sun 14/07/2024

Confessions of a Copper, Channel 4 | reviews, news & interviews

Confessions of a Copper, Channel 4

Confessions of a Copper, Channel 4

Ask a policeman?

Ken German, ex-copper: 'Legality? What's that got to do with anything?'

This will have brought a nostalgic tear to the eye of fans of The Sweeney (the TV show, not the Ray Winstone movie) or GF Newman's still-shocking 1978 series Law and Order. The producers had rounded up seven retired policepersons and got them to spill some of the beans about what policing was like in the Sixties and Seventies.

The strange thing was, it was exactly like folklore says it used to be. There was plenty of rough justice including kickings and beatings, dousings in freezing cold baths and possibly even some electric shocks. Rule-bending was de rigueur, there was routine acceptance by officers of gifts and backhanders from a grateful public, and it was all washed down with buckets of booze. Sexism? Ask a silly question.

I could just fill this review with some of the choice quotes. Stephen Hayes (above) described how forensic evidence, like hairs or clothing fibres, would be planted at crime scenes to manfacture a conviction. Any regrets? No. "You know they must be guilty, you know they're at something... if it meant bending a bit of the evidence you did it."

Ken German, who retired from the force when it went all touchy-feely and multicultural, delightfully described how felons would be "taken into a corner and told their fortune." What did this mean, queried the interviewer? "That was a clip round your ear," explained Ken euphemistically. Was this legal? "Legality?" he expostulated. "What's that got to do with anything? You've got a job to do." Incidentally, Ken now has a doctorate in International Automobile Crime (pictured below, the golden age of British policing). 

In 1975, sex discrimination was officially banned in the police force, even if many male officers remained contemptuous of the idea that women would be any use in a street fight with a bunch of villains. However, relations between the sexes had been in dire need of improvement, women having been restricted to finding lost children and apprehending menopausal shoplifters. We were introduced to the "station stamp", an initiation ceremony in which new female recruits would have their skirts pulled up by the lads and the date rubber-stamped on their bottoms. "Upon reflection yes I suffered sexual discrimination, but I wouldn't have done any other job," claimed ex-policewoman Carole Phillips (pictured below)

But coppers of either sex were united in their view that policing as they understood it had been demolished by a raft of overhauls and supposed improvements. There was a clip – among bags of pungently evocative archive material – of a certain Harriet Harman ("solicitor, Brent Law Centre") deploring the violent tactics of the Special Patrol Group, widely believed to have killed teacher Blair Peach at Southall in 1979 although no officers were ever charged. Suddenly the questionable culture of the police came under severe scrutiny, and 1984's Police And Criminal Evidence act introduced such innovations as tape-recording police interrogations. Previously, the cops could have a private chat with a prisoner in their cell and then go away and decide what had been said. The Stephen Lawrence murder and its appalling trail of corruption and lies prompted a new age of diversity training and a drive for multi-racial policing.

The old guard remained unconvinced. "I think we all have a view on political correctness, and it's bollocks," averred Ken German. Yet though the old ways were so crude and brutal, perhaps they were apt for a society with a fixed hierarchy and rigid notions of right and wrong. The police behaved like they did because there was an implicit consensus of support. Now, with police too buried under paperwork to do much actual policing (apart from arresting victims of crime) and eager to pretend that huge numbers of crimes never even happened, are we any better off?

The cops could have a private chat with a prisoner in their cell and then go away and decide what had been said


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters