Is Britain bent?


Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers at the Leveson inquiry

She might be wrong, because the cops have been wrong before, but here's what Met Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers said on Monday at the Leveson Inquiry: that there is a "network of corrupted officials" spanning not just the police but "a wide range of public officials" including military, health, government, prison and others".

My ears pricked up at the words "and others" because it's one of those police-speak terms that could just mean "everybody else" or it could be a codeword for even more sensitive categories, like "the Royal household" or "the intelligence services". We'll have to wait and see: "government" itself is a tantalising word, suggesting as it does not just politicians but, perhaps, civil servants. But, like I say, she could be wrong.

However, if she's not wrong, it hardly matters that it was the Sun "wot done it". What matters is that Britain's public life stands accused by a senior policewoman of being riddled with criminals. Crooks on the take, using public office to line their pockets.

Are we surprised? Well we've had, in the past two decades, the arms for Iraq scandal, cash for questions, cash for honours, MPs' expenses, the dropping of the Serious Fraud Office investigation against BAE Systems on national security grounds, plus all the issues to be covered in the Chilcot Report, when it finally, at long, long, last comes out.

In those two decades, London has quietly become the destination of choice for hot money: whether it's in property, high finance, art or simply cash, only the nationality of the dodgy geezers in black-window limos changes, as the world turns.

But this is different. The common thread in all the previous scandals has been, sadly, parliament. In an age when MPs are encouraged to be - indeed picked to be - "non-ideological", it was probably inevitable that the legislature should be the venue for so many scandals involving self-enrichment. And the common theme to "dodgy London" has been the ill-gotten gains of foreigners.

Now, we have to assume, there is corruption at the heart of major British institutions with better reputations than parliament. The medical profession, the prison service, the civil service, the armed forces? Like I say, she could be wrong.

But if she is right there is an even bigger concern: suppose person A has been taking X thousand pounds from News International, as alleged by Assistant Commissioner Akers. Now suppose person A needs X+N thousand pounds. Are we absolutely certain person A has not been also taking money from, for example country Y? This was the problem uncovered in the Profumo Affair (1963): that once respectable people start frequenting the semi-criminal underworld they are apt to bump into people even more dangerous than criminals.

This is where corruption inquiries always lead: to the heart of darkness.

But who is to lead the inquiry? The News of the World scandal claimed the careers of the Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson and his deputy Assistant Commissioner John Yates. Rupert Murdoch owns the Times, Sunday Times and 39% of BSkyB. The current prime minister, given the choice, hand-picked as his right-hand press adviser, a man who has now been arrested as part of the investigation.

Actually, on a day when a major British bank is being stung for "only" £500m of tax avoidance, it's worth saying, on a hunch, that plain old British business is one of the least corrupt institutions: businesses have too many customers, suppliers and rivals for systemic corruption to go unreported. That's my hunch, anyway.

But on the substantive issue, if Sue Akers is right we're going to be very glad we have a non-corrupt judiciary.

Paul Mason Article written by Paul Mason Paul Mason Former economics editor, Newsnight

End of an era

After 12 years on Newsnight, Economics editor Paul Mason has moved on to pastures new and this blog is now closed.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Now's the time for government to grasp the nettle. Until the nefarious tax avoidance schemes, even HMRC has one, then the rot will not be stopped. Senior council executives taking very early retirement and then rehiring themselves out as limited company 'consultants' so that keep their pension payments as well huge hourly fees should be outlawed. Police should solve these 20 year old axe murders.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.


    It is the State itself that is corrupt and it has a pernicious and corrupting influence on everyone

    * **** ***** ***** **** *** ** ***** ** ****** ** **** **** ********** *** ** ***** (******** ***, **** ********, *** **** ******. *** **** *****'* ****/*********** ** ***)

    We are not referred to as Perfidious Albion without reason

    The State will protect itself by any and all means

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    blefescu @5

    "socialism" undefined...

    "fruits of" what?

    Call it capitalism or socialism, social instability has the same cause

    Inequality amongst the 'imperfect' - us - delivers us to corruption

    None here knows 'how to regulate everything'

    REALLY 'together', all secure, all therefore free, 'everything' regulated by conscience, instead of by Mammon

    Unequal = 'Bent'

    Lives stunted

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.


    Do you realise that the organisation at the heart of this series of allegations, the main engine of corruption, is the very same as that which provides you with your corrupted worldview via fox news? You do know this, don't you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Call it bent. Call it old boys club. Call it what you like.

    I call it plain stupid, daft.

    Which is why the ex chairman of Northern Rock and publicity seeker is weekly having an audience with David Cameron to advise on matters scientific.

    Top down daft.

    Apart from me of course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    If she's right, there must be serious prosecutions, not just of individuals for each incident, but for whole groups of NI employees & civil servants/MPs for conspiracy: long jail sentence indeed on conviction.

    Were there serious offences like treason, for example, or Official Secrets Act. If they were taking money from NI, were they also taking it from the KGB, Stasi or other enemies?

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    There are a lot of op-eds these days that kick off 'Is Britain..?'

    'Britain', much as the bubble dwellers that inhabit the establishment think it should be, is not them.

    Not pols, judges, civ servs and especially not presumptuous media luvvies.

    So the answer, before even reading the piece, or the comments, is an emphatic no. But don't let that stop you trying to bend it, like so much, to suit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    The value of real work has been lost along with the real jobs. The pursuit of easy money is deemed acceptable. To lie on a Job Summary is considered the norm and dissimulation viewed as a social skill. The biggest return comes from gaming the system rather than sustaining real value and quality.

    We should not forget that the idea of a `meritocracy' was originally tongue in cheek.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Far more worrying than the relatively small level of corruption is the extrodinary levels of access and control that lobbyists and unelected people have. I'm thinking initially of the ex-News International people who find themselves in positions of influence in the Prime Ministers Office or at the top of the Met, though I'm sure the list is far more extensive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Time to bring the Roundheads back, methinks.

    Time for public liberty and the end of arbitrary power.

    `The poorest he that is in England has a life to live as the greatest he..'

    As then, so now. A time to dig and a time to level.

    I reckon this time even the monarch will be on our side.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    As for the judiciary - maybe a little corrupt, maybe not - but I would not presume to call it one way or another.
    London is not bent; it is under corruption, broken under corruption, in bad need of an uncovering & a serious making over, including a transplant of righteousness (aka fairness & good citizenry).

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Actually, when Barclays is being stung for "only" £500M in tax avoidance, it's worth saying, on a hunch, that plain old British business is one of the least corrupt institutions - and sir, YOU WOULD BE WRONG. It is one of THE most corrupt assuming that you include financial institutions as "business". Systemic corruption has become banking: That's my counter-hunch to your hunch.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    It seems - you got the money - you buy your right to distance from criminality & most certainly from prison. It becomes a joke, an inconvenience. In those 2 decades, London has quietly become the destination of CHOICE FOR HOT MONEY. Please watch

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Your ears pricked up at words "and others" because it's one of those police-speak terms that could just mean "everybody else" or it could be a codeword for even more sensitive categories, like "the Royal household" or "the intelligence services". May I suggest some of the biggest, richest financial institutions in London: But I would place my bets on every single one of them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Lord Prescott, former Dep British PM & victim of NotW hacking, told Levenson inquiry about the power that News International yielded with police. He said There is always a price. It is not exactly corruption. The Murdoch press it is particularly organised to achieve what it needs. ALL leaders of parties, including Cameron, believe you simply must have the ear of editors.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Court room: look at News International & their several lawyers; then, look at the individuals with maybe 3 lawyers, and 1 barrister maybe a couple of juniors, and you realize that corruption is power; power is corruption - not all the time, but mostly. Even if Britain's judicial system is not corrupt, its a monstrous, unfair battle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    News Corp’s Mngt & Standards Committee handed over number of incriminating EMAILS to police for their investigations. So far ten staff at The Sun, two police officers, an army official, someone from the Ministry of Defence & relative of a public official have been arrested. Yet Rupert Murdoch's Sunday version last week, sold 3.26M copies!
    Does public not care about crime & corruption?

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Revelations may result in US authorities pursuing Murdoch’s News Corporation under Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Akers’s reference to SYSTEMIC NATURE OF ALLEGED CORRUPTION, & it ENDORSEMENT by senior execs - clear signals to the US Dept of Justice her allegations fall squarely within ambit of the US FOREIGN CORRUPT PRACTICES ACT.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Sue Akers, Leveson Inquiry: there is a "network of corrupted officials" spanning not just police but "a wide range of public officials" including military, health, govt, prison & others". She said: these are arrest cases - frequent & significant sums paid to public officials by journalists. One official had received over 80,000 pounds from News International; others received retainers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    #50 me

    of course what I meant to say was that these are just one or two bad apples in a whole barrel of scrumptious honest to goodness granny smiths and the comment about every last one of us being under the influence of a pernicious and corrupting state was said in jest.

    You lie with dogs and you wake with fleas.


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