Odd Man Out

The Stalker Affair

by John Stalker
Viking, 288 pp., $19.95

John Stalker
John Stalker; drawing by David Levine

Two stories unwind together: police murders in Northern Ireland; the ruin of a distinguished policeman’s career. A question posed by John Stalker’s fascinating but, in the end, baffling book is whether the two stories are connected by an official conspiracy.

In March 1984 John Stalker took up his duties as deputy chief constable of Greater Manchester, which is the largest English police force outside London. He was forty-four, a success in his work since the day he joined the police as a teen-ager in 1958, having at first hoped to be a journalist. The most important fact about Stalker is that throughout his career he had been a detective, a plainclothes man of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). The CID has its own ethos and camaraderie, less formal and hierarchical than the uniformed branch. Stalker was a “street cop” and avoided being behind a desk until he was forty, when he was promoted to assistant chief constable in Manchester.

The chief constable, James Anderton, was a very different kind of policeman, the converse of Stalker. Brought up the son of a miner, Anderton had yearned for a uniform in the way poor working-class boys used to do. He had a neat administrator’s mind and a fundamentalist Christian’s view of good and evil. He was a disciplinarian. He disliked the way the CID men went around in jeans and T-shirts, not shaving properly in the mornings.

Anderton and Stalker had come up together in the Manchester force. Stalker was the younger man by a few years. When he first met him Anderton was a twenty-four-year-old constable. By the age of forty-four he was chief constable, an astonishing achievement. The British police force has no officer class; all “coppers” start on the beat. Stalker watched how the ambitious miner’s son, on becoming inspector, “lost his homely Lancashire accent and dropped the name ‘Cyril’ from his signature.” But on becoming chief constable the young Jim Anderton reappeared. “The accent returned as quickly as it had left, and Wigan’s Rugby League results became important once again.” Stalker, the journalist manqué, gives exactly the flavor of the social world of the policemen, a world of class ambivalence but rigid hierarchy.

Stalker too had flown high. At thirty-eight he had reached the top of the detective’s profession. He took courses, six months at the Police Staff College and, later, a year at the Royal College of Defence Studies, which took him to Latin America and introduced him to the political and military aspects of policing. He was becoming an intellectual policeman. A detective with his background seemed ideally qualified for the task he was given in May 1984, only weeks after he had sat down behind his desk to be Anderton’s deputy. The task was to go to Belfast to inquire into the activities of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) with respect to the shooting of suspects in…

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