The Metropolitan Police Service’s Gangs Matrix

In May of this year, Amnesty International produced a report 'Trapped in the Matrix' on its research into the implementation and impact of the Metropolitan Police Service's "Gangs Matrix" since its establishment in the wake of the 2011 London Riots. Many of the report's headlines were not new, and were no doubt all too familiar to many who are included on the Matrix, but the report was powerful in its criticism and made various recommendations intended to address the damage which the Matrix had caused.

The Matrix was ostensibly conceived as a tool to enable police resources to be targeted at high-risk offenders suspected of being involved in gang activity. The gathering of personal data is permitted provided it is done in accordance with the law, in pursuant of a legitimate aim and is necessary (in that the interference with an individual's right to privacy is proportionate to achieving the legitimate aim).

The Metropolitan Police Service argues that a degree of secrecy is required in order for the Matrix to provide an effective means of policing. The Matrix's critics contend that it is in large part the very lack of transparency or rigour which renders the Matrix "not only ineffective but counter-productive".

Amnesty International's report established that:

  • There is no clear or consistently applied definition of what constitutes "a gang";
  • As a result, the Matrix operates inconsistently across different London boroughs;
  • There is no transparency about how an individual's data is added to the Matrix;
  • It is not clear who has the authority to add an individual's data to the Matrix;
  • There is no known set process by which data held on the Matrix is checked for accuracy, reviewed, amended or updated;
  • Individuals are not made aware of the information held about them and so there is no means of challenging the information's accuracy;
  • There is no formal route by which someone can challenge the inclusion of their personal data in the Matrix;
  • There is a lack of clarity about how individuals are ascribed "harm scores".

As a result, it is very difficult for individuals to challenge the basis for their inclusion in the Matrix and the way in which it impacts upon their daily lives.

Individuals whose personal data is included within the Matrix are then known by various agencies as "gang nominals", the implications of which are self-evident, despite there being no known requirement for any findings to have first been made about the criminality of that person. The "nominals" are ranked as red, amber or green, with "most likely to commit a violent offence" and with those classified as "green" deemed to pose the least risk. Of the 3,806 individuals included in the Matrix in October 2017, less than 5% were "red" and 64 % were "green". 40% of people listed on the Matrix reportedly had no record of involvement in any violent offence in the past 2 years and 35% had never committed a serious offence (with "serious offence" not in fact being properly defined).

There are various definitions of "gang" used by the Metropolitan Police Service, which are in themselves ill-defined and so left open to interpretation. The two definitions referred to in the Amnesty International report (one of which is taken from the Policing and Crime Act 2009 and the other used by Trident Gang Command) both include criteria regarding how the social group in question is perceived externally. As such, there is an inherent subjectivity which means that what is an already ineffective blunt tool is easily directed at the wrong target. Moreover, social groups tend to vary in their membership over time, sometimes defining themselves more rigidly than others. If anything, this applies to a greater degree in relation to groups of teenagers and young people.

As the report underlines, the Matrix is premised on, and so entrenches, a heavily racialized narrative in which urban youth subculture and violent offending are recklessly conflated. The methods of data gathering are therefore inevitably skewed, as are the means in which the data is then shared and implemented.

In July 2016, of all of the individuals on the Matrix:

  • 99% male
  • 80% were between 12 and 24 years old
  • 15% were minors, the youngest being 12 years old
  • 75% of those on the Matrix have reportedly been victims of violence themselves
  • 87% from black, Asian or ethnic minority backgrounds (78% were black)

27% of people identified by the police as being responsible for serious youth violence are black, 72% of people identified by police as responsible for "gang flagged violence" are black, and yet only 13% of the London population is black.

There is no transparency about which agencies can access data held on the Matrix, and about what data within the Matrix various agencies have access to. It is also not clear who has the authority to add data to the Matrix. Information gleaned by Amnesty International regarding data sharing between agencies was largely anecdotal. What has been established is that the personal data of so-called "gang nominals" can be shared, apparently without appropriate oversight or adequate regulation, between the police, housing associations, schools, job centres, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Home Office and the DVLA. The Amnesty report noted that local authorities and the Department from Work and Pensions have the ability to track individuals from the Matrix if they move between boroughs. The report noted that someone's inclusion on the Matrix can be passed to the CPS to the support a suggestion that a crime was gang-related or to support the prosecution of someone on the basis of joint enterprise.

A young person may not even be aware that they have been deemed to be a "gang nominal" until the label is used as a means of limiting their social interactions, their ability to move, work or drive. The system is built so that they then have very little means of challenging their inclusion, shaking the label off or turning their life around. The scope for the Matrix to cause or compound stigmatisation and disenfranchisement is clear.

If you have been contacted by the police, the DVLA, a local authority or other agency, apparently as the result of a referral by a police officer, notifying you that some form of restrictive action might be or has been taken against you for reasons which are not clear, and you are worried that this is because your personal data is held on the Gangs Matrix, please contact us.

If there is action which we are able to take in relation to your situation, deadlines will apply. The deadlines will depend on the facts of your individual case, and there are likely to be steps first in order for the relevant deadline to be met. We therefore suggest that if you suspect you have been unfairly targeted as a result of the police's Gangs Matrix, you seek legal advice as soon as possible.

At Saunders Law, we offer expert legal assistance and representation in public law challenges and in civil claims against the police and against other government authorities. We're well-known for actions against the police and other state authorities, and take a thorough and determined approach, working hard to ensure that you obtain the appropriate remedy for the wrong that you have suffered. All of our solicitors within the Civil Liberties and Actions against the Police Department have extensive experience in this area.

Call us on 02076324300 or make an enquiry online.


    How can we help?

    Please fill in the form and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can

    We have partnered with Law Share from JMW Solicitors LLP to refer instructions and clients to them, when we are unable to act. By answering yes to this question, you agree that we may pass your details on to Law Share in such circumstances. You are under no obligation to instruct JMW Solicitors LLP after being referred. We may receive a payment from JMW Solicitors LLP further to this referral.