We have seen in the past week several police-driven incidents which continue the same old us-and-them theme which we've been told was a relic of the 1970s policing tactics portrayed in Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. It was a natural continuation of the World War II authoritarianism, where the exigencies of wartime allowed a number of jacks-in-office to get way above themselves for reasons caused by that last refuge of the incompetent, patriotism.
"There is a war on, you know" was evident then. But Rahere well remembers from his childhood a former major, who perhaps had seen rather too much horror, still attempting to impose that level of discipline over primary school children, teaching being the only thing other than bullying and hectoring he was able to do. He was eventually seen off by the entire school mocking his efforts, which had rather more to do with Sean Connery's The Hill than educating thre children of the 1960s.
It took a school to sort that out. It will take all society to sort out the cops. The idea of benevolent authority embodied by Jack Warner's Dixon of Dock Green was barely up to handling the underlying networks behind the wartime spivs, which were to grow into the Kray gang and the like, and the muscled response, the Flying Squad, portrayed heroically on screen as "The Sweeney" (Sweeney Todd=Flying Squad in the Cockney rhyming slang of London's East End, typically caustically because Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, was a serial killer - the implied link to the Press, at that time based on Fleet Street, was not coincidental), eventually turned out to have more links to the criminal underworld they were supposed to oppose than could ever be justified - in 1977 it's Commander, DCS Drury, was sentenced to seven years for corruption, alongside twelve of his subordinates. Operation Countryman followed, resulting in the summary dismissal of hundreds of police, but despite the Operation's recommendation that something like three quarters of them should be charged, not a single one was.
That set a background to the current situation, typified by the way an entire bus-load of passengers was held on police orders n Deptford simply because one of them, evidently a known criminal, had just been released from jail, and they wanted to make certain he received a traditional welcome back. That it entailed common assault in full view of several dozen citizens seemed not to matter a whit, and when one of them, somewhat more mature than Rahere then was, dared to protest, he was nearly treated similarly. As I say, it sets a background to Bernard Ingham's statement to his boss, the then PM Margaret Thatcher, stating that the Hillsborough abuse was "only too familiar". Why should a PM be unable to act? Because it would mean dismissing the entire police force to be certain of completing the job. A much more feasible solution would have been to reform the mores of the force, she felt.
Fine in theory, fucked-up in practice. What it has meant is that the disproportionate respect of the judiciary for the police has reached the position where no real action was ever forthcoming. We were led to believe that it had happened, and was happening, but the real evidence of our eyes is to the contrary: this is simply the culmination of years of lack of control. Hillsborough is simply typical of so much else, and let us now look at that.
It transpires that 164 police altered their statements to exonerate their force of what now seems to be evident responsibility for not merely a serious accident, but one compounded by a deliberate lack of care once the accident had happened. There can be no exculpation through ignorance, Liverpool fans had been involved in the Heysel Stadium disaster some four years earlier, and that may have prejudiced opinions in the police against them. But that earlier disaster established that panicked crowds and pitch barriers are a lethal combination, and knowledge of the one implies knowledge of the other - not to mention the clear vision of the incident from the police area in the stadium. But however relevant the incident itself, and it is something I will return to, my theme is what happened next.
Once the hard reality became clear, we now know that a collusive cover-up occured. Lord Taylor made recommendations in his enquiry which were never pursued, and a number of police who were less than satisfied at the situation reported to a number of senior police commanders, which were again filed vertically under WPB. But yet again we get the entire thing referred to the now-discredited IPCC, Police Inspectorate, Judiciary and other Forces, exactly the same mechanism which led to this situation - anything but the one body which has shown probity, the Bishop of Liverpool's, who were constrained by a narrative mandate. It's time to take the gloves off.
Because this last year has seen nothing happen after the Mark Duggan shooting. Last week "E7", a police sniper, admitted he did not see any weapon in a car they were targeting before shooting Azelle Rodney dead, but opened fire because he felt his colleagues were in immediate danger. That feeling was based in the reason they were targeting he car, the admittedly justified belief that arms were in the car. A similar background caused the Duggan death, which when compounded by lack of immediate accountabilty by the police caused the worst riots in a century. Knowledge engendered fear, and fear led to killing. This is in effect a shoot-to-kill policy, and it is based on the inferiority of the population in plice eyes, a sense of us-and-them. It is obvious we should add in the de Menenzes, Tomlinson and Stanley killings, differentiated by the absolute innocence of the victims, a significant number of deaths in custody, and Hillsborough. There can be no doubt left that this sense of us-and-them has degenerated into a kind of warfare, and the effort to catch up on Hillsborough is, as the families of the dead have already said of the Sun's apology, too little, too late. Because it is quite clear that this is a situation described in Macchiavelli, that if a political system cannot govern by consent, then it must govern by coercion. Too many senior officers knew the truth and did nothing, and Jack Straw's comments on the situation he inherited show that for all that we may entertain reasonable doubts about the Thatcher government, we can be even more certain about his direct knowledge as Minister of Justice, his statement amounts to a confession. And so it is that the situation is far worse than merely Hillsborough, this is systemic collusion which calls our entire legal system into question.
As a starting point, when Robert Peel created his force, he made one provision which seems eminently sensible: he staffed it with military officers. Why should we allow the police to become a distinct caste promoting uniquely internally, when those hwo have shown serious heroism in the Army are shwn the door. It is time to replace these firearms officers, unpracticed under pressure, with military, and to replace their bosses with ex Army men.