Profile: Detective Sergeant John Davidson


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The Independent Online

With its offering of karaoke nights and quizzes alongside an Anglo-Mediterranean menu ranging from sole to chicken tikka, the Contrabandista bar and restaurant has been a popular spot for English-speaking tourists in Menorca.

Patrons remark on the attentiveness of the owner, John, to the needs of his customers, offering free appetisers where service is running late, and say they plan to visit again.

Indeed, for a tanned and relaxed John Davidson, the streets of south London have seemed a world away. It is more than 15 years since Mr Davidson stalked the capital's thoroughfares as Detective Sergeant John Davidson, a no-nonsense Scots-born cop with a 30-year record of catching criminals from cocaine dealers to wristwatch thieves.

But even now, DS Davidson’s actions while in the Metropolitan Police hang over him in his retirement home in the Balearics.

In recent years, the trail of individuals making their way to El Contrabandista or the Smugglers bar has occasionally included newspaper journalists and film crews seeking Mr Davidson’s response to claims from the highest levels of Scotland Yard that rather than being an honest thief-taker, he was prominent in a corrupt cabal of detectives operating out of an imposing police station in East Dulwich, south east London. In particular, they have wanted to know his feelings on allegations that he played a corrupt role in the original Stephen Lawrence inquiry.

“Shrinking violet” is a term that no-one who knew Mr Davidson during his time carrying a warrant card would apply to him. Known to his colleagues as “OJ” for “Obnoxious Jock”, he was renowned for his abrupt manner in a career which began in January 1968 when he joined the notoriously hard-bitten Glasgow City Police, later subsumed into Strathclyde Police. He joined the Met in June 1970 and stayed with Britain’s biggest force until his retirement in March 1998.

Former colleagues described him as “professional”, even “imposing”. But a rigorous examination of his conduct in the botched first Stephen Lawrence investigation by the Macpherson Inquiry came up with a different of adjectives - and views - to apply to the veteran detective.

Davidson had joined the investigation into the murder of the black teenager some 36 hours after the killing and performed numerous key roles, including the supervision of an important early witness, known as James Grant, who came forward with information that it had been carried out by members of a white gang calling themselves “the Krays”.

The Macpherson report, published in 1999 after Mr Davidson had spent three days in the witness box, was every bit as unvarnished in its assessment of the detective as he was in the habit of being with his interviewees.

Describing him as a “self-willed and abrasive officer” with a “strong, self-opinionated character” who was likely to dominate witnesses, the report criticised his handling of Mr Grant and other witnesses and found that he and others were guilty of “unwitting collective racism” in their handling of the investigation.

This hinged on Mr Davidson’s refusal in the witness box to accept that the attack on Stephen, who was chased by his killers calling “What - what nigger?”, was purely racist.

In his evidence, the detective said: “They were thugs who were out to kill, not particularly a black person, but anybody and I believe that to this day that that was thugs, not racism, just pure bloody-minded thuggery.”

Describing his attitude as “obdurate”, the report found that Mr Davidson had influenced junior colleagues to reach the same view and this had led to the wrong approach being taken by them towards the murder.

What the report did not find, however, was any evidence that Mr Davidson had tried to thwart the investigation, in particular because of any connection between him and Clifford Norris, the gangster father of David Norris, one of two men last month convicted of Stephen’s killing.

The clouds of suspicion first gathered over Mr Davidson after he left the flailing Lawrence investigation and joined the South East Regional Crime Squad (SERCS), the close-knit unit set up to tackle drug dealers and other gangsters in London and its surrounding counties.

According to Neil Putnam, the detective constable who became a friend of Mr Davidson and later his would-be nemesis as an anti-corruption supergrass, the Scots DS was “sponsored” onto the SERCS squad by another colleague.

Certainly the sense of camaraderie on the unit seems to have been strong. Mr Putnam said he had played for football team managed by Mr Davidson, who had also visited his home and even attended the Christening of his infant son.

Worries were also shared, with Mr Davidson confessing that he had concerns about paying his son’s school fees, according to Mr Putnam. Mr Davidson has denied that he was close friends with his former colleague.

This is perhaps unsurprising given that after his arrest in July 1998 by the Yard‘s CIB3 anti-corruption unit, Mr Putnam named Mr Davidson as his partner in a corrupt relationship with an informant, laying out three specific allegations of theft and profiteering.

* The two men shared the £250 profit from the sale of stolen Omega watches.

* In December 2004, Mr Putnam claimed Mr Davidson gave him £40-£50, describing it as “Sargey’s Christmas box”. It was allegedly a share of the proceeds from the sale of a seized haul of stolen electrical goods.

* In spring 1995, both men were involved in the stopping of a cocaine dealer in the car park of a Dulwich pub. Mr Putnam claimed he saw his colleague take a white carrier bag from the car holding a brick-shaped object. The following day, he said, he was presented with £500 in an envelope - his share of the proceeds.

Mr Davidson, who was arrested in September 1998 on the basis of Mr Putnam’s claims, denied the allegations and was never charged after prosecutors decided there was insufficient corroborating evidence.

In particular, Mr Davidson ferociously denies the claim which Mr Putnam insists he made to his CIB3 debriefers - and which the Yard insists he did not make - that he had admitted to taking money from Clifford Norris during the Stephen Lawrence investigation.

Although Mr Davidson was allowed to leave the Met in March 1998, he did not do so without question marks over his record. In November 1995 he had been suspended while bizarre allegations were investigated that he and five others had been moonlighting as drivers and bodyguards in London for Reg Grundy, the Australian television tycoon behind the soap opera Neighbours. It was alleged that the officers had carried out their freelance work on police time after telling their superiors that they were on court duty.

The disciplinary investigation remained unresolved after three of the officers reported sick and left the Met on the grounds of mental ill-health.

Mr Davidson, along with another colleague, was allowed to retire, leaving Britain in the - perhaps mistaken - belief that his past would not follow him.