I wrote a TV show about police corruption and was nearly prosecuted for sedition
My series Law & Order is now 40 years old, but problems in our criminal justice system remain – and the Establishment still won’t confront them.
To be a police officer in the Met in 1978, when my original TV drama Law & Order was broadcast on BBC Two, was to be corrupt. If you weren’t, you were likely to end up on the door of the Lord Chancellor’s office at the High Courts in the Strand. One policeman who refused either to play or become a whistleblower (“grass” in the parlance of the day) was cast out and made former Attorney General Michael Havers’ doorman.
Policemen in the 1970s were almost indistinguishable from villains in their accents, body language and fashion – and they were supposed to think in the same way, too. It was believed detectives needed to think like criminals to nick them. They were only smarter in that they got themselves a warrant card, giving them carte blanche to what was on offer.
Portraying such policemen on television then was shocking, especially to politicians who cried “foul!” Questions were asked in parliament about the parlous state of criminal justice. Led by Eldon Griffiths (representing the Police Federation), some called for me to be prosecuted for sedition.
Jim Callaghan’s government was incensed by these dramas, which didn’t stop at portraying endemic police wrongdoing, but also a corrupt legal profession, an extremely prejudiced judiciary, and sadists running our prisons.
Ian Trethowan, the BBC director general was summoned to the Home Office by the minister John Harris who was spitting mad, demanding to know why the broadcaster was making drama masquerading as documentary.
Trethowan argued they employed independently-minded producers who made well-researched drama. Harris warned that if the BBC wasn’t more responsible the Home Office would restrict its freedom.
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Source:: New Statesman