Drug money corrupts the Met

A worried officer tells Kim Sengupta that large-scale bribery is back in London
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The Independent Online
OVER a vodka and tonic in a mirrored and smoky bar at Ludgate Circus in the City of London, a young Scotland Yard detective explained law, finance and the facts of life. "This is about the size of my salary," he said, pointing at the measure of spirits. "And this is what I can make if I put some of the gear we nick back on the streets," he added, filling the glass with tonic. "And that's what some of my colleagues in the Met are doing."

As a detective sergeant in a specialist squad, the officer earns about pounds 25,000 a year without overtime, which is becoming increasingly rare as budgets are cut. Should the 33 year old let one of his informants put 100g of cocaine on the streets, he would receive the lion's share of the pounds 6,000 that would be made. A similar amount of heroin would net him a share of about pounds 5,000 and Ecstasy would fetch around pounds 10 a tablet.

The choice of venue for our meeting was apt. The Ludgate Circus pub, previously called the Albion, was where one of the more celebrated incidents in past actions against police corruption took place. Almost a quarter of a century ago, two detectives were having a friendly chat at the bar when one of them realised he was being secretly taped by his colleague. The two men ended up rolling on the floor, tussling for the recorder.

Soon after this incident, the then Scotland Yard Commissioner, Sir Robert Mark, called in an outside force to clean up the CID in "Operation Countryman". The branch was so corrupt that Sir Robert hoped it would become one that "caught more criminals than it employed".

Many police officers, as well as members of the judiciary, believe that the wheel has come full circle and the Yard is once again being subverted by bent coppers. The police commissioner, Sir Paul Condon, has said that Sir Robert, now in his 80s, has sent him a letter of support in his battle against corruption.

Sir Paul recently said that the problems he is facing are even worse than those his predecessor faced. He said: "In the Sixties and Seventies you had institutionalised, low-level corruption with lots of people on little earners here, there and everywhere. Because of the huge explosion in organised crime and drugs we have now got officers who can take bribes of pounds 50,000 or pounds 80,000 to subvert a job or a series of jobs, or who are prepared to recycle drugs for significant profit."

Just last week it was claimed that detectives from the Flying Squad arranged for a robber to be let out of jail for the day to hold up a security van, recruited a crooked security guard as part of the plot and then stole the guard's pounds 100,000 share of the loot.

This despite the fact the Yard had set up undercover units after a series of corruption cases. The most notorious culminated in the jailing of Detective Constable John Donald of the South East Regional Crime Squad for 11 years after he was exposed by BBC's Panorama for accepting thousands of pounds from a crook, Kevin Cressey.

More than 250 officers are said to be under suspicion. A former Flying Squad detective sergeant, Duncan Hanrahan, who has turned supergrass against former colleagues, has around-the-clock protection because it is feared attempts may be made on his life.

The Yard has also reopened investigations into the unsolved murder of private eye Daniel Morgan 10 years ago. It is suspected he was killed because he was preparing to reveal information about crooked officers.

All this is viewed with grim frustration by the former Inspector of Constabulary, Frank Williamson, who was head of the investigation which led to the exposure of corruption in the police force in the Seventies. Despite his success, he resigned from the service in l972 because he felt his position had been made untenable by harassment and lack of support from the Home Office.

The 77-year-old, who was the basis for the character of reforming officer Roy Johnson in the acclaimed BBC2 drama series Our Friends in the North, is now living in retirement in Macclesfield, Cheshire. During his investigation, files were stolen from his office, his phone was tapped, and he was accused of having a "fixation" with dishonesty.

Mr Williamson said: "At the time we faced tremendous obstruction ... a golden opportunity was lost to attempt to permanently eradicate corruption in the Metropolitan Police.

"I feel no satisfaction in hearing about the latest allegations of corruption, but to tackle an illness one must first of all accept one is ill. If one keeps on saying there are only a few rotten apples and everything else is fine, one is missing the point. I hope the problem will be tackled, but I am not very optimistic."

His frustration is shared by Commander John O'Connor, a former head of the Flying Squad. He said: " Sir Paul Condon has had five years in the job. Just remember the Russian saying 'a fish rots from the head'. He cannot blame anyone else. He is in charge."