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The chairman of a new panel that will scrutinise the police on race issues is a criminal defence barrister who has said her ‘ultimate aim’ is to end funding for forces.
Award-winning lawyer Abimbola Johnson, 34, has previously discussed crime being ‘reclassified’ until you ‘no longer need to fund a police force’.
She is one of three Labour supporters among six members on the new Independent Scrutiny and Oversight Board (ISOB) set up by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and the College of Policing.
It is part of a new action plan launched yesterday to tackle racism and racial disparity in policing – with the ultimate aim of ‘creating an anti-racist police service’.
Barrister Abimbola Johnson, 34, has previously discussed crime being ‘reclassified’
The board announced its six members this week, including Labour councillor Katrina Ffrench, 37, and Jeremy Corbyn supporter Nick Glynn, 54.
It also includes communications expert Colin Douglas, senior civil servant Ram Joshi and data scientist Rachael Grant.
Miss Johnson, who helped put together the team, previously defended calls to change police funding on Twitter in June 2020 during Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests that summer.
She said at the time that people needed to ‘engage and not react in knee-jerk fashion’, and suggested funds be diverted to other areas such as mental health services, after-school programmes and shelters.
‘Divert funds into other methods to tackle the causes of crime and even rethink what we classify as criminality in the first place. Until you no longer need to fund a police force,’ the barrister posted.
Katrina Ffrench, 37, has used her online profile to promote protests against ‘police impunity’
Miss Johnson, who said in her post that she is a Labour Party member, argued that people had the ‘wrong impression’ of the BLM movement.
In the Twitter conversation on June 29, 2020, she said the movement ‘is meant to make us think harder about how we could run a safe and fair society without the need for a police force’. In another tweet in response to a now-deleted post, she wrote: ‘Yes, the ultimate aim is to create a societal system that no longer needs the police. Or at least doesn’t need police forces in the sizes we have now.’
In more recent times she has tweeted in favour of ‘increasing funding’ to police forces instead of widening their powers. In March 2021, she said more funding would enable the police ‘to catch suspects and investigate crimes properly’. Meanwhile, fellow board member Miss Ffrench has used her online profile to promote protests against ‘police impunity’.
Mr Glynn has praised Jeremy Corbyn and attended events supporting the former Labour leader. He has also openly criticised the Conservatives on his social media.
Nick Glynn, 54, has praised Jeremy Corbyn and attended events supporting the former Labour leader
At the launch of the police’s race action plan yesterday, Miss Johnson said: ‘Speaking completely frankly, policing has never got this right, in terms of dealing with racial disparity. They either have made progress but not at a rate that they expected or they haven’t made any progress at all. The police need to do this themselves.
‘If they really do want to become an anti-racist organisation they need to put the work in, they need to develop these plans, and they need to make sure they implement them on a regional as well as a national scale.’ Kevin Hurley, a former Met Police officer who was crime commissioner for Surrey Police, said calls to end funding for the police were ‘naive, ignorant or stupid’ and the establishment of the new board was a ‘cop-out’.
He said: ‘For the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs’ Council to set this up is, in fact, a cop-out for them failing to discharge their own responsibilities as leaders, setting and maintaining the correct values and standards.’
A NPCC spokesman said the board members ‘were selected for their skills, expertise and experience in an open selection and recruitment process. Board members have committed to approach their roles in an impartial and non-partisan way.’
An ISOB spokesman said: ‘Abimbola Johnson is a respected barrister appointed and vetted by the NPCC… using an open and fair recruitment process. Your claim that Miss Johnson tweeted about an ultimate aim to defund the police is factually incorrect as is the conclusion you have drawn from the tweets.
‘There is no concern over board members’ professional or personal affiliations. The chair and each member of the board is committed to working respectfully with people from all political parties.’
HOLDING FEET TO FIRE: A BARRISTER, CORBYNISTA AND LEFTIE COUNCILLOR
BARRISTER WHO BACKED ISIS BRIDE
Oxford University-educated Abimbola Johnson, 34, is a criminal defence barrister.
She criticised Sajid Javid’s decision in February 2019 – when he was home secretary – to strip citizenship from Shamima Begum, the Bethnal Green schoolgirl who fled to Syria and married an IS fighter, calling it ‘terrifying’ and ‘symptomatic of racism’.
She wrote: ‘In a time where people are being deported for minor crimes, where you have to declare your nationality to register with a GP, rent a house, at court, trust me, this Government is ramping up its hostile environment started by [Theresa] May when she was in the Home Office.’
She has also warned second-generation immigrants like her to ‘be ready to be treated like a second-class citizen’.
The barrister is also the founder and co-host of the Manifesto Read podcast – a series of round-table discussions ‘spelling out government policies in black and white’.
Practising from 25 Bedford Row chambers, she was called to the bar by the Inner Temple in 2011.
THE LABOUR COUNCILLOR
Katrina Ffrench, 37, a Labour councillor in Wandsworth, south-west London, celebrated Dame Cressida Dick’s departure as Scotland Yard Commissioner, saying it was cause to ‘open the bubbly’. She has also shared a post in support of the Black Lives Matter movement on Facebook, which stated ‘no justice, no peace, get the Met’s knee off our neck’.
In a story published by The Guardian, she suggested officers do not need ‘any more’ powers to tackle crime. She is the founder and director of Unjust-UK – a non-profit organisation that ‘challenges discriminatory practices and policies within UK policing and the wider criminal justice system’.
The organisation is part of a consortium that wrote to the Met Police threatening legal action over its ‘racially discriminatory’ database of alleged gang members, which they said stereotyped communities of colour.
Miss Ffrench spent nearly three years as chief executive of StopWatch UK, which campaigns against the use of Stop and Search by police.
THE RETIRED COP AND CORBYN FAN
Nick Glynn, 54, is a Jeremy Corbyn supporter and retired senior police officer who spent more than 30 years on duty in Leicestershire.
An expert on use of force by officers, he went on to become a senior policy adviser on police Stop and Search powers. Since then, he has advocated for the decriminalisation of cannabis and written articles criticising the Government’s Policing Bill.
He has been pictured at various events supporting Corbyn and has declared, ‘he’s a leader’. Mr Glynn also holds a role as a senior programme officer at Open Society Foundations, which supports civil society groups. He is said to lead work on police accountability and justice in Europe, covering police powers, protest and discrimination within the criminal legal system.