Issue 170 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published December 1993 Copyright © Socialist Review
ON THE BACK
Some years ago my father had a retirement do. It was quite a big affair, and apart from family and friends, there were work mates and some very senior figures from the outfit he worked for. I didn't go!
It was nothing personal you understand. In our own strange way my father and I get on quite well, but I drew the line at attending a retirement do packed with coppers, and some high ranking ones at that.
Yes my old man was a cop, a member of the Southern Irish police force. He never rose up the ranks but was well known in the area. He was described at his retirement do as a 'community policeman par excellence'.
In fact he policed an area with a very low crime rate and spent much of his time pottering about summoning people who didn't have a light on their bike, or who had failed to buy a dog licence.
The Sweeney it wasn't. Still despite this, he shared most of the prejudices of his more glamorous workmates. Young working class kids hanging around street corners were trouble. Working class estates were viewed as rough places harbouring criminal elements. Men with long hair were bad news, probably on drugs and certainly up to no good. Left wing political activists were trouble makers of the worst sort, strikes were bad, and defence lawyers brigands who put criminals back on the streets.
Now all this was from a cop with a good reputation and at a time when the general evaluation of the police force was much better than it is today.
Dixon of Dock Green was regarded as a realistic cop show. Today it would be thought of as a satirical comedy or a children's fairy tale. Even Z Cars would seem ridiculously idealistic now, yet in the 1960s when it first came out it was greeted with howls of outrage.
The Sweeney, The Bill and other similar programmes created controversy. All were accused of showing police in a bad light and attacked for undermining the moral authority of the police.
Yet now there is hardly a murmur of protest. Stories of corruption, bigotry, perjury, frame up and violence seem two a penny--and not in fiction or drama but in newspapers and on TV documentaries.
A whole police force--the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad--had to be disbanded for its corruption. The cases of fit ups against innocent people seem endless.
The recent case of drug corruption and the scandal where a copper involved in a car crash was not charged with drunk driving have added to the cynicism.
The crude violence of the police during the miners' strike or the recent demonstration to the BNP headquarters has provoked further hostility for many people.
So when Between the Lines, perhaps the most interesting and most damning of all the police fiction programmes, hit our screens hardly a murmur of complaint was heard.
Between the Lines is about the police complaints department, the cops who investigate cops. Its lead character is ambitious, self seeking but nevertheless thorough in his job.
Yet time and again his investigations are thwarted and his findings covered up by higher authorities. Occasionally one junior officer will be offered up as part of the rotten apple theory, but by and large the big boys go untouched. Frequently all sorts of dreadful goings on are legitimised by special branch or M15.
The programme shows the police to be highly political, bent, violent and completely incapable of investigating themselves.
The reason it hasn't brought a storm of criticism? Because it fits more and more with the way so many perceive the police to be!
So what is left? All the programme makers can do is try and paint the people that the police have to deal with as so dirty, sordid, violent and subversive that the police have to wallow in the muck to do their job.
An interesting example of this is the highly acclaimed Cracker. Cracker is stylish, well written and the lead figure is played brilliantly by Robbie Coltrane.
He plays a police psychologist who is himself fucked up, as are the police around him. But they are nothing compared to the weirdos, nutters and low-lifes dragged in from the underbelly of British society.
Now I know the Tories have done terrible things to the worst off in our society, driven many to the margins of despair and hopelessness, but turned them all into axe wielding maniacs? I think not.
Cracker portrays a society made up of an underclass of completely nihilistic amoral wackos who need help, but also need to be treated with a degree of brutality.
If Between the Lines is the exposé, then Cracker is the excuse.
I read the other day that the cops are now hopeful they are closing in on the real killers of PC Blakelock, killed in the Broadwater Farm riot.
Personally I find it impossible to see how after so many years they can prove who did what in a riot situation at the dead of night. But I fear they will round up and fit up more innocent victims.
If they have all this proof at their fingertips why did they happily allow, and indeed defend, the jailing of three innocent men for the murder?
One of those men, Winston Silcott, continues to sit in prison today. For him and the many like him there are no excuses, no matter how hard Cracker, the Sun or the Police Federation try to make us think otherwise.