Jaw-dropping confessions of a very un-PC Plod

If this new Channel 4 documentary is to be believed, policing in the 1970s was every bit as sexist and unprofessional as programmes like Life on Mars suggest it was

22 November 2014

9:00 AM

22 November 2014

9:00 AM

There can’t have been many people who watched Confessions of a Copper (Channel 4, Wednesday) with a growing sense of pride. Among those who did, though, will presumably have been the creators of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes — because, in its frequently hair-raising way, the programme confirmed how well they did their research into old-school policing.

Of the seven ex-officers interviewed, the most old-school of the lot was probably Ken German (sample quote: ‘We all have a view on political correctness: it’s bollocks’), who began by explaining in full the admission procedure that he’d gone through to join the force — he was told to bend over and asked if he was homosexual. And with that, said Ken, ‘I found myself at training school.’

Once trained, Ken was sent out on the beat around the late 1960s, when policemen could ‘use their initiative’ — or, if you prefer, do more or less whatever they wanted — confident that they enjoyed widespread public affection. As Stephen Hayes, another of Wednesday’s participants, recalled: ‘When you walked through the market, people would give you bacon for the sergeant’s breakfast’ — before adding the possibly telling detail that, ‘If they didn’t, he’d send you out to ask for it.’ There was, he concluded, ‘total and utter respect’.

Or at least there was from most people. ‘Not everyone respected us,’ Ken reluctantly acknowledged, ‘and you had to deal with them in a slightly different way.’ Asked to elaborate, Ken made it pretty clear just how euphemistic the phrase ‘a clip round the ear’ could be. He was even less ambiguous on the question of whether such clipping was legal: ‘No, of course not. Legality? What’s that got to do with anything? You had a job to do.’

Another aspect of the job, it soon turned out, was framing the guilty. Most of us may have already known that this was prevalent, but, as so often in Confessions of a Copper, there was something compelling about hearing police misbehaviour being admitted to, and so blithely, by the people who carried it out. Tricks of the trade included placing hair from a suspect’s house in a balaclava ‘said to have been found’ at the crime scene, and planting fibres from a known villain’s trousers for the lab boys to discover on top of any railings that thieves may have scaled. ‘How do you know they’re guilty?’ asked the off-screen voice. ‘You just do,’ replied Stephen with the long-suffering air of someone dealing with a particularly idiotic question. ‘You wouldn’t be a policeman if you didn’t, would you?’

And if these methods failed, you could generally rely on getting a confession. One of Stephen’s colleagues, for example, had ‘an electric-shock machine like you buy in a toyshop. But this seemed to be a bit stronger.’

Until 1975, female and male police units remained separate, with the ladies left to deal with minor crimes involving women and children — once, that is, they’d been initiated into police life by having their skirts pulled up, their knickers pulled down and their buttocks imprinted with the station’s date stamp. (At which point, the programme, in a rare misstep, helpfully showed us what a female bottom looks like.) As two policewomen of the time attested, the only weapon they were given was a six-inch truncheon, which, while not much use in a fight, did fit nicely into their police-issue handbags — as well as providing the men with plenty of opportunity for hilarious dildo-related banter.

But then came the Sex Discrimination Act, which spelled the end of separate units — if not of routine female humiliation. The clearly tough Jean Wigmore tried hard not to cry as she remembered how her inspector had pulled her round the floor of the police bar by her ankles, giving everyone an extended view of her underwear. She then had to laugh about it, ‘even though inside I was absolutely dying’.

Faced with this kind of material, many programmes might simply have mounted the 21st-century high ground and let the old-timers have it with both barrels. This one, to its credit, was a lot more restrained and, where possible, even sympathetic than that. True, there wasn’t always an enormous difference between letting the interviewees speak for themselves and giving them enough rope. Nonetheless, the accompanying commentary did its plucky best to place their remarks in historical context, and to remind us that it’s no easy thing when the world you knew, and worked so hard to fit in with, gradually disappears. By the time she retired, even Jean was apparently regarded as ‘a dinosaur’ — while another bloke we’d met was given a final report dismissing his entire career as ‘unremarkable’. ‘I were chuffed to buggery,’ he told us defiantly, if not especially convincingly, ‘because all I ever wanted to be were an ordinary, unremarkable copper.’

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  • John Cronin

    It’s obviously a total coincidence that since the modern police force is full of sociology graduates as opposed to dinosaurs like them that the crime rate has gone up so much.

    • ArthurSparknottle

      Yes indeed it is a total coincidence John, and readily explicable by a range of other factors, but take heart old son, crime rates all over the western world have been falling rapidly since we stopped filling our city streets with tetra-ethyl lead from old fashioned, ‘four star’ petrol. Funnily enough, that well known cause of brain damage, lead poisoning has been responsible for an awful lot of impulsive criminal behaviour and violence for a long time and is now falling off as the damaged nutters that resulted, arrive at middle age and are less inclined to run around hitting people and stealing things.

      • Jim

        Crime rates have decreased since the police stopped recording crimes and investigating crimes, and since the public lost confidence with and consequently respect for them.

        • mohdanga

          Aren’t they too busy eavesdropping on private converstations in a pub or restaurant lest some poor, unfortunate soul let slip a ‘racist’ remark or arresting karaoke participants singing Kung Fu Fighting to investigate real crimes?

          • Jackthesmilingblack

            Politicised Plod, what do you expect!

          • Jim

            Yes, that too.

      • Diggery Whiggery

        Crime rates all over the western world are falling due to 4 factors:

        1. The collapse of public confidence in the police means that many crimes go unreported.

        2. The box ticking target driven culture introduced by successive governments means that many crimes are not recorded or misrecorded.

        3. The absurd amount of admin involved in each police/public interaction means that it is often in the interests of a police officer to avoid interacting.

        4. Some ethnic communites don’t recognize our criminal justice system as legitimate to their way of life and so bypass it. They sort themselves out (or not) and our police generally let them.

        The lead petrol thing might explain part of the ‘recorded’ drop but nowhere near all of it.

    • smartsoprano

      So you approve of their brutal, cheating tactics?

      • Picquet

        Mostly, yes. They were being brutal to the people who were brutal to the public – criminals.

    • hdb

      That’s just not true. Recruitment to the police is still largely non-graduate which is actually quite surprising given the high levels of pay and conditions. I read an article a while back by someone boasting that it was a last bastion not taken over by the middle classes. But this only made me more suspicious: the middle classes don’t miss a trick when it comes to finding a nice nest. What is still so off-putting about the police?

      • Colonel Mustard

        Recruitment and career progression are not mutually inclusive. The issue with the police is not the recruiting pool but the way senior officers are selected and promoted – and the organisations that sponsor and protect them. Then the fact that tier is embedded within the political system, more so since PCCs came along.

        That is following the same narrow elitist and networked pattern as most of the “leading” (once simply managing) class within the public sector.

  • sfin

    One of Robert Peel’s principles of policing, was that the policeman was a citizen in uniform who was paid, full time, to carry out the duties incumbent on every law abiding citizen – that of upholding and, if necessary, enforcing the law.

    When the police were ‘led’ by ‘leaders’ who had learned to lead through the ranks, the police were universally admired and respected – “the thin blue line” – even amongst some of the criminal class.

    Now, like so much in life, the art of ‘leadership’ has become the science of ‘management’. We have youngsters, full of theory about how to police an area, commanding the policing of those areas. The police have now become a body apart from the citizen (they refer to us as ‘civilians’ now). I don’t know any of my local coppers by name – they are alienated from me, and I am alienated from them.

    I know it’s difficult to turn the clock back sometimes, but in the matter of policing, at least, we have to admit that the last fifty years or so of ‘progress’ has been a mistake.

    The people need to reclaim their police force (not service) and the police force need to reconnect with their people.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Wasn’t there something about policing with consent?

  • Diggery Whiggery

    Bring back the 70’s. My father was a beat copper all his life and he knew everyone, and pretty much everything about them. When the guy above says that they just knew someone was guilty he’s right they did. It’s hard to imagine today when our communities are so fragmented and everyone keeps themselves to themselves but back then things were different.

    • John Cronin

      After the MugPherson Report it became blatantly obvious that the Met basically just ceased policing the black underclass in London. Their colleagues oop north appear to have extended the same favour to the Paedostani community.

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        Face it Britisher pals, you have a failed police force… service.

      • MikeF

        In respect of any accusation of a ‘racially aggravated’ offence the police are now simply an ideologically conditioned force intent on securing a conviction at any price. That is the most pernicious legacy of ‘New’ Labour.

  • Ed  

    So what you’re saying is that the police were in many ways to be feared. If you came to their attention you could reasonably expect to be beaten and framed.

    Is the obvious lesson not then to stay out of the view of the police? What would be the best way to do that? Perhaps keep your nose clean?


    • smartsoprano

      Ed, if the police are framing people, staying out of their way is no protection. In or out of the limelight, you can be chosen at random or because they ‘know’ you’re guilty. That’s the whole POINT.

      • Ed  

        No, it’s not the point.

        They won’t “know” you’re guilty if they don’t know YOU.

  • Christian

    When criminals feared the police and everyone else respected them. Now the public fears the police and criminals laugh at them.

    • Callan

      I’m afraid that is correct and the reason is not hard to find, senior police officers have reached the dizzy heights via university and the police college where political correctness is the order of the day. By way of explanation, a good friend of mine, a Superintendent in an overseas Police Force went on a month’s course at the police college in Bramshill. Political correctness he asserted was the subject pervading all lectures, the subject of crime was never discussed. In frustration, at one lecture he committed the cardinal sin of making a politically incorrect remark. The entire class, including the lecturer leapt to their feet, thrust their hands out in front of them and yelled in unison “disassociate”. Is it any wonder that for example, the paedophiles of Rotherham, Sheffield, Rochdale and many other towns and cities were allowed to operate with impunity with cretins such as this dispensing ‘leadership” to the rank and file?

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      When you’re more afraid of the police than the criminals, it’s time to fly the coop.
      Jack, Japan Alps

      • Christian

        Exactly. How’s japan look?

  • stephengreen

    “Framing the guilty….placing hair from a suspect’s house in a balaclava ‘said to have been found’ at the crime scene, and planting fibres from a known villain’s trousers for the lab boys to discover on top of any railings that thieves may have scaled.” Yes, the Stephen Lawrence retrial (after quashing centuries old principles of British justice) anyone..

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      “Convicting the innocent is a crime”
      A notice that should be posted at every police station.
      “Dr. Crippen was innocent”
      Check it guys, The human remains found in the cellar were not Mrs. Crippen. How can I be sure? Because DNA examination reveals said remains were male rather than female. You’re about to hear the sound of the case collapsing.

    • Nicholas I

      What difference does it make if evidence is fabricated and witnesses lie, as long as the trial is fair? White people accused of beating blacks go to jail.

      • stephengreen

        Yes, like Communism jurisprudence, you do not need to be evidentially guilty, if you are morally guilty, the moral needs of the system take precedence.

        • Nicholas I

          Yes, “facts” are a weapon of White Patriarchy.

  • Andrew Smith

    Fitting up the innocent and humiliating women is not really a positive thing and I am glad that that has changed. But it would have been possible to make this change without turning the Police Force (is it still even called that?) into the travesty that it is today. We seem to live in an age in which the past is roundly vilified, even when some parts of it were a whole lot better than today.

  • GenJackRipper

    I’m sorry, is this article supposed to be in the New Statesman but got here somehow?

  • S Yorks Calling

    From the Telegraph letters.

    “SIR – Tom Rowley wondered what the interviewees would make of Channel 4’s “one-sided” Confessions of a Copper. I took part in what I believed to be a documentary on social change in the police. I am proud of serving for 32 years in the Bedfordshire police force. In my interview I described many positive aspects of the integration of women officers, but this was edited out.
    Police in the Seventies were indeed sexist and racist, but that reflected British society. After two high-profile cases, they made efforts to change. I was responsible for training my force in community and race relations. Most were professional enough to accept the need for change, even if they objected to being branded as racists.
    The old-time coppers featured in this programme were not representative of the honest, hard-working ones I served with.”
    Carole Phillips
    Retired Police Superintendent
    Newton Abbot, Devon

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      I would so love to participate in this debate on the “Catholic” Daily Telegraph, but sadly I was banned from that esteeming publication several years ago. Free press, freedom of speech? Gimme a break.

      • Nele Schindler

        I’m banned from the Guardian. It’s a badge of honour!

        • wycombewanderer

          just clear cookies open a new hotmail email account and rejoin the fun, I’ve had about 12 IDs so far!

    • Colonel Mustard

      No surprise. The programme was the usual cherry picking by Channel 4 to contribute to the marxist cultural revision of history. Discrediting the historical behaviours of the institutions that have now been occupied by Long Marchers allows the “reformists” to peddle the deceit that everything is better and to convince a dumbed down generation to vilify the past and vote socialist.

      Such partisan programming is pernicious and iniquitous but certainly not history. Treat it with the contempt it deserves.

  • Samson

    My recollections of life only extend back into the 80s, so maybe there was a sudden change or something, but “total and utter respect” would be something of an exaggeration to say the least of those days. My first memory of a cop is watching a caveman in a uniform cheerfully smashing a girl’s face in, and him suddenly realizing he was surrounded by a crowd of not so cop-friendly people. Planting evidence on the guilty might have happened, but planting evidence on anyone who’d do happened plenty. We could do with some of the better aspects of the old school, but most of it is best rid of.

  • ArthurSparknottle

    Just reading the comments here I am rather surprised to find that some seem to long for the good old days in which policemen routinely fitted up people they thought guilty and others (apparently quite senior) thought it a fine thing to sexually assault and humiliate women who joined the force. What an utterly depressing thing to find supported here.

    • mohdanga

      And now police run around arresting people for Twitter remarks, conversations in restaurants and pubs that aren’t politically correct and singers singing Kung Fu Fighting. Yup, things have improved.

      • EricHobsbawmtwit

        I don’t think they arrest that many people for Twitter remarks, no.

        • mohdanga
          • James Healey

            But it’s not as if the police are choosing to go out looking for these things. If someone insists on reporting it however, what are the police supposed to do? Where a crime is reported, the police are (recent headlines notwithstanding!) required to investigate. If it transpires that the actions of the person being accused are deemed by acts of parliament to be criminal, that is not the police’s fault. If, on receiving the police file of the investigation, the CPS believe there is sufficient evidence to charge, that is also not the fault of the police.
            There is a legitimate debate to be had about the balance between freedom of speech, and protecting people (via legislation) from abuse, bullying and intimidation. Personally, I would agree that at present, that balance is far too heavily weighted towards the permanently aggrieved PC brigade. I would not agree that the police should be putting their own interpretation on what laws to implement.
            The public get the police they deserve. We, the public, have not prevented parliament from pandering to those who wish to feel victimised, and passing laws that restrict our freedoms in this way. We therefore have to live with the consequences. I do not believe most police officers wish to investigate “hate speech” crimes. But they don’t have much choice!

  • Sean Lamb

    “. Tricks of the trade included placing hair from a suspect’s house in a
    balaclava ‘said to have been found’ at the crime scene, and planting
    fibres from a known villain’s trousers for the lab boys to discover on
    top of any railings that thieves may have scaled.”
    Thanks to the genetics revolution this can now be so more elegantly done by swabbing a cigarette butt from the suspect onto the murder victim or weapon

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Wasting Police Time: The Crazy World of the War on Crime, by PC David Copperfield, is worth a read. Anyone charged with “wasting police time” can find numerous examples of how the police waste their own time; sufficient to have the case thrown out. Since being outed by a scumbag journalist, you know who you are, you piece of $hit, this former UK police officer relocated to Canada and joined the Canadian police. The contrasts are revealing.

  • Picquet

    The good old days. They worked.

  • Dodgy Geezer

    What’s this got to do with the police?

    In the 1970s, this was how EVERYONE acted.

    In a lot of factories you might expect men, and women, to be the butt of ‘initiation’ rites – some of which could be dangerous. All craftsmen, of whatever skill set, did things ‘because they knew they were right’, not because a book of rules said so.

    You could have made this program about any bunch of 1970s workers, and contrasted their ‘just got a job to do’ attitude with the modern mania for training, following routine, report writing and quality checking. This is what a vanished culture looks like, not what a corrupt police force looks like…

  • Stephen Milroy

    Gone are the days when the police were ‘thugs in uniform’ A.L.A clockwork orange, but now they seem to be a ‘service’ which provides none. As Peter Hitchens pointed out preventative patrolling is the best way to prevent crime. Once a crime has been committed a police officer is no better than you or I (unless he/she knows first aid). Stop the diversity whatnot, restore preventative patrolling, stop penalising motorists and get into the areas and let police do the job they applied for!

  • hdb

    Strange even the Spectator devotes as much space to a little casual Benny Hill style sexism as it does to perverting the course of justice. I think next time I will just go the whole hog and navigate to the Guardian.