Is Diane Abbott unfairly criticized or correctly called out for incompetence?
Answered by: David Rendahl,25 years Army/Police Intelligence community
It’s not incompetence, when I knew her twenty years ago she was quite sharp. What always ruined her argument was impatience.
Diane Abbott was the local MP on my first beat in Hackney. Our first run-in concerned a constituent who wrote to her accusing me of failing to support him and dragging our heels over a threat to kill him, because he was disabled.
She wrote a very strongly worded letter to my Superintendent that sailed just this side of slanderous. No attempt at asking or inquiring about the facts and our response, she sailed straight to a denunciation of our quality of care for vulnerable people we may not care about but she does. She used that many words to get around using ‘prejudice’ who ever wrote it must have had a thesaurus implant.
The Case: a wheelchair bound man in his 70s, resident of a council flat in a small tower block, called us on the Monday afternoon to tell of a series of threatening letters through the post. Officers attended his address the same day and took a report. On Tuesday morning I was duty CID and took over the crime report and attended his address midday.
Four letters dated over the past month were found, various disjointed rude remarks in cut out magazine letters ascribing feelings of hate and jealousy towards our victim, including some disability related profanity.
What was really interesting was the quality of the writing paper used. Really lovely dense material, mustard yellow and textured. He had kept the envelopes which were of the same writing set. The post mark was the local Hackney sorting office. the dates were punctually one a week separate over the last four Mondays.
He told us of a row with a neighbour a month before over minor things - the neighbour’s car parking, noise at night, smelly rubbish in the communal bins. The neighbour had threatened him with violence until his girlfriend pulled him away. He suggested the motive was jealousy of his disability grant and the fact he had converted his living room to an oak beamed quaint country pub themed space. (which he had, a bit sawdust theatre but some money had been spent on it)
He gave us the address of the neighbour and asked he be arrested immediately, for his safety. Even proposed bail conditions the suspect not be allowed within a mile of him and the address.
Now my spidey sense was atingling: awkward profane language but lovely writing paper; punctual time keeping, but disorganised thought; most importantly the victim’s address had been computer printed on a sticker - Royal Mail wouldn't have accepted cutout letters, someone wanted a time stamp on them without revealing handwriting. Lots of careful thought had gone into this rambling ranting note.
And victim had thought long and hard about the resolution he wanted. I looked around for a bureau with a similar writing set, or a computer printer to prove my suspicions, nothing.
I took a statement, and the letters for evidence’ I spoke with the neighbour in question who clearly didn’t like the guy any more than he liked police. He seemed weary about events, not angry, as was the other neighbour I knocked on for background. I advised him to stay well clear until further notice, but left him at home with his family.
When I got back to the knick I sent the letters off for handwriting analysis. I asked the lab to do an imprint analysis of the top right corner. Because the paper was nice and thick I wanted to know if previous letters in the sheaf had had the sender’s address written that often so as to leave an impression on the subsequent pages.
Why the effort? This guy was either an elderly disabled man being abused and harassed or was up to no good himself. It just smelt like grief so I was ticking the boxes, and informed my skipper of my doubt to the victim’s honesty. We put a ‘treat calls as urgent’ on both addresses and waited for the Lab to do its work.
Wednesday and the victim is on the phone complaining at length why we didn’t arrest the neighbour. Thursday he calls to say he received a bullet hand delivered in the post. I attended just after the response team. The bullet was deactivated and you could still see the small hole drilled through the rim where the keychain had been removed.
I seized the bullet and left him to it.
Friday morning we received a letter from Diane Abbott’s office on Palace of Westminster letterhead, dated Wednesday. After an interview without chair, the DCI approves my investigation plan and risk assessment and I draft a short, polite response saying ‘enquiries are ongoing!’
All the next week I play telephone ping pong with the Victim, Abbot’s staff and eventually Abbott herself demanding to know why we haven’t arrested the suspect. I casually implied I was doing my job, to which she wasn’t rude, just incomprehensible.
The following Monday Abbott had convened a meeting at her office so she can personally be briefed on the threat to her constituent. It wasn’t a meeting it was a dressing down - I sat through quite a lengthy monologue on her responsibilities, rights, duties and a list of the anti-discrimination and equality laws she had pushed through Parliament.
I simply asked her on what grounds would I arrest the neighbour? What offence did I have evidence of to warrant locking him up? I told her that evidence was in the pipeline, she thought the case straight forward without it. I disagreed and showed her the relevant part of PACE legislation that makes the decision to arrest the investigating officer’s. We don’t do politically inspired detention without grounds.
She was cross, we left it at that.
A couple of weeks later the labs return the evidence. Victim’s home address is visible in imprint analysis on the top right corner of the first two letters and partially on the other two - he sent them to himself.
I do a bit of door-to-door and finally find a neighbour willing to talk. The row had been overheard, the suspect had been shouting at him all right and was indeed pulled away by his girlfriend.
Rumour on the estate was the victim had made disparaging remarks about the nature of the couple’s mixed race baby. Despite it being hearsay I took a statement and approached the couple for confirmation.
They wouldn't make a statement, but confirmed the story, wheelchair guy had made a number of comments about the legality and eugenics of mixed race children to her. Some of them in front of her mother. He had offered an opinion to the white girlfriend that her child was a terrible mistake to make and she had ruined its life because of her sordid appetites.
The boyfriend found out and made his displeasure known to the old guy.
The old guy comes in for interview and wobbles his way through an admission he sent the letters to expedite ever more ridiculous reasons, he remarked the child’s eugenics were indecent, requiring him to separate the couple for the child’s benefit. He got charged with racially aggravated use of a false instrument.
At court the magistrate bound him over, ASBO’d him up and demanded he be re-housed far away by the council.
We had a data-protection request hanging over us from Diane Abbott’s office for details of the investigation. I spent a very enjoyable morning writing up the details and the result. I was so bloody magnanimous it should have constituted an offence.
We never heard anything back.
At this time I was a T/DC - Trainee / Detective Constable, also known as Thinks he’s a / Detective Constable. The course required a portfolio of evidence that hit hundreds of tick boxes on core competencies, operational requirements, policy validations, victim care of vulnerable groups and working with partner agencies.
This one episode filled so many boxes of evidence it had a noticeable effect on the length of my training.
When I handed my portfolio in to my tutor she read through this bit and her eyebrows got higher and higher. She looked up and said “So you’re a shit magnet then? Don’t get to enjoying stuff like this, you’ll come unstuck one day! You’re a ‘Tec with a hundred crime reports open any one of which could go sideways, MP’s live to generate good copy in the papers!”
Guess who we sent to the next meeting with Abbott? She had absolutely no memory of our previous encounter and even when I reminded her she phased it out of the conversation.
Back then she was a formidable if impatient champion of energetic causes. Prone to coming unstuck in the name of wish fulfilment.