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.
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[*] With Extreme Prejudice: An Investigation into Policy Vigilantism in Manchester (Canary Press, 207 pp., £2.50, October, 0 95 099678 5).