'Robocop' Suspended

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The senior policeman who has pioneered zero tolerance policing was yesterday suspended on full pay. Michael Streeter, Legal Affairs Correspondent, looks at the future of a policing technique whose champions are led by Tony Blair

Detective Superintendent Ray Mallon, whose tough policing policies in Middlesbrough attracted national and international interest, was suspended from duty yesterday following allegations of misconduct.

The controversial policy, which is said to have cut levels of crime in the area by 26 per cent, caused a flurry of interest among politicians such as Tony Blair and Jack Straw, both of whom met Mr Mallon - dubbed "Robocop" - during the general election.

The Prime Minister declared himself "passionate" in his support for the "new policing" which tackles minor crimes, such as dropping litter, to create a climate in which more serious crime is not allowed to flourish.

Cleveland Assistant Chief Constable Robert Turnbull said Mr Mallon faced two separate allegations. One was passing on confidential information about an inquiry - called Operation Lancet - into police corruption in the force to a third party. This is thought to refer to journalists. The second was of alleged activities which "could be construed as criminal conduct".

Mr Mallon later said he had done nothing wrong, adding: "I have nothing to worry about."

Meanwhile, Assistant Chief Constable Andrew Timpson of Northamptonshire Police has been appointed as an independent head of investigations into police corruption in Cleveland. He will oversee the existing internal inquiry, set up under the auspices of the Police Complaints Authority last month after two CID officers were suspended following the collapse of a drugs case. It is understood that fresh allegations arising since the original inquiry began include claims of assault on members of the public by unnamed officers.

The suspension of a senior figure such as Mr Mallon, one so closely identified with a policy criticised by some other police forces, will raise questions about the future of zero tolerance policing both in Cleveland and elsewhere.

However, Mr Turnbull said the policy would continue: "Positive policing as we prefer to call it will continue to be operated by the force. Zero tolerance is bigger than one man."

He said the allegations of police corruption which led to the suspension of the two detectives last month related to incidents in 1993 and 1994 - before the new policy - as well as the past year. The pair, Sean Allen and Brendan Whitehead, were suspended over allegations that they supplied heroin to a suspect in return for confessions. Theere have been claims that up to 500 cases would have to be re-opened by the force.

Labour politicians such as Mr Straw see zero tolerance dovetailing neatly with their "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" stance. However, some chief constables, notably Charles Pollard of Thames Valley Police, have warned that while having a short-term use, zero tolerance had its dangers - and that confrontational policing could lead to social disorder.

Mr Mallon, 42, is a blunt-speaking policeman who has been feted by Tory as well as Labour politicians. A teetotal, non-smoking fitness fanatic, and a former water polo international, when he took over as head of Middlesbrough CID at the start of this year he pledged that he would ask to be sacked if he did not reduce crime by 20 per cent in 18 months.

Officers have been told to stop people for spitting, swearing, dropping litter and any other anti-social crime. Mr Mallon used to hold morning briefings similar to those on the fictional television police series Hill Street Blues, telling officers: "You are the law, make a difference."

He reduced his zero tolerance philosophy to: "Strategy the what. Tactics: the how. Motivation: workforce, management, media, public"

After his arrival as head of CID, a third of the department's detectives left, amid suggestions that their faces did not fit. Cleveland Police have been using CS sprays more than any other force in Britain and a fourfold increase in the number of suspects being stopped and searched has drawn criticisms from civil liberties groups.

Tony Williams, of the Police Complaints Authority, said yesterday that in the wider inquiry they were investigating "serious criminal and disciplinary" issues. "Both the force and the PCA will take an extremely serious view of any attempt to interfere with this inquiry or obstruct it in any way," he said.

Last night Downing Street said the Government was determined to tackle crime and that zero tolerance "had a part to play". There was no comment on the suspension.