Political constipation is not unknown in the Home Office, but it is not something to be encouraged, particularly when other parts of the same department appear to have the Political equivalent of the runs. According to this report a request for the use of Water Cannon on our streets was made by Chief Constables in a letter to the Home Office in December 2012. They set up a Water Cannon Project Board the following month, chaired by David Shaw, Chief Constable of West Mercia. The board was intended to facilitate the use of Water Cannon in the UK, although there are many years experience of using them in Northern Ireland. The group has continued to meet but the lack of response by the Home Office raises concerns that they have the capacity or political will to make a decision. In April 2013 Policing Minister Damian Green requested a “full and final package of information being submitted to allow a decision to authorise”. However David Shaw said he was “not sure what further information was required beyond that submitted in the comprehensive letter to the minister in December 2012”.
The WCPB were keen to have water cannon available that summer as intelligence suggested that there was going to be disorder in London. They spent several months planning to loan one or more from Germany. According to John Shaw discussions with the Met “had revealed that there was no appetite to let another summer pass without cannon being available and that everything possible would be done to secure water cannon for this summer”. In order to further support their case, the board was also keen for a statement on water cannon by the Scientific Advisory Committee on the medical implications of less-lethal weapons to be made public in February 2014 – but this is yet to happen. In March 2014 John Shaw made the formal request for the authorisation of water cannon use to the Home Secretary, and the Met purchased three of the vehicles in June. However the Home Office continutes to prevaricate on the decision which they were first tasked with 20 months ago!
By contrast the Home Office must have played a significant role in the decision to establish the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers (DRIP) Act. I have written about DRIP several times but in essence the European Court ruled in April 2014 that some of our phone tapping legislation is illegal. The Government had secretive meetings including with the Opposition before emerging with draft legislation 3 months later. They then proceeded to pass this legislation within a week, a speed unheard of for primary legislation, with no time for any public debate or consultation, despite previous promises by the Government to engage us in their actions.
On the issue of Water Cannon, which I wrote about in July, those of us who are opposed to its use should not assume that the demand for its use is high amongst Chief Constables. Several are opposed to their roll out with views here from Chief Constable Jacqui Cheer of Cleveland Police who told John Shaw in January 2014 that papers drafted by the WCPB did not accurately reflect what had been discussed at a prior meeting of the Chief Constables’ Council. She said: “As I remember it we agree(d) that we understood Sir Bernard’s position and that the Met and one or two other forces may want to explore it but a significant number of us agreed with those who spoke out against a national commitment to fund and train [Water Cannon]”. However the failure by the Home Office to make a decision on one small item of equipment in 20 months when they can oversee a decision on data from all of our phones and computers in 3 months suggests that there are problems in the Home Office, unless of course they are more concerned about a few photographs on the front of newspapers, when they know that its hard to portray official phone hacking in newspapers?