3 OCTOBER 1981, Page 6

Another voice

The police and us

Auberon Waugh

In Mr Alderson's favour, I must admit that officers of the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary have always struck me as exceptionally pleasant people. But then so have those of Somerset and Avon, also, and nobody has yet been forced to bring a High Court writ of mandamus against the Chief Constable of Somerset and Avon to require him to carry out a duty which most of us would have thought fundamental to the maintenance of reasonable social discipline: to clear demonstrators off privately owned land which they occupy and are refusing to leave.

The case before Lord Denning and two others last week involved the Central Electricity Generating Board and demonstrators who had occupied private farmland in Cornwall to prevent it being surveyed as a possible site for a nuclear power station.

One's sympathies may be divided on this matter. Nobody living in the country wants a nuclear power station next door. Any recourse to law is liable to be horrifyingly expensive, and respectable private citizens may well be tempted to go outside it to protect their domestic tranquillity. But some of the reasons advanced by Mr Alderson's counsel for his decision to leave the demonstrators alone when they refused to leave strike me as rather sinister.

Mr Alan Rawley QC, for the Chief Constable, argued that the police had no power to move the demonstrators on — which is at least arguable — and would be liable for any injuries which resulted. I would be most surprised if Mr Rawley received less than £2,500 from public funds for making this point. Against this, it was argued by Mr Anthony Hoolahan QC — another £2,500 from public funds — that Mr Alderson had decided to use his discretion and keep a low profile, which is another matter entirely. Either there is discretion or there isn't. If he had discretion, he also had power. In fact, it appears that his discretion was to decide whether the demonstrators would use force if anybody tried to remove them: Mr Alderson decided they wouldn't so it was up to the Generating Board to remove the demonstrators themselves.

Mr Rawley then said that if police took the initiative, it might exacerbate relations between public and police: 'The whole point of community policing is to get the local population on your side. It is not then a question of "them" and "us".' This strikes me as a curious interpretation of the policeman's primary role. It was probably a similar thought which prompted Lord Justice Templeman to remark that if Mr Alderson had been as anxious to get on with the CEGB as he was with local villagers, the case would not have had to take the time of three judges in the High Court. But the nub of Mr Alderson's refusal to take any action against the flagrantly illegal action of the demonstrators in bringing improper pressure on the Generating Board was that. he did not want 'the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary to be seen as the private army of the Central Electricity Generating Board.'

The obvious inference from this is that the CEGB should employ its own private army — and so should any other body or individual which hopes to protect itself from the menaces of any activist group prepared to press its unwarranted demands by illegal occupation. Suddenly, the rosychecked constables of Mr Alderson's Toyland force begin to look less heroic. What we are faced with in fact, when all the rhetoric of 'community policing', 'them and us' is removed, is a strike. The police, faced by an unpleasant and thankless task, is simply not prepared to do it. Or so it would appear from Mr Alderson's posture. Nor, in fact, is he prepared to equip his men with the weapons necessary for them to play an effective role in the quelling of riots and civil disturbances this winter, as I commented a few weeks ago.

The circumstances may well arise when it will be necessary to urge that this amiable and civilised policeman should be taken outside and shot, in order to encourage the nation's 42 remaining Chief Constables in their duties. When the time comes — as come it must, under whatever government eventually tries to tackle the country's problems — when the highly motivated minority of wreckers is confronted and removed from the industrial scene, then there will be no place for policemen who prefer to exercise their discretion, keep a low profile and cultivate their community relations. If we have to take out a High Court writ of mandamus whenever we want the police to get off their fat, blue bottoms 44An we will never win the approaching civil war.

But the time has not yet come, and until it does we must agree that Mr Alderson represents only one extreme point within the changing police force. The other ex treme, which is far less pleasant, is revealed in a report produced last week for Leicester University by one of Mr Alderson's Chief Inspectors, as it happens, although he was seconded to the Northampton force while working on the report.

It deals chiefly with relations between the police and the coloured (i.e. West Indian) community, and quotes a number of blood curdling opinions on this subject from younger policemen. Some are not really very helpful to an understanding of anything ('In my opinion most Rastas should be wiped out of distinction') but others seem to reflect a settled point of view: 'Coloured immigration into this country has brought with it a society of uneducated, troublesome people who come here only for the benefits that we provide such as social security and housing. The majority are disrespectful of the law and wish people in this country only harm.'

Not being a coloured immigrant myself, I might be prepared to regard all these errors of thought with unbecoming complacency if I had not noticed that the young policemen of London, in particular, seem increasingly disposed to treat all their fellow citizens — middle-class housewives included — as if they were coloured immigrants of the most uneducated and troublesome variety.

The report points out that the police force tends to attract conservative and authoritarian personalities, which may be inevitable. It says that police training softens some of their harsher judgments on the coloured community, but these tend to return as soon as they are on the beat. One can point to the obvious and serious error of logic in assuming that because most mug gers are black, most blacks must be muggers, but it still seems to me that middle class housewives have only themselves to blame if younger policemen now treat them with hostility. The fact is indisputable that there has grown up a society of young blacks in the 14-26 age group who are lawless, violent and rude. The police have to deal with these people and face their pro vocation every day. They are not much helped by middle-class housewives who in sult them for their colour prejudice and supposed fascism whenever matters come to a head.

Quite probably these farouche young policemen need keeping in their place every bit as much as the insolent, swaggering young bucks who torment them. But I am equally sure that Mr Alderson's way of im proving relations between the force and respectable citizens — by encouraging them to break the law unmolested — is not the right one. The law may be a horrible ass but we must all pretend to respect it because that, ultimately, is the side where our bread is buttered.