Stalker & Co
In an article on Arthur Koestler written in 1944, George Orwell suggested that the lack of imaginative depth in English political fictions, when these are compared with works of European origin, may be due to the fact that the English simply lack any experience of the totalitarian state: ‘The special world created by secret-police forces, censorship of opinion, torture and frame-up trials is, of course, known about and to some extent disapproved of, but it has made very little emotional impact.’ Forty years on, one wonders whether Orwell would have found his compatriots quite so effectively disqualified in this respect. Recent events in the northern part of this kingdom give rise to serious anxieties about the integrity and accountability of our Police Forces. It is not surprising that Geoff Newman’s play Operation Bad Apple, based upon the thwarted Countryman inquiry into corruption within the Metropolitan Police, is currently enjoying a successful run (to appalled audiences) at Bolton’s Octagon Theatre.
One chain of events focuses on the Deputy Chief Constable of Manchester, Mr John Stalker, who was recently suspended for three months during an internal disciplinary investigation and subsequently reinstated by the lay Police Authority, despite the evident willingness of his senior colleagues to have him face a tribunal. The other concerns police action against students of Manchester University during a demonstration in March last year, and the subsequent harassment of two students involved in this incident, Sarah Hollis and Steven Shaw. The student story ends (for the present) less happily: within the last few weeks Steven Shaw has fled the country to put himself out of the reach of further police persecution, and to avoid the compounded injury of being prosecuted for ‘wasting police time’.
When ordinary citizens of this country begin to feel menaced on the streets of their cities by the very forces of law and order they expect (and pay) to protect them, then something certainly is changing or has already changed in the national consciousness. ‘To understand such things,’ Orwell wrote, ‘one has to be able to imagine oneself as the victim, and for an Englishman to write Darkness at Noon would be as unlikely an accident as for a slave-trader to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin.’ The dangerous developments we have witnessed in police behaviour and police immunity over the last few years have obviated the need for this inconceivable leap of imagination, and connected us to the body of European feeling some years in advance of the Channel Tunnel.
On the surface, there would appear to be no more connection between the Stalker affair and the students’ case than the accidental fact that both developed in Manchester. What analogy could one draw between the public activities of the Deputy Chief Constable and the academic pursuits of two third-year undergraduates? None, except for the fact that both have been victims, over the same period, of unofficial police surveillance and intervention. The forces ranged against Stalker were no doubt directed at a high level, whereas Steven Shaw and Sarah Hollis were probably the victims (at least initially) of low-level corruption among officers concerned simply to protect themselves from disciplinary charges: and not much concerned about their methods. The irony, and the real connection, lies in the fact that John Stalker, as Deputy Chief Constable, is directly responsible for police discipline. It is he who must answer to any charges directed against his officers, some of whom have only recently been colluding against him.
John Stalker was sent to Northern Ireland in May 1984 as head of an internal police inquiry to investigate six killings which took place in November and December of 1982, and which had been laid against the RUC. Journalists have made detailed disclosures relating to the killing of three IRA men at Lurgan on 11 November; of a 17-year-old youth in a barn at Ballyneery on the 24th of that month; and of two INLA men in Armagh City on 12 December. These killings, which had been carefully planned (though this did not prevent grotesque blunders occurring), were part of what has become known as the ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy adopted by the security forces, including the RUC, for dealing with terrorist suspects. Inconveniently, it may be felt, five of the six men who were ambushed and shot were unarmed at the time; and a sixth – Michael Tighe, shot dead in the barn – had no paramilitary connections. John Stalker’s special brief was to determine the involvement of the RUC in these events. One of the most disquieting revelations made in the press has been the degree to which the activities of the Police overlapped with those of the Army; the special unit which was directly responsible for the shootings was recruited, apparently, from recently discharged soldiers. And of course both the Army and the RUC were working with the best that could be provided in the way of intelligence services.
From the very start of his inquiry, John Stalker found it difficult to make headway. Sir John Hermon, Chief Constable of the RUC, was at best unco-operative; and his officers obviously took their cue from him. Despite these adverse conditions (perhaps spurred on by them), John Stalker had gathered sufficient evidence on the case by April 1985 to request the suspension of two RUC officers pending further inquiry. Not only did Hermon refuse to act on this recommendation, but as if in defiance of it, one of the officers was promoted. Back in Manchester, Stalker worked on his interim report, which had to be submitted to Hermon (such are the arrangements with an internal inquiry) before being passed on to the Director of Public Prosecutions. This report was sent to Hermon on 18 September. Not until nearly five months later, on 13 February 1986, was the report forwarded to Sir Barry Shaw, the DPP in Belfast.
Meanwhile things were happening back on the mainland which were calculated to undermine Stalker’s position and to delay – if not entirely dismantle – his inquiry. In the same month – September 1985 – that Stalker completed his interim report, Manchester’s No 1 Regional Crime Squad began an investigation into the affairs of the Manchester businessman Kevin Taylor, a friend of John Stalker’s for many years. This investigation is currently the subject of a private prosecution brought by Mr Taylor against the Chief Constable of Manchester, James Anderton, which is due to be heard at Bury Magistrates Court in December: at a hearing in Manchester in October, Mr Taylor was refused information as to the grounds for setting up the investigation. This began with the familiar pattern of police surveillance: Mr Taylor is followed in unmarked cars; his private and business telephones are tapped; his friends are questioned; known criminal associates are put under pressure; paid informers provide what passes with the Police for evidence. Finally, on 9 May this year, his house and two business premises are searched on a warrant. The police haul includes photograph albums. There are photographs of Kevin Taylor and John Stalker at various public functions, some of which were also attended by known criminals. (There are also, incidentally, photographs of Chief Constable James Anderton in the same company.) Kevin Taylor has no criminal record; and, to date, no charges of any kind have been proffered against him. The only consequence so far is that he has become, in his own words, ‘a leper and a pariah’ within the Manchester business community.
The full text of this essay is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.
[*] With Extreme Prejudice: An Investigation into Policy Vigilantism in Manchester (Canary Press, 207 pp., £2.50, October, 0 95 099678 5).
Vol. 8 No. 22 · 18 December 1986
SIR: I was interested to read Damian Grant’s piece on Deputy Chief Constable Stalker (LRB, 20 November), with its salutary reminder of the political importance of memory. References to Orwell and Kundera are knock-out on this score.
Dr Grant also refers to a certain amount of material published at the time of the revelations about the cases of Steven Shaw and Sarah Hollis. But, in his anxiety to show that Stalker was the victim in the RUC affair, he omits to mention that Stalker was among the officers who publicly denied that there was anything worth investigating in the students’ complaints. In making this allegation, I am relying on my recollection of a spot of Guardian-reading I did in March. If I am wrong in thinking that Dr Grant has omitted something material, should I have checked back-copies of the newspaper in a library? And can I be sure that Winston Smith isn’t doing his normal job of work in the library I check with?
Trinity College, Cambridge
Vol. 9 No. 2 · 22 January 1987
SIR: I had been going to say, in response to Mr Davies (Letters, 18 December 1986), that he overlooked one of the main points in my article about the parallel cases of Mr Stalker and the Manchester students: that I did consider Mr Stalker responsible, as Deputy Chief Constable, for any breach of discipline by officers of the Greater Manchester Police; and that I did deplore his refusal to take complaints arising from the Brittan visit seriously. I would also have pointed out that Mr Stalker’s rebuttal of these charges was made a year ago, and entertained the possibility that his own experience at the hands of his colleagues in Manchester since then might have led him to change his mind. But, of course, the whole situation has now changed with Mr Stalker’s decision, made on 19 December, to resign from the Police Force. The circumstances surrounding his resignation were predictably bizarre. An informal inquiry about early retirement addressed by John Stalker to Chief Constable James Anderton one day was translated into an effective resignation the next, with the ready concurrence of the Police Authority. Mr Stalker himself was out of town that day. Although it is true that Mr Stalker has publicly stated that ‘I have no complaint about the manner in which the formalities of my resignation were dealt with,’ it still seems strange that the body which reinstated him in August should have made no attempt to retain his services in December.
This is not the main point, however. Nor, perhaps, should one dwell too much on the incident which precipitated Mr Stalker’s resignation: the re-opening of the Moors Murders inquiry without his concurrence, and the stage-managing of that episode by Detective-Superintendent Peter Topping (who participated in the inquiry into John Stalker himself, where he was equally unable to find anything) – except in so far as this grotesque Gothic diversion may be understood as an elaborate and expensive Christmas pantomime, complete with witch on broomstick, to distract the Manchester public from the alarming realities of policing in this city. We are subject to the arbitrary decisions of a Chief Constable who once hinted that he was the reincarnation of Oliver Cromwell, and now claims divine inspiration for fulminating against his moral inferiors. His universally respected Deputy is forced to resign because he has found it impossible to do his work. Meanwhile, as the crime rate rises, senior detectives – perhaps with good reason – are burying their heads like ostriches on Saddleworth Moor. No wonder two local Labour MPs, Terry Lewis and Tony Lloyd, have written to the Prime Minister calling for an inquiry into the Manchester force. And the Conservative MP Cecil Franks must have articulated the thoughts of many when he said that it is James Anderton rather than John Stalker who should now be tendering his resignation. Luckily for us, two newspapers, the Guardian and the Observer, have kept us informed. And a Guardian editorial on 22 December looked beyond Mr Stalker’s personal tragedy to the public outrage it represents, expressing ‘serious local concern about Manchester’s policing’ and urging ‘a fresh national look at the governance of the Police’. Most interestingly, a Chief Inspector from another force, who had himself experienced obstruction when working on an internal police inquiry five years ago, wrote (on 27 December) insisting on the importance of Stalker’s case, and recommending the appointment of a police ombudsman.
Significantly, John Stalker has received no support whatever from his own professional body: the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). And this cannot simply be because James Anderton is its current chairman. The recent Channel 4 Inquiry into the Police, broadcast on 7 December, identified the development of ACPO during the life of the present government as a sinister step towards the establishment of an unacknowledged legislature in this country. Merlyn Rees pointed out that the present powers of ACPO have never been recognised by Parliament; and yet a tame electorate stood by while chief constables acted as Mrs Thatcher’s generals during the miners’ strike. (Scandalously, Mrs Thatcher warns against the politicising of the Police by a future Labour administration.) Meanwhile, we (still) await the public prosecutor’s response to police activity during and after the Brittan visit. The signs are not encouraging. John Stalker has resigned. His colleague John Thorburn, the ‘best detective in Manchester’, has also resigned. Steven Shaw is an outlaw. Sarah Hollis is silent. What broods now upon the vast abyss? Apocalyptic imagery is catching: perhaps the Second Coming is at hand – in which case Yeats’s rough beast begins to look unnervingly like James Anderton.
University of Manchester
Vol. 9 No. 4 · 19 February 1987
SIR: I have read Damian Grant’s article on the Stalker affair (LRB, 20 November 1986) and would like to show you the letter which, together with a colleague, I sent to Mrs Thatcher on 30 December. So far we have had no reply.
Dear Prime Minister Thatcher: Thousands of Americans join you in hopes that the recent Anglo-Irish agreement will eventually strengthen the chances for peace in Northern Ireland. I realise that this is a vital and proper political goal, and salute your initiative. However, I am shocked to realise that you appear to tolerate, or perhaps even encourage, the frame-up of Mr John Stalker, the Deputy Chief Constable of Manchester. It seems quite clear that Mr Stalker is the kind of conscientious public servant of whom you ought to be proud. Instead, we learn that his thorough and proper investigation of RUC police misconduct was quashed because it was inconvenient in relation to your government’s campaign for acceptance of the Anglo-Irish agreement. The great British political philosopher John Stuart Mill pointed out long ago that falsehoods abound, but cannot persist with the endurance of the truth. The truth, he said (and I paraphrase him), will for ever and always come again to the surface. In the matter of the dishonourable treatment of John Stalker, justice will be served, if not now, then in years to come. I have faith that British men and women who love justice will secure a just resolution. Will you, Prime Minister Thatcher, take a lead in correcting this travesty of justice while the stain on the record of your government can still be removed, or will you leave the matter to fester? Mr Stalker ought to be restored to his former position, or to a position of similar rank and responsibility in another major city of Britain. Second, the investigation into police misconduct in the killing of six unarmed men in Northern Ireland, which Mr Stalker headed, ought to be resumed with the full vigour required to learn the truth and take appropriate criminal action, as necessary. News of the Stalker case has spread beyond the shores of Great Britain, as news of prominent injustice in any country is apt to do. Everywhere the conspiracy to sidetrack and discredit Mr Stalker is discussed, the honour and reputation of the Police in Britain, so long held in high repute, is called into question.