…and give reasons in writing

Cold War nuts should follow Mike Kenner’s Twitter feed if they’re not already. His key shtick is getting interesting documents under FOIA and tweeting them bit by bit. This week, he’s got the national war instructions for the police, from 1977, codenamed POLWIN.

This is some pretty bleak stuff, obviously; I can’t imagine instructions on the administration of justice after a nuclear attack issuing from the Regional Commissioner’s office holding out much hope of justice, or indeed being issued in the first place.

But the really interesting thing is how much of the police mobilisation plan in the event of an ultimate existential crisis eventually got implemented.

For example, the familiar PSU (Police Support Unit) serials are a war-book measure in the 1977 instructions, and the to-do list in Section 8 of the instructions includes activating your coach hire contracts and earmarking the vans to move the PSUs out, and this is mentioned in the context of the police mutual-aid plan.

That’s just tactics, but Section 7.4 deals with what was to be done with people whose loyalty was suspected. Once the emergency defence regulations went into force, the Secretary of State would make Restriction Orders on named individuals which would permit him (in 1977 it was Merlyn Rees) to lock them up, assign them to a place of residence, place limits on what possessions they could have, and what employment they might take up.

MI5 would make recommendations to the minister, with the odd exception of IRA suspects, who would be suggested to the minister by the Met Commissioner. The police would put this in effect on the ground, and the instructions provide for very detailed arrangements including five copies (one spare) of an arrest form, specimen blank provided. Suspects placed under arrest would be conveyed to HM Prison, the specific prison to be notified to the Chief Constable with the list of suspects. There, they would be booked in, and provided by the Prison Governor with a copy of the Restriction Order giving reasons for their detention.

I think it is very noticeable that today, in nothing like the circumstances foreseen in POLWIN, we are doing most of this…but we don’t always tell the suspect why! Post-liberal future, how are ya.

On the other hand, even in the Ultimate Crisis, British police would still have gone largely unarmed.

Anyway, if you want to dig into the document, the index pages are here and here. (Kenner is also a serious FOIA-ninja; although, in principle, the document had been declassified, police forces had also been told to dispose of their copy rather than send it to the National Archives. Dorset plod apparently forgot.)

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