Sunday, October 25, 2009

Operation Rize

Hard to take a small sample of the article to illustrate this story. In short, UK police used a relatively new law designed to seize the assets of criminals to raid some safety deposit boxes. What's startling- and frightening- is that instead of raiding the boxes of identified criminals, the police obtained a warrant to raid every single box in the facility. They cut them open with angle grinders, catalogued the contents and then basically argued that if you had cash or valuables in the boxes, you were assumed to be guilty and had to prove that you had obtained the valuables legally.

I always thought that a man was innocent until proven guilty- not any more.

Under POCA, the burden of proof lay with the box-holders. Finding evidence for wartime treks across Europe, or charting migration stories from the Partition of India and beyond, would cost many of the box-holders tens of thousands of pounds.

For example, one Jewish family fled Europe before the war with some diamonds sewn into their clothes. Fearful that at some point they or their children might need to flee again they kept the diamonds in a safety deposit box. To get their belongings back they had to pay to carbon date the diamonds, proving they were cut in the 1930s.

And that's just one example of many. It's also worth noting that the law used to carry out the raid was never intended for this kind of operation- dubbed a fishing expedition. In fact, the first judge in London they took the case to turned down the warrant request. So the police went "judge shopping", travelling outside of the capital to a nearby town where the judge was less knowledgeable about such cases- and they dazzled him with statistics that proved to be incredibly wrong in order to obtain the warrant. No need for things such as evidence here.

I strongly urge you all to read the whole article to get the full picture of this scandalous raid- inspired, it would seem, by the police failing to meet their seizure targets. The fact that officers are not being sacked for this shocking abuse tells you all you need to know about how far the notion of individual liberty in the UK has fallen.

1 comment:

HowlingStatic said...

I continue to be interested in the attitude some have toward their governments, where they feel that police in particular are likely to restrain themselves when granted new powers. I read a story about how broadened search powers here in the US, intended to be used as an anti-terrorist technique, have been used almost exclusively for drug cases.

It may well be, as the article says, that no one objects to the property of gangsters being seized, but it is puzzling to me that people think laws which enable asset forfeiture of this kind - guilty until proven innocent - won't be used against the innocent.

Nothing surprising here. Not surprising in Britain. Wouldn't be surprising in the United States.

It would be good to have a safe and free world, but the sad fact of the matter is, given the choice of one or the other, many would choose safe, and flush their civil liberties down the toilet (de jure or de facto, doesn't really matter) for it.