Gangs Matrix / Policing

Met to overhaul ‘racist’ Gangs Matrix after landmark legal challenge

Posted on 11 Nov 2022

• Met agrees ‘wholesale change’ to its secretive Gangs Matrix after admitting that the operation of the database was unlawful

• The Matrix breached the right to a private and family life and Black people are disproportionately represented on it

• The Met agrees to remove the majority of individuals from the Matrix as a result of Liberty’s legal challenge on behalf of Awate Suleiman and UNJUST UK

• Met agrees to inform people who ask if they are on the Matrix, who their data has been shared with and what that data was

The Metropolitan Police Service has agreed to overhaul its controversial Gangs Violence Matrix, admitting that it needs ‘wholesale change,’ after a landmark legal case brought by Liberty on behalf of Awate Suleiman and UNJUST UK forced them to concede that the operation of the Matrix was unlawful.

In a win for the human rights organisation and its clients, the Met has admitted that the Matrix breached the right to a private and family life. Personal data of those on the Matrix is shared broadly with third parties – putting them at risk of over-policing, school exclusion, eviction, and in some cases being stripped of welfare benefits, deportation or even children being taken into care.

The Met have also accepted that Black people are disproportionately represented on the Matrix and that efforts to address this have not worked, with the latest review of the Matrix showing that 80% of those named on the Matrix were Black.

Liberty challenged the legality of the Matrix on behalf of Awate Suleiman and UNJUST UK, a community interest company challenging injustice in the criminal justice system, on the grounds that it discriminates against Black people, who are disproportionately represented on the Matrix.

Awate Suleiman is a musician and writer who spent years fearing he was on the Matrix and experienced over-policing, including being arrested for offences he did not commit and kept on bail for many months at a time only for charges to be dropped or for him to be found not guilty at court. As a result, he suffered from severe anxiety which at times prevented him from leaving his house. Despite trying for over 30 months to get an answer from the Met as to whether or not he was on the Matrix, it was only when he launched legal proceedings that he was told that he was not it. Liberty said that Awate’s experience shows how difficult it is for any individual to find out about, and thereby challenge, their inclusion on the Matrix.

Now, the Met have agreed that people can apply to be informed if they were on the Matrix, and will only be refused if necessary for limited specified reasons, with the Information Commissioner to review refusals upon request.

The case was due to be held at the Royal Courts of Justice next week. However, the Metropolitan Police Service has agreed to an overhaul of the list, with more than a thousand names to be removed as a result of the legal action.

As part of the settlement, the Met has also agreed that those removed from the database will be able to apply to find out what data was held on them. However, Liberty have warned that hundreds may never know that their data was held in the first place, and have encouraged those who have experienced repeated stop and search and any of the other ‘enforcement actions’ taken against people on the Matrix to submit a Subject Access Request to the Met to find out if they are or were ever on the Matrix.

Lana Adamou, Lawyer at Liberty, said:

“Having defended this claim for over a year, the Met has now admitted that the Gangs Matrix is unlawful – and that the way it operated breached the human rights of those who were placed on it.

“People have been added to this Matrix simply because of who their friends are, where they live, or because they have been a victim of crime. Once on the list, their data could be shared with third parties including the Home Office, local authorities, the DWP, housing providers, schools and the DVLA – leading to really serious and potentially life-changing consequences.

“As a result of this case, the majority of people have now been removed from the Matrix, and those people will be able to ask the Met what data was held about them. Many of those people won’t know that their data was held, so if you’ve been repeatedly stopped by the police, or have any reason to suspect that you might have been on the matrix, we would encourage you to submit a Subject Access Request to the Met to find out.

“As the Met overhauls its approach to policing serious violence, this is a real opportunity to find better ways of doing things. The racialised harassment and surveillance of countless people is not the answer. We cannot carry on this way – we must look instead towards community-led solutions to tackle the root causes of serious violence which have social justice, equality, participation and human rights at their heart.”

Awate Suleiman, a claimant in the case, said:

“The Gangs Violence Matrix (GVM) is a relic of colonialism, brought back to the home of Empire and used against people the Met Police thinks nobody cares about. The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) say that being on the Matrix leads to less violent interactions, and improves lives but cannot say why.

“They say their researchers have factored in the effects of just getting older and more mature, moving away from the violence of school and poverty, and taking measures to improve one’s life due to maturity and positive influences.

“But according to MOPAC, those factors definitely aren’t the reason people’s lives improve when they’re on the Matrix, even though it destroys lives, opportunities and the mental health of the people on it.

“And its secretive nature means that anyone can be on it and not know, and the broad net it casts means many people have their mental health damaged and possibilities limited by thinking they are on it.

“Only 5.4% of reported crimes in the UK are solved by the police (lead to a charge which may then be dropped). How is their 96% failure rate a justification to terrorise black people? Things like the GVM need to be dismantled and funding needs to be diverted to programmes that improve our lives, not punish us for being poor and neglected by the state.”

Katrina Ffrench, Founder and Managing Director of UNJUST UK, said:

“Having advocated and campaigned against the clandestine nature of the Gangs Matrix for years, I welcome the admission from the Met it has acted unlawfully. The State has a duty to uphold human rights and for the last decade it has massively failed thousands of Black children and young people through its use of this terrible practice.

“Enough is simply enough. The Met must not be allowed to police with impunity, it is not above the law and UNJUST will continue to pursue litigation as a means of achieving the much-needed systemic changes within policing and the wider criminal justice system.”

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