Stalker, a good man who was treated disgracefully

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TRUMPED UP CHARGES: John Stalker, who has died aged 79

BY ALAN FRAME

I have reached that age when I am writing obituaries of friends. Victor Mizzi is a case in point as readers of this fine organ will know. Another is John Stalker, the former Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester who died two days before Victor. 

I got to know John well after I bought serialisation rights of his book on the shoot-to-kill affair in Northern Ireland and liked him as a thoroughly decent and truthful cop who had been, to use Fleet Street parlance, done up like a kipper by the Establishment.

Stalker had wanted to be a journalist after leaving his grammar school but the Oldham Chronicle’s loss was the Greater Manchester Police’s gain until, that is, he trod on too many nasty toes in the Royal Ulster Constabulary Special Branch. 

He was deputy to the God-bothering GMP Chief Constable Sir James Anderton when he was begrudgingly commissioned by the then Chief Constable of the RUC to investigate the deaths of six IRA men over a five-week period of 1982. All men were unarmed (though that is not to say innocent of paramilitary crimes or intent) when they were shot dead by RUC officers. 

When Stalker arrived in Belfast to start what was, at the time, the most sensitive investigation into a UK police force, he was invited to lunch by the man running the RUC, Sir John Hermon. During the meal Hermon handed him the Stalker family tree, scribbled by Hermon, on the back of a fag packet; it showed that John’s mother was a Catholic born to parents from the Irish Republic (though at the time of their birth would have been part of the UK.) 

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Then a whispered threat: "Remember Mr Stalker, you’re in the jungle now." He certainly was, and it wasn’t just the terrorists from both sides who were swinging from the trees. His real enemy was the very force he had been sent to investigate.

Stalker found himself up against increasing resistance and obstruction from members of the RUC of all ranks, from Hermon down. In particular Special Branch who, he believed, were behind the murders of the six men. He had to be stopped and the way to do that was to invent trumped up charges that he was a pal of millionaire businessman Kevin Taylor who, it was alleged, was a professional criminal. 

The story was rubbish as were claims that Stalker had fathered a child by a known Manchester prostitute (who it turned out had been blackmailed into making the claim.) But it was enough for his suspension and removal from the shoot-to-kill investigation. 

After his reinstatement John didn’t hang around long and left the police in 1987. His subsequent book on the affair was dynamite and when serialisation was on offer to newspapers, there was a queue to the publisher’s door.

I was in charge of Daily Express features under Nick Lloyd at the time and we were in the bidding. The publisher Viking allowed just four hours to read the manuscript in a locked room with no note taking and no photography. So with an unusually clear head one afternoon I went for my allotted stint at an office in Ludgate Hill and started reading.

As it turned out our bid just topped the Mail’s and we ran TV commercials for our scoop – fronted by Stalker himself. Result: a great boost in circulation. Those were the days! We may well have helped the book’s sales too, more than 400,000 worldwide. I then used him as a regular contributor to Page Eight, as the main leader/serious feature page was. Not just because he was a known name but because he wrote so well. 

He was also a good man who had been treated disgracefully by a system, apparently from Cabinet level down, which didn’t want the ugly truth to emerge. But as history has taught us, cover-ups never work as people like John Stalker – and newspapers throughout the world – are forever proving.


© 2005-2019 Alastair McIntyre