I think increasingly that a major twist in Britain’s slide into decline began in the 1980s because a number of liberal jurists – who cut their teeth in the so-called siwnging sixties – rose to power and did inestimable damage with their touchy-feely rulings. One such of these lefty lawyers was Lord Scarman, the Law Lord who paved the way for the disastrous Human Rights Act to be incorporated into British law. He also levered his way into a whole range of high-level commissions from 1977 onwards, including the one that looked into the Brixton riots of 1981, the 30th anniversary of which is being celebrated in true BBC-bash-the-police fashion today.
Said Scarman it was who ruled that the riots had been caused by one factor above all – our nasty, racist, stop-and-search police. The good lord did not call the police racists, it’s true, but it was an official opening of the floodgates that culminated in the McPherson ruling in which the Met was branded “institutionally racist”. In the backwash, the police have become increasingly hidebound, touchy-feely and – above all – “multi-cultural”.
I was a BBC reporter when the riots happened, and I was out on the streets of Brixton in the aftermath. I was aware that a lot of people were angry about the police, and in particular, the idea that they had prevented medical help getting to a young man who had been stabbed, the alleged trigger of the mayhem that ensued. But what I also observed was a strong feeling – among the law-abiding – that this one incident had been the pretext for factions within Brixton to go wild and act in a totally uncivilised and unwarranted fashion. Not only that, it was the culmination of such lawlessness. Liberals at the time pointed the finger of blame at the police, of course, but Margaret Thatcher – in the days when we had a true Conservative leader with vision and resolve – was equally adamant that what went on was simply a criminal riot – nothing more, nothing less. She discounted racism and unemployment.
Cue today. A BBC reporter called Ed Davey has written the official BBC version of the events of April 1981, and guess what? According to him, what went in the streets of Brixton was straightforwardly, one-dimensionally the result of crass police racism, and not just that – (a new one on me) they also deployed “torture”. The anniversary is mainly an excuse for him to marshal and give a platform for a raft of anti-police opinion, to warn that despite changes, they must never be allowed to rest on their laurels, and then to rehash yet again the idea that it was police brutality that was responsible for everything that went on in the streets of Brixton on those long ago nights.
There’s a begrudging acceptance at the end by Mr Davey that the police may have changed. But the account itself – overall – is simply an exercise in propaganda. I despair that the police have become so supine in the face of such opinion that they now accept (and told Mr Davey) that effectiveness in their job can be measured by the number of ethnic minority officers they have or how many community meetings they hold. If you doubt this, see also here.
I saw at first hand the horrors of the crimes of Brixton, and I heard the stories of lawlessness that the police then were dealing with. This re-writing of history by the BBC is dangerous, poisonous bunk. It is a national tragedy for which Scarman must take some of the blame. But the BBC are just as guilty – they only ever tell one side of the story.