Obituary: Walter Easey

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The Independent Online
WALTER EASEY campaigned against the excesses of authority for most of his life. Bad government and the police were favourite targets, though he was happy to turn his fire on big business, the judiciary and the monarchy. As a campaigner for democracy in Hong Kong he was the first to predict it would fall under Chinese control. As police policy adviser to the Greater London Council before its abolition and then Camden Council and the Association of London Authorities, Easey focused public attention on the nature and cost of policing. Much of what he campaigned for in the 1970s is now established police policy nationwide.

Born in Bedford, he grew up in Birmingham and moved to Canterbury at the age of 11 to take up a scholarship at Kent College. He went up to Keele University but left for Hong Kong and the police, where he became an inspector in the anti-corruption special branch. He learned fluent Cantonese, partly to help spot corruption but also to ask for the recipes of the local dishes he loved. He left Hong Kong to follow his first wife- to-be, Phyllis Chia, an architect, to Canada, where he worked as a private detective before returning to the UK in 1972.

While working towards a degree in Chinese history at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, he set up the Hong Kong Research Project, dedicated to exposing corruption and mismanagement. He financed it by working as the barman at SOAS. He also published a series of pamphlets promoting democracy in Hong Kong. He formed a coalition of anti-Cold War, anti-Vietnam campaigners. His home in London was raided more than once by detectives under the pretext of searching for "stolen goods".

He also taught a martial arts class at SOAS - the first at which feminist women were made to feel welcome; there he met Anna Davin, with whom he lived from 1975 to 1984. They had a daughter, Sally, now 21.

In the early 1980s he gave up the research project to work in police monitoring - first for the GLC, then Camden Council and the Association of London Authorities - combining his radical campaigning background with knowledge from his police and detective work. A Maoist, he was passionate in his convictions and his approach was blunt to the point of being confrontational. He criticised police management for running their finances like a "toffee shop" and launched fierce attacks on racism and sexism in the force.

Yet he was respected by key officers who admired his knowledge and conviction and were prepared to leak their secrets to him: through Easey the world came to know Scotland Yard's innermost thoughts on the gulf between the haves and have-nots under Margaret Thatcher and the impact of government policy on crime. He also drew public attention to the huge cost of policing, revealing in 1992 that each senior officer cost poll-tax payers nearly pounds 400 a day.

One of the pleasures of knowing Walter Easey was drinking Guinness with him in the pub near his home at Elephant and Castle in south London and listening to his unrepeatable, and unreportable, tales about the police. Yet there is no doubting his effectiveness: relations between the police and local authorities moved from outright hostility to productive dialogue during his local authority career.

After his early retirement through ill-health in 1992 he worked from home. He was irreverent and sometimes irascible, but his hardline ideology never obscured his humanity: he helped neighbours with right-to-buy application forms despite his implacable opposition to the sale of council houses. To the end he was an active campaigner for Gulf war veterans suffering from illnesses after Desert Storm, even as he himself succumbed to cancer.

Walter Easey, police policy adviser; born Bedford 11 October 1941; married first Phyllis Chia (marriage dissolved), (one daughter by Anna Davin), second 1987 Ellen Jordan; died London 23 February 1998.