By Jack Holland
In an unprecedented move, a former member of the Patten Commission on policing has claimed that the bill currently going through the British parliament, which is meant to implement the commission’s recommendations, has in fact "gutted" them.
Clifford Shearing, director of Criminology at Toronto University, attacked the bill in an article in the Guardian newspaper on Tuesday. His criticisms come just days before the SDLP is to debate the police bill at its annual conference.
In a wide-ranging critique, Professor Clifford claims that "the core elements of the Patten commission’s report have been undermined everywhere."
In particular, he said, "the district policing partnership boards that are so vital to the Patten Commission’s vision have been diluted. So have its recommendations in the key areas outlined in its terms of reference — composition, recruitment, culture, ethos and symbols. The Patten report has not been cherry picked – it has been gutted."
A fellow member of the commission, Professor Gerald Lynch, the president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, when asked for his response to the Shearing article, said that since he "had not read the final version of the bill," he was "not in a position to comment."
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But he emphasized that he stands by the Patten] Report.
"It is not like any other report — it’s part of the Good Friday agreement, a compromise which had been agreed by everyone," Lynch said.
He added that the report should be implemented "as it is."
"I have the greatest respect for Clifford Shearing, and his concern for policing," Lynch said.
SDLP spokesman on policing Alex Atwood, said that the Shearing critique "articulates the fears and anxieties in relation to the police bill. The government should not easily dismiss them"
According to Atwood, there would be no final decision at the weekend conference on whether the party would nominate people to the proposed new policing boards, the deadline for which is Dec. 4.
"The bill has not finished yet," Atwood said. "Its implementation has to be revised. That will make us decide whether or not to go on the board."
Reliable sources say that Shearing’s article "strengthens the Sinn Fein position" on the bill and will probably force the SDLP to "temporize."
Shearing wrote: "The bill does not fulfil the hopes and vision of the Belfast agreement. Nor does it satisfy the very clear mandate set out in the commission’s terms of reference. It is not a new beginning."
Responding to the attack, Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Mandelson told Radio Ulster that ³everyone has to live in the real world, and that includes former members of the Patten Commission². He cited recent attempted attacks on the police as proof that a serious terroirst threat remains.