Magazine article The Spectator

The Return of Police Corruption

Magazine article The Spectator

The Return of Police Corruption

Article excerpt

We like to think we have the cleanest police in the world. We may no longer be right

Imagine you lived in a country which last year had 3,000 allegations of police corruption. Worse, imagine that of these 3,000 allegations only half of them were properly investigated -- because for police officers in this country, corruption was becoming routine. Imagine that the police increasingly used their powers to crack down not on criminals but on anyone who dared speak out against them. What sort of a country is this? Well, it's Britain I'm afraid -- where what was once the finest, most honest service in the world is in danger of becoming rotten.

Some of this was revealed in a little-noticed report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, which went on to deliver some even more shocking news. Nearly half of 17,200 officers and staff surveyed said that if they discovered corruption among their colleagues and chose to report it, they didn't believe their evidence would be treated in confidence and would fear 'adverse consequences'. This appalling lack of protection for whistle-blowers -- often amounting to persecution -- has become commonplace throughout the public services and creates a climate in which dishonesty and malpractice flourish.

The second report, compiled by the Serious Organised Crime Agency, bears this out. It says there has been a sharp increase over the past five years in the number of police officers dealing heroin, cocaine and amphetamines and an equally startling rise in the number of officers abusing their power 'for sexual gratification' -- in other words bullying or cajoling suspects, witnesses and even victims into having sex with them.

Just this week, in fact, it emerged that the Met suspended 73 coppers, community support officers and other staff on corruption charges in the past two years. They cited drug crimes, bribery, theft, fraud, sexual misconduct and -- everybody's favourite -- un-authorised disclosure of information. Eleven were convicted in court, but what happened to the others? The Met spokesman said rather blandly that some were allowed to resign or retire (presumably with full pension rights) and some were dismissed.

This rise in corruption and the apparent reluctance of police chiefs to fight it is a toxic combination. As ever, chief constables blame lack of resources for not being able to pursue inquiries into claims of malpractice. But what could be a greater priority than ensuring that their own officers are not breaking the law? These same police chiefs seem to find endless funds to pursue ancient sex abuse allegations, chase people who say unpleasant things on Twitter and prosecute journalists.

The vast majority of Britain's police do a sometimes extremely arduous job with honesty, skill and good humour. But corruption left unchecked can infect entire forces. Anyone who doubts this need only study the lessons of the not-too-distant past.

Forty-five years ago the Times splashed across its front page a sensational story that led ultimately to what became known as 'The Fall of Scotland Yard'. Under the headline 'London policemen in bribe allegations', it revealed a tale of corruption that came as a profound shock to a nation accustomed to seeing its constabulary through the prism of Dixon of Dock Green and Z Cars . A leading criminal lawyer of the time remarked: 'It was like catching the Archbishop of Canterbury in bed with a prostitute.'

The story, backed by taped conversations, bluntly accused three Yard detectives of planting evidence and taking back-handers from criminals 'in exchange for dropping charges, being lenient with evidence in court, and for allowing a criminal to work unhindered'. If it had been just those three rogue officers, the story might quickly have been forgotten. But the tapes hinted at a far more endemic culture of graft and criminality.

Over the next few years, the Obscene Publications Squad was exposed as a tawdry protection racket extracting regular tithes from pornographers and Soho club-owners; drugs squad officers were shown to be running illegal cannabis deals; and half the Flying Squad was in the pay of criminals. …

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