Operation Countryman: The Flawed Enquiry into London Police Corruption
£12.99, Pen & Sword True Crime
Operation Countryman was the investigation by Dorset Police of corruption in the City of London and Metropolitan Police in the late 1970s and 1980s. Generally agreed to have been a disaster, having cost millions and resulted in a very small number of convictions, debate still rages about whether this was a result of incompetence by the investigating force (nicknamed ‘The Swedey’ because of their rural roots), or interference from London-based senior police and politicians.
Definitive answers, should they exist, will not be available for some time as the Home Office is not due to release its papers on the matter until 2067.
Into that vacuum steps Dick Kirby, a former Metropolitan Police officer, who (as the blurb puts it) ‘use[s] his knowledge and contacts to lift the lid on the shambolic… enquiry’. In the course of just under 200 pages, Kirby charts the investigation through various testimonials and (as the use of ‘shambolic’ foreshadows) finds it wanting.
As a piece of investigative research it is formidable, but it does not make for an easy read. As the outcomes of the operation remain largely under wraps and as the resulting prosecutions were so few, there is little dramatic resolution in what is reported. A perennial – though understandable – problem with works such as this is the large number of people referenced. Combined with the absence of chapter titles and breaks in the text, this means it can be difficult to follow the train of thought, obscuring the central thesis.
Other books which cover similar ground (see particularly Michael Gillard and Laurie Flynn’s 2012 Untouchables: Dirty cops, bent justice and racism in Scotland Yard) perhaps dedicated more time to sculpting the narrative, to balance pace against conveying the intricacies of complex matters. A partisan writing style also puts the reader on edge – is this fact or op-ed?
Extensive comment is devoted to the role freemasonry played in police corruption, and there is much of interest in the on-the-record reports of how those ‘on the square’ may have influenced matters. This is a diligent review of a dark period in policing, making the point that both the investigated and investigators faced the end of their careers. In 50 years, when the government’s papers are released, we may know the rights and wrongs of the operation; unless and until then, this is a valuable report on the murky world of policing the police.
Tom Garbett is a solicitor