Manchester community reacts with anger as police cleared of violence

• Internal inquiry dismisses 18 complaints of undue violence
• Force faces civil action over 2008 street clash

Community groups in a formerly troubled area of Manchester have warned of serious damage to relations with the local police after an investigation cleared officers of undue violence at a street fracas.

But while 18 complaints against officers were dismissed by an internal inquiry supervised by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), the force will still face a civil action from a peace campaigner who witnessed the trouble outside Bridgewater Hall in Manchester in May 2008.

Raymond Bell, whose wife Erinma was described as a "national hero" by Gordon Brown for her work against gang violence, said: "We've waited for justice all this time, and now they are saying that it never happened."

The police said that the inquiry had been bedevilled by a lack of co-operation, because most complainants had refused to speak directly to the force's investigators.

A former chair of the Greater Manchester police authority said today that the delayed and inconclusive findings of the investigation's report, which cited a lack of clear evidence and directly contradictory accounts, "make it feel as though we have gone back 20 years".

The inquiry was conducted by the GMP's internal investigation department, managed at arm's length by the IPCC, following anger at the incident and six arrests.

Police became involved after a report of shots being fired from a car which was then traced to the Bridgewater Hall, as families were leaving a children's talent contest. Officers searching the car were surrounded by large numbers of people and called for back-up.

Accounts then differ completely, with 18 complaints about alleged over-reaction by officers, while police involved denied any abuse. The report admits that it has proved impossible to decide who was telling the truth, with CCTV and other film and photographic evidence lacking or of poor quality.

Naseem Malik, an IPCC commissioner, said: "We cannot absolve individual officers in relation to allegations of using excessive force, nor can we absolve audience members from claims they used violence and deliberate resistance against the officers.

"The simple fact is any independent evidence is of such poor quality that a definitive conclusion cannot be reached. Many of the incidents revolve around the word of an officer against the word of a complainant."

The report also accepts the damage caused by the incident and "unacceptable" delays over whether to prosecute those arrested – charges were eventually dropped – and in the providing of evidence by complainants.

Gabrielle Cox, a former Moss Side councillor and chair of the police authority in the 1980s, said: "It feels like we have gone back 20 years. The Bridgewater Hall incident undermined years of work to improve relationships between the police and the community in Moss Side.

"The report will do nothing to repair those relationships, and is likely to compound the sense of frustration and powerlessness felt by the community. The finding of 'insufficient evidence' seems to damn every enquiry into inappropriate police actions. The system of the police investigating themselves, even if under IPCC management, remains a key barrier to community confidence."

Detective Superintendent Mike Freeman, of GMP's professional standards branch, said: "Our investigation found that the policing operation surrounding this event was very carefully planned to enable it to go ahead peacefully. The problems arose when a member of the public reported that shots had been fired from a car and officers responded to search the car. This attracted a lot of attention from people leaving the event and a number of people complained about the police response."During the course of the investigation the majority of complainants have not been prepared to speak directly to us, causing significant delays and affecting our ability to gather evidence. After investigating all of the information available to us, we have not been able to substantiate any of the complaints."


Martin Wainwright

The GuardianTramp

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