Can I Get a Witness? (±x)
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Twenty-four years ago I became involved with the UK Metropolitan Police Service – this is the short version of how I developed an interest in Law Enforcement.
The date was 28 April 1992 and I was only a 20 year-old 1st Year Medical Student at University College London Medical School. The Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies was still three years away and SO19 were the Metropolitan Police officers that carried the weapons (H&K MP5s from memory). On this day I saved the life of a white male, beaten senselessly by Bangladeshis in North Gower Street, London where I resided. As it happened I was working for UCL’s Student Newspaper PI at the time, and witnessing the disturbance I took photos of the brutal assault whilst it occurred. Whilst I am not a ‘Coconut’ (a term which describes a person who is brown on the outside and white on the inside) I was not happy with my ‘brothers-in-arms’, who often cause problems by their irrational behaviour and self-victimisation. Foreigners coming to the UK need to integrate not differentiate (little calculus joke there!)
Unavoidably I became the Chief Prosecution Witness for the Crown Prosecution Service and over the subsequent months I was continually harassed by (a) the Asians who knew where I lived (they often smashed bottles of lassi in front of my first floor window ledge) and (b) the friends of the victim (who thought I was one of the Asians who beat up their friend). It became such a mess that I could not anyone to my house any more! It was also difficult to study my medical books with the continual disruption. The OIC was Detective Chief Inspector Chris Harding, an experienced Police officer with twinkling eyes and a kind face, a light brown jacket and a cracking sense of humour. My fellow (key) witnesses were a tallish blonde-haired girl whose hair was in a bob and whom I dated for a while afterwards (can’t remember her name) and Peter Wiltshire, brown hair, and who wore glasses with 80s aviator frames. He told us he had been married to singer Lena Zavaroni – I recall that he was an IT Consultant making a tonne of money and that he was particularly impressed that I had even heard of her!
The other witnesses were next to useless and none of them could even remember the number of Bangladeshis, or the collateral damage to shop fronts. Ahead of giving our statements to the Police some of the witnesses were having discussions to compare notes and it was in fact I that told them not to discuss anything or listen to anyone else’s account whilst in the holding area. I met another Police officer who was from SO13 (can’t remember his name (John/Dave: something monosyllabic) but he was mean-looking) and I enjoyed a brief conversation about 56bit DES and Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (“ISR”).
It was apparent to me that the MPS had limited technical resources and were somewhat in the dark ages in relation to secure communications, metadata and their uses. GCHQ was essentially the MPS’ computer department. It seemed that SO13 were more interested in the terrorists’ financing of weapons and the money trail with assistance from MI6 for covert human surveillance, and MLAT requests, rather than anything else. I might expand upon this at some other juncture as this is entirely relevant to anti-money laundering work and fake banks whose systems I was involved with, and which now seem to be the current area of interest for ignorant newbies who don’t know what I do 🙂
Unfortunately the actual case was finally heard at Snaresbrook Crown Court (from memory) around June 1993, right in the middle of my Medical School Exams. I gave witness testimony and ended up missing my Pharmacology Exam on the same day – but these things happen. I sat the Pharmacology exam later that year and passed it in any event, so no issue there. I eventually passed 14 exams out of 16 and was not able to resit the ones I failed by carrying them into the Third Year (Clinicals) and ended up leaving Medical School.
Chris subsequently advised me that the case against the Bangladeshis had collapsed, as there was apparently reasonable doubt caused by inconsistent testimony. I was stunned and asked him how this had occurred since my photos demonstrated the ringleader holding the primary weapon (a metal bar) and I saw the latter deliver crushing blows to the head of the victim. I had also personally treated the injuries that I had witnessed tens of seconds earlier, those injuries being entirely consistent with blunt force trauma using the aforementioned weapon, which I had also photographed! The film was developed in an MPS Lab and the Canon EOS 100 camera and film were provided to them directly when I made the statement, from my possession to theirs. There was a solid Chain of Custody and I had also given evidence in person and was cross-examined in addition. Chris said that only myself and the girl could even corroborate the timings in the end and the other witnesses performed dismally. Any half-decent Defence Attorney can make mincemeat of any inconsistencies in anything, I later learned.
Every April since, I feel that disappointment of the verdict in 1993 and as it was my very first involvement with the MPS/CPS I can remember virtually every aspect of it. I met a few other officers from MPS and City of London Police for some years afterwards and we moved forward in our respective fields, although the information security part grew exponentially and covert surveillance went from physical to logical. Names and cases blurred however and it became ‘just another day at the office’.
Joseph S R de Saram CISSP FBCS CITP MSCS MACS Snr CP SAP FI SAP BW
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Joseph S R de Saram (JSRDS)