Eveline Lubbers / Undercover Research Group,
29 January 2016
Last week Commander Richard Walton retired from the Met, and on the same day the Telegraph and the BBC revealed that the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has decided that Walton has a case to answer for misconduct.
Walton was under investigation for talking to an undercover officer spying on the Lawrence family in 1998, while his job was preparing the Met’s answer to the MacPherson Inquiry into corruption around the Stephen Lawrence murder case. The highly inappropriate secret meeting had been set up by then-leader of the Special Demonstration Squad, Bob Lambert. When the Ellison Review interviewed Walton about this in 2014, he chose to change his story after he realised he was going to be critisised. (The findings of the Ellison Report about the spying on the Lawrences made Theresa May decide to have the Pitchford Inquiry).
Though Walton’s retirement was to be expected after 30 years of service in the Met, one wonders why the Commander is free to leave just before the publication of the police watchdog findings.
Retiring or resigning has long been the police tactic of choice to avoid disciplinary action, keeping both a clean record and their pensions. In 2011, 500 officers who were facing investigations had resigned over a two-year period, as Emily Apple wrote. Theresa May reported another 144 officers leaving this way between December 2013 and August 2014.
Both Stephen’s father Neville Lawrence and his mother Baroness Lawrence have urged the Met to halt Cdr Walton’s retirement. In January last year, the Home Office announced new measures to prevent officers under investigation for gross misconduct from resigning or retiring until the case has concluded. As Walton had only ever been ‘temporarily removed from his duties’ and never really suspended, the Met claimed they could not stop him from leaving – the BBC even wrote they ‘refused to take action’. More likely, the IPCC found evidence for Walton to face misconduct proceedings – but not enough to meet the gross misconduct level needed to stop his retirement. The IPCC Report to confirm the findings reported in the press is expected within a few weeks..
That Richard Walton is free to go is nothing new – the Met has been protecting him all the way through. The decision to ‘temporarily remove him from active duties’ on the very day the Ellison Report revealed his role in March 2014, was nothing but a PR move in hindsight. He was never outrightly suspended, and – as we found out – the decision to reinstate him was taken only two months later, and before the IPCC had even begun to look at his case. He was back at work as Commander of the Counter-Terrorism Command (SO15) in December 2014 before he was first heard about the complaint.
And there is more. When in 2014 Walton was ‘temporarily removed’ for his role in spying on black justice campaigns back in 1998, his responsibilities at that moment still included similar tasks – and he returned to those tasks when he was re-instated:
- As the head of SO15, Walton was notably one of the leading policing officers in the UK responsible for counter-terrorism policing. His unit had been formed out of the amalgamation of Metropolitan Police Special Branch with Anti-Terrorist Branch. As such, it continues to control policing functions traditionally associated with Special Branch operations, including intelligence gathering and operations on political groups.
- Another of the units he was heading is the rump of the National Domestic Extremism Unit, which in January 2011 had been stripped of its powers to run undercover officers. However, it still exists in an intelligence gathering capacity, collating material on protest groups.
Avoiding disciplinary steps and keeping his pension is one thing, by allowing Walton to retire, the Met has also robbed the Pitchford Inquiry of a wealth of information. Calling him as a witness has become a lot more difficult now that he is no longer with the force.
When the IPCC investigation was announced in March 2014, Walton said:
I welcome any scrutiny of my role in these events over more than 16 years ago, including in the forthcoming public inquiry.
Curious to see if indeed he will apply for core participancy in the Pitchford Inquiry now that he no longer falls under the Met’s application. Bob Lambert, who retired from the police years ago, is already there, as N10 (Walton was N183 in the Herne Report.).
We have just updated the profile of Richard Walton.
If you want to read more, last summer, we did an extensive write-up of Walton, explaining why his case was referred to the IPCC, the role of Bob Lambert in spying on the Lawrences, and our many questions.
Or go through the many related Undercover Research profiles:
- N81: Profile from the Ellison Report
- N81: Meeting with the Lawrence Review Team
- N81: IPCC investigation
- N81: File Notes SDS
- Richard Walton
- Lawrence Review Team