She Took Us to the Brink of Being a Police State; MARGARET THATCHER

The Mirror (London, England), April 10, 2013 | Go to article overview

She Took Us to the Brink of Being a Police State; MARGARET THATCHER


Byline: JOHN STALKER Former Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester

BRITAIN has never been closer to becoming a police state than when Margaret Thatcher was in charge.

As Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester I saw at first hand how her authoritarian policies could have permanently shattered the bond of trust between the police and the people.

She turned the police into a paramilitary force and put us on to a war footing.

I met her several times during my time as a senior police officer. She took an uncommon interest in law and order, and always acted as if she was the Home Secretary as well as the PM.

T h at was never more clear than during the miner's strike in 1984 when I believe Margaret Thatcher took Britain to the brink of becoming a police state.

She decided that "her" police force was going to keep the miners and pickets under control. It was all about showing who was boss.

In 1974 changes in policing had seen the formation of huge new forces, such as Greater Manchester, West Midlands and Strathclyde.

A decade later, the Thatcher government decided to bring them together in a "mutual aid system" to deal with the miners - a nationally mobilised police force working under a central command at Scotland Yard. And it had one of the biggest impacts on the independence of policing because it put chief constables secondary to government wishes.

We got streams of instructions from the Home Office on how the strike should be handled, cleverly covered with legal fig leaves saying things such as, "of course the Chief Constable has complete control over operational matters, but this is our advice".

They left me staggered. One official guideline said it was "perfectly in order" for miners in Kent to be prevented from travelling to Yorkshire if they were likely to cause disorder - a 300-mile exclusion zone.

It was a form of house arrest and it happened in many places with pickets turned back at county borders.

No chief constable would have taken such measures on his own. The courts would rightly have called it nonsense.

This was a militaristic operation wrapped up in jargon to make it look like policing. …

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