A number of Libyan army personnel who were being trained at Bassingbourn barracks have been charged with sexual assaults, and rape, in nearby Cambridge.
The matter was raised at Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Panel on the 5th of November 2014 by Cambridge City Council leader Cllr Lewis Herbert.
Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright claimed he was responsible for addressing the problems and getting them resolved, he said:
I said I’m going to go straight to the Home Secretary which I did and the problem has been resolved because of that.
Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright’s full initial statement to the panel on the matter was:
I mean I was aware right at the beginning that Libyans were going into that area and had discussions with the Chief Constable obviously because we saw the possibility of things perhaps going wrong.
This was an international agreement rather than national under which that this was done. We were obviously concerned that there was a risk there.
And by and large there wasn’t any real problem. There were one or two who got out and the police were involved and took them back in and got them back to the army.
It started to get a bit difficult in the last three weeks that I was aware of this because the police reported it to me. Up until then the Chief Constable and the team of officers liaised with the brigadier there but it was obvious it needed to be taken to a higher level because this getting, getting, silly.
I didn’t want to see our resources being put to something which we had no control of. And so just so you’re aware of what happened. I decided to approach the Home Secretary directly. This was two weeks ago.
[Police and Crime Commissioner's Chief of Staff whispers to him]
A week. She’s telling me a week. It seems like two weeks. I approached the Home Secretary directly who picked this one up very rapidly. As I said it needs to go to a higher level. Government level. MoD needs to be questioned about this. Let people know there is a problem and it has to be dealt with. And I have to say that she actually took it just like that. Which is why the whole thing developed as it did. And all of those people shouldn’t be here by the end of the week or thereabouts and that’s the impact it’s had. So I think that will be resolved.
Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright later added:
Right at the beginning assurances were given that there wasn’t going to be a problem. I recognised that we were running into difficulties last week and I said look this is beyond our remit. You know we’ve got to go somewhere else. I discussed this with the Chief Executive and I said I’m going to go straight to the Home Secretary which I did and the problem has been resolved because of that.
Cllr Herbert responded and said::
There are some questions which need to be answered by the Constabulary, and they include why, after the first incident, there wasn’t any follow-up or publicity to alert the public. So we had a string of incidents which occurred before the police actually said look we have something with a serial aspect here.
Cllr Lewis Herbert said there were questions which need to be answered including:
These people were on supervised visas, what was the supervision?
During the discussion the Police and Crime Commissioner also stated:
There wasn’t any real concern until things started to happen
I was disappointed that panel chair Cllr McGuire took up valuable time talking about the irrelevant matter of public access to facilities at Bassingbourn.
Focus on Harm
This is an immensely important matter. Crimes which result in significant physical and mental injuries are those which I regularly lobby local councillors in Cambridge to prioritise and take an interest in.
The focus given to “anti-social behaviour” which is often not otherwise criminal, and matters such as cyclists using the wrong part of badly marked shared use pavements arises, I think, from councillors failing to take into account actual, and potential, harm when considering policing priorities. It is excellent to see at least some of our elected representatives taking this recent series of very worrying incidents seriously.
I am sceptical of Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright’s claim that the action that has been taken in respect of the Libyan troops has been as a direct result of his intervention. Our Police and Crime Commissioner in Cambridgeshire has made a number of inaccurate statements to the panel in the past and when he has been challenged on this he has stated:
these were verbal responses given by the Commissioner and need to be considered in the context that they were made.
My interpretation of this is the commissioner is openly warning that nothing he says orally to the panel can be relied upon. In light of this I have urged the panel to follow up important matters in writing, and have successfully lobbied the panel to change their rules of procedure so written responses from the Police and Crime Commissioner to their questions will now be proactively published.
I think the police try not to publicise serious, violent, offences. I suspect this is because such offences occurring is not a good thing for the reputation of the police. I think the police also want to reduce people’s fear of crime by not publicising violent crimes.
Often the professional media only find out serious crimes have occurred because members of the public notice, and question, police activity in an area.
I think the police should be more open with the public so that people can make their own judgements about risk and make informed decisions about if to change their behaviour, and take steps to reduce their chances of becoming a victim of crime themselves.
Cllr Herbert is calling for an inquiry and has stated:
We will be compiling a detailed list of issues the local community wants addressed in an inquiry and we are asking residents to send in their comments to us.
I would like to see the police’s policies on publicising violent crimes, and crimes in public spaces, reviewed. I think the police’s views on balancing the risk of creating undue fear with the potential for more openness to enable people to take steps to protect themselves against crime ought be made public so there can be informed public debate on the policies behind the balanced judgements the police take.
I have written previously on this subject stating:
I would like to see much greater openness and transparency from the police, including the publication of all incidents dealt with (minus personal information of course) so the public can see each morning what the police were doing the previous day. This would allow the public to make a more informed contribution to debates on policing and take action to prevent themselves becoming victims of crime.
It appears there have been some cases of serious crimes involved here. Cllr Herbert has stated “these were serious nasty assaults” and there have been allegations of rape. Often though the technical definition of charges can encompass a much wider range of behaviour than is invoked by the name of the charge. “Sexual assault” for example can be just touching. The basis of some of the allegations in this series of incidents could be just be that two people have come into contact with one another.
Libyan troops have stated:
They didn’t tell us about British law and what’s the difference between right and wrong here.”
In the UK we have lots of very broadly drawn laws and many behaviours which are harmless, and common, are technically illegal. I think this is a highly undesirable state of affairs and could perhaps be one of the problems here. A lack of clarity as to what is acceptable behaviour or not in our society is not something which just challenges those visiting from other cultures, but people who have grown up in this country as well.
Transparency in the Justice System
I would like to easily be able to see the detailed charges in these, and other local cases, and to be able to easily find out the information required to observe court cases. Justice needs to be seen to be done in public.