It begins as a fight for justice. It will end as a battle for survival.
When Detective Inspector Robert Finlay is sent to a military barracks to investigate a connection to weapons discovered in the possession of London gangsters, he is given strict instructions not to get involved in a suicide enquiry into the recent death of a young, recruit soldier.
The army partners Finlay with Floria McLaren, an ambitious military policewoman who doesn’t believe the death was a suicide. Ellie Rodgers is a traumatised army officer who discovers the existence of a cabal of soldiers who exploit young recruits for sexual and criminal purposes. Jodie Baker is the plaything of a devious and narcissistic training sergeant. Wendy Russell is a senior police officer with an undercover agent gone missing.
What appears to be a routine investigation soon takes on a life of its own as Finlay finds himself in a struggle with powerful forces – both criminal and from the military establishment – who know that, inside the wire, they make the rules.
Quotes for CROW 27
“I thoroughly enjoyed Crow 27. Matt Johnson’s detailed research, in-depth knowledge and ability to tell a brilliant story combine to create an important work of fiction. A must read.” – Johnny Mercer.
“Emergency or armed services, no matter the uniform, if you served or know someone who served, you should read this story.” – Chris Ryan MM.
“A gripping read I can thoroughly recommend. I read this book with great interest; it has a real aura of reality and illustrates the difficulties faced by an investigating officer in such circumstances.” – Lord Stevens, former Commissioner, Metropolitan Police.
The picture displays the front cover of my new book and some of the quotes from people who have read it. Lord Stevens is John Stevens, the former Met Commissioner. The names Chris Ryan, Peter James and Matthew Hall should be well known to you. The jacket quotes from Johnny Mercer and Damien Lewis were unexpected and generous, decisions by them I am very grateful for.
It’s been some considerable time since I wrote a post for this blog and, during that period, we’ve seen events unfolding around the world that none of us would have predicted. As many writers before me have said, you couldn’t have made it up, and if you had, no publisher would have printed it.
Publish and be damned I’ve come to realise is an outdated expression from a time when editors were braver and publishers less cost conscious. Stories of incredible, unbelievable world events aren’t the only stories that struggle to get published. Stories that can’t easily be boxed into a particular genre, stories that don’t easily align with a publisher’s reader demographic. Stories that push boundaries. Publishing such novels involves risk, something the commercial world of publishing is increasingly constrained from embracing.
Today, I’m going to explain how Crow 27 came into existence and the challenges I experienced trying to get this particular story out there. This isn’t a short blog and for that, I apologise. But I hope you’ll bear with me and read on.
Some years ago, during a crime fiction literary event at Deal in Kent, I was one of a panel of authors answering questions from an audience of around two hundred people. We were asked by one audience member to identify a subject not covered in crime fiction that we thought crime writers should be tackling. I spoke about criminality in the armed services and the impunity with which some criminals operate behind the wire of some military camps. I briefly described what I knew of the abuse, bullying and sexual exploitation, mostly – but not exclusively – of young women soldiers and the failure of the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the Army to effectively address the problem. I spoke of the levels of unreported crime, of the lack of victim confidence in a system that has been demonstrated time and again to be loaded against them. When I finished speaking, there was a surprisingly long and enthusiastic period of applause. Deal, of course, remains a town with a significant military interest but I knew then, this was a subject I needed to write about one day.
Not long after beginning to research the topic, I was invited to an event for military veterans when I met Tina, a former army Captain who had served at Deepcut training barracks in Surrey at a time when several young recruits died, supposedly as a result of suicides. You may recall the BBC Panorama documentary ‘Bullied to Death‘ that first exposed the number of questionable suicides of young soldiers that had occurred at Deepcut in the late 90s and early 2000s.
Tina told me her story, something she had kept to herself for many years, partly due to the severe mental illness she experienced as a result and partly due to a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) the MOD insisted she sign before she was medically discharged from the army.
One night, after leaving an officer’s mess at a barracks in Germany, Tina walked to her accommodation. She was drunk, the evening having been spent with her fellow junior officers in the bar at the mess. Arriving at her room, she threw her clothes onto the floor, lay down on the bed and fell asleep. A short while later, she was disturbed by a noise in her room. She woke to find a man on top of her. He was wearing a balaclava mask and he ordered Tina to keep quiet or he would use the bayonet he was carrying to kill her.
Tina was raped and subject to a series of degrading sexual assaults. Her attacker was an NCO, a sergeant from the same camp she was posted to. He was caught soon afterwards. At his trial, he maintained his innocence, claiming what had happened had been consensual. The military trial was presided over by a male judge and the entire jury was made up of male army officers. The sergeant was acquitted.
Tina sued the MOD. She was offered an out of court settlement provided she signed an NDA. By this time, she had been posted to Deepcut barracks. One day, she was in her office when the sergeant who had attacked her appeared in the same building. Despite promises to the contrary from the army, he had been posted to the same camp as her. Tina had a breakdown and was admitted to hospital. She suffered psychosis, PTSD and chronic depression. She never recovered. In 2019, while helping me write a novel inspired by her experience, she died of a heart attack brought on by the medication she had been taking for her psychosis. She was just forty-two years old. She left a young son. After her death, her family asked me to write a eulogy to be read at her funeral. It was an honour to do so. The funeral was attended by several hundred people, many of whom were friends of Tina’s and members of ‘The Sisterhood’, a secretive – although not secret – support group of women soldiers I learned now numbers several thousand serving and retired servicewomen.
Later, I met Anna. Anna is now in her forties and spent many months at Deepcut barracks as a recruit soldier in the late 1990s. During this time, Anna was the subject of a great deal of attention from non-commissioned officers who were supposed to be supervising her and her fellow recruits but seemed more interested in bedding them. Anna came in for a lot of attention because she was particularly attractive and because she resisted the overtures of the NCOs. One week, Anna’s closest recruit friend unexpectedly failed a physical fitness test that would see her discharged from the army. Anna’s friend was devastated. Anna was then approached by the NCO responsible for her friend’s failure. It was made clear to Anna that the failure was a set up. The deal on offer was the result for her friend would be changed to a pass provided Anna would agree to sleep with the NCO. Anna reluctantly agreed. She was raped and sexually humiliated. The rape was filmed and then used to blackmail her into doing the same for other NCOs. Only when they became bored with her did they allow her a posting away to a new Regiment abroad.
Anna had never revealed her story to anyone before me. Her friend does not know what was done for her. She is aware the friend is likely to read Crow 27, will recognise the scenario and will know. Anna understands that and told me it will be worth it in order that people know the truth.
And then, at a conference I’d been invited to speak at on the subject of slave trafficking, I found myself sitting with a man called Paul Kenyon. Paul asked me about future writing projects and I told him what I was working on. It was then he revealed he was a BBC Producer and had been part of the team that produced ‘Bullied to Death’. He offered to introduce me to Jane MacSorley, the Director of that Panorama programme. It was as if fate had leant a hand.
Background – is this a contemporary issue or old news?
Although Crow 27 is set in 2005, the issue of abuse, bullying and sexual exploitation of recruit soldiers remains a problem for the British Army of 2022. Sadly, little has changed and, until sufficient pressure is placed on those with the power to introduce real change, until the public are fully aware of what goes on behind the wire, it’s certain nothing will. In 2016, the UK Government introduced the Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces to replace the office of the Service Complaints Commissioner who produced annual reports but had far fewer powers. In each annual report since then, the Ombudsman has expressed concern at the over-representation of BAME people and women in the Armed Forces in the complaints system and the possible causes. In her first annual report of 2016, the Ombudsman said this –
The Ombudsman is concerned about the continued overrepresentation of both female and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Service personnel in the Service complaints system Tri-Service. The disproportionate representation of female and BAME personnel as complainants (21% and 10%) compared to representation in the Armed Forces (11% and 7%) not only continued for the third consecutive year, but actually increased for female personnel. Bullying, discrimination and harassment were more commonly the cause of complaints for these groups.
The Ombudsman also recommended the Ministry of Defence (MoD) commission a study by the end of April 2018 to determine the root causes of the overrepresentation of female and BAME personnel in the Service complaints system and that appropriate action was taken to try and redress the situation by the end of December 2018, including putting the appropriate support mechanisms in place. The MoD failed to act on that recommendation. In her 2020 report the Ombudsman wrote this in her report:
‘’Female personnel had nearly twice the rate of Service Complaints than males. Although this over-representation was found in all complaint categories, it was primarily driven by bullying, harassment or discrimination. The rate at which female Service personnel raised bullying, harassment or discrimination Service Complaints was four times larger than the equivalent figure for male Service personnel. The rate of reported bullying, harassment or discrimination Service Complaints by female personnel has not changed by a significant amount in the last three years.
In 2022, the Army conducted a survey of soldiers that revealed there had been an observable increase in the reporting of targeted sexualised behaviours, behaviours that include coercive sexual favours and assault. Especially shocking was the proportion of service personnel saying they had suffered a ‘particularly upsetting experience’, which has significantly increased since previous surveys in 2015 and 2018. In 2018, 15% of servicewomen reported a particularly upsetting experience (already an increase from the previous survey in 2015). In 2022, 35% of servicewomen reported a particularly upsetting experience in the previous 12 months. The figure for men is 13% (up from 2% from the previous survey), also a huge increase.
The reason for this is unlikely to be increased confidence in reporting because, as the survey shows, those people are not in fact reporting these experiences, they are disclosing them to an anonymous survey. The explanation, of course, is that things are getting worse, not better. Lots of the behaviours categorised as a ‘particularly upsetting experience’ are criminal offences. They include sending unwanted sexually explicit material, revenge porn and sexual assaults. They range from unwanted sexual touching to rape. The proportion disclosing rape doubled from 2% in 2018, to 4% in the 2022 survey. The vast majority (65%) reported not having told anyone of their experience. The survey noted, ‘there still seem to be significant barriers to reporting sexual harassment, including ‘the perceived negative repercussions of making a complaint’. In 77% of reported examples, the perpetrator was male. Sexualised misbehaviour remains a common experience in the Army with women far more likely to experience it than men.
So, there we have it. It’s the reality behind the formation of the Centre for Military Justice, behind the Liberty campaign, behind the Government Select Committee inquiry and behind the bravery of those who were prepared to tell me what had happened to them while serving.
Crow 27 was inspired the experiences of Tina, Anna and others with similar tales, and by their bravery in being prepared to tell me their stories. While researching and writing, I met and spoke to many young men and women who described shocking, life-changing experiences that occurred during their formative months as soldiers. On several occasions, I nearly stopped, so ugly and upsetting were the stories of bullying, sexual abuse and similar behaviours. The responsibility to represent their accounts, authentically and with honesty, weighed heavily on my shoulders.
During the research phase of the book, I was advised by several contributors that I would struggle to persuade a publisher to invest in this story. The explanations for that view were varied. Some considered that fear of the MOD would inhibit, others thought it unlikely to be thought of as a contemporary issue – this type of thing doesn’t still go on, does it? One or two thought the simple reality of commercial viability would see publishers concluding that a story about the abuse of young, female soldiers wasn’t likely to sell.
They were right. Although feedback and comment on the quality of the story was excellent with one editor describing the book as the best exposé he’d read since Heart of Darkness, commercial opinion on the subject matter was exactly as predicted – the story wouldn’t sell books.
Faced with this level of rejection, I went through a period of reflection. I didn’t write this story to sell large numbers of books. I wrote it for the victims, so their stories would be known. I wrote it to expose the reality of what happens behind the wire. I wrote it so that people who read the content would learn about it and understand. For this reason, I’ve decided to follow a path many writers have been advocating on social media for some considerable time, to become an indie publisher, a hybrid author.
During the last few weeks, I’ve negotiated a steep learning curve in the use of MS Word, typesetting, jacket design and the use of picture editing software. It’s been fun, and seeing the result of your work appear in digitalised proof formats has proved to be an exciting experience. Will it work? Who knows. What I can say is Crow 27 will be published later this month through Amazon. As soon as it’s live, I will share the link with you.
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance it’s as a result of seeing the post on the Facebook ‘Campaign for justice for WPC Yvonne Fletcher’ page and you’ve followed the link. If not, no matter. The fact you’ve landed here is enough for us to say thank-you.
On 17th April, 1984, Yvonne was helping to police a demonstration outside the Libyan People’s Bureau in central London. She was shot in the back by someone who opened a window in that building and then fired a machine gun at the crowd. The photograph above was taken very soon afterwards. Cradling Yvonne is PC John Murray.
John accompanied Yvonne to hospital in the ambulance. She was still conscious at this time and, rather than complain and focus on her own extraordinarily painful wounds, she did her best to give reassurance to those other casualties who were also being transported – many of whom had life-changing injuries.
In the ambulance, while talking to Yvonne, John made a promise to her; that he would not rest until whoever had shot her had been brought to justice.
At the hospital, John waited patiently while Yvonne was in surgery. He was the first to receive the news of her death.
Thirty-seven years on, with all criminal avenues of prosecution seemingly now exhausted, John is close to fulfilling his promise.
John needs your help.
Late in 2021, John will be pursuing a private civil action against a man alleged to have been part of the conspiracy to murder Yvonne Fletcher.
This is John’s final chance, the last throw of the dice in what has been a long and arduous campaign. John has taken immense personal risk, both physically and financially, to reach this point. He’s not suing the perpetrator for money, he’s suing for £1. It’s a symbolic amount but it means, if he wins, there is a finding against someone responsible for Yvonne’s death.
The news this week that the Police Federation (PFEW) will be supporting John’s action came as a tremendous lift. But, John’s need for help doesn’t end there. He could lose. If he does, the PFEW can’t cover any claim for costs made by his opponents. John’s lawyers set up a Crowd Justice campaign which, to date, has raised £36K. But, this amount (and any more added to it) will be deducted from any contribution the PFEW make to John’s legal costs.
John is not wealthy. He has a £60K costs protection limit order in place, but that’s still a huge risk for him to be taking.
You can help. We’re asking for something unusual. We’re asking you to contribute to the costs John has personally incurred travelling to Libya, interviewing witnesses and all the associated costs this has involved reaching this point. We don’t want you to contribute to the cost of the court case – that is being covered by the PFEW and CrowdJustice fund.
On the day Yvonne was killed, she was just 25-years old. So, we’re asking that on 17th April, 2021, you donate £25 to John. The Facebook Campaign page has nearly six-thousand followers. If everyone pitches in …
The details of the account are as follows
Account name; Justice 4 Yvonne
Sort code; 40-24-13
A/c number; 51720422
On 17th April for payment, don’t forget. Make sure to tick the ‘business’ box when setting up the payment. This account is administered by the Campaign support team.
It’s also important to note, John didn’t ask for this request. He doesn’t know it’s going out. It will be a surprise, we hope a good one. And we hope, like us, you will use this opportunity to say thanks to him for the efforts he has put in to ensure justice for a fallen colleague. A promise never forgotten.
Let’s give John a surprise. Let’s show him we care too.
In the last twenty-four hours, over a quarter of a million people have read the ‘I’m done‘ post. One cop wrote to me anonymously. These are their words.
I’m done too.
I’m done with the self-appointed monitors of policing who feel it’s their place to photograph, video and (sometimes) selectively edit recordings of police doing their jobs. I’m done with people who misrepresent the truth for publicity, to self-promote and, sometimes, for mischief. I’m tired of people who value ‘likes’ on their chosen social media platform above helping a lone officer struggling to detain a violent person. I’m done with the cowards in society who would rather film a cop being beaten up than pitch in to help him or her. I’m done with people who ‘know their rights’ and who consider that (often mistaken) knowledge is sufficient justification to kick, punch and spit at police officers.
I’m done with people who tell us to do more stop-and-search in response to escalating knife crime but who then criticise us when the criminals who get caught as a result bleat about having their civil rights breached.
I’m done with criminals using the complaints system and legal process to intimidate hard working cops. Yes, that is what happens. Criminals use both to try and make it easier to continue with their activities, uninterrupted. And I’m done with the payouts made to criminals because our legal system has created a situation where firms of lawyers can tout for business, encourage civil actions and know their clients will get paid out because it’s actually cheaper for the police to do that than fight the case – regardless of the result.
I’m done with an organisation where the policy is to punish rather than forgive, to discipline rather than teach. I’m done with fearing if I make a mistake that I will be punished rather than have my employers accept I hadn’t been taught or trained as well as I should have been. And, while I’m on that subject, I’m angry too. I’m angry that Hendon, the flagship of police training, has been demolished and sold off to developers. That the swimming pool where officers were taught life-saving techniques is now gone. That the sports facilities, the gymnasiums, the canteens, even the police stations themselves are all gone. The police section houses are gone. Even New Scotland Yard was demolished and the site sold.
I’m done with being photographed and criticised – sometimes, even fined – for using a public cafe to eat when all the police canteens have gone. I’m done with having to travel across London to one of the few remaining custody suites where prisoners can be processed and where we have to wait in a huge queue to have a detained person booked in. I’m done with being asked by my supervisors not to arrest people because that means I will be off the ground, unavailable and the calls will soon build up.
I’m tired of trying to do the job to a standard the public has a right to expect but that forty-thousand more us used to be available to do. Think about that for a minute. Forty-thousand less police officers in the UK than there were ten years ago. And all because one Home Secretary considered the ‘role of the police is to fight crime, nothing more, nothing less.’ So, when I’m directing traffic, helping someone find their lost child, trying to find a missing person, supervising a demonstration or football crowd, or many of the other non-crime related roles that fall to the police, I’m reminded that one politician decided society needed less cops.
But, you know what? I’m not so tired I’m about to give up. Because I still believe in working for a better society. The reasons I became a police officer are still valid. I still want to help people. I still want to put bad people behind bars. Policing has to be accountable, I don’t know of a single colleague who doesn’t agree with that. But what I do ask is to be given the tools, the facilities, the support and the means to be able to do my job. Is that too much to ask?
Because being a cop is far more than simply fighting crime.
Thank you for taking the time to read these posts. Whether they will do any good remains to be seen. But, as we read above, police morale is dented but not beaten.
I was taught, way back in 1978, about the meaning of the word ‘police. It means, ‘generally, the arrangements made in all civilised countries to ensure the inhabitants keep the peace and obey the law. It also denotes for force of peace officers, or police, employed for this purpose.’ If I recall correctly, those were the opening words from the police instruction manual of the time.Members of our police services are members of the public one day, a cop the next. Our police services police with our consent, not by coercion, as we see too often around the world. That places us in a very fortunate situation but it is one that comes with responsibilities. If we want our police to function, their role must be supported, not weakened. Because if we weaken it by too much, we are on the road to anarchy. And then we may see a style of policing result that has happened abroad and which we must not countenance here.
And, while you’re here. Can I make a special request. I’m helping an old colleague pursue a murder case. It happened in 1984 and involved the shooting of a serving WPC. You may remember it. Her name was Yvonne Fletcher. This is a link to a crowdfunding page. If you’d like to help a veteran cop secure justice for a fallen friend, please consider donating a few quid. If he reaches his target, it’ll certainly go a long way toward reminding those on the thin blue line that they are supported. We do have their backs.
A police officer wrote this on March 15, 2021 at 5:27 pm. I’ve reproduced it here because I found it humbling, worrying and really quite frightening.
‘I’m a cop of 20 years. I’m leaving. I’m done.
I’m done with the duplicitous liars and twisters of truth in Parliament, who have destroyed policing in order to further their own careers. I’m done with those charlatans and snake oil salesmen and women who spread their bile, whose acid eats away at society and it’s values and future. I’m done with the utter lack of consequences for their corruption.
I’m done with duplicitous liars and twisters of truth in the media and “journalism” with their spin, lies, misrepresentation and half truths. I’m done with their 24 hours news, their twitter echo chambers, their pile on tactics and agendas, in order to invent the next “big” story or extend the life of the old one. I’m done with their sickening pretence that they are on some crusade to make the world a better place.
I’m done …
I’m done with the socially corrosive special interest groups who want to be top of the victimhood ladder and are prepared to burn the world and anyone different to them, to ensure they are heard above anyone else. Their constant screaming for attention and ever more fantastical claims, that bear no scrutiny, but which they know they will never be challenged on, because, you know “cancel culture”.
I’m done with the public, their violence, their lying, their abuse, their spitting, their constant screaming for instant gratification and destruction of anything and everyone around them if they don’t get their own way, like a bunch of petulant adolescents. I’m done with their demand for every right real or imagined and their utter lack of personal or social responsibility to each other.
I’m done with the senior officers who will jump on any bandwagon, throw any officer under a bus for doing their job, do anything at all to get that next rank and more power. I’m done with them pretending to be cops, when they are just politicians in uniform. At least real politicians don’t seek to hide their stench and are there for all the world to see, in all their obnoxious, odious glory.
I’m done with the far left and far right, two sides of the same violent, socially corrosive and destructive coin, trampling over anyone and everyone, destroying anything in their paths, if it doesn’t conform to the “right” narrative or world view. I’m done with their red and black flags, their balaclavas, their violence, bullying and intimidation. I’m done with them calling themselves Nazis or Antifa and pretending they are any different to the opposition. I’m done with their anti locution and persecution of anyone that isn’t on their side. I’m done with their cheerleaders in the media, who adopt their cause but absolve themselves of any responsibility for the harm they cause.
I’m done with the Soviet era scale bureaucracy that stops me doing my job, the projects that strangely never fail, the nepotism in the promotion boards and the boys and girls clubs in policing that look after each other, no matter how incompetent and screw everyone else who isn’t in their gang. I’m done with their self promoting cliques and associations, they hide behind when they are professionally incompetent, but always useful for a photo opportunity to make the force look good with whatever group is having their week or is fashionable that day.
I’m done with the (few) corrupt cops who drag all our names through the mud and the false narrative that the vast majority of front line cops are tainted.
I’m done seeing my brothers and sisters on the front line battered, criticised, unsupported and demoralised. I’m done with their fortitude, inherent goodness and sense of service, that makes them run forward, knowing the armchair critics will crucify them after. I’m done with their false hope that things will improve, that society will value them. I’m done with them being lied to by our leaders and then lying to themselves, that, maybe, just maybe, this time those leaders can be trusted, I’m done with seeing those youngster suffer and age far too fast as a decent life passes them by as they waste their lives on this.
I’m done with grandstanding cops, dancing for YouTube, wearing rainbows as self promotion, kneeling for a twitter photo, lecturing the public about things that shouldn’t concern us, forgetting we are the law police, not the public morals police, Im done with them doing anything other rather than actual policing. I’m done with the false narrative that suggests this is the norm and that all cops are more interested in being woke social workers than doing their job. A false narrative we have facilitated by allowing this self indulgent, shameless self promotion of a few individuals, to proliferate.
I’m done with cops being told they are somehow lesser without a degree and that instincts are bias and bad. That experience and street knowledge is discriminatory. I’m done with the lies that the College of Policing is on our side. That the courts value and support us. That the IOPC isn’t an insidiously untrustworthy organisation out to get us. That the HMIC understands policing.
I’m done with the anxiety, the anger, the constant state of heightened arousal in case of danger, even when I should be feeling safe in my own home. I’m done with the corrosive damage to my physical and mental health, sacrificed for a country and public, serving both in green and blue, for a country that couldn’t give a toss.
I’m done with the deaths, the suffering, the violence, the dishonesty, the predatory behaviour and all the other public faeces that you ask us to clean up.
I’m done with the the indescribable levels of frustration, rage, hate and despair that all the above has filled my life with, when all I wanted to do was look after the good people and lock up the bad. I’m done with the cynicism and distrust that it’s left me and the times I’ve put my family last, to ensure I was there for someone else’s. I’m done with the pain it causes them to see what this job does to us.
I’m a cop of 20 years service and I’m done with it. Sort your own mess up. Or don’t, and let it all collapse around you.
I’m done, and really don’t care anymore.’
This frightens me, and it should frighten you.
I hope it’s not to late to remind the few, when ill of them they speak,
That they are all that stands between the monsters and the weak.
And, while you’re here, let me share some news. I’m appearing at https://gwylcrimecymrufestival.co.uk/2021-guests/ in April. I’m on the bill doing a chat with Lee and Andrew Child. Yes, that Lee Child, the Reacher guy. It’s a free digital event run by Wales first crime literary festival. Why don’t you join us?
On 17th April 1984, a young police constable called Yvonne Fletcher paraded for work on a day that would normally have been her day off. She had been due to spend the day with her working partner, a fellow officer called John Murray. Yvonne and John were both working, both as part of a small contingent of officers whose role was to supervise a demonstration outside the Libyan People’s Bureau in St James’s Square.
The large number of demonstrators present that day were very vocal in expressing their objections to a regime in Libya led by Colonel Gaddafi. To keep the crowd away from the Bureau, they were held behind a series of steel barriers. Between them and the Bureau – a building occupied by pro-Gaddafi supporters – stood one PC, John Murray. The spot was noisy and uncomfortable. Although he wasn’t the object of the demonstrator’s anger, John was directly in front of it. Seeing her working partner had been in this position for some time, Yvonne approached John and offered to take his place. She would stand in front of the demonstrators for a while. John was grateful and accepted the kind offer.
None of the police officers present were aware that pro-Gaddafi supporters had infiltrated the demonstration to try and encourage key targets toward the front of the crowd into a position where they were directly in front of the Bureau. Those pro-Gaddafi supporters, having achieved their objective, retired to a safer place. The reason – they knew what was about to happen. A first floor window in the Bureau was opened, a machine gun was pointed at the crowd and the man holding the weapon opened fire.
Yvonne Fletcher’s murder deeply affected the Met Police from the rank-and-file PCs through to the highest ranks. It was, and it remains, the only time a British police officer has been murdered live on television. It remains the most photographed and recorded death of a policewoman in the annals of British history.
The effect of Yvonne’s murder is still felt in the police today. Her death prompted the formation of the Police Memorial Trust by Sir Michael Winner after Michael wrote to the Charity Commission and received the response ‘Are you telling me you want to erect memorials to mere policemen?’ This attitude displayed in this reply amazed Michael, but he felt it was not untypical. It fuelled his determination for form a charity and the Police Memorial Trust was born.
Yvonne’s was the first memorial the trust laid. A cherry tree – still thriving today – was also planted in her memory. In February 1985, during the unveiling ceremony, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said this. “Today, the Square has resumed its peaceful way. But memories of those terrible events are still vivid in our minds. We have come here to remember Yvonne Fletcher, privately in our own thoughts, and publicly by this ceremony. Her death was a grievous loss; to her family, to the Metropolitan Police, and to all of us.
This simple memorial, erected by the Police Memorial Trust, will be a reminder to Londoners and to visitors alike of the debt that we owe to Yvonne Fletcher and all her colleagues in the Police. Without them the law could not be upheld. Without them, indeed, there would be no law, and no liberty.
We have become used to seeing our police men and women respond magnificently to any challenge. But we must never take their professionalism for granted. Too often especially recently, we hear that our police have been killed or wounded on duty. This has got to stop, and every single citizen has a duty to help make it stop. Our police uphold the law without regard to their own feelings and their own safety, never knowing what the day may bring. The greater the risk, the greater their courage. The greater their courage, the greater our loss.
Today as I unveil this memorial to Yvonne Fletcher, let us also pay tribute to the other brave men and women police officers who have been killed or injured, calling to mind as we do so the words of Abraham Lincoln: “Let us have faith that right makes might; and in that faith let us to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”
Every year, for 36 years, a memorial service has been held at the spot where Yvonne was shot. Every day sees police officers and members of the public stop to view her memorial and to stand in silence for a few moments. New police officers are taken to the scene by their supervisors, so they may understand what Yvonne’s death meant to the police service, and to remind them we may all one day be required to make the ultimate sacrifice. Young officers understand, through Yvonne’s death, what might be asked of them.
Television and radio documentaries have been made about what happened that day. Huge numbers of feature-length articles have appeared in the press. Last year, the Victoria Derbyshire programme made a short documentary about the campaign to bring the main suspect to court and only last week, a Facebook group created by John to gauge support for his campaign attracted over 5K applications in just a few days.
Yvonne’s death inspired a generation of young women to join the police service. Many of these women are now retired having completed full-length careers and some have gone on to lead our police services at the very highest levels. One of them is the highest ranking police officer in the UK.
No murder is ever routine, no murder is special. Every victim matters. This murder was different, though. It took place in the public eye and the victim was someone protecting us. To our discredit, it remains unsolved.
I’m not proposing to go into the rights and wrongs of the numerous criminal investigations that have taken place, the conspiracy theories, the alleged actions or inactions of the security services, of politicians and of ministers. I simply want to ask you, the members of the PFEW, to re-consider your decision not to fund John Murray’s civil claim against one of the alleged conspirators in the murder of Yvonne Fletcher.
John was a serving police constable. He, like all of us, paid a regular subscription to the Police Federation. He paid that subscription, as we all did, because it provided us with support in times of difficulty. It provided us with help, with expertise, and it provided us with finance should we ever need to take court action against someone as a result of our work. John’s court action is made against one of the alleged conspirators for personal injury. It is for the Post Trauma (PTSD) he suffered as a result of Yvonne’s murder. With all criminal avenues exhausted, this is perhaps the final opportunity to secure a legal finding against someone responsible for her death. It isn’t an easy option. John has to demonstrate – on the balance of possibilities – that he suffered PTSD, that the PTSD was caused by the murder of Yvonne and that the respondent is responsible for that murder. He is claiming just £1 in compensation. This isn’t a measure of how much Yvonne’s life was worth, it is a symbolic payment to John. He doesn’t want to make money from this. What he seeks is a legal finding against one of Yvonne’s killers. What he wants is justice.
I’ve seen various figures banded about with regards to how much John needs from the PFEW. I don’t know what figures the PFEW were presented with but what I do know is John has already spend a huge amount of money getting this far. He has journeyed to Libya – risking his life in the process – to interview people the official enquiries couldn’t reach. He has been dogged and determined. He has been warned off and intimidated, he has had his telephone and mail intercepted. He has seen witnesses warned off and has been the subject of smear campaigns. He has never given up.
The Police Federation (PFEW) is paid for by police officers who, on a daily basis, take the same risks as Yvonne Fletcher did. Retired and serving officers the length and breadth of the country would wish to see John supported. The PFEW can afford to do so. I beg them to. People who murder need to understand that, no matter the time and no matter the cost, we will never give up in our pursuit for justice.
On 27th April 1984, Sir Michael Winner wrote in the Daily Mail at the invitation of the editor, Sir David English. Michael’s letter ended with these poignant – and prescient – words.
“I can see a day in the future when human memory, being what it is, has discarded the events that now seem so important, and the shadows from the trees above sway slowly to and fro on the pavement of St James’s Square, the sunlight catching a small memorial. Maybe two people passing by will stop and one will say to the other – ‘Yvonne Fletcher? Who was she?’ To which there will be a simple and noble answer. She was a member of the British Police Force.”
Many who read this post will have either been members of the Police Federation or have a connection to it. Many others will share the desire to see justice, to see a legal finding against at least one of those responsible for her murder. When the going got tough, let us be able to say we met the challenge with a steely resolve. Let us be able to say we never, ever gave up.
You are hailed by frightened members of the public who tell you a man nearby has stabbed several people. You locate and confront him, you see what looks like a bomb vest on him. You have a split second to decide – shoot or don’t shoot – and if you get it wrong you possibly won’t know, because it will be too late.
Imagine the bravery to face that dilemma, and to make that decision.
I’ve read a lot of support in the press and on social media for the actions of the officers who shot the London Bridge suspect and, of course, for the incredible bravery of the unarmed civilians who tackled the terrorist – because that’s what he was.
I’ve also seen a lot of emotive comments like ‘police murder’ and ‘state sanctioned murder’, and ‘why wasn’t he simply arrested as he was clearly unable to resist’.
In Wicked Game, I wrote about just this kind of scenario because the reality is, in real life and in real time, the cop has a fraction of a second to decide if what he or she sees in front of them is life-threatening to themselves or to anyone nearby. Certainty only comes when the bomb is triggered or the suspect opens fire and, in that moment of hesitation, you and many others could be killed.
That is the real world. This is not a playstation game. You don’t get a new life if you err. If you react too slowly, you may be dead before you’ve even had time to decide. React too quickly and make a mistake and it could be you facing a murder trial.
The kind of people who – from the comfort of their armchair and on their smart phone or computer – think they know best and could do better, might like to go back to one of their computerised simulations of reality and see how many times their character makes the right decision, and how many times they are obliterated.
On 17th April 1984, Yvonne Fletcher was shot outside the Libyan Peoples Bureau in London.
Next week, on the Victoria Derbyshire TV show (starts Monday 10am BBC2) you can see a short film about this day and see a live interview with John Murray, her fiancée at the time.
Severely injured WPC Yvonne Fletcher being helped by colleagues
That’s John in the photograph, crouched over the mortally wounded Yvonne.
The second picture is the memorial, in London. Yvonne was also a friend of mine, I did the ambulance escort taking her to hospital.
The purpose of this post is to ask for help. For reasons of national security, her killers were never prosecuted. To try and secure justice for Yvonne, John is taking one of the suspects to civil court very soon.
The police federation are not funding John. He is doing this himself. His is not an attempt to make money – he is suing for just £1 – it’s a final attempt to secure a court finding.
John has obtained a protective costs order limiting his liability (should he lose) to £60K. A crowd funding page has raised nearly £20K. That still leaves John over £40K short, should he fail.
I’m asking you, as you did for Andrew Harper, to consider making a small donation for this cause as well. Yvonne’s murder, I am told, remains the only unsolved murder of a UK police officer.
I heard the rumours, scarcely believing it could be true.
Today, thanks to an article on the BBC, I learned it is. And it’s happening now.
People are eating dog meat, here in the UK. And yes, it is legal! Sale and purchase of dog meat is banned. Consumption is not. Provided a dog is killed humanely – complying with animal cruelty laws – there is nothing to stop people eating an animal we think of as a pet.
Unbelievable, isn’t it? 2018, in the UK, you can kill your dog and eat it, and the law cannot touch you.
I’m not going to post any more pictures here. When I began looking for images to support this article I found them so horrifying, so disgusting and upsetting that I will not share them.
My views are not impartial, I’ll admit. Dogs have been my pet and working companions for most of my life. I still remember those that have passed with fondness, think about their characters, recall the goodness they brought into my life. My two present friends sit here with me now as I write this. Their walk is delayed, so pressed did I feel to complete this article.
I accept, there are countries around the world – mostly in Asia – where dog meat is a staple part of the diet. It’s also seen as cuisine, traditional and part of ritual. Organisations such as The World Dog Alliance and Humane Society International run campaigns to have it banned, but with limited success.
And, in the meantime, it has spread. Now, here in the UK, we cannot assume that dog sold as a pet, re-homed to a new family or taken in by a kind new owner is destined to be safe. Some of them are intended for consumption – not many I accept, but enough to justify a ban.
Scottish MP, Dr Lisa Cameron, is heading a move to have the consumption of dog meat banned here in the UK. I urge you to support her. Tweet this article, copy in your own MP, point out they have the power to do this and … let’s get this awful practise banned.
It was the grandest of adventures – my life in blue.
I remember the moment I first knew that I wanted to be a Copper. The PC walking down the other side of Hammersmith Broadway won’t have seen the tentative schoolboy standing at the bus stop. But I saw him. And, from that moment on, I never seriously considered doing anything else.
I remember being driven through the gates at Hendon for the first time, all nerves and expectation. Sergeant Parkes was at the wheel of the minibus, with half a dozen of us sitting in the back, wide-eyed and wondering.
I remember the marching and polishing and running and revising.
I remember my first day on patrol and my first vehicle stop. I remember being terrified. I remember catching my reflection in tall shop windows and that unmistakeable sense of pride at who I was becoming.