The original incident, in which police officers acting on false information entered the home of Geoff and Jane Lacey and allegedly proceeded to viciously attack Mr Lacey without provocation, took place in 1999. Recently, however, the police decided to deploy PC James-Leach—wife of Tony Leach, one of the officers involved in the incident—as a beat officer for Blackbird Leys.
IWCA councillor Stuart Craft wrote to Thames Valley Police to express his concerns over this decision. The parish council, of which Jane Lacey is a member, also protested about the situation, under which parish councillors (including Mrs Lacey) would have to meet the new beat officer on a regular basis.
However, the police refused to even consider altering their decision, asking instead for Councillor Craft’s ‘support in managing the situation’. Faced with this intransigence, the parish council voted to refuse PC James-Leach the opportunity to address their meetings
Shortly after delivery of Leys Independent to people on Blackbird Leys, the Oxford Mail contacted Jane Lacey and the IWCA about this story, with a view to doing their own piece on it. The resulting article — ‘Police reject call to get rid of Pc’ — chose to entirely ignore any issues of police accountability and instead attacked the parish council for taking a stand against the deployment of PC James-Leach on the estate.
To those used to dealing with the Oxford Mail, this won’t come as any real surprise. A previous story in the Leys Independent highlights the Mail’s attempts to portray the IWCA’s stance regarding hard drugs as simplistic by misquoting one of the organisation’s representatives. The article also describes the biased coverage of the activities of the councillors from different political parties on the estate and suggests that , ‘… a pattern is emerging where opinions deemed critical of the police or the housing associations are effectively censored.’
However, as the Oxford Mail enjoys a near monopoly in terms of local news, it is worth commenting on the publication’s treatment of the issues surrounding the deployment of the new beat officer and the response of the parish council.
The Oxford Mail quotes a Police Federation spokesman saying that it would be a breach of employment law and human rights if PC James-Leach suffered ‘a penalty as a result of the alleged actions of another officer.’ However, none of the parish councillors were talking about penalising the new beat officer. Mrs Lacey makes it clear in the article that she doesn’t bear a grudge against PC James-Leach and points out that ‘this officer has to do her job somewhere but there are thousands of officers who could have been placed in Blackbird Leys instead’. How would this officer be penalised simply by being transferred to another area?
In relation to the original incident, the Oxford Mail is far less sympathetic. After stating that Geoff Lacey suffered a broken nose and that he ‘claimed PC Leach was one of several officers who injured him,’ the piece goes on to say that ‘An internal inquiry ruled PC Leach had no case to answer.’ While the paper doesn’t explain how Mr Lacey actually received his broken nose, the implication is that it wasn’t the police.
However, contrary to the Oxford Mail’s version of events, as a letter from the police to Mr Lacey reveals, PC Leach was reprimanded as a result of an internal inquiry. As to what took place during the arrest, the Mail chooses to ignore an eyewitness account of one of the neighbours, which describes how ‘PC Tony Leach smashed Geoff’s face against the cooker’.
The main angle of the Oxford Mail article is how parish councillors have called for the local officer to be removed when they are ‘known for asking for more bobbies on the beat’.
The parish council has of course on numerous occasions asked for a greater police presence on the estate but this is completely irrelevant. As the original article in the Leys Independent points out, the principal issue is police accountability.
Just because Blackbird Leys residents feel that the police do not take enough interest in the estate and that they should increase their patrols does not mean they should have to put up with any kind of police action or method of deployment.
It seems, however, that the police believe they should. As well as the refusal to reconsider their original decision, Thames Valley Police have, since the Mail article, made clear how determined they are to ensure that no one questions their decisions.
Following the parish council’s call for PC James-Leach to stay away from their meetings the police have responded by threatening to withdraw all their beat officers from Blackbird Leys parish council meetings if councillors maintain their stance.
Not wishing to see the estate penalised, as a result of losing the working relationship between the police and the parish council, councillors backed down. Needless to say, though, that the Oxford Mail didn’t run a follow-up story highlighting the police’s threat to ignore its duty to work with tenants representatives in the interests of the public on Blackbird Leys.
The follow-up story the Mail did run was ‘Estate divided over campaign to remove police officer’, (27 June 2003). This claims, apparently on the basis of interviews with five people, that residents of Blackbird Leys are divided over the issue of the appointment of the new beat officer. The article does mention that ‘some people were reluctant to talk to’ the Oxford Mail reporter, but omits to mention that a number of people he tried to talk to told him where to go, in no uncertain terms.
On an estate of around 10,000 people it’s no doubt possible to find two or three people who will support more or less any point of view. Is it possible to find more than a handful who believe the Oxford Mail provides fair coverage of issues on the estate? Studies have not yet been conducted.
14 August 2003