Another report of a club being raided by police and closed down (London), but a rather more disturbing policy seems to have been adopted by the police (a worrying trend emerging in the UK in general). This from The Independent:
Philip Hensher: Should we persecute clubbers for taking drugs?
The idea of police having a record of customers of even a notorious nightclub is rather troubling
Published: 01 May 2007
If you really want to dance in London from Saturday night all the way through to Monday lunchtime and perhaps even beyond, you can do so in Vauxhall. There are clubs which cover Saturday night, the small hours of Sunday morning, Sunday morning, Sunday afternoon, early evening, and so on without a single break virtually until the Monday afternoon coffee break of the office workers opposite.
There is not much secret about how this extraordinary situation came into existence. When nightclubs stopped closing at 4am and, in some cases, actually opened at that hour, it was in the wake of the mass discovery of ecstasy in the late 1980s. Subsequent waves of party drugs have preceded increasingly unimagined extensions of club hours. In the late 1990s, there was the horse tranquilliser ketamine - outlawed only recently, to the astonishment of many clubbers who had no idea they had been snorting something hitherto perfectly legal. Recently, there has been the advent of a repulsive and terrifying form of amphetamine, "crystal meth", widely blamed for creating an unholy number of casualties.
With each new high, a market was found for somewhere to go on to at 6am, or noon, or 5 in the evening, and so on. Nobody could have been under any illusion that the clubbers still going strong 12 or 18 hours into a session were doing it on willpower and the occasional cappuccino. Club owners were placed in a delicate situation. Their business depended on something they were required to prevent. Club owners certainly made efforts, of various degrees of sincerity, to prevent drugs being smuggled in or sold on the premises. The whole ethos of some clubs - certainly not all - depended, however, on their partial failure.
Whether it is a case of a blind eye being turned, a formal and criminal arrangement being made, resigned acquiescence or even, just imaginably, of the outraged declarations of ignorance that such things went on, anyone who takes an interest knows that there are some clubs in Vauxhall where drugs are not just taken in quantities but sold. The most notorious of these at the moment, I guess, is called Fire.
My dancing days are somewhat over, but it doesn't take more than a few minutes on internet discussion boards to discover what the general appeal of Fire has been to clubbers. On Friday night, around half past two, what was reported as "hundreds" of police descended on the club, closing it down for the present and arresting nine people. I'm sure the management of the club were just as horrified as everyone else to discover that such things went on within their business.
If the dilemma facing the owners of clubs is a difficult one, how much more demanding and insoluble is the challenge the police face in dealing with a situation like this one. The law is absolutely clear on the subject, and it's not for the police to decide which laws to uphold and which to ignore. But it must be tempting to think that drugs, really, just can't be eradicated from society by nothing more than prohibition.
What is really desirable is that if they exist, they should be quite hard to find, and contained within a self-policing environment. Something, in short, rather like a Vauxhall nightclub. I find the prospect of a dealer operating to a determined clientele in the dark corner of a nightclub at 5am much easier to live with than the crack dealers hanging around busy south London streets on a Saturday afternoon.
The police operation on Friday night, though by all accounts conducted with good humour, seems unlikely to improve community relations or to have done anything very much to cut down the extent of drug use. At most, a few arrests will create business opportunities for some opportunistic footsoldiers in the drug dealing profession. Vauxhall might be a little quieter for, at a guess, four weeks.
What I find deeply worrying, however, is quite a new tactic in the way the operation was carried out. Reportedly, everybody in the club was led out and searched - fair enough - but subsequently, whether the police found anything or not in their possession, they were photographed for a purpose which was not explained.
The idea of the police possessing a record of customers of even a very notorious nightclub seems a very troubling one. If there is reason to suspect someone of a crime, then take them in; charge them; caution them; or let them go. The act of taking photographs of everybody present at a raid is very difficult to understand. Were the police trying to create a kind of register of people below the threshold of a caution; people who couldn't be shown to have committed a crime but who might be worth keeping an eye on in future?
No doubt nothing so calculated was intended. But, though this individual situation seems to have been getting out of hand, I can't see any realistic long-term alternative to accepting that these things go on, behind closed doors, and could plausibly be contained there. I don't see a lot being gained by any kind of extensive persecution of a class of people.
Lining people up, without establishing whether they are guilty or innocent of any kind of offence, to have their photographs taken for some undeclared purpose; that is not a practice anyone could want to see the police adopting.
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