The police station in Edmonton is a forbidding red-brick building bristling with radio masts and surrounded by high walls.
It is an imposing presence, glaring down on a row of Turkish restaurants and supermarkets on the other side of Fore Street in the outer reaches of North London.
The station foyer, the only place accessible to the public, is little bigger than a cupboard where locals report their losses, complaints and woes to officers through a window.
The impression is more of a fortress than the friendly notion of neighbourhood policing that British forces are desperate to foster. This station is at the centre of one of the most sensitive corruption investigations the Metropolitan Police has faced for decades.
Allegations of evidence fabrication and theft of suspects’ property developed into more serious claims that some individuals were subjected to violence and ill treatment amounting to torture. One claimant made an allegation of having been subjected to waterboarding.
The chain of events began last November when officers from Enfield carried out a series of raids. Addresses in Enfield and Tottenham were searched after a tip-off that people living there were involved in cannabis dealing.
Four men and a woman were arrested and charged with importation of a Class C drug.
On December 4 the defendants appeared before Enfield Magistrates’ Court and the case was committed for a Crown Court trial.
The drug case appears to have been the catalyst for an inquiry into activities at Edmonton station by the Scotland Yard Directorate of Professional Standards, the Met’s anti-corruption unit. This team is known in police slang as the Rubber Heelers — so named “because you can’t hear them coming”.
In this inquiry they appear to have lived up to their reputation. It is understood that video probes and covert listening devices were planted inside the police station to gather evidence.
Initially the directorate’s inquiry focused on claims of theft of property from people who had been arrested in Enfield. More specifically that referred to allegations that valuable items — including flat-screen televisions, computers and iPods — had disappeared from police stores.
In February four officers were suspended and a further seven placed on restricted duties. The action was said to be in connection with allegations of “mishandling of property” and coincided with the conviction and imprisonment of a female civilian worker at the station who was caught trying to burn records.
But the investigation had already taken a more dramatic turn and was examining disturbing claims that some officers had ill-treated suspects.
Information gleaned during the police’s internal inquiry had chimed with claims made by some of the defendants in the cannabis inquiry.
At least one of those people had made an allegation of “waterboarding” at the time of the raid and arrests in November.
Senior officers have been horrified by the allegations. One source said: “This is as bad as it gets — these allegations are being treated with the utmost seriousness.”
Another source claimed that although serious, the allegations were “more Life on Mars than Guantánamo Bay”.
The source said that the allegations had yet to be proved: “It might not be about tying someone to a board, more like shoving their heads in a bowl of water.”
The pending trial of the suspects in the drug case, however, threatened to derail the anti-corruption inquiries.
It was set for March 12 at Wood Green Crown Court, and opened with an extraordinary move from counsel for the Crown Prosecution Service. The prosecutor applied for a public interest immunity certificate, a legal device by which a hearing can be held in secrecy. The judge granted the application and the Crown then explained to the closed court why it was dropping the cannabis allegations.
A CPS spokesman explained: “If we had continued [with the ]trial] we would have compromised a wideranging criminal investigation into the activities of a number of police officers.”
With the trial abandoned, on April 3 the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards briefed the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) to ensure that the further progress of the inquiry could be assessed externally. The IPCC decided to carry out a fully independent inquiry led by its own team of investigators.
Last night the IPCC said that its inquiry was focusing on six officers. A spokesman said: “A team of investigators, led by a senior IPCC investigator, continue to investigate this case.
“So far, IPCC investigators have conducted house-to-house inquiries, appealed for witnesses and taken statements. This is an ongoing criminal investigation and as such all six officers will be criminally interviewed under caution.”
To date, there have been no arrests and no charges.
By Sean O’Neill