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Monthly Archives: March 2009

A response from Wandsworth police

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Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Juvenal / Alan Moore

I think this is the last time I’m going to post about this. Pseudo-political wittering was not the intended use for this blog when I started it. However there has been a bit of a development since my initial post describing my thoughts on how the police use anti-terror laws to stop and search people. When I say people, I really mean me. Specifically me, in Clapham Junction on the 7th of March 2009. I know, I’m not a great philanthropist.

After the incident I wrote to a high ranking officer in the Wandsworth borough of the Metropolitan police to complain, making clear that I think randomly stopping members of the public with no reason for suspicion is complete waste of police time and the cause of unnecessary disruption and upset. I have since received a reply and engaged him in a brief email exchange in which I asked a few pertinent questions and a few impertinent ones as well.

My main gripe was that although I was told that I was stopped at random, the officer ticked the box stating I was stopped on grounds of “behaviour”.


You can see that there is no “random” box to tick. So as I am on record for suspicious behaviour I wanted to know what happened to that data.

Some of my questions were answered and some were artfully dodged. You’ll notice I’m not naming the high-ranking officer in this post. This is because he declined to go on record and asked that the contents of our email exchange were not discussed on this blog. In fact as soon as the word “blog” was mentioned he clammed up and told me he couldn’t help me further. (Bloggers! Aaaaaaaagh! To the hills!)

As I have no journalistic reputation to speak of, it probably wouldn’t harm me to post the email exchange in its entirety. However, I do have some respect for people’s wishes so I will only tell you some of the questions I asked and describe the answers I received.

My first question.

What happens to the record that I was stopped on grounds of “behaviour”? How long are the records kept? Are the records public? Can they be used by the police or any other government body in any capacity or investigation not linked to terrorism?

The response was rather shocking: turns out that stops are placed on the police stops database and are kept for seven years. They are not public records but they can be used by the police and certain government bodies in any other capacity not linked to terrorism.
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The 5 pillars of Social Media

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Seth Godin, in a bit of a D.H. Lawrence moment has attempted to define the 5 pillars of social media success. What makes a successful social web app? Why do people choose to visit online social sites?

He boils it down to these 5 points:

  • Who likes me?
  • Is everything okay?
  • How can I become more popular?
  • What’s new?
  • I’m bored, let’s make some noise

Seth points to Twitter as an example of an app that does all 5 very well. I would also include Facebook and to some extent Friendfeed.

I’m not sure about “is everything okay”. This implies that people are concerned with the status quo or have a certain neighbourly concern. I would probably replace that with “what are the people I know up to?” as I reckon there is more of a nosy neighbour factor.

But then again, who am I to question Seth?


Don’t let Twitter turn you into this guy

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This guy is causing me to have a crisis of twitter faith. Is this what I sound like?

Vodpod videos no longer available.

OK he makes some good points.

Well, let me rephrase that: he makes some points. Eventually. After he’s stopped rabbiting on about burgers and how popular he is on twitter.

If you ever hear me using the phrase “informational yoghurt” without a trace of irony, you have my permission to shoot me. Unless for some reason I’m in the process of explaining artificial insemination to a child, then I might need to use the phrase “informational yoghurt”.

Social media “experts” everywhere (and they are everywhere) should be saying “There but for the grace of God go I”.

I’m the king of the internets!

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In my last post I was ranting and raving about the policies of Wandsworth Police with regards to Section 44 of the Terrorism act. I jokingly linked to the profile page of the Borough Commander Stewart Low with the phrase “useless bureaucrat” as a half-hearted attempt at a Google bomb. I wasn’t really serious and I didn’t expect it to work. 

Well guess what? It only bloody worked! Check it out.

Putting aside my slightly petulant motive, I think the fact that I have managed to single-handedly divert Google this way is quite interesting. Since the famous Bush Googlebomb a few years ago, it was reported that Google made it harder to do this type of thing.

A new, positive Google bomb was brought in for Obama (“Cheerful Acheivement” was the phrase) but that was helped along by numerous blogs and web sites with huge Google authority. I didn’t have a squad of bloggers at my disposal to help out,  I only posted the link twice: here and on GrammarBlog. It just goes to show that inbound links and the link text used are still as important as ever for natural SEO.

To have any real value in terms of SEO, the trick is finding a term that people will actually search for (unlike “useless bureaucrat“) and for which there is little competition. I doubt I would be successful with the term “great value” or “best car”. But the thing is with Google, you never actually know for sure.

*Update* If the Obama positive google bomb is anything to go by, I’m probably undoing my success by posting about it. Google’s bomb defusion algorithm works by making the reports on the googlebomb replace the googlebomb itself in Google’s top results. So if any Google spiders are reading this: move along, nothing to report here.

Wandsworth Borough Police, Anti-terror legislation, Alan Moore and Me

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Now, this post has nothing to do with social media or the internet. It does however have something to do with me so I feel justified in using this blog as a platform for a bit of a whinge.

Last Saturday, after a quiet potter around Victoria, my girlfriend and I got the overland back to Clapham Junction. As we were walking through the shopping area next to the station she decided to pop into a shop called Accessorize, which, for those of you not familiar which the chain, is pretty much my idea of what hell will be like. All sequins and bangles and tat; filled with cackling, legging-clad high street fashionista. No thanks.

I opted to wait outside and catch up with the weekly wittertainment from Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s brilliant film review podcast.

I was leaning against the shop window whilst listening and trying to decide which made me look the least silly: chuckling out loud or grinning inanely whist stifling chuckles. Kermode moved on from his amusing rantings and descriptions of Renee Zellweger (like a hamster squinting at the sun 🙂 ) and moved on to reviewing the Watchmen movie. He was comparing it rather unfavourably to the film adaptation of another Alan Moore graphic novel, V for Vendetta – a film I like very much. It was while my thoughts were on Alan Moore comics, police states, fascism and the abuse of public fear to enforce totalitarianism that I was approached by two uniformed police officers.

I smiled a greeting and paused my podcast.

The first officer, one Colin Swan of the the Wandsworth Borough Police told me that he and his colleague (unnamed) were stopping and searching people under Section 44 of the anti-terrorism act and that he would be asking me a few questions and searching me.

I’m not normally anti-police and I certainly didn’t have anything to hide but I was furious. Was leaning against a shop window suspicious behaviour? What grounds did he have to search me? So I asked him.

“We’re conducting random stops in this area” came the reply.

Random eh? A bit of background for those who don’t know me. I am a lapsed catholic of mixed Anglo-Indian heritage. I have dark hair and my skin colour, while not the out-and-out brown of an Indian subcontinental, could be described as beige. I don’t think I’m being cynical when I say that I suspect the last factor had something to do with my being approached. I was tempted to ask Colin Swan how many blonde people he had “randomly” stopped that day but thought better of it.

Instead, quietly fuming, I handed over my driver’s license and stated that I strongly objected to being questioned in this manner. The unnamed colleague (who appeared to be more senior) decided they wouldn’t need to search me after all. Maybe I wasn’t giving off enough of a Muslim “vibe”.

The human rights organisation Liberty explains section 44 of the terrorism act as follows.

Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 allows the police to stop and search anyone in a specific area.
Before Section 44, the police could only stop and search individuals if they had ‘reasonable grounds’ and certain criteria were met. That is no longer necessary, and we have seen Section 44 powers used against anti-war, anti-weapons and anti-capitalist protestors.
The power to stop and search under anti-terrorism powers should only be used when there is evidence of a specific terrorist threat. It should not be simply an addition to the day to day powers of officers policing protests.

After further research, that last paragraph appears to be the writer’s opinion rather than any official guideline. A recent BBC article states that “officers have been advised to use the power sparingly” but Act 44 itself seems to imply that the policeman may stop and search whomever he pleases, regardless of whether he suspects terrorism, provided authorisation has been given to use these powers in that area. Indeed, act 45, which deals with the exercise of power states:

The power conferred by an authorisation under section 44 may be exercised whether or not the constable has grounds for suspecting the presence of articles of the kind which could be used in connection with terrorism.

My mood was slightly elevated by the unwitting interruption of events by my mate Adam, who saw me and had already bowled over and and shouted an enthusiastic “Alright!” before he registered the police presence. The dawning realisation on his face was priceless; I reckon he thought he had just associated himself with a shoplifter. He laughed out loud when I told him what was going on, which cheered me up and boosted my confidence.

Inspired by Adam’s laughter and perhaps the spirit of Alan Moore heroes like V, I started to address some questions toward the unnamed, senior officer about the motives behind the policy of using Section 44 anti-terror legislation this way. Admittedly, my subversive action was a little more polite and middle-class than the aforementioned superhuman anarchist’s but I used some long words (some of which I understand) and a haughty, indignant demeanour to my advantage. In the conversation that took place, while officer Colin Swan wrote out a stop/search record very slowly and with scant regard for spelling conventions, a few interesting points came to light.

Firstly, officers from Wandsworth Borough police have been instructed by the Borough Commander, Stewart Low, to use the powers afforded to them by section 44 whenever possible. Not whenever appropriate. Not whenever necessary, but whenever possible. I asked the unnamed officer to repeat this several times and he confirmed it each time.

So keen are Wandsworth Borough Police to be seen to be attempting to combat terror that each team of two officers is given a quota of stops they have to perform each day. Woe betide Colin Swan or any other officer who returns to the station after a shift without the required number of stop/search slips.

“But Sarge, there was an aggravated burglary to attend,” our poor, naive Colin might argue, hoping logic and common sense will prevail over bureaucracy. No such luck.

Is this the best use of police time? Is it an effective method against terrorism? Or is it just time-wasting and posturing that makes a mockery of the terrorism act and will cause police and general public alike to take the act less seriously?

Centre Right has some interesting stats on the use of Section 44 in London in 2008

  • Number of people stopped nationwide by British Transport Police using s 44: 160,000
  • Number of people stopped in London by the Metropolitan Police using s. 44: 200,000
  • Number of people amongst the 360,000 stopped under s. 44 and found to have any terrorist material or links: 0

I shouldn’t be too hard on PC Colin Swan and PC Noname. They were quite polite and had the decency to be a little sheepish about the whole thing. PC Noname even went as far as telling me he didn’t agree with the policy and advised me to write an email to Borough Commander, Stewart Low. I think I shall, although its very tempting to just start a Google bomb on the useless bureaucrat.

As for good old Colin, he might not be the world’s greatest speller but he was good enough not to pepper-spray me when I asked him, “Is this what you joined the police for?”

In response to my impertinence he didn’t club me to the ground a la Stephen Fry’s Gordan Deitrich, he simply looked a bit forlorn and said, “No”.

For those of you who are still interested after wading through this rambling post, here is a copy of my stop/search form. I’ve blanked out my details.


Life ain’t all beer and #skittles

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I woke up yesterday morning to find twitter all a buzz about the new Skittles homepage.  I’m not usually one to add to the echo chamber but I thought I’d give my two pence worth.

For those of you who, unlike me, have a life instead of monitoring twitter trends, Skittles have revamped their site and the content has almost been completely replaced by relevant pages from third-party social media applications. Visitors to are now directed to the twitter search result for the term “skittles” and invited to navigate their way about Skittles’ social web presence by using the flash navigation menu that overlays the page. [update: the homepage is now set as the facebook page as predicted my moi ;-)]

The ‘Home’ and ‘Chatter’ links both link to the twitter search results for the term Skittles, the products links for each flavour lead to the relevant information on the Skittles Wikipedia entry. There is a ‘Friends’ link that goes to the Skittles facebook page and the video and photo links respectively lead to the Skittles profile on YouTube and Flickr search results for the term… well can you guess?

There are only two actual web pages in use: the product overview page and the contact form.

My first impressions were that this is very brave and very cool. I did have some reservations, however.

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