UK police earn millions from states that use death penalty
British police have earned millions of pounds by training officers in repressive regimes in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia.
The College of Policing, an arms-length body of the Home Office, has earned more than £3.3m by providing “international leadership” and “international strategic leadership” training to police forces in 23 countries since it was set up by Theresa May in 2012.
It is UK government policy to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances. However, documents obtained by the Guardian under freedom of information legislation show that 89% of the money earned by the college came from countries where the death penalty still exists.
Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, accused the government of putting trade deals before human rights. She said: “It is yet another example that – when trade deals and security alliances are on offer in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world – Theresa May’s government throws any concern for human rights out the window.”
The Saudi Arabian ministry of the interior is the college’s biggest leadership training client and has paid it more than £1.2m for 815 days’ training over the past six years. The same ministry has executed at least 641 people since 2012, according to Reprieve, a charity which campaigns against the death penalty.
The governments of Bahrain, UAE, Oman and Kuwait, four countries where the death penalty remains legal, together provided another £1.3m of the college’s revenue. The college earned £800,000 from 18 other countries. These included Indonesia, Singapore and Botswana, which all executed prisoners in 2016.
The Home Office says British training is designed to improve human rights compliance but campaigners say there is a lack of evidence to prove this claim. While Saudi officials were receiving British training, the number of prisoners executed annually rose from at least 79 in 2012 to at least 154 in 2016.
Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, said: “The College of Policing appears to have made a substantial profit from a massive crackdown on dissent in the Gulf since the Arab spring. Ministers say this training will improve Gulf policing, but in reality things have got worse, as UK-trained bodies in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have increased their use of torture and the death penalty for juveniles and protesters.”
The home affairs committee found last year that the college “has been put under pressure by the Home Office to raise revenue” by providing overseas training. The committee stated its concern that the “provision of training … sometimes with foreign governments which have been the subject of sustained criticism, threatens the integrity of the very brand of British policing that the college is trying to promote”.
Following this criticism, the Home Office conducted an internal audit of the college that assessed its reputation management. The audit states that “the college takes appropriate steps to manage its reputation in terms of the international work it takes on”.
The Home Office said: “The government’s policing programmes in the Middle East, led by the College of Policing, are specifically designed to improve the justice system by improving human rights compliance and reducing the likelihood of miscarriages of justice.”