Police

Police Failed to Warn Gay Public: OutRage! call for a Public Enquiry

PETER TATCHELL of OutRage! says the police failure to warn the lesbian and gay public about the bomb threat was “complacent and irresponsible”.

While the police deserve mostly praise for their liaison with the lesbian and gay community since the Soho bombing, their failure to forewarn the homosexual public that gay venues could be attacked was a grave error of judgement.

A week before the bomb, police suspected that Old Compton Street might be a target. Accordingly, officers alerted some gay businesses and organisations.

This alert was, unfortunately, badly executed. The gay rights group Stonewall was posted a police warning dated 27th April: but this letter did not arrive until 30th April (the day of the bombing). Since the police had serious concerns about the gay community being attacked, why was this warning not phoned or faxed to Stonewall, and to other key gay rights organisations? Who made the decision to send the warning by second-class post?

It was also a mistake for the police not use their own community consultation structures to alert the most obvious and important gay groups: those that are involved in police liaision, through the London Lesbian & Gay Policing Initiative (LLGPI). None of these organisations received any warning.

For nearly two years, the LLPGI has been urging the police to set up a database of lesbian and gay groups in London, to ensure swift communication with the homosexual community in the event of an emergency, such as the recent bombing campaign. This recommendation was also made by OutRage! six years ago, after the delayed police warning to the gay community when serial killer, Colin Ireland, was on the rampage.

During the recent bombings, the failure of the police to establish this database meant that they had no mechanism to alert all lesbian and gay groups once officers suspected that gay venues might be targeted.

The most serious police misjudgement was, by far, the decision to warn some gay bars, but not the wider gay public. This lulled many lesbians and gay men into a false sense of security. Because the police did not issue a public alert about the possibility of gay venues being bombed, most homosexuals did not take the threat seriously. They heard Sir Paul Condon and Jack Straw suggesting an exclusively racist motive for the bombings, and assumed that the gay community was not at risk.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner should have gone on national television on 27th April to advise the gay community that it was a potential target, and announced publicly that Old Compton Street and other gay districts were under heavy police surveillance. This might have deterred the bomber. On hearing of the police surveillance of gay districts, he may have concluded there was a risk of detection and abandoned his plans. London and the gay community could, perhaps, have been spared the carnage of Friday, 30th April.