I have just become aware of the Guardian article ‘Maldives police accused of civil rights abuses being trained by Scottish police’ and feel obliged to make comment since I am mentioned in it but wasn’t consulted for a view on the matter.
I spent some time in the Maldives as an independent Police Consultant having been invited by the then Commissioner Adam Zahir to conduct a root and branch review of the Maldives Police Service practices and procedures in the capital Male’. My 2006 report made a total of 76 recommendations for improvement, 95 percent of which were later approved by the Force Executive.
I also spent some time assisting with the implementation of many of these recommendations and was quite confident that real progress was made in developing the service being provided to the public by what was, in effect, a fledgling police force in a developing country.
I was not alone in providing this type of assistance and worked alongside officers from the Australian Police and members of the Scottish Police College and was in fact personally instrumental in introducing the College Training input to them.
My presence in the Maldives was generated by a desire by both the police hierarchy and the government of the day who, to their credit, recognised the need for developmental training for their police staff to devise, implement and improve the delivery of a sound community-based policing model. I was very impressed by the enthusiasm and cooperation I received at all levels to achieve this end.
Quite clearly, radical change in any organisation takes time to establish itself and I was under no naive illusions when I left the country at the end of my contract that it wouldn’t take a while for the changes to become thoroughly embedded in the policing culture. I was content however that they were on track to become a much more efficient and effective law enforcement agency.
The somewhat unforeseen political developments which have taken place in the Maldives since I left are not my concern nor of my making. I spent my professional life in a policing environment which was completely divorced from political interference in operational matters, which is exactly the way it should be everywhere.
That said, any breaches of human rights which have taken place in the country and attributed to law enforcement officers are a real concern to everyone and can only serve to hinder the progress the Maldives makes into becoming a modern democratic state. Misconduct by police officers in any of the ways alleged is highly troubling and needs to be vigorously dealt with and stamped out by the organisation.
Notwithstanding, it is of considerable concern to me that Severin Carrell’s article in the Guardian seeks to establish a connection between my training input and that of the Scottish Police College and others to the alleged “thuggish” and “brutal” conduct of a minority of police officers in Male’, the inference being that the Scottish Police connection has been wholly inadequate or that I/we actually trained them or somehow influenced them to behave in that way, a thought process that is almost too ludicrous to contemplate.
The Scottish Police College can speak for themselves but it is quite obvious to me that elements of the opposition parties and others with axes to grind in the Maldives are mischief making in taking advantage of the current situation and have manipulated the platform of the Guardian newspaper to attack the integrity of the police, whom they see as an arm of the current government, and that the Guardian took the bait hook, line and sinker, producing an article which is so one-sided and biased that it barely merits the column inches it inhabits. The tack it takes however also by implication taints me personally and it is not in my nature to let that pass unchallenged.
The quotes cherry-picked from my 2006 report about the force’s Special Operations Command and used in the Guardian article – an “openly paramilitary organisation” and a “macho elite … most of whom lack basic police training” – were some of many comments intended as constructive criticism of different facets of the force and which formed the basis for structured improvements. Notably the Guardian fails to mention that as a result of these comments the SOC subsequently underwent considerable developmental training in an effort to correct the issues I highlighted.
It is well known in the Maldives and worth commenting on that opposition political parties pay gangs of youths to infiltrate so-called ‘peaceful demonstrations’ and thereby generate violent confrontations with the police to discredit them, but I also note no mention is made by Severin Carrell about that either.
Recent events in the streets of the UK involving some of the worst rioting in living memory serve to highlight that even in so-called developed democracies situations arise where policing is tested to the utmost and mistakes are made in dealing with them. While I abhor the abuse of power by any law enforcement agency it is easy with the benefit of hindsight for people who weren’t there to sit in a cosy armchair and criticise actions taken or not taken by officers at such highly charged scenarios where in reality the use of pepper sprays and batons can often be both justified and legal.
Quite a long period of my police career involved working in a complaints and discipline role and I am the first to advocate harsh treatment of serving police officers who break the rules of their office, especially when it involves blatant criminal behaviour, but it is a different matter altogether when fingers are randomly pointed and uncorroborated accusations are made in the thinly disguised name of a political cause and spread across a UK national newspaper in furtherance of that.
Since working in the Maldives I have an affiliation with the country and its people and the work I did there was genuinely focused on helping to make it a better place to live and work. The fact that things now seem to be unraveling to an extent saddens me a great deal but it is disingenuous in the extreme for anyone to pursue their personal objectives by inferring wholly innocent individuals are somehow to blame for it all.
I would suggest that, as well as apologising to me, if the Guardian wants to get involved in such matters as the Maldives crisis it takes a less naive and more balanced approach and looks much more searchingly at everything going on there, as well as giving more credit for the positive things that have been achieved by dedicated people. Impugning the professional integrity of those striving to do good things may be the Guardian’s idea of a good story but I doubt if many right thinking people would agree.
A final word – the present Commissioner of the Maldives Police Service, Abdulla Riyaz, is a well respected, dedicated and fair minded individual of the highest integrity who has devoted his professional career to the improvement of policing services in his country. I have worked closely with him in the past before he was appointed to his current position and I hold him in high regard. He is well able to defend his own position and actions but I feel it is grossly unfair for his considerable achievements to be undermined in the way this Guardian article has done.
Scottish Police Superintendent (retired), John Robertson, was an independent police consultant to the Maldives Police Service in 2006 and 2008.
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