Stalker removal `ordered by ministers'

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The Independent Online

Two Cabinet ministers may have sanctioned hurried measures to stop John Stalker concluding a potentially embarrassing investigation of "death squads" operated by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the High Court in Liverpool was told yesterday.

Mr Stalker, former deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, said that a confidential document he had seen suggested a high-level decision had been taken to remove him in 1986.

Those who received the document were identified only by their initials, and Mr Stalker said he could not therefore be certain who began moves which led in May to his suspension.

But the initials "TK" could have been those of Tom King, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and "DH" may have been the then Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd. A senior civil servant in the Northern Ireland Office, Sir Robert Andrew, may have been "RA" on the document.

Mr Stalker was giving evidence on subpoena from Kevin Taylor, a friend whose alleged criminal connections were the reason given for Mr Stalker's removal from command of the inquiry. Six men had been killed in three incidents amid claims that RUC squads had adopted "shoot-to-kill" tactics.

Mr Taylor, 63, was investigated rigorously by Greater Manchester Police, culminating only in an abortive fraud trial in 1990. He seeks damages from Sir James Anderton, the former Chief Constable of Greater Manchester.

Sir James played a minor role in the series of events Mr Stalker said represented "hurried" attempts to be rid of him. He added that Sir Philip Myers, HM Inspector of Constabulary, was the prime mover, with encouragement from the Northern Ireland Office. Politicians could not remove police officers from police investigations, and Sir Philip's role "straddled the politics of policing and policing itself". Sir Philip knew as early as March 1985 that the investigation would reveal "things he did not know were there to be revealed", Mr Stalker told the court.

The information used to bring disciplinary allegations against him were based on a "histrionic and self-justifying report" compiled from rumour and gossip by Detective Superintendent Peter Topping, operational head of CID. Mr Stalker told the court that neither Det Chief Supt Topping, nor his superior, Assistant Chief Constable Ralph Lees, had experience of conducting criminal investigations.

During an interval in the Ulster investigation, Mr Stalker said he was disturbed to learn that the presence of freemasons in the CID was increasing. Competent detectives in the fraud and drug squads had been replaced by officers who were freemasons. Mr Stalker told the court he sought an explanation from Det Chief Supt Topping. "He was very proud to admit he was a freemason,"he said.

Mr Topping told Mr Stalker that ability was the main criterion he used in selecting officers. But "all things being equal," he found he could trust fellow freemasons. Mr Topping had established a special squad, known as the Drugs Intelligence Unit. But the squad was concealed from Mr Stalker, even though he had operational responsibility for its work. From what he had learned of the unit, Mr Stalker said, it used "wholly disproportionate" resources and that its purpose was to investigate him, not drugs.

The case continues.