The chief constable of North Wales Police has suggested that police officers could choose not to enforce parts of the UK Policing Bill when it comes into effect.

Carl Foulkes made the comment during a session of Parliament’s Welsh Affairs committee, chaired by Plaid Cymru MP Ben Lake, in which the heads of all four Welsh police forces were questioned on the state of policing in Wales.

All four denied that policing was institutionally racist, though acknowledged the presence of racial bias in statistics on stop-and-search, arrests and imprisonments.

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Jeremy Vaughan, chief constable of South Wales Police, described feeling “local pressure” to enforce Covid restrictions more strictly - including by stationing officers at Cardiff Airport to ticket returning travellers - and identified “policing populations that we’ve never policed [in the same way] before” and “stopping people we’ve not stopped before” as one of the challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic.

The police bosses were questioned on a range of issues by the committee.

 

Labour’s Geraint Davies, MP for Swansea West, asked how forces in Wales would respond to Westminster’s incoming Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill, which will grant the police new far-reaching powers to curb even one-person protests on the basis of noise and “annoyance”.

Dr Richard Lewis, chief constable at Dyfed Powys Police (DPP) said: “The interpretation of the law will be where this battle is won or lost”, adding that public protest is “one of the cornerstones of living in a democracy”.

Carl Foulkes of NWP, meanwhile, said that police officers could choose not to enforce parts of the PCSC Bill.

“Never more so than in protest is policing the thin blue line, because you are genuinely between groups with very, very different fundamental views,” he told the committee.

“I think one element I will always come back to is that policing has discretion - [the ability of] my individual officers and my commanders to do the right thing, and make the right decisions. 

The National Wales: Carl Foulkes said that police officers did not "necessarily" have to enforce provisions in the PCSC Bill. Carl Foulkes said that police officers did not "necessarily" have to enforce provisions in the PCSC Bill.

“We’ve always got the ability to use legislation, we've always got the ability to impose legislation, but it doesn't mean that we have to, or we need to in every circumstance.

“With any new legislation - whilst it is there for a purpose, and Parliament has decided that that is the will of the people to do so - the actual enactment of it is absolutely down to policing on a day to day basis.”

Jeremy Vaughan of SWP insisted that “most” in the police would be “vociferously protective” of the public’s right to protest, and acknowledged that protest “by its very nature needs to be disruptive”.

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He went on to say that there had to be “balance” between protest rights and the wider public’s right “to go about their day”.

Making specific reference to demonstrations held in reaction to the death of 24-year-old Mohamud Hassan following police contact in Cardiff last year, Mr Vaughan went on: “The public were hungry for information about what happened.

“Of course, we were limited about what we could say, because it was in the hands of an independent inspector, independent oversight.

The National Wales: Protestors gather outside Cardiff Bay police station following the death of Mohamud Hassan, 2021. (Picture: Huw Evans Agency)Protestors gather outside Cardiff Bay police station following the death of Mohamud Hassan, 2021. (Picture: Huw Evans Agency)

“But we also recognised that, unless those voices were allowed to be heard… If we sought to try and step in and curtail those voices, we would lose so much in terms of the public’s confidence.

“But it isn’t easy - it isn’t easy, because in the four, five or six-thousand people that might be protesting, you might get five percent, who stand on the frontline, who are racially abusive to police officers, who are homophobic against police officers, who are violent against police officers.”

It is unclear whether Mr Vaughan meant to imply that it was demonstrators for Mohamud Hassan who had displayed racist, homophobic and violent behaviours.

Last year a £2,000 fine issued to local activist Bianca Ali, 30, who had attended the Cardiff protests but was accused of organising them, was quashed in court. Ms Ali alleged that SWP had subjected her to months of “abuse and harassment”, with “eight to ten” police officers showing up to her home, and police vehicles “driving up and down” her street.

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The inquest into Mohamud Hassan’s death is set to begin this year. Six police officers are under investigation for misconduct over the incident.

An inquest into a second death following police contact - that of Mouayed Bashir, 29, who died following restraint by Gwent Police - is set to begin on 11th July.

Beth Winter, Labour MP for Cynon Valley, asked the four chiefs directly whether they believed policing is institutionally racist, and what they were doing to tackle racism in the ranks.

The National Wales: Mohamud Hassan was 24 when he died early last year.Mohamud Hassan was 24 when he died early last year.

Jeremy Vaughan said that, while he didn’t believe so, “policing, along with other public services - and indeed, society - have some real deep-seated systemic issues of bias and racism.”

“I think they're two separate and distinct things,” he added, acknowledging that racial bias in police statistics was “irrefutable”.

This view was shared by Mr Foulkes and Dr Richard Lewis, though Amanda Blakeman, deputy chief constable of Gwent Police, was unable to answer Ms Winter’s question due to time constraints.

Earlier this month a report by the Wales Governance Centre found that Black people in Wales were seven times more likely to be targeted for stop-and-search than white people. People who self-identified as Asian were doubly likely to be stopped, while people of mixed-race heritage were four times more likely.

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Arrests resulting from those searches remained low.

The figures were called “bleak” by the Race Equality Foundation.

Asked about the challenges presented to Welsh forces during the Covid-19 pandemic, the officials said that tensions between officers and the public over the enforcement of restrictions, as well as cuts to pay, had affected staff morale.

Jeremy Vaughan told MPs: “Police have had to step into policing populations that we've never policed before in the same way.

“It’s caused police officers to have conversations with certain sections of the community that they might not have expected to. 

“So tensions were running pretty high and pretty difficult.

“We were stopping people we would not have stopped before.”

Mr Vaughan did not clarify which sections of the population his force would normally expect to stop and police, and how they differed from those targeted during the pandemic.

He went on to describe feeling “pressure” to enforce Covid regulations more strictly than he was “probably willing and wanting to do”.

“We had pressure to stand at airports to stop people going abroad - or when they came back from abroad, give them tickets for being abroad,” he said.

“I don't think I will ever see in my time, a period where operational independence has been so challenged locally.”

Operational independence refers to the policing principle that officers should be able to make their own decisions on how to use their powers to enforce a given law.

Mr Vaughan appeared to imply that the pressure to take harsher action came from the public, adding: “You had half the population saying, ‘how can the other half be doing this’, and then the other half of the population saying, ‘these laws are ridiculous, they don't make sense.’”

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