9

Operation Countryman

Operation Countryman, the biggest investigation ever conducted into police corruption in Britain, would never have come about if the Commissioner of the City of London Police between 1971 and 1977 had not been corrupted and unduly influenced by Freemasonry. Indeed, there seems little doubt that if James Page had refused to join the Brotherhood, he would not have been appointed Commissioner in the first place.

Page transferred at the rank of Superintendent from the Metropolitan Police to the tiny, 800-man City Force in 1967, at first simply for experience as Commander of B Division based at Snow Hill police station. An excellent communicator and a good host, Page brought a style of administration to Snow Hill that can rarely, if ever, have been matched in any force in the country. It was the style he had learned in the old Blackpool City Force, where he had served under disgraced Chief Constable Stanley Parr (pages 99-102). Coachloads of policemen would arrive at Snow Hill for darts matches, boozing sessions and parties 6f all kinds. This earned him popularity with 'the lads' in the lower ranks, most of whom, even the lowliest PCs, were encouraged to address him as 'Jim'. Two months before his forty-fourth birthday in March 1969, he was promoted to Chief Superintendent. At this stage, so far as is known, he had never set foot inside a masonic temple. Eight months later the then Commissioner, Sir Arthur Young, was seconded to the Royal Ulster Constabulary and Page transferred to Old Jewry, the force headquarters, as Acting Commissioner. Page's successor at Snow Hill, Chief Superintendent Brian Rowland, was astonished at what he found. 'It was,' said one of the most senior officers in the force at that time, 'like running a huge pub.*

By now Page had set the pattern of his relations with the public and the force. In stark contrast to the aloof and dignified manner of the man he was standing in for, 'good old Jim' would be right in there with the lads - drinking, guffawing over a bar-room joke, out within the hallowed purlieus of the City of London opening pubs, and all too frequently getting so inebriated that he had to be carried home in a patrol car. He was liked and respected as 'one of the boys', a very different kind of respect from that enjoyed by the absent Commissioner. In the minds of senior officers, Page's extravagant bonhomie was marring his undoubted abilities. 'He had a very good brain,' I was told by one of the top men of the time. 'He could think on his feet in crises and was a staunch supporter of his men.'

Although a significant proportion of City policemen had been Freemasons since the twenties and there had been a masonic element in many promotions over the decades, there is no evidence that before the "early 1970s the consequences had been more serious than occasional miscarriages of justice, a distortion of values, and a disgruntlement among non-Masons, inevitable whenever less able men are given preferential treatment. All this was bad enough but what flourished under Page was iniquitous.

In 1969, on the eve of Page's taking over as Acting Commissioner, a private meeting took place at his office at Old Jewry. One of the highest-ranking officers in the force, whom I shall call Commander Dryden, had some urgent advice for his new chief. Dryden warned Page about two City police officers he knew to be corrupt. Because the Countryman investigations in the City have still not been completed - whatever official statements say to the contrary - I shall give these men pseudonyms and refer to them as Tearle and Oates. Both were Freemasons.

'If you are ever going to run this force,' said Dryden, 'watch Oates and Tearle very closely. If you ever promote them you'll have so much trouble you won't know where to turn.'

Dryden told me, 'I'd not been long off the shop floor and was still closely in touch with events at grass roots. Everyone said that Oates and Tearle were corrupt. They would duck and dive with villains, take bribes to put in false reports on cases so that charges would be reduced or dropped altogether. One night, Oates was called to a jeweller's shop which had been found to have a broken window. He helped himself from the stock and reported that it had been missing when he arrived. Tearle was looked upon as being "swift", very shrewd and quick to make a few bob in league with criminals. A suspect man in all respects, he too would square a job up for a price.'

Dryden felt 'quite pleased' that he had alerted Page. It was a load off his mind, and he felt he'd done his duty.

So the matter rested . .. for a while.

Sir Arthur Young was due to retire on 30 November 1971, so applications were invited for his successor. The process by which the City of London Corporation appoints a new Commissioner begins with the police committee, one of twenty-seven committees whose membership is drawn from the Court of Common Council, setting up a sub-committee. The sub-committee vets applications and draws up a short list which it passes to the main committee. Short-listed applicants are later interviewed by the entire Common Council, at which each delivers a prepared speech on his own behalf. Voting then takes place and the applicant with the highest number of votes is appointed, subject to ratification by the Home Secretary and the Queen.

Inevitably, Page applied for the job, but he knew he was skating on thin ice. On the grounds of his now notorious drinking habits alone, few in the force thought he had a chance. Everyone knew that the former City Assistant Commissioner, John Duke, had been groomed for Sir Arthur's job and had meanwhile transferred to Essex Police to await the day the office fell vacant. Duke had duly applied and the force waited for his appointment to be announced.

When the short list was down to two and Page let it be known that he was on it, his colleagues felt sure the police committee had already reached its decision, but had kept Page's name on the list until the very latest stages out of consideration for his feelings. Duke was the man. Then, to everyone's astonishment, it came through the grapevine that Duke was not on the short list, that Page, incredibly, had beaten him. Still, the force were confident Page would not be appointed because it was learned that his rival was no less a figure than John Alderson (who resigned as Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall in April 1982).

Not only had Alderson been personally recommended by Sir Arthur Young himself, his achievements cast a long shadow over those of Page, who was almost exactly three years his junior. Then Commandant of the Police College at Bramshill in Hampshire, Alderson had served in the Highland Light Infantry between 1938 and 1941, and after five years as Warrant Officer with the Army Physical Training Corp in North Africa and Italy, he had joined West Riding Constabulary as a constable in 1946. He had been promoted to Inspector in 1955, and given command of a sub-division in 1960. Between 1964 and 1966 he was Deputy Chief Constable of Dorset, after which he transferred to the Metropolitan Police as Deputy Commander, Administration and Operations. Appointed second-in-command of No 3 Police District in 1967, he was promoted again the following year to Deputy Assistant Commissioner (Training), which gave him a two-year lead-up to running the Police College from 1970. In 1971, the year he applied for the Commissioner's job in the City, he became a member of the BBC General Advisory Council. In addition he was a qualified barrister, having been called to the Bar of the Middle Temple. He was a Fellow of the British Memorial Foundation of Australia, he held an Extension Certificate in Criminology from the University of Leeds, and was a Fellow of the British Institute of Management. He had contributed to the Encyclopaedia of Crime and Criminals (1960), and written numerous articles for newspapers and professional publications.

This, then, was James Page's opponent. The outcome of the Common Council's vote seemed a foregone conclusion.

But neither the general run of officers in the City, nor probably even Page himself, reckoned on the power of Freemasonry within the Square Mile.

It became clear that influential Freemasons had decided that Page was the man for the job, for various reasons. For one thing, he was a known quantity. His sense of duty was more malleable than Alderson's, his loyalty to those who helped him very easy to exploit. In many ways, Page was as trusting as a child.

One eminent Mason in the City had been courting Page on behalf of the Brotherhood for a long time, and by early 1971 knew he was within an ace of being recruited. Page had never been hostile to the idea in principle, but until now he had not committed himself.

He was made aware that if he did commit himself, he was virtually assured of victory. He agreed, and the Masons who had set their sights on him were triumphant. Although it has been shown that Page's formal application to join City Livery Club Lodge No 3752 post-dated his election as Commissioner in July, strings were pulled and he was involved in meetings at several lodges from June onwards.

'It was astonishing,' said Dryden. 'When I heard that Alderson had lost to Page, it was as big a shock as when Kennedy was shot. I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing on both occasions. Others felt the same.'

And there the trouble, which led eventually to the multi-million-pound Countryman operation, began.

Page quickly demonstrated his unsuitability for the post, although his achievements should not be glossed over lightly. He is remembered, for instance, as Director of Police Extended Interviews between 1975 and 1977. He became a Fellow of the British Institute of Management in 1975 and an Officer of the Legion d'honneur in 1976. But he was promoted above his ability. Attending more than 600 social functions in a single year, he became known as a heavy drinker not only in the force but in other organizations and institutions within the City, both august and common. He would turn up to almost every birthday, retirement or promotion party in the force. He would even be found at the lowliest office celebrations, when for instance a uniformed constable was transferred to the CID.

James Page had much to thank Freemasonry for, and he showed his gratitude by proving an enthusiastic Mason. 'He was mad about his Masonry,' said one uniformed superintendent. Others of all ranks, some Freemasons among them, have confirmed this. When the already highly masonic City force learned of the new Commissioner's passionate commitment to the Brotherhood, many more officers joined the Lodges. Page had a simple faith in Masonry's power for good: officers who were Masons were good officers because Masonry was good.

Dryden liked Page as a man, but he did not like the way he was running the force. He did not heed the warning about the two bad apples, Tearle and Oates. Far from keeping them down and watching them with an eagle eye, he openly fraternized with them. The answer was not hard to find. Both Tearle and Oates were Freemasons, so in Page's view Dryden must be mistaken about them. Things went from bad to worse: Tearle introduced Page to his own Lodge, where as Worshipful Master he was superior in rank to the Commissioner.

Eventually, Dryden confided in Chief Superintendent Brian Rowland, who was still in command at Snow Hill and was secretary of the National Police Superintendents' Association. They agreed something had to be done and decided to speak of their fears to Assistant Commissioner Wally Stapleton, who had influence with Page. They received a cheering reply.

'Don't worry,' said Stapleton. 'Those men will get promotion over my dead body.'

Dryden told me, 'He satisfied both of us that he had the measure of the situation, and that nothing wrong would get past him.'

Page ignored even Stapleton and subsequently promoted Tearle not once but twice. Oates later received even higher promotion.

'A lot can happen to a force in ten years,' I was told by a sorrowing Detective Sergeant at Old Jewry. Himself a Freemason since 1957, he is 'appalled' by what has happened in the City: 'I've seen Masonry used for rotten things in the force in recent years. I'd never have believed it was possible if I hadn't seen it and heard it myself. What sickens me is the filthy distortion of the principles of Freemasonry. It's not meant to be for this, it's really not. But Masons are being promoted over the heads of non-Masons left, right and centre. I've been to most of the police Lodges in the City area and in the last few years it seems to me that the ritual and purpose of Masonry is getting less and less important. It's forbidden to talk about politics, religion or business in the Temple, but these yobbos - they shouldn't be in the police, let alone the Craft - they're using the secrecy to get into corners and decide who's next for promotion and who they can place where to their own advantage. Most of the time it's about how to protect themselves, having someone in the right place to cover up if they skive off. That's bad enough, and it's shown itself in the fallen standards of the force as a whole. But I've seen one or two things worse than that - actual criminal stuff. Nothing really terrible when you consider some of the things Old Bill Masons are supposed to have done here - I don't have any personal knowledge of that. But nevertheless I know people in the Craft who have had charges dropped as a result of little conferences at Lodge meetings: things like acts of gross indecency, taking and driving away and, once, a GBH [grievous bodily harm].'*

Page was now immersed in the whole Freemasonic life of the City, and he had been corrupted by it to the extent that the 'without fear or favour' part of his oath as a policeman no longer took precedence. I have been told by several senior officers who served under Page that there were numerous occasions when his judgement on relatively minor issues was called into question. All of them related in some way to Masonry. He was once challenged by a high-ranking officer as to why he had ordered the suspension of certain proceedings against an organization whose Freemason head had appealed to him for help. Page explained: 'I owe them

*This statement is culled from a long interview which took place on 30 September 1981.

three more years yet,' meaning that he owed his position to the Masons, and in return for that, wherever he could, he would see to it that his first allegiance was to the Brotherhood.

On at least seven occasions he is alleged to have contacted Grand Lodge for advice on how to act in purely internal matters, or for permission to take a course of action if it related in any way to Masonry.

Another non-Mason in the City related how he had once sat with Page on a two-man interviewing panel considering the application of a man who had already been rejected by two other forces as a police probationer. It was decided that he would be given a try, but he proved highly unsatisfactory. I have seen a four-page report in which the officer who sat with Page on the interviewing panel describes various incidents in which the PC became involved - offences as serious as threatening violence to a member of the public, absenting himself from duty while on reserve during a sensitive Old Bailey trial and later abusing an Inspector who found him drunk at home, and phoning the force control centre in the middle of the night and demanding to be put through to Page. This was roughly comparable to a drunken private in the army insisting on an audience with his General.

Convinced the probationer was unstable, the officer recommended to Page that his services be dispensed with, which is possible at any time within a PC's first two years of service. The recommendation was supported by other senior officers and the Assistant Commissioner.

Bearing in mind the strength of the condemnation, and the standing and integrity of the officer who made it, it was unthinkable that the recommendation could be ignored.

But the erring PC was a Freemason. The masonic cogs began to move and Page was prevailed upon to do the unthinkable. He vetoed the recommendation and simply transferred the PC to another division. Thus Page's incomplete understanding of the obligation he had taken to assist fellow Masons in distress led not only to the retention of a known dangerous element within the force, but to undermining the authority of one of the most senior men below the rank of Assistant Commissioner. In the event, the decision proved disastrous as the PC went from bad to worse, finally leaving the force after Page's own less than happy exit in 1977.

The first of three serious crimes in the City Police area, which led eventually to the Countryman investigation into police malpractice, occurred in May 1976 at the offices of the Daily Express when £175,000 in wages was stolen. This was followed sixteen months later by a £520,000 robbery at the City headquarters of William's and Glyn's Bank in Birchin Lane, off Lombard Street. Six men in balaclava helmets armed with shotguns ambushed a Securicor van about to deliver the money to the bank, and blasted one of the guards in the legs. Two other members of the gang waited nearby in getaway cars. The third crime took place at the Daily Mirror in May 1978 when three robbers, two disguised as printers, staged a daring raid on a Securicor van after it had actually been locked inside the loading area beneath the Mirror building. The gang escaped with £197,000 in banknotes after shooting the driver of the van at point-blank range through the heart. He died on the way to hospital.

These crimes would never have occurred if Page had not committed himself to Freemasonry to assure himself of the Commissioner's job. If he hadn't done so, he would not have become Commissioner in 1971. If Page had not been a Freemason, he would have heeded Dryden's 1969 warning never to promote Tearle and Oates, when both of them were in the less influential rank of detective chief inspector. As it was, he promoted them because he and they were part of the same Brotherhood. They achieved high rank under Page. Commander Dryden told me: 'If Tearle and Oates had not been promoted, others would not have been promoted because they - Tearle and Oates - came to have influence over other promotions. Once they were in a position of control, they then promoted their masonic brethren, many of whom were in on the corruption with them. This brought about an ease of communication and a whole corrupt masonic network was set up within the force. Tearle and Oates colluded with some of these newly promoted Masons and played a part in setting up the Williams and Glyn's and the Mirror jobs, and they helped out after the event at the Express. Mason police shared out around £60,000 from one job.'

Oates and some of the worst of their accomplices have now gone from the force, but Tearle remains, terrified that his name will be connected publicly with the crimes in which he has taken part if one of his former colleagues decides there is no longer anything to be gained by protecting him. One of the men who is thinking very seriously of 'shopping' Tearle, Oates and the rest of the crew told me, 'One word from me and they go down for a long, long while.'

So far that word has not been forthcoming

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!