Untouchables: a different way to make sense of Leveson

Untouchables: dirty cops, bent justice and racism in Scotland Yard, by Michael Gillard and Laurie Flynn, reviewed by Kevin Blowe

December 3, 2012
2 min read


Kevin BloweKevin Blowe is a community centre worker and activist in Newham, east London.


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First published eight years ago, Untouchables reveals in great detail the inner workings of the Metropolitan Police and the background to the many scandals it has experienced since the 1980s. This new updated edition shows how the Leveson inquiry has vindicated much of the powerful, polemical investigation by former Guardian journalists Michael Gillard and Laurie Flynn.

It tells the story of the ‘Ghost Squad’, a secretive anti-corruption unit created in 1993 whose existence was known by only a few, later very well-known senior officers. For years, the unit operated with little oversight, spending millions of pounds but seemingly more interested in covering up corruption than eliminating it. Few ‘dirty cops’ were ever prosecuted – but the actions of the Ghost Squad helped, despite the public inquiry, to bury the truth about the role of corrupt practices in the investigation of Stephen Lawrence’s murder.

Gillard and Flynn allege other cover-ups in a number of unsolved murders, most notably the death of private investigator Daniel Morgan. Initial police inquiries into his murder were hampered by corruption, and subsequent investigations were dependent on the Ghost Squad’s unreliable ‘supergrass’ evidence. After the collapse of an Old Bailey trial of Morgan’s business partner Jonathan Rees in 2011, it was revealed that Rees had earned £150,000 a year from the News of the World. This case was one of the triggers for what became the Leveson inquiry.

Untouchables also explains how Scotland Yard’s power and influence in government grew under New Labour, with three senior officers central to the Ghost Squad – John Stevens, Paul Condon and Ian Blair – becoming commissioner. It also shows how the new Independent Police Complaints Commission set up in 2004 was toothless from the start, filled with retired officers such as the former head of the Ghost Squad, deputy assistant commissioner Roy Clark.

To get the most out of this important book, leave the opening revised section until last. And don’t be put off by its length. Read it to understand how police corruption is far from a story of a vanishing Life on Mars era of the 1970s. The complexities of the Leveson inquiry suddenly start to make a great deal more sense.

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Kevin BloweKevin Blowe is a community centre worker and activist in Newham, east London.


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