one of the officers or staff. By the time the system got used to me, most of my complaints were turned down by the bad lot or withdrawn because a good manager was dealing with the problem. The reason for my behaviour is not about being a colossal pain-in-the-arse – even though it does have that effect – it’s to get the matter down in writing. If something has gone wrong, somewhere, a complaint is a written record of what occurred. Those dealing with the complaint were either respectful or they gave the game away. You have no idea how unconscious some are of their behaviour and attitudes. All I did was get them to write down their reasoning and the problem showed up on paper. If nothing happened to fix a piss-poor decision, I made the only honourable choice and headed in the direction of Death because I was damned if I was going to live with what they were doing. In a woman’s prison, Death is a visitor amongst the prisoners. In the well-managed prisons, staff seem to ‘know’ how to arrive in the nick of time. In the badly-managed ones, the women die or go insane. By complaining, the prison hierarchy were forced to deal with what I saw but the levels of collusion seemed so high that they even reached, it seemed, into the Ombudsman’s Office. By complaining, I was making these things visible to the reading eye. When we force people to write down their reasoning, we can examine the kind of thinking that goes on behind any decision. It’s either that or they may seem to not reply at all, although I have sometimes found that letters appear on file that were never received.

 

The police have got a very severe management problem in some areas of the country. I would like to believe that other regions have very good management and suspect this might be true of Northumbria Police. The quality of the officers I have met points to that possibility. The tone of any organisation always comes from the top and when a bad lot is in charge the nightmare they create affects the whole organisation. Staff become oppressed and it shows. It also shows when organisations are well managed. It is important to remember that no organism is likely to survive if there is something wrong at the top. This is always the place of the tipping point. A good Governor-in-Charge or Chief Constable makes the difference because this trickles down into a healthy-enough prison or community.

 

With a good Chief Constable, there will always be a line-of-command between the coal face and the top. I always knew that if I took my problem to some officers, they’d turn the prison upside-down until they got the proper orders that accorded with the Rules. If there weren’t rules, they set about making them through the chain-of-command to the relevant Governor. If the Governor wasn’t up to scratch, the order would be given by the Governor-in-Charge because I’d have pulled him on it. It used to drive some staff crazy that this particular Governor took such an interest in me but I used to keep him entertained with prison stories and there was nothing they could do about it. When the top is willing to listen to the concerns at the coal-face, it means that the energy of the organisational organism is circulating. With a highly-disciplined and competent officer-in-charge most problems are resolvable. Ones that aren’t may belong to those not competent to do the job, for whatever reason. These people become blockages to communication and I’ve often found that telling them what they want to hear or using silence as the only way to get rid of them whilst I’m figuring out my next step. They are very hard to move unless you can catch them in a serious error of judgment but this is not particularly difficult if you feed their egos. The incompetent rarely have a problem in the ego department and they inflate easily to several times their natural size – it’s not difficult to push them over. The real problem starts when you are dealing with psychopaths.

 

The Mubarak Governor was a psychopath and this is clear from the trail of evidence he left behind him. Psychopaths frequently show up at the head of the feeding chain. The main problem they have is that they don’t seem to understand the law applies to them as well – particularly in places like policing and prison – which means that they have problems remaining within the rules. Obedience is not one of their strong points, although they often score high on the bullying and intimidation scales. Other symptoms are laziness or over-zealousness. Evidence for this usually shows up in paperwork where mysterious gaps appear where there ought to be records or records occur that ought not to be there. They are not particularly efficient when they choose to behave true to form. The other thing to remember is that they mix lies with truth quite liberally but have difficulty remembering which lies they’ve told and to whom. Another defence mechanism they use is distance – they are either ‘in-your-face’ or the invisible manager issuing written orders but they’re great at building their ‘reputation’. They give themselves away by their timing. Because they lack empathy, they will not understand the moment when they are supposed to step forward and take the lead. When they do catch up with the general feeling, their actions will seem somehow inappropriate to the moment.

 

I’m not saying anything that is not being said already – all I’m doing is putting it into a management training framework.

 

The thing to remember is that Crown servants, like any other UK public servant, can only do what the Law allows – they can go no further. The private sector can do what it likes apart from break the Law. These are two very different organisms entirely. A private sector company can choose to adopt the standards of public service and some have. What cannot be done is to transplant a strictly-private sector ‘head’ on to a public service body because the Law doesn’t work that way – especially with emergency and justice services. I found, when I understood this difference in Law, that it made all the difference between good and bad decisions in social issues. In order to know how to make a good decision, public services write everything down. It’s in Rules, Orders, Manuals, you name it. When you go to these rules, they are frequently very clear because they’ve been amended over time as a result of learning from past mistakes. Anyone who does go poking around in this kind of thing might find themselves suffering from cognitive dissonance when they realise how far their reality has strayed from how it’s supposed to be. I remember my own experience, in New Hall’s Segregation Unit, when I finally read what was supposed to happen in the relevant PSO. It was hard to believe what I was reading the difference between the ‘orders’ and reality was so vast.

 

There’s a lot of flak coming at the Police for the behaviour of the psychopaths-within. One theme involves following orders and the Nuremburg Trials and the collusion of good officers with this bad behaviour. What these observers don’t see is the reasoning behind the chain-of-command. The real work will always be done at the coal-face but the steps upwards are to ensure the safety of those below. Managers are responsible for the well-being of their staff in a healthy-enough environment. Those who fail to address this requirement are not good managers and may not be acting in the public interest. If public servants like the police and prison officers are questioning the orders they are being given, they had better know what they are doing because otherwise it can turn very nasty indeed. I know because I’ve been there. This designed to give you enough bench-marks to assess your own situation with pointers to solutions that have worked for me in the past. Bear in mind that I am only where I am today because I failed so often. A clever woman learns from every mistake she makes.

 

There’s a reason why this blog is so long. Those with a psychopathic ‘bent’ usually have little patience, especially with things they don’t understand. The way I am makes very little sense to them and I’m hoping they’ll have found me boring by now. Therefore I often leave the most useful information until last.

 

I don’t know which Chief Constable is presiding over this but it takes the really toxic order of a psychopath to start alienating a supportive public, particularly at this moment in time. If I were making recommendations, I’d suggest someone look into it – a good Chief Constable would not be a happy bunny having that kind of publicity. Not now. A bad Chief Constable won’t know how to manage the situation. If, in the unlikely event that everyone has forgotten how to manage anything, I’d suggest someone go have a word with Lord David Ramsbotham. Chief Inspectors of Prisons can be interesting people. I’ve met Anne Owers a couple of times when she turned up on Inspections and she did good work for women prisoners. Ramsbotham also has a very good pedigree. They are both accessible people and the experience they have around Prison Rules is both invaluable and transferable, especially among high-discipline professions.

 

What you do with all of this is entirely your responsibility. What I will say is that until something is done, matters will inevitably deteriorate further because that is all psychopathic management is capable of now, especially given that the country’s tipping point is David Cameron.

 

 

The Hillsborough Panel Report and a very bad day for the Police

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Yesterday, some of our police officers had a very bad day indeed. There were two reports in the press. The first was about a police officer who had intentionally scuppered a series of sex crimes by lying about what he had done and failing to pursue the cases through to prosecution. In some ways, this is to be expected. Police officers are human beings, just like the rest of us, and there will always be the odd bad apple somewhere.  Officers will take it on the chin and recognise that this is a part of policing, whether they like it or not, but that case isn’t what caused so many on Twitter to fall into painful silence. What did that was the publication of the report from the Hillsborough Panel.

As the findings came to light, led by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, details emerged into the public domain. The Report from the Hillsborough Independent Panel is shocking. The tragedy itself and the difficulties the police and other emergency services had in coping with a situation that took 96 lives would have been bad enough. What really did the damage to the officers on Twitter was the information that followed:-

  • That police carried out criminal record checks on the deceased in an attempt to “impugn their reputations”
  • That senior officers privately discussed the “animalistic behaviour” of “drunken marauding fans”
  • Evidence that a number of the dead survived “for a significant period” beyond the 3.15pm cut-off point imposed at the original inquest
  • 116 of the 164 South Yorkshire Police statements were doctored to remove unfavourable comments
  • South Yorkshire Ambulance Service was misleading when it claimed criticism of its conduct made by doctors who were present was factually inaccurate
  • There was “no evidence of substance” to support the police account that alcohol and fan aggression played a part in the disaster
  • Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher expressed concern in Cabinet that the first inquiry into the disaster contained “devastating criticism of the police”
  • The weight placed on blood alcohol levels among the dead was “inappropriate” (Source: Daily Telegraph)

It took twenty-three years to finally get at this information; a journey which included:-

  • a Home Office inquiry chaired by Lord Justice Taylor
  • a criminal investigation
  • inquests
  • civil actions
  • a judicial review of the inquests
  • a judicial scrutiny of ‘new evidence’ by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith
  • a private prosecution of two senior police officers
  • a submission to the European Court of Human Rights

From what I saw of their reactions on Twitter, the best of the police were as horrified as everyone else and probably more so. What occurred betrays the Oath they take when they become officers. Those wanting to do a good job pay attention to this because it guides them in their work. What occurred during and after the Hillsborough tragedy violated the Oath to its very core. As the documents reveal, we discover that officers, already traumatized by the event itself, were ‘helped’ by senior officers into altering, deleting or qualifying their originally truthful statements thereby becoming unwilling participants in an intentional collusion to blame the victims instead. This tells me that senior officers coerced constables to violate their Oath in an astonishing abuse of power.

Our view of the police is frequently coloured by our experiences with those we do encounter. Listen to prisoners and they’ll tell hair-raising stories of how bad they are. Listen to others and the police can’t put a foot wrong. Both views are inaccurate because they are unbalanced in their reporting. Having met quite a few police constables during my adventures with the law, I’ve found that there are those who are excellent; many who are good-enough; and those who are downright dangerous. Each police officer is different because we are all individual but, if I was polite and respectful – even when they were arresting me – the best and the good-enough did no harm. They were doing their job and following orders. I’ve never seen any reason to make the process more difficult than it needs to be and, in return, they responded in various ways, from simply being fair to offering considerable kindness when I was at my most distressed.

The possibility that these officers could be subject to coercion by senior staff comes as no surprise to me at all, because I’ve seen it before. The Hillsborough Independent Panel’s documents haven’t yet revealed who issued the orders because they haven’t been thoroughly examined yet. We may never know but these remain extremely important questions. Who ordered police constables to alter their statements and ‘helped’ them when they objected? Who ordered the background checks of the victims, actively looking for evidence to impugn their reputation? Who was involved in fabricating tales of drunkenness and ‘animalistic’ behavior? This could only have come from the senior and very senior officers of South Yorkshire Police. Who were these people and what kind of orders are they issuing now?

Certainly one, Norman Bettison – a Chief Inspector with SYP at the time of Hillsborough – is now the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police. The Guardian Live Blog comments: “Bettison was part of the internal review team at South Yorkshire police who have been accused of engaging in black propaganda to shift blame for the stadium disaster from the police and onto fans,” although the man himself has consistently denied it, particularly when he became Chief Constable of Merseyside – a surprisingly tactless appointment in the light of subsequent events. But what happened to the rest of them? Are they still working for the police? Where? What are they responsible for now?

If I were a police officer facing this kind of reporting about my service, I would be both appalled and worried. The service is already under strain as government budget cuts begin to bite into direct services. At the same time, they face the threat of privatisation. Knowing our present government, the shock of the Hillsborough Panel’s report could well be used as a political excuse to speed up this process under the guise of efficiency. Yet I do wonder if Hillsborough families would have ever had access to the truth of what went on had the event been covered by privatised police. Somehow, I doubt it.

Morale within the police, as with many other public services, is very low. Their pay and pensions are under threat; the services they provide have been whittled down to danger levels; the social problems we expect them to deal with are likely to increase; they are facing privatisation; and now this. The situation has deteriorated so badly the police are considering industrial action – something else they are forbidden to do! It’s as if the country has ceased to be grateful to those who do walk towards trouble while the rest of us walk away.

When I began this piece, I was aiming to be supportive for the best of our police officers. What I didn’t realise is just how hard it is to do that these days. The collective force of negativity is so powerful it can seem, at times, impossible to combat. It only changes when I recognise the levels of social responsibility attached to the job.

Our politicians use terms like ‘social responsibility’ in their rhetoric but, from my perspective, few have any real notion of what it means. To be socially responsible means to put aside personal or ego needs in favour of the needs of the community. It requires such people to be unselfish with their knowledge, skills, abilities, and, in the case of the police and other emergency services, their lives too. The very best of the police, prison officers, fire services and medics put themselves at risk to keep us safe each and every day. We might not see this with our own eyes but we expect them to be there when we need them. To do that, they have to give up aspects of life we take for granted so we, us non-emergency people, can keep ours. We expect them to be better than we are; to have better behaviour; to have a better social attitude than the ones we hug to ourselves; and we give them hell if they fail. There was a time, as a society, where we valued the personal sacrifices they made on our behalf. We didn’t begrudge them a decent wage and we recognised that the pension they got at the end of their working life was a fair reward for the services they’d provided to us.

Times have changed and not for the better. When it comes to the police, we already have lost a significant number through government budget cuts. These come at a time when the indicators for social unrest suggest we can expect more of this as poverty, homelessness and hunger start to cut into the bones of our society. When our communities explode, as it appears they might, who are we going to call on? Privatised police? Exactly how likely are they to be working “without favour or affection, malice or goodwill”? Personally speaking, if the efficiency of G4S during the London Olympics is anything to go by, we can kiss our collective ass’s goodbye.

If any good is going to come out of the Hillsborough Panel’s report, perhaps we can be grateful for the information of what can go on ‘behind-the-scenes’ in some police forces. The ‘help’ those Hillsborough police received to change their statements violated the heart of both the employment and social contract of policing as that stands at present. Perhaps it’s time to start questioning some of the orders being issued for their lawfulness. Perhaps it’s also time to really start appreciating those police officers who know just how important their Oath is, especially to the public. And perhaps it’s time to really start respecting the best of our police officers whilst dealing with the worst.

If I had written a purely supportive piece on this subject, it wouldn’t have been true and any police officer reading it would know that. Untruths are no good to anyone, especially when facing the kind of problems I’ve already outlined. So this piece has evolved into something as realistic as I can get it from an outsider’s perspective. The police have to deal with this reality every working day and I think it’s disrespectful not to acknowledge that.  They live this reality whilst I only write about it from a home made safe by their presence whenever it’s needed. They’re a tough and often cynical bunch because that can be the only way to survive when you do the job. But that doesn’t mean they don’t need to hear they are valued.

Yes; there are clearly some very serious problems within the police service and some of those are bad police officers at senior levels. Yes, there are equally serious problems developing within the community. Yes, everyone will be looking to you to sort these problems out and, yes, some of us know that it’s being made very hard for you to do that. It’s a horrible position to find yourselves in and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone, especially our emergency services. But please also bear in mind that there are some of us who see what you do, know what you’re struggling with and are astonished at your commitment to keep going. Some of us are deeply grateful, not only for what you do but for your commitment and integrity, even in the face of stories like Hillsborough. I’m one of them.

Thank you.