Tag Archives: Special Branch

Lower costs and corruption with the creation of a national UK police force?

The government reckons it can make large savings on the cost of policing by making cutbacks to “backroom” posts which will not affect the numbers of police on the streets. I have no idea if this is true or possible, but there obviously could be large savings to be made by cutting duplication of bureaucracy and by centralisation – all the more so if a National Police Force replaced the local police forces we currently have.

I understand the arguments against having a National Police Force – basically, that we don’t want  policing to be controlled by central government because there might then be a short, slippery slope to a police state.

But we already have the Special Branch, MI5, GCHQ, Echelon and god alone knows who else roaming the country observing us. The motorway cameras are linked centrally and the local police CCTV cameras can be linked-in. if someone tries to detonate a bomb in Haymarket in London, the perpetrators can be linked relatively quickly to an attack at Glasgow Airport and people can be arrested on a motorway in the north of England. All because the various national government, local government and police cameras around the country can be accessed centrally.

Yes, I know… this is all being done not by the government itself but by the independent police and/or possibly by the Special Branch and MI5 (in reality called the Security Service and, not surprisingly, never known by its initials).

But, let’s be real, this is the 21st century. Crime is not limited to national boundaries, let alone county boundaries. I really do not think (much as I’m sure they are loveable people) that the Dumfries & Galloway Police are really resourced to outwit a South American drug cartel with a turnover of billions of dollars per month.

There is also the corruption factor.

Larger bureaucracies, by and large, are less prone to corruption than local, smaller organisations. In my lifetime, there has been very little corruption at national government level in the UK. Some, but not a lot. Local government, of course, has always been prone to corruption because of old-boy networks. It’s a question of size. I am old enough to remember the much-admired T. Dan Smith scandal in North East England.

The UK is relatively large and it seems to have little national political corruption.

The Republic of Ireland is much smaller and seems to run almost entirely on corruption – the Charlie Haughey factor, I think – everybody knows everyone else. It’s amiable and admirably Irish, but widespread. Political corruption Scotland I know nothing about, but the size of the country’s population and its concentration in the central strip between Glasgow and Edinburgh doesn’t bode well.

Corruption in the current English police forces (according to the National Criminal Intelligence Service in 1998) has reached Third World levels though, to be honest, that’s no different to the 1960s when the Richardsons (always far more sophisticated than the Krays) were rumoured to have an Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police on their payroll. In 1966, the Metropolitan Police was so corrupt that Home Secretary Roy Jenkins, was reported to be thinking of replacing up to 70% of the Met’s CID with officers from Birmingham, Devon & Cornwall, Kent and Manchester… and, frankly, if he thought there were un-corrupt police in Manchester in the 1960s, he must have been taking some seriously strong illegal substances.

When Roberto Calvi of Banco Ambrosiano was found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge, there was a persistent rumour that one million pounds had been paid to someone in the City of London Police to obstruct, divert and stifle the investigation.

It always seemed to me that the bungled investigation of the Stephen Lawrence killing in 1993 – which resulted in the Met being officially labelled as “institutionally racist” had less to do with racism and more to do with corruption. In a pub, a Customs & Excise investigator working on a separate case saw the criminal father of one of the suspects hand over a bulging envelope to a police officer working on the Lawrence enquiry. To add surrealism to corruption, at that time the criminal father was wanted by the police but was living quite openly in South East England. I rather suspect some other brown envelopes may have found their way into other policemen’s hands.

At the moment, the Home Secretary oversees the Met; other police forces are overseen by local government committees. If the police forces in England were centralised into a single English Police Force – or, even better, if it were politically possible to create a single UK Police Force – there might be less blatant police corruption and the centralised bureaucracy would presumably be much cheaper because duplication would be cut.

On the other hand, of course, the bribes might just get bigger.

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Filed under Crime, Drugs, History, Politics, Racism

The weird daily life of comedian Malcolm Hardee – and after

On Sunday, I went to the Up The Creek comedy club in Greenwich. The club was started and run by comedian Malcolm Hardee until he died (drowned) in 2005.

I went with a friend. We both knew Malcolm.

She had known him for about 20 years and had worked with him at Up The Creek. I knew him for about 20 years and, in 1996, wrote his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. He could have written it himself but he – correctly, as it turned out – reckoned he’d never get round to actually doing it.

“Avalon have got me a deal with Fourth Estate to write my autobiography,” he told me. “Fuck it, I won’t do it. You’ll have to do it. I’ll split the advance with you 50/50.”

“Nah!” I told him. “You can do it. I’ll just be prodding you to write it. You’ll do it all. We can split it 90/10 in your favour.”

Eventually he persuaded me to increase my percentage to an 80/20 split in his favour.

This isn’t the way negotiations are supposed to go: me trying to take less, him trying to give me more.

Weird. That was everything connected with Malcolm’s daily life.

Last Sunday was the first time either of us – my friend and I – had been to a show at Up The Creek since Malcolm drowned almost exactly six years ago. Sunday had been Malcolm’s own unique nights.

So it was slightly strange. Like being in a parallel universe.

Everything inside Up The Creek was vaguely the same but slightly different.

Weird.

That was everything connected with Malcolm’s daily life.

Weird.

At home, he occasionally put a live goldfish in his mouth to get attention – I saw him do it twice. It was often said of Malcolm, with a lot of justification, that he never had a stage act – his life was his act.

We are talking here about a man who, when we were writing his autobiography, almost forgot to mention until the very last moment – after the first proofs had been printed – that he had once been detained and questioned by Special Branch officers when he was found in the middle of the night on a hotel balcony outside the then prominent government minister Michael Heseltine‘s room, wearing nothing but a pair of socks and a leather coat containing £5,200 in cash and a pack of very pornographic playing cards. (He thought it was a friend’s room.) I have spoken to people who were present at the hotel; they told me the Special Branch officers looked slightly stunned.

I felt much the same watching a Sunday comedy show without Malcolm at Up The Creek on Sunday.

Weird. Stunned.

Malcolm almost forgot to tell me the Special Branch story because it was not that unusual an incident in a very unusual life.

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Filed under Books, Comedy