Police Monitoring

The way in which strikes and peaceful demonstrations were policed during the 1970s and 1980s and the many recorded incidences of brutality towards black people, trade unionists, homosexuals and others was a key concern for left-wing activists. When the Left took control of Manchester in 1984, monitoring the police was one of the four new policy initiatives, involving a creation of a sub-committee and unit of council officers. However, the Police Authority was the responsibility of Greater Manchester Council (GMC) not the City Council so the Police Monitoring Unit had difficulty finding its role and having any effect. This chapter touches on clashes with the Chief Constable, James Anderton, and policing of protests during this period.
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The Fourth New Policy Initiative
Police monitoring was the fourth of the new policy initiatives (along with Equal Opportunities, Neighbourhood Services and Campaigns and Public Information) that involved the left-wing administration in establishing a new committee and a special unit.

The Police Monitoring Unit, initially called the Police Research and Information Unit, was the shortest-lived of the four units and, in the view of many on the Left, the least successful. Its establishment was rooted in deep concerns about the behaviour and lack of accountability of the police throughout the country. The way in which strikes and peaceful demonstrations were policed during the 1970s and 1980s and the many recorded incidences of brutality towards black people, trade unionists, homosexuals and others caused great anger, frustration and antagonism. This erupted most fiercely in nationwide urban riots in the early 1980s, including riots in Manchester’s Moss Side area in July 1981.

Chief Constable James Anderton
In Manchester, antipathy towards the police was exacerbated by the presence of James Anderton as Chief Constable. His appointment, announced on 23 October 1975, came only eight months after he had taken on the deputy’s post and he attracted controversy with similar speed over his outspoken opinions on policing and morality. His claims to speak with God and to act as an instrument of divine judgement were widely derided and led to his being mocked as ‘God’s copper’. His view of homosexuals and people with AIDS as ‘swirling in a cesspit of their own making’ provoked outrage and demands for his resignation.

In the light of all this, the City Party’s 1984 manifesto statement was surprisingly bland:

“We believe that good policing should enable communities to exist without fear of attack, robbery and organised criminal activity. Because of this we support full democratic control over how the city is policed, and we totally oppose the Tory government’s Police and Criminal Evidence Bill and proposed abolition of the elected GMC police committee[1]. We do not believe that community liaison panels will assist local people in having a greater say in the operations of police activity.

“In order to campaign for real accountability of the police to the communities they serve, we will set up a police monitoring group. We will also consider setting up a committee to establish guidelines for council policy towards, and co-operation with, the police.”

In theory, the police were accountable to the Greater Manchester Police Authority (GMPA), which was made up of elected Greater Manchester Council (GMC) councillors and magistrates. In practice, though, the Chief Constable would claim ‘operational’ reasons for many decisions and not consult it. Labour had won political control of the GMC in 1981, but the left-wing Labour activists in Manchester had very little confidence in the GMC Labour Group, perceiving it to be as dominated by the right-wing as the City Council at that time. In addition, the magistrate members, who comprised a third of the committee, were largely from the upper middle classes of Cheshire and were perceived by the Left as having no understanding of life in an inner city. So the Left felt they had no influence over policing policy in the City.

In the summer of 1981 there had been riots in inner-city areas with high concentrations of black people, such as Brixton in London, Toxteth in Liverpool and Chapeltown in Leeds. Linked riots happened in Moss Side in Manchester in the period 8th – 10th July 1981. The Tory Home Secretary, William Whitelaw, set up a national inquiry into the causes of the Brixton riots, led by Lord Scarman. Shortly afterwards, the GMPA established its own local inquiry into the Moss Side riots, led by Benet Hytner QC.

James Anderton refused to co-operate with the Hytner inquiry and refused to allow his officers to testify. He produced his own report on the riots in September 1981 when the GMPA Chair, Councillor Peter Kelly, was away on holiday. The Vice-chair at the time was Gabrielle Cox, a county councillor and member of Moss Side Labour Party, who received the report on the Wednesday evening prior to the committee meeting on Friday. She told Anderton that there wasn’t enough time to read it and that it needed to take into account the outcome of the Hytner inquiry. Anderton made a huge fuss as he had already released his report to the Manchester Evening News. He said he’d been gagged and made a speech accusing the Police Authority of being as bad as the Nazis.

Further conflict arose with Chief Constable Anderton during a 10-month strike and workers’ occupation at the Lawrence Scott factory in Openshaw in 1981-82. Anderton devoted considerable police resources to support the company, but the policing of the dispute was never brought before the GMPA for discussion. Local people were furious because they never saw police officers when they needed them to deal with crime in the area.

Why Controlling the Police was an Issue for the Left
By 1983, Gabrielle Cox had taken over as the Chair of the GMPA, which was still having a tough time trying to call Anderton to account. According to David Black, she visited a number of Labour Party branches in Manchester to explain what was going on at the GMPA and to seek support. He thought she presented a very reasonable case and admired her for doing it, but she received a very poor reception at the meeting he attended, with members of the Hard Left giving her a very bad time. The police were widely seen by the Left to be brutal, corrupt and incompetent and much more radical measures were felt to be necessary than ensuring accountability to an elected body.

It was in a radio interview around this time that Anderton claimed that God was speaking to him personally and therefore he was above normal democratic control, and when his nickname ‘God’s Copper’ came about.

While no other chief constables made the same claim of divine influence, many other police authorities did have problems calling their senior police officers to account. Concerns about policing and the lack of accountability culminated in 1984-85 with widespread anger in the Labour Party and beyond about the way the miners’ strike was being policed. Across the country the evidence of police brutality towards the strikers and their supporters was there for all to see on TV bulletins and newspapers. The Chair of the West Yorkshire Police Authority, who had previously been dismissive of the problems being experienced with the chief constables in Manchester and elsewhere, denounced the police as “jack-booted officers marching into our pit villages”.

So, throughout the country, for those on the left of the Labour Party it was felt to be imperative to do something radical about the police. As soon as Manchester’s Labour Left took over the administration of the Council, a Police Monitoring Sub-committee of the Policy Committee was established with Tony McCardell as its Chair and Sam Darby as Deputy. Both of these were considered to be Hard Left and were later part of the group of rebels (see chapter 12).

The Police Monitoring Sub-Committee and Opposition to Community Liaison Panels
The Police Monitoring Sub-committee was similar to those established at the GLC and some of the London boroughs. However, in London there was no elected Police Authority (the Home Secretary having charge of the Metropolitan Police) and so, unlike Greater Manchester, a monitoring committee was the only mechanism for the local councils to have any say in the way the police operated. The very existence of this new committee in Manchester raised the hackles of the county councillors on the GMPA and, of course, antagonised James Anderton.

Tony McCardell was an experienced trade union official, but was a newly elected councillor in 1984 and therefore inexperienced in relation to Council procedures. With the exception of Brian Harrison[2] and, arguably, Sam Darby, the other members of the Sub-committee were also lacking in knowledge and experience. But the Sub-committee appointed two advisors – Mike Freudenberg, a long-standing Party activist on policing issues, and Paul Okojie, an academic with specialist knowledge in the field – which gave it some strength, but pushed it towards an academic and theoretical, rather than practical, role.

At its first meeting in July 1984, the main item discussed by the Police Monitoring Sub-committee was how to oppose the government’s new Police and Criminal Evidence Act. This incorporated the recommendations from Lord Scarman’s inquiry into the Brixton riots, but also proposed abolishing police committees.

One of Scarman’s recommendations was about consultation with the public. The GMPA had decided to carry out this consultation remit by means of Community Liaison Panels, setting up one for each of the ten districts within the GMC area. The philosophy behind their establishment (as argued later by GMPA Deputy Leader, Councillor Tony Ullman) was similar to that of the decentralisation of services being championed by the new Left administration on the City Council. The intention was that they should link into a viable network of lay visitor schemes and a statutory framework, so that the police could not avoid answering awkward questions when challenged about their behaviour by GMPA members. The GMPA had no illusions about the panels themselves being a mechanism for holding the police to account, but believed that they would be a mechanism for people to have a say in deciding the policing policies for local neighbourhoods and communities.

The Manchester Left was opposed to these panels, describing them as a ‘mere sop’ that wouldn’t provide an effective method for consultation. It was argued that they would be dominated by white, middle-class residents and that they were a diversion from the real issue of police accountability. The Left also ridiculed the notion that one panel could cover all the diverse communities and issues within the different geographical areas of the city of Manchester.

The Liberals supported the setting up of Police Community Liaison Panels, as did the majority of the Labour right-wing, and they put down a notice of motion at the Council meeting condemning the Labour Group’s position. Although some of the right-wing argued in favour of the panels in the Labour Group, they lost the vote and didn’t break the whip in Council by supporting the Liberal motion.

The Police Research and Information Unit
The Police Research and Information Unit[3], responsible to the Police Monitoring Sub-committee, was formally established at the Council meeting in October 1984. It consisted of eight officers (similar to the one at the GLC). This was opposed by the Tories and Liberals and 15 of the Labour right-wing, but the opposition was outvoted.

From the beginning, the role and composition of the Police Research and Information Unit was problematic. It was unlike any other part of the Council, in that it didn’t provide a service to the public, and a pure research role was not something normally carried out by local authorities, in fact it may have been legally questionable. In an attempt to get round this problem, two of the officers in the unit were designated as community development workers (ie service providers), but their role and remit was never clearly defined.

The Police Monitoring Sub-committee initially struggled to find its feet, but the Chief Constable provided lots of provocation. For example, James Anderton made some comments on local radio in which he criticised the Council’s policy on police involvement in youth work. The City Party was opposed to police officers working in youth centres. The County Labour Party also disapproved as the police were not appropriately trained and their presence was seen as an intrusion into young people’s relaxation time. But the biggest issue for both the Council and the GMPA concerned the police running their own youth club in Ancoats. Ironically, on one occasion, after Anderton had vigorously defended the Ancoats youth club at a press briefing, he got back to his office to find that the superintendent of the club had been suspended for financial irregularities!

In November 1984, the Sub-committee accused the police of lack of co-operation in relation to vandalism of municipal property, which was costing the Council £1 million annually. There was also continuing discussion and condemnation of Anderton’s remarks about Manchester’s youth service and the Council’s policies.

The appointments to the Police Research and Information Unit were made in December 1984. The head of the unit, Steve Wright, had an academic background and no local government or management experience. Steve’s authority was quickly usurped by the unit’s head of public relations, Ann Lewis, who had a background in law, had good contacts in the media and was ‘good with people’. The two community development workers appointed were Davy Iredale and Surinda Baines. The other four members of the team were a librarian, a researcher and two administrative officers.

Davy and Surinda had no management or guidance for the first three months, during which they floundered and struggled to find a rationale for their jobs. They tried to make themselves useful and went to lots of seminars. Surinda started work on investigating domestic violence within the Asian community and Davy did some work with tenants on the Platt Lane estate in Fallowfield, mostly relating to the problems they experienced on Manchester City FC match days. But he had no power within the Council to make anything happen to improve things for tenants and he felt there was a deep hostility from the departmental hierarchies towards the Unit.

The Battle of Brittan
Things changed radically following a visit to Manchester University Students Union by the Conservative Home Secretary, Leon Brittan, in March 1985. There was a demonstration by about 500 people protesting against government policies, which was heavily policed, but despite this Brittan got pelted by eggs. Police riot squad officers charged into the crowd and made a number of arrests. This incident became known colloquially as the ‘Battle of Brittan’.

Following this incident two students, Steven Shaw and Sarah Hollis, were subjected to what was discribed later by The Guardian as a ‘systematic campaign of intimidation’ by the police. This intimidation included serious violent assault several times and burglaries of their homes[4]. Steven Shaw had volunteered to collect witness statements on behalf of those arrested at the Leon Brittan protest and to get the support of the Council for a public inquiry into the incident. Sarah Hollis, a young Conservative student present at the demonstration, had made a formal complaint that she had been pushed down some stairs by police officers.

Steve Wright worked closely with Steven Shaw (they had been students together) and supported him throughout the period after the arrests and the Police Monitoring Sub-committee set up its own inquiry into the case, which was published in November 1987. Most of the members of the Unit worked on that, led by Ann Lewis, but they didn’t consult the Police Authority or invite its members to give evidence. This was possibly because the Deputy Chair of the Sub-committee, Sam Darby, a member of the Socialist Organiser faction and the Moss Side Labour Party, had a lot of personal animosity towards Gabrielle Cox, Chair of the GMPA, who was one of the few members prepared to openly challenge his strident Hard Left views. The animosity between the Police Monitoring Sub-committee members and the GMPA grew into open and public hostility over this case.

A Legal Committee and Unit or Not?
In December 1985, Graham Stringer reported to the City Party that, because of a combination of the Local Government Act 1985, the Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the new Local Government Bill, the legal basis for the Council having a Police Monitoring Sub-committee and Unit was ‘demolished’. Nevertheless, legal advice was being taken on a way forward and the Sub-committee continued to meet, although it didn’t deal with any issues of major importance over the following four months[5]. Then, in April, Graham reported to the Labour group officers that it was, after all, possible for the sub-committee to continue in existence.

Whilst the sub-committee plodded on fairly ineffectually, the Unit was becoming more and more dysfunctional. Ann Lewis moved on to be editor of the Manchester Magazine (see chapter 2) and Steve Wright and the researchers worked on what seemed to me to be more academic than practical projects.

After the abolition of the Greater Manchester Council on 31 March 1986, a new Police Authority had to be set up as a joint board with direct representation from the ten Greater Manchester districts and with an increased number of magistrates. In May 1986, the Council elected its first five members to the Police Joint Board: Tony McCardell, Sam Darby, Dennis Barker, Ronni Myers and Ken Strath. Councillor Stephen Murphy from Wigan was elected as its Chair, a position he held until 2004.

The Police Monitoring Sub-committee continued to meet and was strengthened by the addition of one of the newly elected councillors, Dave Lunts. He was initially a protégé of Tony McCardell, having come from the same trade union (the RMT), and was described as ‘a breath of fresh air’ at the time. Then, in July, the suspension of John Stalker[6], who was the Deputy Chief Constable of the GM police force, became a cause célèbre for the Sub-committee.

The Stalker issue dominated the agendas of both the Police Authority and the Police Monitoring Sub-committee for a long time. Tony McCardell developed a close relationship with Stalker and allowed him to use the Sub-committee as a vehicle for getting out his side of the story. The national press were present at every meeting and there was a media frenzy about the affair. Ann Lewis and Tony McCardell spent a lot of their time working on this issue, with Steve Wright becoming more and more marginalised.

Change to Community Safety Focus
While the attention of the Sub-committee was being dominated by the matters already outlined, Dave Lunts and other councillors were getting more concerned about the issue of Community Safety and increased drug-taking, particularly on council estates. A new Community Safety Working Party was set up in December 1986, reporting to the Policy and Resources Committee. Chaired by Dave Lunts, the working party included councillors and officers as equal members, like the ones set up in 1984 to progress the new policy initiatives. Davy Iredale had been working on Community Safety issues on the Nell Lane council estate and he became a member of the working party.

The Chief Constable was invited to meet councillors and discuss crime in the city (he ignored the request) and there were a number of attempts to build bridges with the Police Authority on the issue of Community Liaison Panels. The working party didn’t support the ‘homewatch’ schemes being championed by the police and GMPA, as they were felt to be no substitute for effective community policing, but did support resident and community group initiatives to make their areas safer.

The Police Monitoring Sub-committee pottered on ineffectually for a few more months until May 1987, when Dave Lunts was elected as Chair (in addition to chairing the Housing Committee and the Community Safety Working Party). He was able to re-direct the work of the Police Monitoring Unit towards Community Safety work and oversee its eventual dismantling in March 1988[7].

There appeared to be a lot of sense in linking the work of Community Safety with that of devolving Council services to local neighbourhoods. So seven Community Safety posts were established in the Neighbourhood Services Unit and many of the police monitoring staff transferred over. The Police Watch magazine (nine issues of which were published between February 1986 and December 1987) was combined with the Manchester Magazine. It was also decided that there should be a review of the past three years of police monitoring in order to continue with the initiatives that were found to have been successful, but this review didn’t happen and no report was published.

On Reflection
The changed emphasis towards Community Safety yielded greater co-operation with the police and led to the establishment of the more successful local action partnerships from 2000 onwards. But there is no doubt that the change of Chief Constable in 1991, when David Wilmot took over, was the most significant factor in improved relationships between the Council and the police. David Wilmot remained in the post until 2002, and a radical speech he made in October 1998, about institutional racism in the police force, highlighted just how far things had moved on since James Anderton’s tenure.

Nonetheless, even if there had been a more amenable Chief Constable than James Anderton, it is difficult to envisage a constructive outcome to the police monitoring experiment in view of some of the personalities involved on the Council side. It is now acknowledged by most of those involved in the Labour Party and Council since 1984 that it was the least successful of all the radical new initiatives introduced at the time. Pete Keenlyside, one of the left-wingers expelled from the Labour Group in 1982, now says that setting up the Police Monitoring Sub-committee and Unit was mere tokenism and neither was ever going to be effective. He thinks it was gesture politics with no attempt to understand where it was going.

I think that is a very harsh judgement and that with a different political leadership of the Sub-committee the initiative might have achieved more success. From the start the Police Monitoring Unit focused too much on the theory of policing, and there was a lack of both political and managerial leadership. Perhaps it would have been a more constructive way forward for the Police Monitoring Sub-committee to co-operate with the Police Authority and use the Council’s resources to support and strengthen its role. However, the Left had set a pattern of opposition to, and confrontation with, the Right, which meant that co-operation was out of the question. The Police Authority was seen in the same light as the police force itself – as an instrument of the Conservative government that had to be campaigned against and defeated.

The Community Safety initiative, which superseded that of police monitoring, was much more effective in bringing together the police and the Council in joint approaches to tackling crime in the city and protecting residents. This, it was argued, was a more legitimate use of council taxpayers’ money. However, the continuing issue of brutal behaviour by some members of the police force against ethnic minorities and gay men was not tackled by either the Council or the Police Authority at that time.

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Editor’s Comments

This chapter felt unfinished/unpolished and didn’t have a strong narrative, by which I mean it is not clear what point or points it was making. It is about the left-wing councillors trying to control the police when they actually had no power to do so. I have edited this more than other chapters so far on the basis of advice in notes from Steve Platt and also that I felt it didn’t flow. I split it into sections and added the sub-headings. I have removed the 2 Appendices.

Key points from the chapter and extra research
  • Greater Manchester Police Force was the second largest after London, so it was particularly important for the government.
  • The relationship that the Council had with James Anderton, Chief Constable 1975-1991, was strained.
  • Documents now in public domain show how Thatcher supported Anderton against the left-wing council.
  • Manchester City Council was not responsible for police – came under GMC and the GMPA.
  • Race riots in 1981 were the subject of the Scarman Inquiry (Brixton) and the Hytner Inquiry (Moss Side)
  • The Left were limited on how they could influence policing in the city.
  • Different arrangement to London, which was controlled directly by the Home Secretary.
  • Police Monitoring Sub-committee was set up in 1984 and Police Research and Information Unit, which then became the Police Monitoring Unit, but no date given when this change occurred.
  • Recommendations from Lord Scarman’s Inquiry into 1981 Brixton riots – GMPA set up Community Liaison Panels for each of 10 districts, opposed by City Council Left because didn’t feel they would fairly represent the city community.
  • Protests at student union Leon Brittan visit in March 1985 – calls for an Inquiry into how that was policed and allegations of police intimidation of Steven Shaw and Sarah Hollis.
  • John Stalker, Deputy Chief Constable being suspended brought press attention to the Police Monitoring Sub-Committee because there was support for Stalker.
  • Things changed when David Wilmot became Chief Constable 1991-2002 and the focus became Community Safety rather than monitoring the police.


[1] Editor’s note: Kath wrote here that“The manifesto made no mention of the committee that actually had responsibility for the police in Manchester, namely the Greater Manchester Police Authority (GMPA). This was one of the four committees of the Greater Manchester County Council (GMC), together with the Passenger Transport Authority, the Fire Authority and the Waste Disposal Authority.” but to my mind that is covered by the words “elected GMC police committee”

[2] who didn’t stay on the sub-committee very long

[3] Later renamed the Police Monitoring Unit

[4] An expanded account of the nature of the intimidation was given by Tony Lloyd MP in Parliament on 27 March 1986 as reported in Hansard in relation to the Police Complaints Authority http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/ commons/1986/mar/27/police-complaints-authority viewed 3 Jan 2016

[5] In January 1986, the sub-committee considered a new code of practice for youth and community workers in their relations with police and discussed a report on the use of plastic bullets by the police. February 1986 saw the first publication of ‘Police Watch’ and a report entitled ‘Policing the City’, which was very critical of the Chief Constable. Criteria were established for meetings between the community and the police. At the April 1986 Sub-committee meeting, opposition was expressed to the new Public Order Bill as an attack on civil liberties.

[6] The Stalker case is too complex a story to include in this account and has been written about by others, including his own account and “Stalker: the search for the truth” by Peter Taylor. Faber & Faber. 1987.

[7] After the Police Monitoring Sub-committee’s abolition, the Council did publish a number of significant reports that had been produced by members of the unit. These included a report on women and violence by Surinda Baines, supported by Bradford University (October 1987); a report on the Steven Shaw case (November 1987); and a report on policing in Moss Side and Hulme (January 1988).

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Further Reading

  1. 1986. Politics: Manchester’s Chief Constable James Anderton http://www.gayinthe80s.com/2014/05/1986-politics-manchesters-chief-constable-james-anderton/
  2. Margaret Thatcher saved career of police chief who made Aids remarks http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/8991935/Margaret-Thatcher-saved-career-of-police-chief-who-made-Aids-remarks.html
  3. Politicians’ shock at government handling of James Anderton Aids storm after M.E.N. reveals secret documents http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/politicians-shock-at-government-handling-of-james-678915
  4. M.E.N. exclusive: Read all the secret documents relating to the Sir James Anderton affair
  5. James Anderton documents including letter from Graham Stringer 16 December 1986 to the Home Secretary complaining about Anderton https://www.scribd.com/doc/77033954/James-Anderton-documents-part-1
  6. Manchester Evening News ‘1981 Moss Side Riots: Pictures, headlines and background that tell the story of some of Manchester’s most violent days’ http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/moss-side-riots-anniversary-manchester-9588570
  7. City of Manchester: report Civil Disturbances Employment in Moss Side: Hytner report Moss Side enquiry panel: notes from a meeting 15 July 1981 http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/record?catid=-630210&catln=7
  8. History of the Moss Side Riots in Manchester https://mossside81.wordpress.com/
  9. Hansard Police Complaints Committee http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1986/mar/27/police-complaints-authority

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