Panda Mery, who had a career as a techie journalist and technologist, became an active campaigner on several human and civil rights issues following his own arrest by the Metropolitan Police in 2005 simply for appearing to fit the behavioural profile of a terrorist! As Panda later describes it on his website, ‘Techie and terrorist behavioural profiles are the same‘.
Below Panda tells his own story:
On 28th July 2005, I was unlawfully arrested at Southwark tube station when attempting to take the tube after work to meet my wife. Chief Superintendent Wayne Chance, Metropolitan Police Service Borough Commander for Southwark, has eventually apologised to my wife and I for their actions and the trauma it caused us:
I would like to apologise on behalf of the Metropolitan Police Service for the circumstances that arose on 28 July 2005 including your unlawful arrest, detention and search of your home. I appreciate this has had a deep and traumatic impact on your lives and I hope that the settlement in this case can bring some closure to this.
I shall ensure that the officers concerned are made aware of the impact of the events of that day and also the details of the settlement in this case.
We are happy to be able eventually to put this behind us.
Just over four years ago, I entered the tube station without looking at the police officers who were standing by the entrance. Two other men entered the station at the same time. My jacket was allegedly too warm for the season. I was carrying a backpack. While waiting for the tube, I looked at people coming on the platform, I played with my mobile phone, I took a piece of paper from inside my jacket.
The police found my behaviour suspicious and instigated a security alert. They surrounded me. They asked me to take off my backpack. They handcuffed me in the back. They closed and cordoned off the tube station. They stopped and searched me under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. They emptied my pockets. They loosened my belt. Explosive officers checked my backpack, gave the all clear and joked about my laptop. The handcuffs were taken off (for a few minutes) and some of the stuff I was carrying in my pockets was given back to me.
This should have been the end of the matter. Instead, an officer informed me “[I] was under arrest on suspicion of causing a Public Nuisance”. They then took me to Walworth police station. They processed me. They took photographs, DNA samples, fingerprints and palm prints. They searched our flat. They interviewed me. Nine hours later I was granted bail. One month later when I surrendered to custody, they said they have decided to take no further action. It takes a further month and half to get my possessions back. Three months after the arrest, the Police National Computer was still listing me as under arrest.
I was arrested for a made up offence most likely in order to justify their having closed the tube station. This unlawful arrest caused further unnecessary expense from public funds and considerable distress to my wife and I. Despite all the available evidence (bar CCTV footage in the station, which the police never seized), investigators from the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards failed to find that my arrest was unlawful: “there were ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect an offence had been committed by Mr Mery and as such the arrest was both lawful and justified”. The intervention of a senior officer was required: “I disagree with that conclusion in respect of the arrest. I agree that the stop and search were lawful under that Act but I believe the arrest was unlawful.” That was still not enough for the police to apologise. The Independent Police Complaint Commission was of no help as “[i]t is not within the remit of the IPCC to direct the Metropolitan Police Service to issue a formal and public apology for their action”.
The police apology will be shown to the officers who were involved in my arrest and the subsequent search of our flat. Being aware of the long term impact of their actions will encourage police officers to realise that arresting innocents is not the only option available to them. Letting innocents go free and safe must be possible and has to be the preferred option. I hope that lessons will be learnt and that in future when mistakes are made they will be acknowledged immediately.
My DNA samples were destroyed and my DNA profile, fingerprints, palm prints and PNC record deleted two years ago. The litigation files maintained by the Directorate of Legal Services and the investigation files compiled by the Directorate of Professional Standards will be retained for a further six years, after which there should be no trace at the Metropolitan Police Service about this innocent.
We are very grateful to Sarah McSherry, Head of Actions against the Police Department at Christian Khan, for her formidable support in achieving this result. We would also like to take this opportunity to express our thanks to the many individuals who encouraged us in this long fight for our rights.