Former police chief blasts `macho' force

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The Independent Online
A former Chief Constable this week describes the British police as a "macho reactionary force", obsessed with accumulating power and money.

John Alderson, Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall from 1973 to 1982, has been a strong critic of the direction policing has taken under the Conservatives. But the ferocity of this assault and the fact that it has been placed in the May issue of Red Pepper, a socialist and environmentalist magazine, will infuriate his old colleagues when the magazine hits the newsstands on Thursday.

Mr Alderson, an adviser on law and order to the Council of Europe which sponsors the European Court of Human Rights, says that Britain is "locked in a vicious spiral of building more prisons and incarcerating people who will later come out and commit more crime".

He accuses Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, of using the language of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco by proclaiming: "Give me your liberties and I will protect you." Politicians, he adds, see criminal justice rather than social policy as the best way to contain the underclass.

Terrorist violence in Northern Ireland and the miners' strike have led to the police using violence against civilians. The past 20 years have seen long-handed batons, CS gas, plastic bullets and mounted police charges becoming commonplace and officers losing touch with ordinary people. Chief constables have done "the dirty work" of government, instead of protecting the common good and recognising that people had the right to strike or protest against new roads.

Mr Alderson says: "If the police are not based in the community then their motivating force is only power. The majority of police much prefer to be part of a macho reactionary force riding around in cars, sweeping down on victims. Of all the policemen I have met across the world, none has ever asked for less power. Police officers usually ask for three things: more pay, more information and more power."

He warned that ministers' decision to let MI5 take on policing duties risked allowing spies to threaten the liberty of the citizen. "It is fatal to let the secret service into the area of ordinary crime. MI5 is not under the same restraints as the police. They infiltrate organisations, people's jobs and lives. They operate almost like a cancer.

"At the moment the acorn of a Stasi [the former East German communists' secret service] has been planted. It is there for future governments to build on.

"No government in my lifetime has ever given liberty back. It is not in the nature of governments to grant liberty."

The European Court of Human rights has passed a string of judgements against Britain. Mr Alderson said that its convention on human rights should be passed into British law because neither Labour nor the Conservatives could be trusted to defend liberty.