Obituary: Frank Williamson

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The Independent Culture
FRANK WILLIAMSON was a very British police hero. He will be remembered for being rejected by the public service to which he devoted 36 years of his life, and for his role in a corruption investigation that tainted forever the reputation of one of the world's biggest police forces, the Metropolitan Police.

As a child in the 1920s, Williamson's experience as the son of the Chief Constable of Northamptonshire had taught him to be wary of the Met's finest, and his subsequent career as a provincial police star merely confirmed this.

Frank Williamson left Northampton Grammar School to join the Manchester City police in 1936. War service saw him achieve the rank of Captain in the Military Police, after which he rejoined the Manchester force and by 1958 had acquired the rank of Detective Superintendent. At the age of 44 he became Chief Constable of Carlisle, and left the police six years later in 1967 to become Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary, where he enhanced his reputation for fairness and blunt speaking.

In 1969 the Home Secretary James Callaghan appointed Williamson to oversee a corruption investigation in the Metropolitan Police. The investigation emanated from allegations made by The Times concerning the activities of a Detective Inspector and two Detective Constables who, The Times alleged, had taken bribes, given false evidence in exchange for money, and had "allowed a criminal to pursue his activities". The Times claimed to have no faith in the Met's integrity and so published the story rather than hand over the evidence. In hindsight it was a major error on the part of the Home Secretary not to invoke the 1964 Police Act, which would have ensured an investigation carried out by a senior officer from outside the Met.

Williamson was no longer a police officer and therefore had no police powers. Further, his investigation ran in tandem with the Met's own inquiry. Williamson had walked into a desperately volatile situation. Robert Mark had joined the Met in 1967. As a contemporary of Williamson in the Manchester City Force, and an ex-Chief Constable of Leicester, his career had taught him to be wary of the Met CID. He was also violently opposed to the dominance of the Met's hierarchy by an elite of officers trained at Hendon Police College.

By the time Williamson entered the fray, Mark was fully engaged in a struggle with the ex-Hendon head of CID Peter Brodie. As Deputy and Commissioner- in-waiting, Mark had made considerable inroads into dealing with CID malpractice, yet did little to assist Williamson who found himself isolated in a war zone.

Williamson was unable to hold discussions with anyone connected to the investigation without the prying eyes of the "firm within a firm" intruding. Information was leaked to officers under investigation, crucial documents disappeared, and senior detectives conducted a campaign of lies against him. Ignored by a Commissioner who had been appointed as political stopgap, and deliberately obstructed by detectives, Williamson became frustrated and disillusioned.

Williamson resigned in 1971, shortly before Robert Mark took over as Commissioner. Mark afforded little recognition to Williamson, but did write in his autobiography, "He was thoroughly disillusioned and depressed by continual disagreement with, and obstruction by, policemen who did not share his very high standard of personal and private integrity." The Times inquiry resulted in the imprisonment of two detectives. By 1973 two officers a week were leaving the Met prematurely, and bank robbery, in the early 1970s a crime particularly associated with police corruption, had fallen from 65 in 1972 to 26.

The high-profile reorganisations, trials and resignations that ran throughout most of the decade were attributed to Mark, who himself resigned unexpectedly in 1977. Yet by 1978 another corruption investigation, "Operation Countrymen", was in full swing and, as current cases indicate, corruption has been far from eliminated from the Met's detective branch.

Williamson subsequently worked as a security adviser to the Co-op and ICI. Knighthoods and other honours, the kind of recognition commonly awarded to senior police officers, eluded him, although some kind of acknowledgement of his qualities was achieved by his portrayal in the 1996 BBC series Our Friends in the North.

Dick Hobbs

Frank Edger Williamson, police officer: born Northampton 24 February 1917; Chief Constable for Carlisle 1961-63, Cumbria 1963-67; QPM 1966; HM Inspector of Constabulary 1967-72; married 1943 Margaret Beaumont (one daughter); died Macclesfield, Cheshire 25 December 1998.