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Tuesday, November 18, 2003
 
The secret policeman

Now that the dust over 'The Secret Policeman' has begun to settle, one can pass comment on the episode, its preamble, and the consequences. In case you have been on Mars or with your nose up a dead bird's bum (q. v. elsewhere), the programme involved an undercover, trainee policemen. For six months, he trained as a police constable and secretly filmed racist statements and behaviour by some of his fellow trainees and serving officers.

The early reaction by senior police and David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, were entirely predictable. They regretted the programme and thought that it would have been better had the evidence been handed over, rather than broadcast. Clive Wolfendale, the assistant chief constable of North Wales initially said 'I believe the BBC has entertained a completely unnecessary risk'. Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Wasn't the police service outside the scope of the Race Relations Act for many years? Didn't Macpherson, in his report on the way in which the murder of Stephen Lawrence was investigated, conclude that the police were institutionally racist? (Useful link here.)

In the event, the critics had to change their minds. Had we been told that some of the police behaviour during the film was, in fact, that of the racist thugs that killed Stephen Lawrence, we would have believed it. There are only two caveats about the BBC's investigative film. Firstly, the undercover trainee was, perhaps, a bit too leading in some of his questions. And when one of the racist policemen sported a Ku Klux Klan-style hood, he was doing it as a forfeit.

Nevertheless, it was a first rate piece of investigation. So: quis custodiet ipsos custodes? It's very important to ask frequently, 'Who is keeping an eye on the people keeping an eye on us?' If such programmes are made in future with the knowledge, approval, and co-operation of the authorities, they will inevitably be suspect. So, full marks to Mark Daly and the BBC for an intrepid and revealing piece of work.

There is a joke that succinctly describes the components of hell; they are British food, Italian organisation, French police and a German lover. The optimum (European) answer is, on the other hand, an Italian lover, French food, German organisation, and British police. Blimey! We have the best police? What must the others be like?

Well, it's only a joke, isn't it? Isn’t it?


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