The Metropolitan Police are facing legal action over their ‘racially discriminatory’ gang matrix database, it can be revealed.
The secret database was created in the aftermath of the 2011 London riots as a watch list of people identified by police as “gang names”.
But activists say the matrix is based on vague criteria in which people can be added because they have had contact with others whom police suspect to be gang members or even to have been them victims themselves.
In a letter to the Metropolitan Police threatening legal action, seen by The Independent, human rights organization Liberty warned that the gang matrix discriminates against ethnic minority groups, particularly black people who are disproportionately represented in the database.
The charity acts on behalf of Awate Suleiman, a musician and writer who spent two years trying to find out if he had been placed on the gang matrix, and non-profit UNJUST.
They argue that it discriminates against people of color, especially black men and boys, and violates human rights, data protection requirements and principles of public law.
Lana Adamou, an attorney at Liberty, said: “We all want to feel safe in our communities, but the gang matrix isn’t about protecting us – it’s about policing and controlling people, with the communities of color and blacks worse affected.
“The matrix of gangs is heavily fueled by racist stereotypes: based on who people are friends with, who their family members are, where they live and where they go.
“Secret databases that risk excluding young black men from society based on racist assumptions are not a solution to serious violence, they are part of the problem.
“The Matrix damages communities through division and alienation. We should demand better evidence-based solutions that address the underlying causes.
Liberty also warned that the database violates the public sector equality duty for public authorities to eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimization and to advance equal opportunity.
Of those on the matrix, 86.5% are black, Asian or other ethnic minority, and 79% are black.
In addition, the majority of people are considered by the police to be at “low risk”, although they may be subject to “enforcement measures”, including exclusion from benefits, housing and education, as well as an increase in stops and searches while database information is also shared with other agencies such as immigration law enforcement.
The Metropolitan Police do not tell people if they are on the Matrix, and there is no mechanism by which a person can appeal against their inclusion, or request that the data held about them be reviewed.
Mr Suleiman said: ‘It was important to know if I was one of the many people on the matrix of gang violence after years of police harassment of people in my area.
“The fact that I had to go through the judicial review process before they confirmed if I was on the [matrix] isn’t good enough and another indication of the Met’s intent to secretly surveil young black people.
“These practices were normal in colonial times when British officers kept meticulous records of the people they terrorized and abused, but are contrary to the type of society we are meant to live in today.”
In 2018 the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime recommended that the Metropolitan Police obtain additional data so the effectiveness of the gang matrix could be properly assessed, but Liberty says they have failed to do it.
In the same year, an investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) concluded that the Metropolitan Police had committed multiple and serious breaches of data protection laws in their use of the database.
The Met Police have been approached for comment.