Who should investigate murder — the police, or a private security company?

Clare Sambrook, 13 April 2012
About the author Clare Sambrook, novelist, journalist, pro-bono co-ordinator of End Child Detention Now, won the 2010 Paul Foot Award and the Bevins Prize for outstanding investigative journalism.

When a G4S security guard got all dressed up as a police officer, ordered members of the public to pick up litter, then took himself off to a top brass summit graced by Home Secretary Theresa May, the man was arrested, sacked and handed a suspended jail sentence for “impersonating a police officer”. If vacancies currently advertised on the G4S “Policing Solutions” recruitment website are anything to go by, impersonating a police officer is exactly what some G4S people are getting paid to do. Among “major crime investigator jobs” that need filling, there’s “Outstanding Investigative Officer”. The job involves “contributing, as part of a team, to the review of historic murder investigations”. The role is apparently “ideal for former detectives with excellent report writing skills who have recent murder investigation experience”. Although paying only £25,000-a-year, the position carries heavy responsibilities that include: “managing and supervising investigators” and “prioritising, allocating and monitoring case work”. Not to mention the highly skilled demanding work of, “ensuring appropriate professional standards are maintained in the conduct of reviews/investigations”. As with all G4S policing contracts, applicants may wish to discuss “how you can make the most of your earnings (even if you have a police pension).” All this provokes worrying questions. How do such activities tally with Pinnochio-style assurances from government and senior police officers that our police force is not really being privatised, commercial companies are just taking on back office work, freeing up police officers to do their job? “This is all about supporting the front line by making sure that the backroom jobs that do that can be done more efficiently," claimed police minister Nick Herbert about the latest radical police privatisation tender. How much police work, and of what kind, is already in commercial hands? By whose authority? Has anyone asked the public if we want this? And, by the way, what does G4S charge the public purse for a “major crime investigator” with all those skills who gets £25,000-a-year? How fat is the profit margin on the thin blue line? As G4S contract-cops replace real police officers, and real police forces shrink, what happens when, a few years down the line, the supply of recently retired police officers, trained at public expense, living off tax-payer-funded pensions, dries up? What quality of £25,000-a-year “major crime investigator” will the public get then? And one last question: who among those public servants now making irrevocable decisions about how we are policed are nursing personal plans for a comfortable retirement in the commercial world? The future looks lovely — for them. Consider Lord Blair — Ian Blair, former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, now chairman of Bluelight Global Solutions, which promises “Intelligent Solutions in Policing, Justice &
National Security”. Sitting with Lord Blair around the Bluelight boardroom table are Bob Quick, ex-assistant commissioner for the Metropolitan Police, Paul Hancock, a former chief constable of Bedfordshire, Bill Hughes, ex-director general of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, and Harry Hickinson, former Chief Superintendent, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary. Lord Stevens, formerly John Stevens and Metropolitan Police Commissioner from 2000 to 2005, is chairman of Axiom International, (“Integrated forensic and police services
from world class experts”) and chairman of corporate investigators Monitor Quest. And there’s Lord Condon, formerly Sir Paul Condon, who retired as Metropolitan Police Commissioner in 2000. His public sector pension is fattened by various jobs including one part-time post that alone gives him £124,600-a-year: he’s an “independent director” at the world’s largest security company, G4S. Oh, and supping at the same G4S directors’ trough . . . Lord Reid, formerly John Reid, the Labour Home Secretary credited with bringing the security industry in from the cold.