Thursday, February 29

Never a police officer around when you want one – unless you’re an oligarch | Marina Hyde

Didn’t you love the pictures of a column of Metropolitan police officers running towards Oleg Deripaska’s house like it was a five-storey Greggs? Here they come, trotting with intent, a phalanx of shirt-sleeved, riot-shielded protect-and-servers who may or may not be available within six weeks next time your house is burgled.

To recap, four protesters yesterday occupied a house in London’s Belgravia that is supposedly owned by the Russian aluminum magnate Deripaska (now on the UK sanctions list). They unfurled some banners inviting Vladimir Putin to fuck himself and so on, before being removed by the largest Met police presence you’ll see outside of a women’s vigil for someone murdered by a Met police officer. Territorial support group, police negotiators, police climbers, riot police … and, my darlinks, one’s rarely seen so much hardware. The only big guns they left back at the station were the surface-to-air questionnaires.

Activists occupy sanctioned Russian oligarch's £50m London mansion – video
Activists occupy sanctioned Russian oligarch’s £50m London mansion – video

There were at least eight vans and two squad cars, as well as a JCB, for some reason not being driven by Boris Johnson. Surely the prime minister should have just piloted it through the wall of the Belgrave Square house, then emerged from the driver’s cabin for the cameras gurning GET SANCTIONS DONE? Absolutely no sense of occasion.

Alas, despite all these expensive resources, the incident drew a viciously self-satisfying statement from Deripaska’s spokeswoman. “We are appalled at the negligence of Britain’s justice system shown by Boris Johnson’s cabinet in introducing the sanctions and colluding with the sort of people who raid private property,” she fumed. “It’s truly a disgrace that this is happening in a country that is supposed to respect private property and the rule of law.”

Now come come, madam – this isn’t a “raid on private property”. Es una special operations. As for the response to it, that is multiple more police than anyone normal in London could ever hope for. To put it in perspective, it’s about the volume of hardcore law enforcement you could expect if a woman in Red Square held up a small piece of paper that does n’t even say “no war”, but she simply says “two words”.

But look, before we go any further, I’m not saying that the protesters don’t need to be removed from the property. Of course they do. However, as the author and kleptocracy expert Oliver Bullough remarked: “There must be 20 police officers outside the Belgrave Square property occupied by anarchists, which is I reckon approximately 20 more than ever checked the provenance of the money that bought it.” Also, not sure we can entirely get behind the spokeswoman claiming to be “appalled at the negligence of Britain’s justice system”. Join the queue. If the oligarchs have an issue with “Britain’s justice system”, perhaps they should spend less time clogging it up? Honestly, they’re never out of it, with their libel suits and their in-group spats and their full-spectrum lawfare.

Still, an Englishman’s home is his castle, and an oligarch’s home is … oh, hang on. I’m just reading some more of the spokeswoman’s outpourings, and apparently this is n’t even his home de ella. Deripaska says it is owned by “some family members”. I must say it’s really great to see Oleg supporting British investigative journalism, even with all the stuff he has going on in his life right now. Where this type of guy is concerned, it normally takes really dogged reporters a year to discover who owns the shell company that owns the shell company that owns the shell company that owns the house.

Furthermore, we must thank Deripaska or Some of his Family Members for enabling another great British pastime – looking askance at what people have done to their houses. After all, we lay our scene in Belgravia, one of various areas in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea that a previous social class of occupants judge has “completely gone, I’m afraid”. Or rather, completely gorn.

In many ways I’m all for a new breed of horror moving in. Ring the changes, do you know? But funny to think that Deripaska’s house was once owned by politician and category-5 diarist Chips Channon, who, incidentally, was not held back by self-doubt in his interiors vision of him. As he wrote of a new scheme for the Belgrave Square dining room: “It will shock and stagger London.” And naturally they talked of little else in the East End. Anyway, Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson came to dinner there one night in 1936 and, according to Channon, “The doors were flung open … and there was a pause as everyone’s breath was taken away by the beauty of the dining room.” Flash forward to 2022, and my breath was also taken away by the video shot yesterday by the protesters from inside the historic house. Blond wood floors and a glass banister? Literally worse than abdication.

The occupiers were eventually arrested, despite attempts to settle in for longer. According to reports, when they caught sight of some people looking out of the windows of the next-door house, one called over: “We are your new neighbours. We’ll come over tomorrow with some brisket.” (Brisket! A slightly surreal detail. Isn’t the offering cliche a cup of sugar – or, in this locale, a cup of green juice? Perhaps the protester is American. Like Chips Channon.)

As for the Met, this is without question another great look from its spring collection, fresh off being found last week to have breached the rights of the organizers of the Sarah Everard vigil. Winter, meanwhile, was enlivened by its declaration that it does not investigate “historical crimes.” Maybe yesterday’s alleged crime found itself in a liminal time zone – it was not technically historical, being ongoing, and therefore could be investigated by as many officers as were available, minus the ones serving WhatsApp suspensions and whatnot. And yet a friend recently observed a burglary in progress, and no squad car came because of what he was told was a lack of available resource. When he followed up, he was invited to make an appointment to discuss the incident so officers could gather a statement.

In the end, then, I can’t help feeling Monday’s ridiculous tableau in Belgrave Square is symbolic of a wider discombobulation, as Londongrad struggles with the pivot to this new era. A whole series of compromised institutions, from the legal profession to the police to the politicians, are going to require a significant reset if we truly do mean to stop enabling some of the worst individuals in the world at the expense of pretty much everyone else. Nothing wrong with being polite, of course. But both literally and metaphorically, we really don’t have to fall over ourselves running to assist these people.

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