There is no excuse for David Lidington. He has a PhD in History, and a particular interest in the history of the Law. He thus knows perfectly well that, as Secretary of State for Justice, his plans to give G4S powers of police arrest and detainment cannot be justified on any sane bases. He must also surely know that the corrupt, incompetent and otherwise tarnished reputation of G4S makes them the worst possible candidate for such a role.
When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, he quickly sought to give assurances to the German military that he wanted to work with, not against, them. The Generals swore allegiance to him on one condition: that he would get rid of his private army of Nazi bully-boys, the Stürm Abteilung. Hitler duly purged the SA in his Night of the Long Knives the following year, and then rapidly disbanded the organisation.
Put another way, even a group as terminally dense as the German General Staff knew that it was not a good idea for private vigilante corps to be detaining and abusing citizens, minus only the Justice System to ensure fair play.
Sadly, the distiguished historian who is now the British Secretary of State for Justice is behind the Hindenburg curve re this one. For although various Citizen Rights organisations have been collecting over 100,000 signatures since late September – just as a precaution in case those on the sinking ship Mayflower might have completely lost it – I’ve been picking up signs that David Lidington’s “idea” to give G4S powers of arrest, detention and extortion has been picking up both speed and supporters in the last few weeks.
To give the issue some perspective, we should consider the less than illustrious track record of G4S. In July 2013, I posted this, the third of several pieces about them. It was pretty damning (along with dozens of other like-minded posts and articles from others) but clearly, nothing will put off the Conservative Nutter wing once they have the cutlass between their teeth. The potted history of the “security” firm is as follows:
Soon after its formation in 2004, the Group attracted global controversy. In all four years from 2005 to 2008, it was the subject around the world of labour protests about undermining of workers’ rights. In 2005, its AGM was the centre point of similar protests, and in March 2006, the US State Department issue a report condemning the maltreatment of G4S employees in Indonesia.
Abuse of those in its care, and the employment of cheap unskilled labour, have become hallmarks of the brand. The trend continued in 2009, when the entire G4S Court system security workforce in Australia went on strike in protest at “appalling working conditions, very low pay and persistent undermining of contractual obligations”. As a result, the Court system in Victoria was imperiled.
But mistreating the workforce and paying peanuts has ramifications far beyond labour relations: the very neoliberal approach the group has to training and other investment has been the primary cause of its astonishing record of incompetence.
In September 2009, the G4S cash protection depot in Västberga Sweden was itself cleaned out by robbers who got away with a fortune in untraceable notes.
In October 2011, after taking over as the private managers of Birmingham’s Winson Green prison in the UK, G4S had all the keys stolen. They had to spend over half a million pounds buying new keys and locks. In the entire history of public sector prison management, this had never happened before.
G4S was hired by the London Olympics team to provide “security” for the 2012 games. By July of that year, the CEO Nick Buckles was forced to admit that only a fraction of the training promised had been undertaken, and it was “a humiliating shambles”. 3,500 troops of the British Army were hastily drafted in to save the Games. In every other area where olympic events were taking place, the Group messed up.
In Newcastle, G4S was replaced by 500 staff from local security firms for Olympic events. In Scotland, G4S was stripped of the security role: it passed to Strathclyde Police. At Dorney Lake, the Olympic rowing and canoeing venue, a G4S manager reported G4S radios were not working, so staff were relying on personal mobile phones to communicate. G4S was also forced to admit that the venue was being manned by military personnel after 66% of G4S staff simply failed to show up.
Following the Olympics contract failures, the chief constables of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire recommended abandoning outsourcing work to G4S.
Across the Atlantic, things were heading in the same direction: by March 2012, the US Government had eased G4S out of most of its contracts, and so the Group was forced to sell its US-based Government Solutions business.
Would you give a used truncheon to these men? Probably not, but the story of this amorally ruthless company is far from over. Not content with their supremacy in the exploitational incompetence space, G4S seem since those days to have concluded that fraud is the only way to keep going.
This is not an idle accusation: I face the same risks from libel suits as everyone else. But the strongest defence against libel charges is and always has been verifiable facts.
In November 2013, G4S admitted knowingly overcharging the Ministry of Justice on its felon-tagging contract. By £24 million. By March 2014, however, it emerged that the Group had “underestimated” the level of fraud. It was actually £130 million.
Justice Minister Chris Grayling led the charge to have G4S banned from all UK Government contract work; but having recieved its refund, the Government made a very disturbing decision…..to lift the ban.
It is now clear that central to this decision was the ‘forceful’ opinion of the former Home Secretary and new Prime Minister, Theresa May….who on the same day Grayling said the company would never get another Government contract, awarded them one.
During 2016 in the US, meanwhile, G4S was complicit in a Border Control scandal involving a sudden rise in Mexican illegal immigrants. Their “job” had been to pick up those who were caught, take them to a detention centre in Texas, and then, um, let them go. BC staff later testified to Congress that G4S had been employed to “disperse” illegals because they were unable to cope with the numbers pouring in to the US. (This revelation undoubtedly helped elect Trump).
Back in the UK, undercover journalism by the BBC’s Panorama programme resulted in G4S staff being sacked from the jobs in a Young Offenders centre – also during 2016. The real British police began a criminal fraud inquiry against the Group in relation to the tagging scam. But while this inquiry was still onging, in July 2017 the MoJ awarded the company yet another contract. It is under this “arrangement” that Dr Livington (I presume, ho-ho) is steaming Full Ahead Both towards deregulating the Feeling Collars sector in favour of G4S.
We thus face the possibility of having a partner to the police force that is itself the subject of a massive Serious Fraud Office inquiry. And their job will be….to arrest and detain people.
Thus, the soon-to-be-arrested will be arresting folks. It’s enough to give one a cardiac arrest.
But just so we’re absolutely clear about the nature of The Beast, nine G4S staff at the UK’s Brook House immigration holding centre were suspended in September 2017, after undercover filming revealed a plethora of abuse and assault incidents.
I’m trying to keep this simple, but in truth there is more than one ‘story’ here – in the journalistic sense of the word. It operates on several different levels:
The stench of bribery
To take each one briefly in turn, constitutionally it cannot be a good idea to have both private and public officers with powers of arrest. This is quite different to the introduction of parking meter attendants in the last century: they were public sector employees with no powers of arrest. Idiots will argue that G4S is “only” going to have the right to collect fines, but all thin wedges also have a thick end….and the power to detain suspects should worry every citizen with both brain hemispheres intact. The reasons why we can’t have G4S law are just as obvious as those asserting we must not allow Sharia law.
From a moral standpoint, any sovereign power is setting a thoroughly undesirable ethical example to its citizens by hiring, in an enforcement capacity, a company it knows full well to have been involved in criminal acts. Even typing these words, I find it odd that one has to these days: we are, verily, a civilisation in exponentially plummeting decline.
There are also two ideological pointers in all this. First, the neoliberal obsession with privatising anything that sits still for longer than three seconds is now beyond risible: it is pure, undiluted, bigoted catechism for the sake of it. And second, the risks to freedom of expression and assembly are (whether you like trade unions or not) too obvious to ignore. Ordinary coppers have never liked the job they were handed after 1980 of enforcing labour relations law. The senior ranks – very happy to kowtow to fashion when it comes to identity politics – also see crowd control as a hot potato. They are therefore, I surmise, very happy to see ‘corporate State’ cops doing that kind of dirty work.
That segues neatly into the equally important question of governance. I mean by that word the fiscal duty of all Crown ministers to interrogate the competence of those they reward with taxpayers’ money.
I find it amusing to ponder what the result might have been if, say, G4S had been put in charge of policing Margaret Thatcher’s labour relations reforms of the 1980s; I rather suspect that the outcome would’ve involved either martial law in short order, or the emergence of President Scargill. Wilfully employing sheister cowboys to carry out tasks that are – in a variety of ways – ultra-sensitive really is the triumph of blind alleys over open minds. It is an abrogation, in fact, of public duty. (All those Friedmanites who do not believe in such a concept will have given up on this post about 1500 words ago, so the likelihood of giving offence here is minimal).
But finally, with most politicians and civil servants these days we can make certain assumptions about what drives them. Dedication to public service and the citizenry’s needs are increasingly rare motives. More often found are cronyism and munnnneeeee.
Even the most naive observer must be, by now, beginning to wonder how in God’s name G4S keep going. Well, I have news for them: they’re going like a train. The Group is the world’s largest security company measured by revenues and has operations in around 125 countries. With 585,000 employees, it is the world’s third-largest private employer, the largest European and African private employer, and a member of the élite FTSE 100 index.
We used to be told that crime doesn’t pay. Very few still believe that sort of George Dixon admonition. I would think (call me wacky here, but I’m going to stick my scrawny neck out anyway) that no company operating around the world – with the unique G4S reputation for employee abuse, incompetence and fraud – could, as a corporate and governmental supplier, reach these dizzy heights without some illicit money changing hands along the way.
What other reasons are loitering around in this landscape to help explain the sequence of events I’ve described? Psychopathy? Yes, that’s a possibility. Stupidity? A certainty in some cases. Nihilism? Doubtful. Dogged bloody mindedness? More apparent on the Left, but yes…it’s in the mix, I’m sure. Donation, family connection and other forms of corrupt dealing? Well, with the likes of Jeremy Hunt, Boris Johnson and Michael Fallon involved, you can never rule that out.
Sorry to be a cynic here, but for some reason G4S has become – under both the Coalition and May régimes – bombproof and 100% fire-resistant. The group has a Lord or Lady High Protector somewhere.
My information thus far is that it isn’t David Lidington. The subject of his PhD – “The enforcement of the penal statutes at the court of the Exchequer c.1558-c.1576” – is ironic in the light of his current job. But he’s too new to this, and very probably inherited Grope4Silver. And I doubt if Grayling is a culprit, as he tried hard to get rid of them.
Nor should we assume that the guilty are all MPs. The doling out of contracts (and bailing out of miscreants) in return for filthy lucre is a growth-sector in Whitehall.
But there is almost certainly skullduggery here. Common sense based on circumstantial evidence dictates it as a likely explanation.
Whatever the motives, the short-term need is to stop it. This link might help you to do so.
Enjoy the rest of the weekend.