Most of us are pleased to see police on the beat; we don't flinch when we come into contact with them, as people do in many other countries. But our high regard makes it essential that police mistakes and worse are urgently corrected so that healthy links can be maintained with those who guard us, sometimes at huge personal cost, as we so sadly saw with the recent brutal murder of two police officers in Manchester.
I know that most police officers understand the need for public consent and support and that this requires them to have exacting standards. Most police officers behave blamelessly in their duties.
But we do them and society no favours if we flinch from honestly assessing controversial events. The other side of the police has been exposed by the shocking revelations about Hillsborough, both in failing to prevent a disaster waiting to happen and later dishonestly concealing the truth.
However, convictions for police misconduct are rare. Allegations are usually about dishonesty in investigating crime and rarely go far, even after strong criticism from the appeal court in freeing a fitted-up defendant. Perhaps acquitting the defendant looks like justice enough or juries may shrink from finding that a whole investigation is bent. It is a scary prospect. If we have to convict the police, wholesale, of crime, on whom shall we rely?
Hillsborough is about seven miles from Orgreave where striking miners met the South Yorkshire police on a mass picket in 1984, leading to a famous riot trial at Sheffield Crown Court when about the same number of men who died at Hillsborough were on that occasion saved from the consequences of what the police did.
Just as at Hillsborough, Orgreave had a "black propaganda" group of senior officers. At Hillsborough they censored comments and facts adverse to themselves but included comments critical of the fans.
At Orgreave, detectives concocted a scene of disorder so that constables could portray those arrested as engaging in a riot, an offence that, at that time commanded a life sentence.
A typical case was that of my client Mr M. After booking him into custody his two arresting officers took dictation from detectives about events that they hadn't actually seen.
For example, somebody stupidly stretched a rope across the road at 8.15am to snare a mounted policeman but it was rightly removed five minutes later. The two officers swore on oath in court that they had seen that although neither of them (nor Mr M) had arrived at Orgreave by that time. We repeatedly exposed similar lies until the case was dropped given the hopeless prospects for convictions on such false evidence. Yet there was no inquiry into Orgreave and no officer was prosecuted.
The loss of so many loved ones at Hillsborough is in a different league but the deceit at Orgreave would have banged up innocent men for many years. What is strikingly similar, apart from the corrupt tactics is that both were wrongs done to groups of men that officers thought they could discredit with impunity: "the enemy within" as Thatcher called the miners, and the stereotype of the drunken football fan respectively.
These events were over 20 years ago but there is a continuing dilemma about training police to work in effective teams and under command structures. That will require the development of loyalty, discipline and esprit de corps but can also produce a band of insiders with a vested interest in protecting their institution. They can tell themselves how bad for public confidence it would be if their force suffered a blow to its reputation, however right the blow.
The Tories also want to break police solidarity and morale by cutting pay and pensions so that experienced officers retire early to be replaced by Tesco-trained Superintendents and many of those who are left are deskilled and privatised. Low-paid and cheaply-trained officers on short-term contracts and payment by results will hardly bring an uplift in ethical standards or an enhanced commitment to serving the public.
Public services must remain public and free of obligation to shareholders if we are to see better commitment to the public. Perhaps as they come under increasing pressure both from the recent scandals and the Tory Government the police will finally realize how much they need public support not only to keep the peace but to maintain themselves as an institution and how less likely that support becomes when they cover up errors and blame victims.
Meanwhile, Police and Crime Commissioners, at least those who are not part of the police brotherhood themselves, will present a new possibility for the task of keeping the police efficient and close to those they serve. The task of sustaining policing with consent is best served by a good turnout at the elections in November. Commissioners could lead the way in pioneering better public involvement in policing, improving checks and balances and enhancing scrutiny.
Above all, we need to work together to encourage the police to succeed with the public rather than against them on their own. We owe it to those who lost their lives at Hillsborough and in Manchester to keep the best of our police service, constantly improve it together and root out bad practice.
Vera Baird is Labour's candidate for Northumbria Police Commissioner