Rotten apples, reviews and flowers
The entire police force is institutionally corrupt, says Eddie Ford
These days it is quite a job keeping up with police scandals. The latest revelations came on March 6 in the form of a review by Mark Ellison QC into the 1993 racist murder of Stephen Lawrence, looking at whether the hunt for his killers and the subsequent public inquiry led by Sir William Macpherson in 1999 was thwarted by police corruption and subterfuge. Ellison’s harsh verdict led Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the current Metropolitan Police commissioner, to describe the review as “devastating” and said its publication was one of the “worst days” of his career. Truth hurts.
We discover, amongst many other things, that a detective sergeant John Davidson (nicknamed ‘OJ’, or ‘Obnoxious Jock’) - who had been a key figure on the original team conducting the Lawrence investigation - was in fact in the pay of Clifford Norris, the gangster father of one of the prime suspects in the murder. Nothing embarrassing there. The claims against Davidson came from his former colleague, Neil Putnam, a corrupt officer turned supergrass. They were part of the so-called ‘groovy gang’, detectives based at the East Dulwich office of the now disbanded South East Regional Crime Squad - Putnam disclosing how both of them routinely mishandled informants and profited from confiscated drugs and luxury goods. More to the point, he insists that in 1994 Davidson told him of his corrupt relationship with Clifford Norris and that he revealed this fact to his debriefers in July 1998.
However, the problem for the Met was that Putnam started to spill the beans right in the middle of the Macpherson inquiry, where Davidson’s conduct had already been the subject of hostile questioning - initial suspicions being that corruption could explain the catalogue of police errors, including an extraordinary two-week delay before arresting the suspects in the early days of the investigation. Putnam’s explosive allegations could only threaten to bust the Met wide apart. Thus the Ellison review includes a memo written in 2000 by the Met’s directorate of legal services, warning that disclosures about Davidson’s intimate connections with the Norris family could have an “adverse effect” on the position of John Stevens, then the Met’s commissioner, who was involved in ongoing high court action by Doreen and Neville Lawrence - attempting to sue Scotland Yard for “misfeasance in public office”. Implicitly, the memo appears to corroborate Putnam’s claims.
In the words of Ellison, given Davidson’s clear importance to the Macpherson inquiry, the Yard should have conducted a “proper” analysis of all information it held, but instead showed an “extraordinary lack of curiosity” about Putnam’s sensational claims - leading to a “failure” by the Met to pass on the “full extent” of its intelligence on ‘OJ’ Davidson. In other words, they covered it up.
Equally suspiciously, Ellison found that the Met under Stevens’ stewardship authorised the “mass shredding” of documents from Operation Othona - one of the most comprehensive anti-corruption investigations in the history of Scotland Yard, running from 1993 to 1998. The operation gathered a vast database of intelligence on officers suspected of wrong-doing. But, when the Ellison review sought to carry out the “fairly fundamental task” of trying to establish what material should have been disclosed to the Macpherson inquiry, they found that nearly all of it had been destroyed in 2003 - what a strange coincidence. The only material recovered after a year of searching was a small hard drive found in an IT department last November and three reports summarising the intelligence held by the Independent Police Complaints Commission and a senior detective.
Then we have the peculiar unsolved murder of Daniel Morgan, a former policeman and private investigator, found in 1987 with an axe embedded in his skull in a south London car park. As it happens, Davidson was attached to the original investigation of the murder and was “known to associate” with some of the suspects - as made clear by a recently unearthed Met intelligence report from 2003 that mentions Davidson’s name nine times in connection with the botched investigation into Morgan’s murder. Which makes it all the more curious that the Met told Ellison that Davidson did not work on the original inquiry. The murder victim’s brother, Alastair, has publicly stated that “the crossovers” between Daniel’s case and the Lawrence murder are “getting worse and worse” - indeed, it was becoming increasingly clear that the Met contained a “firm within a firm” of bent coppers and he called for a full investigation.
For many people, perhaps the most shocking finding of the Ellison review was the existence of ‘N81’, a police spy who had been planted amongst Lawrence family contacts by the Met’s highly covert special demonstration squad - the SDS was established in the 1960s to infiltrate groups of “political extremists”, including animal rights protesters, and was eventually disbanded in 2008. This police spy, posing as a supporter of the family, gathered “personal details” about Doreen and Neville Lawrence - always handy to have a bit of dirt in your back-pocket - and in general collected ‘intelligence’ that in the opinion of Ellison could be construed as giving the Met a “secret advantage” over the family during the Macpherson inquiry (the SDS agent also gathered intelligence on Duwayne Brooks, the friend of Stephen Lawrence who was with him on the night of the murder).
Ellison sharply criticised a “wrong-headed” and “inappropriate” meeting in August 1998 between ‘N81’ and Richard Walton, who is now the head of counter-terrorism, but was at the time part of the team responsible for making the Met’s submissions to Macpherson. Walton’s account of this meeting, according to Ellison, was “less than straightforward” and “somewhat troubling” - he noted that there could have been no conceivable “public order” justification for the said meeting, which itself could have led to “serious public disorder” if knowledge of it had become widely known. In a gesture to the public outcry, commander Richard Walton, who reportedly earns £120,000 a year, has been temporarily transferred to a “non-operational role” - presumably on full pay. It’s a hard life. As for Lord Paul Condon, who was in charge of the Met during the Macpherson inquiry, he strenuously denies authorising ‘N81’, or even knowing anything about such an agent - if he had known, he would have “stopped this action immediately as inappropriate”. Right, Lord Condon, so who exactly did sanction ‘N81’?
Responding to the Ellison report, home secretary Theresa May said that its revelations were “profoundly disturbing” and - stating the obvious - lamented how “policing stands damaged today”. She ordered yet another public inquiry, this time into the undercover infiltration of political groups by the SDS and other such units.
Meanwhile, it is more than likely that that there will be a raft of cases brought for review due to the involvement of undercover officers. Solicitors for Andrew Clarke and Geoff Sheppard, who were found guilty of fire-bombing branches of Debenhams, said that the allegedly undeclared involvement of an undercover officer in their cases made their convictions “unsafe” - which is surely true. It also emerged that three other undercover officers could be prosecuted over sexual relationships they formed whilst pretending to be political activists - recent investigations have shown how police spies routinely formed sexual relationships with those they had been sent to spy on in deployments usually lasting four or five years (though in some cases the spies went native, identifying more with the activists than the police). The fallout from ‘N81’ could be considerable.
Communists could not agree more with Doreen Lawrence when she says, “You can’t trust the police”. After all, only a few months ago we had the scandal about the Operation Tiberius inquiry - a secret Scotland Yard report from 2003, which concluded that top criminals had “compromised” multiple agencies of the state, including HM revenue and customs, the crown prosecution service, the City of London police, the prison service, the criminal justice system, including juries and the legal profession, and so on. Crime pays.
The news about Operation Tiberius came in the same week that PC Keith Wallis admitted stitching up the Tory chief whip, Andrew Mitchell - making up a cock-and-bull story about how he had witnessed a confrontation on September 19 2012 between Mitchell and police officers outside Downing Street. This fabrication involved at least seven other police officers, who have yet not been charged with anything. Mere “rotten apples”?
At around the same time, Mark Duggan was found by a jury to have been “lawfully killed” - though he had no gun on him when he was shot by the police, and the gun found several metres away from where he fell did not reveal any of his DNA or fingerprints. Nor should we forget the newspaper vendor, Ian Tomlinson, who died after being forcefully pushed to the ground at the G20 protests in 2009 by PC Simon Harwood, the police shamelessly lying about coming under attack from “bricks, bottles and planks of wood”. More “rotten apples”? What about Jean Charles de Menezes, butchered by pumped-up armed police at Stockwell tube station? And, of course, there are only weeks to go before a new inquest into the Hillsborough disaster, which saw the police systematically altering witness statements in order to present their criminally negligent behaviour in a more positive light. That is a hell of a lot of “rotten apples”. Previously there was the rumpus over the notorious West Midlands police force, a byword in flagrant corruption. Nothing new under the sun.
The fundamental problem with the police is not “institutional racism”, as unconvincingly maintained by Macpherson in his report, particularly when you recall that his definition of a “racial incident” was “any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other partner” (my emphasis). But the accusation of “institutional racism” was uncritically parroted by large sections of the left - that is, when it was not trying to out-Macpherson Macpherson by dogmatically asserting that the entire UK bourgeois state (and capitalism itself) is inherently racist. In reality, the modern-day UK state and all its institutions - including the Met - operate a top-down, bureaucratic form of official anti-racism.
No, what is clear and obvious - especially after the Ellison review - is that the police are institutionally corrupt, something that the Macpherson specifically ruled out when his inquiry was eventually published. In that sense, the charge of “institutional racism” let the police off the hook, because if all of us are ‘unwitting’ or ‘unconscious’ racists - including readers of the Weekly Worker - then why single out the police for opprobrium?
So what is the way forward when it comes to tackling police corruption? Well, one thing not to do is follow the recommendations of Owen Jones, sounding more like a ‘responsible’ statesman every day. Writing in The Independent, he calls for a “royal commission” into the whole Lawrence scandal. It should be headed by an “independent figure” - as opposed to an “establishment patsy” - and should seek evidence “from all sections of the community” (March 9). Comrade Jones calls for a “new police force”, which will be “designed from scratch” - a “body stripped of prejudice and bigotry” and one that “defends hard-won democratic freedoms, as well as protecting people’s security”. Doubtlessly it will be armed with flowers instead of truncheons, tasers and pepper sprays.