In the Name of the Law by David Rose

reviewed by Andrew Green

A British police officer on duty is hacked to death with 54 stab wounds in the midst of a crowd.  A well-resourced, meticulous police inquiry, is led by a Metropolitan Police Commander who decides to charge only those seen to be involved by at least two eyewitnesses who are prepared to give evidence. The police find such evidence against nine suspects, but the Crown Prosecution Service decides that a trial would not be in the public interest, and the charges are dropped. The decision was made in 1994. The officer's killing took place in 1985, on the Broadwater Farm Estate in north London, and his name was PC Blakelock. 

Yes, this is the same case in which three men from Tottenham were fitted up for murder. One of the three was Winston Silcott, convicted on admissions he was supposed to have made to Detective Chief Inspector Maxwell Dingle and Detective Chief Superintendent Graham Melvin. Scientific (ESDA) tests showed they had destroyed the original interview notes and substituted their own version. Winston's conviction and those of his co-accused were overturned by the appeal court.  Blakelock's family and his fellow officers were furious that no one stood convicted of the murder.

A fresh inquiry was set up. Melvin had always made out that his original inquiry was frustrated by the non-co-operation of the inhabitants of Broadwater Farm, a version of events until now universally accepted, if only because no one could really expect Broadwater Farm residents to co-operate with aggressive, racist local police.  But by using less confrontational methods, Commander Nove achieved the impressive results mentioned above.  But before he could bring his nine suspects to trial, Melvin and Dingle were themselves put on trial for perjury and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by forging the notes of Winston's interview.  Their leading counsel, Richard Ferguson QC, in a preamble which introduced the defence case, gave excerpts from 14 witness statements, which he said indicated that Winston had been guilty all along.  But, he said, the witnesses dared not give oral evidence ‘through fear’. 

David Rose, in the course of his account of his thorough, careful and determined research into the investigation and reinvestigation of the death of Blakelock, tells us this ‘preamble’ was misleading and that ‘parts of it were wholly untrue.’  The 14 statements came either from Nove's investigation and did not prove that Winston was guilty of anything, or from the original trial, where they had been completely discredited. It was never established that any witnesses were afraid to give evidence.  But Ferguson's claims had two predictable effects: one, the acquittal of his clients, and the other the re-conviction of Winston, in effect. Not that he could be retried: but since he is serving a life sentence for another crime - a self-defence killing that the police reinterpreted as murder - the home secretary will no doubt keep him in prison for a very long time because it’s now widely accepted that his conviction was quashed on a mere technicality, and 14 witnesses have, as the Daily Express chose to put it, ‘described how [Silcott] repeatedly stabbed, hacked and slashed the unfortunate officer on that terrible night’.

If the nine new suspects discovered by the Nove investigation were to go on trial, it would become blatantly obvious that Winston Silcott had nothing to do with the death of PC Blakelock, and so Melvin and Dingle really had made up the note of Winston’s ‘admissions’.  And so, rather than admit that some of the most senior officers of Scotland Yard concocted evidence, the CPS is willing to let nine people it could convict of hacking a police officer to death, go free.   This is what the CPS calls acting in the public interest.David Rose’s revelation of what happened to the Blakelock reinvestigation is one of several examples in this book of investigative journalism at its best - going beyond shock-horror exposés of scandals to ferret out precisely what happened in cases and to build a complex picture of policing and criminal justice in the mid 90s.  Conflicts between police, lawyers and politicians give rise to numerous contradictions, and Rose does not try to hide or resolve them. 

Rough justice

The book is about ‘the collapse of criminal justice’, as its subtitle puts it.  It is not the institution of criminal investigation and legal process that is collapsing - that remains all too solid and threatening - but the ‘justice’ part. Rose’s thesis appears to be that until the exposure of major miscarriages of justice started in 1989 (with the quashing of the Guildford Four’s convictions), an ‘old regime’ held sway, in which police malpractice was supported and reinforced by lawyers and courts. 

This was a kind of rough justice, nauseatingly termed 'noble cause corruption' by smoothie Paul Condon, Commissioner of the Met.  Supposedly, police officers frustrated by legal restrictions derived from suspects' rights imposed by soft politicians influenced by leftie civil liberties campaigners, could only secure convictions against suspects they believed to be guilty by fitting them up.  Major miscarriages of justice resulted.

Rose argues fitting up was (and is still) a response to serious (and worsening) problems faced by the police: that crime is increasing, and that its causes, such as racism and social deprivation, are beyond the control of the police. At the same time, the number of convictions is falling, partly because of restrictions on the police imposed by legal regulations, but also because the CPS is failing to prosecute in many cases in which the police think they would obtain convictions. 

The police are pushed instead to deal with 'organised crime' through 'pro- active' methods. This consists largely of using paid informers. (Chapter 5 contains very interesting accounts of police allowing criminals to get away with major crimes as long as they give evidence against someone else - no doubt all too familiar to many of our readers; it includes the story of how police conned American Express into paying for a printing press to forge American Express cheques in order to trap a couple of otherwise innocent people.)

Police attempts to reduce racism, extend community policing and crime prevention and prevent malpractice are frustrated by central government controls and directives which force police to be more confrontational and emasculate disciplinary controls (such as the Police Complaints Authority).  Recent legislation reduces protections for suspects so that the police can be used as a means of managing the consequences (crime) of policies which produce social problems, ie. by fitting suspects up without any fear of disciplinary action beyond a slap with a lettuce leaf.
I hope my summary does not misinterpret the argument contained in the book’s 340 pages.  There is a curious anomaly in this right-wing politically inspired and centrally controlled drive towards the transformation of the criminal justice system into a machine for repressing the inevitable consequences of the policies of Thatcher and Major and their chancellors from Fatty Lawson to Fatty Clarke, is the CPS. Under Director of Public Prosecutions Barbara Mills, the CPS has become highly centralised, bureaucratic, out-of-touch, understaffed at the service level, and pushed into making economies by reducing charges so defendants plead guilty or cases don't go to crown court, or by simply not prosecuting. In other words, in a system which convicts by using legislation which is becoming steadily more favourable to the prosecution, and punishes with ever-harsher sentences, the CPS obstructs police with its bureaucratic demands for form filling, drops cases which have good chances of securing convictions, and lets serious offenders off with charge reductions.
Readers may feel that here Rose's account no longer tallies with their personal experience. They - and we at INNOCENT - have seen too many cases that, on the evidence submitted to the CPS and applying their own criteria, should never have been prosecuted, but which have gone to full trial and ended in the conviction of innocent people on the most serious of charges.  We know only too well how a case which appears poor on paper can be made to appear solid and damning to a jury.  Yet there is no doubt Rose's account is accurate.


Rose also cites cases in which judges give in to apparently outrageous defence demands so that prosecutions are stalled, and police fail to pursue obvious lines of inquiry and appear to ignore obvious suspects against whom they could build convincing cases. Such instances will appear strange to readers who have heard judges refuse very reasonable requests made in the course of their own defences, and who were very unlikely suspects for the offences of which they stand convicted.  And yet this favouritism towards likely suspects is also only too familiar: it is the same treatment given to the grasses who are the shadowy figures lurking behind many cases of wrongful conviction, criminals guilty of the most serious crimes who are protected by police, permitted (if not required) to continue their criminal activities, and given large cash rewards - in return for what?  Just for passing on information?  Or for helping to fit up others?  Or are we looking at something more sinister? Freemasonry? Pay-offs?  And if so, who are the beneficiaries of crime?  Police officers?  Lawyers? Judges? We are ready to accept such corruption when we read about it in third world countries, or Italy, or the United States, or Belgium. Is Britain really so superior?


No doubt Barbara Mills's CPS is as badly run as Rose says it is.  But every time we see it wasting money on the prosecution of a poor case, or saving money by letting villains walk, we have to ask who benefits.  Villains, of course; police who simultaneously clear up crime and protect grasses who are (necessarily) active criminals; and the state, which condones and enables all this activity, and reaps its rewards by displaying its ability to clear up serious crime even as it preserves the crime that makes its existence necessary. If the criminal justice system protects criminals and preserves crime, then Rose's thesis no longer stands up.  The brutal and prolonged racist attacks he describes happen not because police lack resources to prevent them, but because racist thugs know that if police intervene, it will be to further punish the victims.  People are fitted up not because police have acted on mistaken hunches and cut corners or gilded lilies, but in order to protect grasses and clear up serious crime that would not have happened if their own grasses had not been involved.

And all this happens in the solid traditions of British justice which, far from being in a state of collapse, pursues tendencies which have long been integral to it. There was, of course, never a golden age in which none of this happened.

David Rose, In the Name of the Law, Vintage, £7.99. 
Also recommended: David Rose, A Climate of Fear: the murder of PC Blakelock and the Case of the Tottenham Three, Bloomsbury.
home page
top of this page