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Home > Politics

Forest Gategate: A Very British Terror-Bungle

12 June 2006

There's a perversely reassuring rhythm to the Forest Gate fiasco, the biggest Terrorism Act set piece this year, with the slide from decisive action to fumbling embarrassment choreographed exceptionally well. BBC News 24 spent the entirety of last Friday morning in excited focus on the 250 police officer raid on a house in Forest Gate, East London, which had been staged in the sluggish pre-dawn. Bemused eyewitnesses were eagerly consulted and their halting commentary dissected live. Hovering aerial shots of the peaceful street, those sinister forensics-marquees obscuring the raided house, were returned to periodically. These things in themselves were oddly soothing, the familiar cadences of rolling news being pleasant in themselves; plus of course there was the immediate, powerful (if illusory) sense of being protected. Even with your cynicism in florid health, it's hard to completely shake that feeling that Things are Being Done. Like, 250 rozzers. *That's* taking care of business.

Then the buoyant post-raid mood began to splutter and cough. By Monday there were mutterings that the injured man, shot by police and one of two being held, had been blundering from his bedroom in his jimjams at the time - this after disconcerting suggestions that in fact the man's brother had been responsible for the shooting. No evidence of bomb-making equipment or chemical anythings had yet been found, although the 'very specific intelligence' which had propelled 250 cops through one door had specifically specified they were likely to be.

On Tuesday Assistant Police Commissioner Andy Hayman was pleading that the police had 'had no choice but to act upon that intelligence - public safety was our top priority'. Tony Blair got on the defensive, saying he supported the police '101%' (not 110%? A slap in the face for our police force!) and responding slightly less irritatingly to the question of a Muslim backlash in the area, saying 'I think it's a real mistake to think that the average person from the Muslim community is any different from anyone else. They know perfectly well there is a problem with terrorism.' (True enough, but the statement's tone is rather blasť - like anyone else would be, they're likely to be upset and angered by this.)

By Thursday, the police were apologising for the disruption, still insisting their hands had been tied, and Ian Blair was out in force saying the same things, but with bigger jowls. And there you had it - a good old British terror-bungle. This time, with no one dead, it was possible to have a bit of a smug and rotten smirk at the predictability, the outlandish numbers involved, the ungainly slither from anti-terror strike to ignominious oopsie. And of course the cruelly amusing thought of police, politicians and public alike frowning 'Well, just because they haven't *found* the weapons yet doesn't mean they're not just *really well hidden*'.

Obviously, in actual fact the situation is thoroughly depressing. Huge waste of police resources followed by time-consuming IPCC investigation, police morale down, public tension up and distrust soaring. One man injured, two held for days and doubtless to be released on Saturday as pissed-off innocents. Probably. Faith in intelligence slooshing ever further down the lav, and concern about what might actually be going on in some mundane little terrace that no one would ever dream of smashing down the door of with one of those metal battering things. A general and all too familiar sense of flapping hopelessness in the face of this bewildering set of forces that we can hardly imagine seeing quelled. Altogether not an appropriate time to list possible forthcoming embarrassing police mishaps. No.


1) Police admit 'heavy-handedness' when specific intelligence compels them to act on a suburban gathering on November 5th. Several boxes of incendiary devices are seized and hundreds of people arrested, beaten and later released.

2) Specific intelligence leads police to raid a house in East London, described as 'suspiciously quiet and well-maintained, housing what appears to be a family with two children, with what seem to be roses in the front garden'. After two weeks and a massive investigation, it transpires that in fact the quiet and well-maintained house was home to a family with two children, and some roses.

3) Police are forced to take action when a suspicious vending machine at Euston station disgorges only Dairy Milk bars. 'We had no choice,' explains a visibly upset Sir Ian Blair.

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