Liverpool City Police

Patricians & Plebeians by ian macdonald retd.

Tom Winsor ‘s proposals to review Police pay and conditions, improve service and maximize value for money have prompted the usual shoals of written and verbal brickbats and prompted 30,000 Police Officers to take to the streets of London.

Tensions have been heightened by a Politician allegedly to have referred to Police Officers as ‘Plebs.’ His denial was very Patrician, he would have gained more credibility by saying ‘I’ve been verballed’

Baron Geoffrey Dear QPM describes Winsor’s suggestions as ‘bold and brave,’ which is worrying, as in the Police Service this all too often means ‘about to get into serious trouble.’ He is worth paying attention to, he became a Baron because he was an outstanding Senior Police Officer, he did not become a Senior Police Officer because he was a Baron. Some Senior Police Officers are Patricians born and bred. One Chief was alleged to have cut the crime rate in his Force by ordering his gamekeepers to stop reporting minor thefts. Another Senior Officer was related to the Queen, and was thus placed in charge of Royal Protection. When he was on exercises on the Special Course he emerged from his tent in a silk dressing gown, jumped in a river and ordered a fellow student to sprinkle bath salts upstream.

Direct entry was first proposed by Lord Trenchard, who makes an interesting case study. Trenchard was from a military family, and could not be accused of being an academic, a condition often viewed as a serious flaw in a Police Officer.ank. He failed the entrance exams for the Royal Navy, and needed several attempts to to join the Army. He was posted to South Africa, where his exceptional skills as a polo player persuaded senior officers to select him to form a mounted company from infantrymen to counter mounted Boers who had proved themselves skilled riders and tough opponents. The Boers wounded Trenchard grievously. What happened is unclear. Perhaps he galloped too far ahead of his troops, a fault in young leaders that nearly got me killed in Toxteth, although on that occasion the PSU ran in the opposite direction, and I am sure I heard some of them laughing. Anyway he lost a lung and was partially paralysed, but later restored to greater mobility in a bobsleigh accident in Switzerland. This is not a recommended cure, even when we had BUPA. He joined the Royal Flying Corps (now the RAF) as a pilot, soon after aeroplanes were invented. To have applied earlier would have been a waste of time. He was not a gifted flyer and spent most of his time on administration and writing training procedures, and thus ended up in charge, a phenomenon that many readers will be familiar with.

At first the RFC acted as spotters for the artillery, who ignored the information that they provided and chose instead to direct their fire to where they supposed the enemy might be in accordance with tradition. This will strike a chord with any intelligence officer. Trenchard sent his young and heroic pilots to engage the enemy in aerial combat and to support the infantry with low level bombing. They were shot down by either superior German aircraft or withering ground to air fire, sometimes both. The few survivors and the RFC were saved by a new generation of fighter planes and by flying higher whilst bombing, or abstaining from bombing altogether.

Later in the War he fell out with hiss boss, Viscount Rothmere, and resigned, but during his exit interviews with the King and Lloyd George he managed to get them to dismiss Rothmere. If I had known this was possible my exit interview would have been very different.

After the war he peacefully quelled 5,000 mutineers at Southampton, for which he was promoted to Chief of Air Staff. I can’t see the link. He then worked in the private sector until he was offered the post of Commissioner of the Met. That is what you call direct entry.he created Hendon to train the best from within the ranks alongside direct entrants at the new rank of Junior Inspector. Wikipedia claims that his plans were stymied by the onset of the Second World War. If this is true it was an overly violent and extended reaction to a well intended set of recommendations.

In the 1960s the idea was raised again and the Federation agreed to graduate entry as long as a few Plebs could go on the Course. Enter me. In 1973 the redoubtable Sergeant Derek Lancaster asked me what I intended to do as I came to the end of my probation. Thinking that there may be an element of choice I replied ‘I would like to be a detective please Sarge.’ He ignored my request and told me I was applying for the Course.He was not a man to be argued with so I started studying. The CID will never know what they missed, although they got my brother Neil so maybe they did…

So it was that I ended up on a tour of departments of the Merseyside Police as preparation for going to the College, along with another newly promoted Sergeant, whose name I will not mention, OK it was Albert. As we tramped across Mather Avenue to interview some horses he told me that we were rivals. I asked him why, he replied that eventually we would compete for the rank of Chief Inspector. Ever the master of diplomacy I informed him that I could not seriously view him as a rival. I turned up at the Police College with Albert and 4 ‘O’ levels and CSE French (grade 2), we were surrounded by people with one or more degrees. This was an excellent opportunity for me to climb up the social scale, I could have been a Patrician. However at my very first meal in the grandeur of the College dining hall we were served melon. I had eaten melon before, albeit not with a knife and fork. I watched an elegant graduate dip a spoon into a brown substance in a small bowl and sprinkle it on his melon. Not to be outdone I asked him, perhaps a little too loudly, to pass what I thought was brown sugar only to encounter ground ginger. It was all downhill from then on.

My course mates have since assured me that I lowered the tone of the Course from start to finish. I would like to claim that I had accomplished the Federation’s mission single handed but I did have some help from other students of a similar background and disposition. Within a few weeks we were dubbed ‘the Zoo Gang.,’ Young determined and ambitious, we claimed that in contrast to our Graduate Entry colleagues we had outstanding operational backgrounds. I played down my time as a Juvenile Liaison Officer. The Course was a year long and involved a lot of sport and a lot of study. Syndicates competed against each other fiercely, and after a game of 7 a side rugby Albert got a black eye.That evening I happened to be dining on the top table, and the following conversation took place with Chief Inspector George Wareing, who was from Merseyside, and was later hit on the head with a brick during the riots. (Details in a later episode.).

CI Wareing. ‘I see Mr Comber has a black eye Mr MacDonald’
Me ‘Yes Sir’
CI Wareing ‘How did he get it?’
Me ‘I heard he walked into a door’
CI Wareing ‘That’s not what I heard’

Extended silence.

CI Wareing ‘I heard he deserved it’

Me ‘That’s what I heard’


There were academic management and operational phases, which seemed to have nothing to do with each other. Most of the learning was done in the bar and in each other’s rooms. I cannot say that the Course prepared us for the sometimes hostile reactions we encountered upon our returns, nor had we prepared ourselves well enough for what was to come. I could have done with a lesson on how to fight the Plainclothes Inspector’s bodyguard in a pub toilet after hours but that type of topic never makes it onto the syllabus. I had to improvise. As the years went by the Zoo Gang were decimated by illness, injury, the discipline code and prison. One lad got sent to prison for ‘fixing up’ some black youths in London, then ran away with a Policewoman on his release. Another left his wife for the wife of the runaway, then attempted suicide. One Zoo Gang member became the Commissioner of the City of London Police and an associate member became the President of ACPO. Come to think of it they were both graduate entrants…

I returned to Force and made it through to Inspector. I cannot face writing about the intervening period yet, it was too traumatic and some of the witnesses may still be alive. One fine morning I got out of my car at Mather Avenue and found Albert emerging from the adjacent vehicle. We were in exactly the same spot where he had decided we were rivals 5 or 6 years before, but it had been concreted over. His prophecy had come true.We were on our way to an Assessment Centre to see who got promoted to Chief Inspector. I handed him my briefcase and pretended to fasten my suit as we strode across the field to the hall where the tests would take place. Albert carried two briefcases (his and mine) and complained bitterly about the nature of the impending assessment. As we reached the welcoming committee I took the briefcase from Albert and thanked him. He muttered ‘You Bastard’ entered the hall and failed. I passed. I would like to think that I unnerved him. It certainly cheered me up.

I went back to Bramshill several times, first as a Syndicate Director on what was now called the Accelerated Promotion Programme, brilliantly designed by Ch Supt Des Ladd from Kent and the mystical consultant Ray Johnston from Northern Ireland.. The idea was to ensure that the students were equipped to learn from their experiences as they passed through the ranks, and understood the cultures structures and systems within which they were expected to excel. The delivery was far from perfect, not least because the staff hadn’t been on the Course. Most of the students knew what we were trying to do although they were sometimes disappointed that we didn’t. I then got the chance to design and deliver a similar Course in the Caribbean, under the tutelage of the late John Radley, a former DAC in the Metropolitan Police. He was a friend of Baron Dear and a strong supporter of what Trenchard had recommended in the 1930s. John was a Patrician in the finest sense of the word, elegant and intelligent, patient and civilised, a joy to work for. He had a sword and a hat with a plume, and had flown both a labrador and his Cuban wife over. Class.

As a student on the SCCT there was still plenty of sport, but with more injuries, from which we took longer to recover. It was like reliving the Special Course, in slower motion. Senior Police Officers were wheeled in to deliver speeches. One Chief Constable addressed us twice. He was supposed to cover two different subjects, but he gave the same talk on each occasion. No one had the nerve to stop him. It didn’t really matter, as we had forgotten most of what he said the first time, and we then forgot it again when he repeated it, if I remember correctly. We didn’t remember much of what the other speakers said either. Ambitious students asked questions to demonstrate that they had been paying attention, and were teased mercilessly. They did well in later service. Although it is difficult to teach leadership people can learn it themselves given the chance. The key is to relinquish control, a thing that seldom happens in police training.

I was in the last year of my service when I experienced my most direct contact with a direct entrant. He was a manager from the NHS appointed Head of Police Training. He definitely hadn’t been in the Police and did not appear to know anything about training either. He decided that the best way to approach the challenges that he felt he faced was to enlist the support of consultants he knew and trusted from his time in the NHS, rather than rely on the mixture of Police and Support Staff that he had inherited. The Consultants knew even less about Policing and Police than him. It didn’t work, and it didn’t last. Neither for that matter did I. This episode shook but did not destroy my faith in direct appointments. In fairness the senior Police Officers who replaced him found that it was a tough job.

I did get the chance to design the S.C.C.and tried to end the tradition of Chief Constables delivering lectures by filling the timetable with visits and exercises. It was like trying to get the artillery to follow aerial instructions.The Course Director felt obliged to invite Chief Constables to talk to the students in the evenings, at formal dinners. Students complained of exhaustion, alcoholism and increased cholesterol. Several became allergic to melon, three succumbed to ginger poisoning. I watched helpless, overcome with empathy and despair.

Since retiring from the service I have been a direct entrant of sorts in a variety of posts. People in all the organisations where I worked considered me a policeman. I have considered them council workers, businessmen and women, civil servants. I have worked with Police Officers overseas and thought of them as Jamaican, Uruguayan and Venezuelan. They thought of me as British or, more particularly, English, although I am actually Scouse. This labelling is OK as long as it doesn’t deteriorate into negative stereotyping on the part of either the direct entrant or the organisation. The great difficulty for a direct entrant is identifying when ‘this is how things are done around here’ is a help and when it is a hindrance, and how to challenge accepted practices when they are not helping. The great problem for the organisation is working out whether whatever is suggested by the newcomer is viable in their environment. These are the dilemmas that will place pressure on anyone entering the Service whether on accelerated promotion or as a direct entrant, but if they don’t identify better ways of working, and persuade their colleagues to adopt them then it will have been a waste of time and money.

Plenty of Senior Police Officers from the UK have moved into jobs in Security, Academia and Technology on their retirement, some have taken over similar posts abroad. These are endorsements of the quality of the Service. There is no compelling argument that this should be a one way flow.

There has been no conclusive research into the merits or failings of accelerated promotion, nor of direct entry, either in the Police or elsewhere, although there are plenty of people who would be glad to be questioned about the experience of either being a direct entrant or working for one. It is all assertion and denial.
Accelerated promotion has been going on for a long time, providing many if not most of the current generation of ACPO. Direct appointments to Superintendent need not be imposed if increased numbers of capable Inspectors are given excellent training and support and are moved quickly through the ranks. Chief Constables should be selected on merit. Well trained, experienced Senior Police Officers with outstanding track records will be very strong candidates. ‘Outsiders’ will succeed on occasion, and they will bring additional experience and ability to the Service.

The assessment of the students when they are in operational roles will also be very important, especially if they are to advance quickly and perhaps ‘dodge’ the rank of Chief Inspector. The demise of the Zoo Gang shows that the Police Service are firm and determined when disciplinary or criminal offences are committed, and so they should be. However they are far less adept at dealing with low level high volume ineptitude. Readers will have worked alongside and for Officers who have been promoted beyond their capabilities. There will be greater risk of this happening with those moving quickly through the ranks, and an even greater risk with those who are directly appointed, for they will often have had little or no experience of the preceding rank.

The service needs to replace managers concerned with processes and defensiveness with leaders striving for outcomes and achievements. This will create clarity of purpose, reduce risk aversion and enhance both delivery and reputation.

Ian MacDonald October 2012

Retired ACC Merseyside Police

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