If you turn on British television on a weekday afternoon, chances are you'll see an elderly man and his dog Drummer advertising electric garage doors, double glazing, awnings, or conservatories. That man is retired police chief John Stalker, but what you may not realise from his grandfatherly appearance in the television commercials is that for a while in the mid 1980s he was one of the biggest threats to the British state, to the extent that he was framed for corruption and forced out of his job.
Stalker had a promising early career as a policeman, beginning in Manchester where he rose through the ranks to become deputy chief superintendent, serving in the CID, Serious Crime Squad, the Bomb Squad, and the Drugs Squad. Then in 1978 he became head of CID in Warwickshire, the nation's youngest detective chief superintendant. After that, he moved back to Manchester, to become deputy chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, the biggest English police force after the Metropolitan Police in London.
However, in the 1980s in other parts of Britain law enforcement was a more complex and murky business, in particular in Northern Ireland. The IRA were launching terror attacks both in Ulster and on the British mainland, and conventional police tactics were not working; it was alleged that the Royal Ulster Constabulary were turning to other techniques. In November 1982, three IRA members, Gervaise McKerr, Eugene Toman, and Sean Burns, were shot dead by officers of the RUC's special support unit. Police claimed they had driven through a roadblock without stopping, but forensics showed that many of the 109 bullets fired into the car had been shot at close range after the vehicle had come to a halt. All three victims were unarmed. Two weeks later, undercover RUC officers, who had been staking out a hayshed believed to hold an arms cache, shot dead Michael Tighe, a 17 year old with no links to the IRA, and wounded Martin McAuley. Two more men were shot dead before the end of 1982, Rodney Carroll and Seamus Grew; both were members of the Irish National Liberation Army.
In response to these six deaths there were suspicions of an assassination program or "shoot to kill" policy; therefore a police inquiry was ordered, and as was usual in cases of suspected serious misconduct a senior police officer from a different force was brought in. This was how John Stalker got involved in the dangerous world of Northern Irish politics. Beginning in 1984, Stalker found much to be suspicious about. For instance, in the shooting of Michael Tighe the RUC refused to hand over audio tapes of the surveillance which would have proved whether police had shouted a warning before opening fire. In his interim report, Stalker was critical of John Hermon, then chief constable of the RUC, for his refusal to cooperate.
Stalker increasily came to believe that even though there was not a deliberate program of assassination, police were adopting a policy that was likely to result in deaths. He said:
The killings had a common feature; each left a strong impression that someone had led these men to their deaths. The circumstances of those killings pointed to a police inclination, if not policy, to shoot suspects dead without warning rather than to arrest them.1
However, Stalker was never able to complete his investigation. In 1986, he was briefly suspended from the police service, accused of associating with criminals and being an IRA sympathiser. It was alleged he had attended parties where members of Manchester's notorious "Quality Street gang" had been present; these allegations were soon disproved. Stalker's friend Kevin Taylor was subjected to a four-year investigation for fraud, which drove him into bankrupcy. Eventually Taylor was acquitted, and sued Manchester Police for malicious prosecution; they settled out of court, making him a payment of over one million pounds which was at the time the largest payment ever made by the police in a civil case. Thus both men were cleared on all charges, and they had little doubt that the allegations had no rationale other than to discredit Stalker and remove him from his investigations.
Stalker's investigation was completed by Colin Sampson, then chief constable of Yorkshire Police; his report has never been published. In 1988, Sir Patrick Mayhew, the attorney general, informed the House of Commons that there was evidence that members of the RUC had conspired to pervert the course of justice, but it would not be in the national interest to prosecute. However, it is still unknown whether there was any shoot-to-kill policy, despite a number of other inquiries into the war against terror in Northern Ireland. The Stevens Inquiry into the murder of lawyer Pat Finucane reported in 2003 and found evidence of security forces colluding with terrorists before and after his murder; Stevens also described widespread obstruction of his investigations. The Barron inquiry held by the Irish government into the 1974 Dublin-Monaghan bombings reported in 2003 but was hampered by a lack of British cooperation. The Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday is underway at time of writing. But much of the history of the Troubles in Northern Ireland remains untold, and there are still calls for a public inquiry into the shoot-to-kill allegations by the relatives of the deceased.
After three months' suspension, Stalker returned to work at Greater Manchester Police. However, he found himself being sidelined and unable to work alongside colleagues who had made charges against him. He resigned from the force in 1987. Since then, as well as his advertising work, he has written a big-selling autobiography, Stalker, presented television programs Crimestalker and Inside Crime, and written newspaper columns for the Sunday Times, Sunday Express, Observer, and Daily Telegraph. He also works as an after-dinner and motivational speaker.
In 1990 Yorkshire TV made a drama-documentary about the Stalker inquiry, called Shoot To Kill, with Jack Shepherd playing John Stalker; it was directed by Peter Kosminsky and written by Mick Eaton. Brian Cox played a character based on Stalker in Ken Loach's fictional film Hidden Agenda released the same year.
1John Stalker quoted in Anthony Jennings, Justice Under Fire: The Abuse of Civil Liberties in Northern Ireland, Pluto Press, 1988, p 113.
- "1986: Police chief cleared of misconduct". BBCi. http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/august/22/newsid_2535000/2535029.stm (accessed December 27, 2003).
- "Collusion, murder and cover-up: Edited Text of the Stevens Inquiry report". The Guardian. April 18, 2003. http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardianpolitics/story/0,3605,939100,00.html (accessed December 27, 2003).
- "Special Report: Human Rights in the UK: Case Two". The Guardian. May 5, 2001. http://www.guardian.co.uk/humanrights/story/0,7369,486229,00.html (accessed December 27, 2003).
- Nick Hopkins. "Terrorism inquiries that were never made public". The Guardian. December 7, 2001. http://www.guardian.co.uk/Northern_Ireland/Story/0,2763,614847,00.html (accessed December 27, 2003).
- Paul Lashmar. "The Stalker Affair". Charter 88 website. 2003. http://www.charter88.org.uk/pubs/violations/lashmar2.html (accessed December 27, 2003).
- "John Stalker". Now You're Talking website. http://www.nyt.co.uk/john.htm (accessed December 27, 2003).
- Lance Pettitt. Screening Ireland: Film and Television Representation. Manchester University Press. 2000. Excerpts online at University of Ulster website. http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/images/cinema/pettitt/pettitt00.htm (accessed December 27, 2003).
- Relatives for Justice. "Gervaise McKerr". Relatives For Justice website. http://www.relativesforjustice.com/victims/gervaise_mckerr.htm (accessed December 27, 2003).
- The United Kingdom Parliament Select Committee On Home Affairs. Confidentiality of Police Settlements of Civil Claims. HMSO. 1998. http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm199798/cmselect/cmhaff/894/89403.htm (accessed December 27, 2003).
Here is more information on this subject from http://www.ferrisconspiracy.com
The slapping of a Public Interest Immunity Certificate on John Stalker by the Northern Ireland Secretary in May was one of the more remarkable Government gagging orders of recent times and yet another bizarre episode in the long running Stalker Affair. The former Deputy Chief Constable was about to give evidence in court in a civil action brought by his friend, Kevin Taylor, against the Greater Manchester police.
In 1986 Kevin Taylor was a successful businessman, the former chairman of the Manchester Conservative Association and living in a plush converted mill on the outskirts of the city. When John Stalker was removed from the inquiry into the Royal Ulster Constabulary’s 'shoot-to-kill' policy, it was his friendship with Taylor, who was suspected of criminal dealing that was cited as the reason. Taylor suddenly became a national media figure: subject to a massive four year police investigation that resulted in his bankruptcy but prosecution only on a minor fraud charge. Taylor subsequently sued the Manchester Police for alleged malicious prosecution and claims he was the 'victim of a high level conspiracy,' in order to discredit Stalker.
As Taylor's court case opened in May, a government lawyer applied to the judge with a Public Interest Immunity Certificate signed by the Northern Ireland Secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew, to ban John Stalker from giving evidence. They maintained that any discussion of the Royal Ulster Constabulary’s alleged 'shoot-to-kill' policy could jeopardise the current peace process.
"It remains very much in the public interest that all terrorist violence be permanently ended and that nothing should be done which would prejudice or impede the efforts of Her Majesty's Government to that end or which would be of assistance to terrorists now or in the future," the government lawyer said.
This is a stunning assertion given that John Stalker was suspended nine years ago and has had no contact with the security services since then. The immunity is clearly in the government rather than the public interest. Nearly a decade later there still has been no proper explanation of the extraordinary events that led up to the Stalker Affair. Senior police officers have never been made to account for what, at best, could be described as their bizarre actions. If the Stalker Affair demonstrates one thing above all it is the lack of accountability that exists in the security services, police and government in Britain today.
The Public Interest Immunity Certificate already has a bad record. It was the signing of PIICs by several Ministers in the Matrix Churchill case that got the government into such a mess over arms to Iraq deals. The Scott Inquiry is likely to show that Ministers used PIICs to protect their, not the public, interest. In the Taylor case, Judge Mr Justice Owen decided to accept the PIIC but allowed Stalker to give evidence about non-security matters. Only the judge was allowed to hear the security elements of Stalker’s evidence.
The Stalker Affair began in Northern Ireland on 11 November 1982 when three unarmed men were shot dead by members of a special RUC anti-terrorist unit just outside Lurgan. Less than two weeks later, on 24 November 1982, two youths were shot - one killed and the other seriously wounded - by the same unit in a hay shed also just outside Lurgan. The dead youth was Michael Tighe, who was seventeen years old, and the wounded one was Martin Macauley who was nineteen. Three old pre-war rifles were recovered from the hay shed, but no ammunition found. Three weeks after that, on 12 December 1982, two more unarmed men were shot dead, yet again by a member of the same special unit, this time in Armagh City.
Initially the shootings were investigated by other members of the RUC and a file sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland. The first prosecution to come before the courts related to the last of the three incidents and was that of Constable John Robinson of the RUC’s special unit. During the trial it emerged that many of the police’s original accounts of the shootings were in fact lies. In a headline-making appearance in the witness box, Robinson said that he had been instructed by senior police officers to tell lies in his official statements. Robinson was eventually acquitted.
His admissions caused uproar, fuelling accusations of a shoot-to-kill policy. Demands were made for an outside investigation. In May 1984, the RUC’s boss, Sir John Hermon, asked the Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, John Stalker, a highly-regarded officer with a long track record as a detective, to conduct an inquiry. He appeared to be the establishment’s man, recommended by his Chief Constable, James Anderton, and Sir Phillip Myers, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary.
Stalker set about the task with vigour. In September 1985 he gave a highly critical interim report, recommending the prosecution of eleven officers, to Herman. He found that his relationship with the RUC was rapidly cooling. For example, one vital piece of evidence Stalker needed for the inquiry was a tape recording of the secret MI5 bug placed in the hay shed where the second shooting had occurred. Stalker asked Hermon for the tape: he promised to hand it over, then refused. Stalker made it clear that he was unhappy with this decision.
What happened next has long been the subject of controversy. I, like many journalists who investigated the Stalker Affair, believe that Stalker was the victim of either or both of two cabals of police officers who had turned against him. The first was a group of top level police officers including Anderton, Hermon and Myers (perhaps under the orders of the government). The second was a group of senior detectives within the Greater Manchester police who wanted Stalker, a non-Freemason, removed as overall head of the CID. All those officers maintain they were only acting properly.
As there has never been an investigation into the Stalker Affair we cannot know for certain what happened. What we do know is at the time of the Stalker inquiry the Greater Manchester Police had become split by rivalries within the detective force. Chief Constable Anderton had promoted Peter Topping to Detective Chief Superintendent in charge of CID operations. Topping was later to become famous for his extensive and highly-publicised search for bodies on Saddleworth Moor in the Myra Hindley case in the late 1980s.
In the Taylor court case, Stalker described Topping as a good administrator but an inexperienced detective promoted over the heads of several far more experienced officers. Quickly, Topping and his allies had made little secret of their disdain for many of the long-serving members of the CID who they portrayed either as corrupt or old-fashioned. Topping’s allies saw John Stalker as the key proponent of the old-timers. Topping began placing his own men into key positions in the CID.
Stalker said good officers were being moved out of specialist HQ departments to be replaced by Freemasons: "I tackled DCS Topping about it. Topping was very proud to admit he was a Freemason. He said that he thought Freemasons were people he could trust and he would favour them in certain departments - but said ability came first and Freemasonry second."
The schism was so bad that Topping set up a major secret inquiry team called the Drugs Intelligence Unit without informing a number of senior colleagues. Retired DCS John Thorburn, who was Stalker’s Number Two in the shoot-to-kill inquiry and from 1985 CID policy chief, said, giving evidence in Taylor’s case, that Topping’s secret unit caused a cancer through the force. The Drugs Intelligence Unit was not a drugs unit, that was just a cover name. One question that is still unresolved is whether it was set up to monitor organised crime or whether, from the start, it was aimed at the relationship between Taylor and Stalker.
According to Topping’s secret unit, Taylor was in social contact with members of the Quality Street Gang. The QSG was the name given to a loose knit group of Manchester’s leading villains who were involved in everything from serious crime to running arms to the IRA. Topping's secret unit became convinced that Taylor, while not a member of the QSG, was laundering money for them and had lent his yacht, moored in Spain, for drug running. However, real evidence was harder to come by. Topping’s secret unit kept Taylor under constant surveillance for an incredible 114 days. He was also subject to telephone tapping and had his mail opened.
Stalker’s friendship with Taylor was open and well known to James Anderton. The basis for Topping’s investigation into the relationship came from two key conversations. In court, former DCS Bernard McGourlay said that he played golf in June 1984 with a Manchester businessman he had never met before called Gerry Waring, who mentioned a number of names of men associated with the QSG.
McGourlay said: "He went on in quite a joking manner about Mr Taylor and parties at his home in Summerseat. He said one of my bosses went to the parties. Later I approached Mr Waring in the car park, told him I was curious to know who the officer was and he said it was Stalker. I was very concerned." McGourlay has said in the past, he thought Stalker should have been warned about what was being said, and two days later he went to see Mr Topping in confidence.
Around the same time two officers of Topping’s secret unit interrogated a long-standing police informant called David Burton, a well known con-man and fraudster. He made allegations against Taylor of crimes for which he has never subsequently been charged. Burton also spoke of the Stalker/Taylor friendship. Anyone familiar with Burton would have known he was a less than credible witness. But Topping compiled a report of all the gossip and rumour on Stalker and passed it on to James Anderton. It became the basis for Stalker’s removal from duty. In court, Stalker described the report as 'histrionic and self-justifying'.
The timing of these events is interesting. Stalker had again asked the RUC for the MI5 tape. He was also due to interview Hermon on the 30 April 1986: the RUC chief failed to keep the appointment. On 9 May 1986, Topping’s officers raided Taylor’s home. They took away, among other things, half a dozen photos of Stalker and his wife at a party given by Taylor some five years before. Those pictures were taken, along with Topping’s report, to a secret meeting on 19 May in Scarborough of senior police officers, including Anderton and Myers. They decided Stalker would be investigated and taken off the shoot-to-kill inquiry. On 28 May, Stalker received a phone call from Anderton removing him from all duties. He was suspended a month later. The Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, Colin Sampson, was asked to conduct an inquiry into all allegations concerning Stalker. Sampson also took over the shoot-to-kill inquiry.
Taylor’s court case produced an astounding new piece of evidence of how trumped-up the charges against Stalker were. Anderton, when requesting Stalker’s suspension, gave the local Police Authority chairman a report written by DCS Topping alleging that Stalker was 'an IRA sympathiser.' No evidence has ever been produced that even begins to support this remarkable accusation.
Some observers have argued Anderton and Topping did the right thing in tackling suspicions over Stalker’s relationship with Taylor. And it is undoubtedly the case that, because of the curtailment of the Taylor court case, neither has been able to put their version of events to the public. But there are a number of important points to consider:
- Anderton had never given Stalker any indication that he was unhappy about his long-standing friendship with Taylor.
- The police intelligence implicating Stalker was little more than tittle-tattle that would have been treated with caution by experienced detectives.
- No-one has found a shred of evidence that Stalker acted improperly in his friendship with Taylor.
- The Greater Manchester police pursued Taylor for several more years, eventually only charging him with a mortgage fraud in which the mortgaging bank had made no complaint. He was acquitted but has been forced into bankruptcy.
Colin Sampson produced his report, alleging that Stalker had infringed some minor rules about using police staff cars. Stalker was reinstated to his post in the Greater Manchester Police, but concluded that working with Anderton would be impossible. In March 1987 he retired to write his memoirs.
Stalker himself said in his autobiography: "I cannot impute mischief or malevolence to anyone, but nevertheless I believe, as do many members of the public, that I was hurriedly removed because I was on the threshold of causing a major police scandal and political row that would have resulted in several resignations and general mayhem."
In early 1988 the British government acknowledged that the Stalker/Sampson inquiry in Northern Ireland had produced prima-facie evidence of a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by RUC men, but announced that no criminal proceedings would take place. They then appointed yet another senior British mainland police officer, Charles Kelly, the Chief Constable of Staffordshire, to investigate the RUC. Eventually, the only punishments handed out to any officers were reprimands.
Taylor's case against the Greater Manchester Police was yet another belated chance to get at the truth about shoot-to-kill and the Stalker affair - but the use of a public interest immunity certificate effectively made that impossible.
One month into the case, Kevin Taylor agreed an out-of-court settlement with the Greater Manchester police for a figure believed to be around £1m. Taylor claims he was forced to settle because otherwise his legal aid would be cut off. The police say the decision to settle was to avoid huge costs and not an admission that they had done anything wrong. The premature ending of the case precluded Anderton or former DCS Peter Topping from giving evidence.
The Government has now successfully seen off attempts to find out why Michael Tighe, seventeen year old youth with no paramilitary links, was shot dead by the RUC in May 1982. As in all wars, no real healing peace can be achieved until both sides admit their own crimes.
In order to establish a lasting peace and true democracy throughout the United Kingdom there must be a review of Public Interest Immunity Certificates and a more open and accountable police force.