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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

"In the Office of Constable" by Sir Robert Mark

Sir Robert Mark was Commissioner of London's Metropolitan Police between 1972 and 1977. Notable events during his tenure included the attempted kidnapping of Princess Anne, the Balcombe Street siege in which three IRA terrorists were eventually captured and the Spaghetti House siege which was an armed robbery gone wrong. Mark was responsible for a reform of the Met, in particular the CID, to root out what was then almost endemic corruption. On a less positive note, he was in charge when a clash between left wing protesters and the National Front led to mounted police charging the left wing protesters and the subsequent death of a protester; Mark notes the incident but points out that the police were exonerated in Lord Scarman's subsequent report (although Scarman notes the unlikely possibility that the death was caused by a police truncheon). He was also Commissioner during the Grunwick dispute when he authorised the deployment of the paramilitary Special Patrol Group against the strikers who were mostly East Asian women whose average weekly pay was less than 40% the national average. His views might best be described as right-wing:

  • "The disgraceful behaviour of left-wing extremists at Red Lion Square, at Grunwick ..." (C 19)
  • "the Shrewsbury pickets had committed the worst of all crimes, worse even than murder, the attempt to achieve an industrial or political objective by criminal violence." (C 12) Two trades unionists, one of whom was Ricky Tomlinson who subsequently became known as an actor, were convicted of 'conspiracy to intimidate' under the Conspiracy Act of 1875 and imprisoned; their offence had been to organise 'flying' pickets to try to prevent non-unionised workers from accessing a building site during an industrial dispute.
  • "We would not let any legal niceties prevent us from dealing with terrorism" (C 13)
  • "Stupid people always present much greater problems than the intelligent because they are always so unpredictable." (C 14)
  • "The raising of the school leaving age ... with its consequence increase in truancy was followed by a significant increase in burglaries and auto-crime in Inner London." (C 15)
  • He feels that women police officers are "an expensive investment, because on average, they serve under four years before leaving, usually on marriage." (C 17)
  • "The English judicial system ... is, in reality, effective only for dealing with the compliant, the weak, the stupid, the illiterate and the spontaneous wrongdoers" (C 20)
  • "the ghettoes of London, created by the idealist and the inept." (C 24)
  • "Police have suffered many casualties in trying to cope with crime and vandalism by black youngsters." (C 24)

He established A10 in Scotland Yard to investigate cases of corruption amongst the Met officers but he resigned over a law which set up external scrutiny of police misconduct. He doesn't appear to understand, despite quoting, Juvenal's 'Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?': who guards the guards themselves? His main argument is that lay people (unless they were part of the 'establishment') would be incompetent to judge police: "If they were non-establishment figures ... they would not, in assessing police misconduct ... know their backside from their elbow." (C 16) But if it is foolish to trust the guards to guards the guards it is little better to expect them to be guarded adequately by their rugby-playing cronies.

He attacks the jury system on the same basis: that jurors might not be as well-educated as he would like: "If the one person in the criminal justice process most fitted by education, training and experience to decide the issue, namely the judge, is to be denied that right, how much more illogical is it to confer it upon any one of twelve random jurymen, least fitted by deafness, stupidity, prejudice, or one of a hundred other reasons to do so?" (C 22) But the jury system was designed so that the ordinary people had a say in the administration of justice precisely as a safeguard against the narrowness of opinion that characterises the judgement of any one group even if they have been trained to judge.

He is writing before the creation of the Crown Prosecution Service and he defends the then right of the police to initiate prosecutions: "there is no conceivable justification for adding to their [lawyers] discretion ion the pursuance or conduct of prosecutions the right to decide whether to prosecute or not. That right is presently exercised by the police on behalf of the people." (C 22) The problem is that the police could prosecute even when there was little chance of a conviction. But then, Mark seems to regard acquittals as a failure to convict, as if anyone presented to trial by the police must necessarily be guilty. Thus, when 29 out of 82 people are acquitted after an expensive trail following the Notting Hill Carnival "the proceedings were a fitting comment on the remoteness of the stipendiary magistracy" rather than suggesting that the police had put forward innocent people for trial (C 17) While he was in Leicester he discovered that 39% of those tried for crimes of violence were acquitted which he describes as "extraordinary"; he concludes that the justice system was a failure (rather than the police). Acquittal, for Mark, means "forensic trickery" or corrupt lawyers, never inefficient or possible corrupt policemen.

He was, of course, writing at a time of increased terrorism in Britain. We today feel threatened by terrorism; in 1976 "in London alone there had been 182 explosive devices and 11 shootings." In England and Wales "58 people had been killed". We seem to have forgotten Irish terrorism.

He has a tendency to use sentence fragments, for example: "Came the great day when the survivors were packed with their kit into a three-tonner en route for Sandhurst." (C 3)

Some other memorable moments:

  • "A poor old woman in a virtually furniture-less hovel In Bradford ... had starved to death. There was one stale crust, a little sour milk, no fire and bare floorboards." (C 2)
  • "In Manchester birds and plant life required a real talent for survival." (C 3)
  • "It seemed to me wrong in principle that the ability to park in the centre of a city on highways ... should depend on the ability to pay." (C 5)
  • "Courts are inclined to generosity in handing out public money, especially if the recipients are lawyers." (C 10)
  • "It is a quirk of human nature that jurymen faced with the choice between a pornographer and a do-gooder will usually choose the former. There is nothing less appealing to the ordinary mortal than unattractive virtue." (C 13)
  • "Though we were deeply concerned about the safety of the hostages I did not consider for one moment that they were not expendable. I felt ... that human life was of little importance when balanced against the principle that violence must not be allowed to succeed." (C 14)
  • "Crime ... monopolizes much ... of what laughingly passes for literature." (C 19)
  • "The police are therefore very much on their own in attempting to preserve order in an increasingly turbulent society in which socialist philosophy has changed from raising the standards of the poor and deprived to reducing the standards of the wealthy, the skilled and the deserving." (C 19)

Memoirs are always flawed by the fact that it is difficult to structure reality in the way a novelist can. But this one is also marred by the self-congratulatory smugness and the inability to see anyone else's point of view.

December 2019; 311 pages

Another memoir from a high-ranking policeman: Not for the Faint-Hearted by John Stevens

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