Liberty challenges Met Police’s discriminatory Gangs Matrix
Posted on 01 Feb 2022
- Liberty lawyers highlight police harassment caused by discriminatory database
- Victims of secretive database face exclusion from job applications
- Liberty is working with UNJUST on the legal bid
Liberty is taking the Metropolitan Police to court over its controversial Gangs Violence Matrix.
The secretive database was established in the wake of the 2011 London riots. It is a watchlist of people who the police designate as “gang nominals” based on vague criteria. Some people are added simply because they have been victims of crime or have contact with others who the police suspect are gang members.
Liberty is acting on behalf of Awate Suleiman, a musician and writer, who has been trying since 2019 to find out if he is on the Matrix, and UNJUST.
UNJUST is a not-for-profit organisation that specialises in challenging unjust policing policies and practices that disproportionately impact on people of colour and other minority ethnic groups.
They are challenging the lawfulness of Matrix, arguing that it discriminates against people of colour, particularly Black men and boys, and breaches human rights, data protection requirements and public law principles.
Of those who are on the Matrix, 86.5 per cent of those are Black, Asian or other minority ethnic (‘BAME’), and 79 per cent are Black. This is a stark figure considering just 27 per cent of those convicted of offences related to serious youth violence are Black. Additionally, the majority of people on the Matrix (65 per cent) are considered by the police to be of ‘low risk’.
However, those on the Matrix may be subject to a wide range of ‘enforcement actions’, including exclusion from benefits, housing and education, as well as increased stop-and-search.
Information on the Matrix is also shared with other bodies, such as immigration enforcement.
The Metropolitan Police does not inform people if they are on the Matrix, and there is no mechanism by which a person can appeal against their inclusion, or ask for the data held about them to be reviewed.
If people are not told that they are on the Matrix, it makes it difficult for them to challenge their inclusion on it or the accuracy of the data held about them.
In a letter to the Metropolitan Police threatening legal action, Liberty warned:
- That the Gangs Matrix discriminates against BAME people, in particular Black people, who are disproportionately represented on the Matrix.
- The Matrix breaches the right to private and family life, with sensitive personal data about those on the database shared broadly.
- That the Matrix also breaches the Public Sector Equality Duty for public authorities to eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation and advance equality of opportunity
In 2018 the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime recommended that the Metropolitan Police obtain further data so that the effectiveness of the Gangs Matrix could be properly assessed, but Liberty says they have failed to do this.
Lana Adamou, a lawyer at Liberty, said:
“We all want to feel safe in our communities, but the Gangs Matrix isn’t about keeping us safe – it’s about keeping tabs on and controlling people, with communities of colour and Black people worst affected.
“The Gangs Matrix is fuelled heavily by racist stereotypes, based on who people are friends with, who their family members are, where they live, and where they go.
“Secret databases that risk young Black men being excluded from society based on racist assumptions are not a solution to serious violence, they are part of the problem.
“The Matrix damages communities through division and alienation. We should be demanding better, evidence-based solutions that tackle underlying causes.
“Being on the Matrix can have a devastating impact on someone’s life, from increased stop and search to being evicted from their home and excluded from education. As Awate’s battle has shown, many people will spend years not knowing whether or not they are even on the Matrix.
Awate Suleiman said:
“It was important to know if I was one of the many people on the Gangs Violence Matrix after years of police harassment towards people from my area.
“The fact that I had to threaten the police with judicial review before they would confirm whether I was on the GVM is not good enough and another indication of the Met’s intention to covertly surveil young, black people.
“These practices were normal in colonial times when British officers kept meticulous records of the people they terrorised and abused, but are antithetical to the kind of society we’re meant to live in today.”
Katrina Ffrench, Founder of Unjust UK, said:
“UNJUST is committed to ensuring transparency and accountability in policing policy and practice. The clandestine nature of the Gangs Matrix must be challenged. Everyone has a right to be policed fairly and treated equally before the law. It is hoped that the decade-long wrongs of the Matrix can be remedied in bringing this case.”
For more information contact Georgia at firstname.lastname@example.org
- A 2018 report by Amnesty International UK concluded that the data collection underpinning the Matrix focusses disproportionately on Black boys and young men, and includes the monitoring of social media which denies Black boys and young men the right to freely express themselves.
- In 2018 the Information Commissioner’s Office found that the data on the Matrix “cannot be said to be accurate”, and could include unsubstantiated claims about a person, and that this risked people being wrongly added to the Matrix and suffering “very significant unjustified impacts”.
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