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He's a fair copper - and it was an unfair cop
Urban75 editor Mike Slocombe tells the simple truth about what Met police commander Brian Paddick said on his website (20th March 2002)
When I first dabbled with the web, way back in 1995, I was busy bluffing the media that my Football Fans Against the Criminal Justice Bill website was representing the views of thousands of deeply disgruntled fans, outraged against the proposed legislation.
In fact (I can now exclusively reveal!) there was only ever one fan against the bill at the time - me - but my bedroom bluff worked and the national media were soon listing the fears of football supporters all over, er, Brixton.
But it's not just website owners who can be a little economical with the truth: visitors to bulletin boards are also equally at liberty to invent all manner of unsubstantiated claims about their occupation and identity.
My own site, urban75, has enjoyed a long history of lively and robust debate on its forums, with all manner of individuals contributing under weird and wonderful nom de plumes. Some simply prefer to be known under odd names like chairman_miaow, hatboy and blagsta, while others have to keep their identity private because of employment considerations.
But not all choose to remain completely anonymous. In January 2002, a character called ColinTheCop turned up on the Brixton forum, claiming to be a serving Brixton police officer.
Regulars looking forward to an interesting debate about policing in Lambeth were soon to be disappointed as ColinTheCop launched into a series of astonishing attacks on the community, declaring that "the people of Brixton deserve to be treated with contempt" and those who didn't show a suitable level of appreciation for the police could "go and fuck themselves".
Subsequent posts saw Colin building up a full head of homophobia while urban75 posters prayed to the Great God of Community Policing that this cop wasn't for real.
As posters grew weary of his ever-more vitriolic assaults, a rising tide of requests led to his removal from the boards, only for him to immediately return under a multitude of equally obnoxious alter egos.
Among all this mayhem, Brian, The Commander decided to step into the fray, apparently alerted by police colleagues to the political hari-kari being committed in his force's name.
Not unreasonably, urban75 regulars were more than a little dubious that it really was Brian Paddick, commander of the Metropolitan police, but after several failed attempts to convince sceptical posters, Brian emailed me privately confirming his identity.
What followed next was an absolute revelation. Seasoned contributors stood back in amazement as Brian contributed a stream of radical, erudite, intelligent and engaging posts. Here was an officer who was prepared to directly engage with the community he was paid to serve.
Unlike committee meetings with their tedious agendas and self elected "representatives" blathering on into the night, this debate was open play all the way, with Paddick exchanging ideas, arguments and philosophies with an assortment of hard-nosed anarchists, ex-addicts, local residents, lefties, righties and the simply curious.
Amazingly, despite urban75 being well frequented by media types, all this passed unnoticed for several weeks until one of the contributors (a Big Issue news editor) realised that if he didn't cover this story soon, a less sympathetic paper most certainly would.
After checking personally with Paddick, the story was duly printed - and all hell broke loose. A swarm of tabloids were soon ferreting around the boards, delighted to find a veritable gold mine of juicy snippets primed and ready to turn into copy-shifting headlines.
"The Odd Bill: I back ANARCHY" screamed the Sun, clearly unable to work out the substantial difference between Paddick's ruminative reflections on the concept of anarchism and a bunch of spikey-heads pissing on the Cenotaph.
"ANARCHY IS ATTRACTIVE" misquoted the Standard, while the Sun's slimy Littlejohn launched into a personal attack of barely concealed homophobia.
Meanwhile, traffic on the boards soared through the roof as the site was name-checked all over the news media, and scoop-hungry journalists stampeded to set primed questions for Paddick.
Sadly, it couldn't last. With certain sections of the press revealing their ugly, homophobic colours, it rapidly turned into a witch hunt for Paddick, resulting in his removal from Brixton police and a hasty exit from the urban75 bulletin boards.
All of which adds up to a lost opportunity.
Paddick's unconventional use of new media as a means to listen, interact and debate local issues with local people resulted in some of the most worthwhile debate seen on the subject, and if any proof is needed of the respect he earned in the process, look no further than the upcoming demos of support in Brixton.
You can read about them on the urban75 boards.
Mike Slocombe is editor of urban75.com
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