The last time I had any dealings with the police was some months ago.
I took exception to the ill-organised security arrangements at Belfast City Airport where a police car is now stationed at the access road to the terminal building. Adjacent to the car are to be found two officers of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners' Police whose job it is to waylay any lone motorists seeking to approach the terminal. They are told it is not permitted. What they must do is park the car and walk to the terminal, where they may meet their arriving passenger and accompany them — with their baggage — to the car park.
It may be sleeting — at this time of year it regularly is: I have had two soakings recently. It is a considerable distance to the windswept car park over a path completely unprotected from any downpour there may be; but that is the rule. Objection to the arrangement has been greeted with indifference from the City Airport. You may like it — or lump it. But — and it is a big ‘but' — can I remind fellow travellers that a little over a year ago a couple of lunatics drove a car loaded with explosives into the terminal at Glasgow Airport at Abbotsinch, starting a raging fire? This is apt to be quoted by the City Airport as justifying their ban on passenger pick-ups.
But there is an awkward point: pick-ups are allowed at Glasgow, on the very spot where the lunatics had their fling. In fact, there you can stop, across the two-lane carriageway right outside the terminal, and stay for 10 minutes to get your passengers and their baggage aboard. Cost? Nothing. Cost of the shambolic circumnavigation imposed at Belfast? Probably three or four pounds, if the tortoise-like baggage claim is in one of its snail-like moods. At Glasgow, too, important detail, your convenient pick-up will be under cover.
I suggested some months ago that the gauleiter wielding the power at Belfast City might lift his or her telephone and have a chat with Abbotsinch.
I suggested they might learn something to their advantage. I have heard nothing since. Why do I now mention it once more? I mention it because the ||increasingly arbitrary behaviour of the police is headline news.
The heavy-handed arrest of the Shadow Immigration Minister, Damian Green, was a disgraceful abuse of police power in London. Those powers, as people in Northern Ireland know better than anyone else in the UK, have been reinforced because of the terrorist menace. Many more policemen and women outside Northern Ireland now carry arms as a result. In the anti-terrorist role the police know that the terrorist asks no questions. Only he or she who shoots first may survive. There is an overweening temptation to presume guilt until innocence is proved. But this is to bury democracy and the rule of law upon which it is based.
It is no accident that this is precisely the terrorists' game. Destabilising democracy by means of outrages which are held to justify draconian security measures, is grist to their mill. It leads to charges that citizens live in a police state and that, in turn, fires popular discontent with government. The case recorded on closed-circuit TV of the soldier savagely beaten up by three policemen in Wigan is sinister. They say he provoked them. A judge, expressing concern about the prosecution, dismissed the case.
A great deal more will be heard of that — and of the Damian Green case; not least concerning the ease with which anti-terrorist police, presumably heavily armed, gained access to the Houses of Parliament and searched an MP's office. The Speaker may have some awkward questions to answer when the new session is opened by the Queen tomorrow. Anyone who retains a smidgeon of the history they learned at school will realise the sensitivity of the issues involved. Parliamentary privilege was dearly bought. But then the scions of new Labour do not do history — any more than, according to Alistair Campbell, they do God. The Home Secretary Jacqui Smith (left) says she knew nothing of the arrest of Mr Green. The answer exposes her to the charge of being either a fool or a knave. That there was no traffic between Scotland Yard and the Home Office at a high level on the intention to send a small army of overalled counter-terrorist police into Kent to arrest — at 5.50am — a Shadow Minister of the Crown, defies belief. There is no doubt that the era of instant communication and 24-hour news poses vexatious problems for Government, particularly one like the Blair-Brown administration, which has prided itself on its ability to control the flow of news by deliberate leak and spin.
Recent events confirm that it is not possible; but lashing out in vengeful reprisal is not the way to woo the media or meet the challenge.