Wednesday, 8 July 2015

For Queen and Currency by Michael Gillard

Michael Gillard, the author of this book, is one of the best investigative journalists working today. I can say this with confidence having worked in current affairs journalism myself for over ten years (I worked on documentaries for Channel 4 Dispatches and others). His book Untouchables exposed the world of corrupt police - and the equally corrupt Metropolitan Police internal investigations department – with a dispassionate fury that was trailblazing. Originally published in 2004 and then republished in 2012, many of its exposés are now front-page news. The Daniel Morgan murder? Finally there is a public inquiry. The police relationship with the media and the media’s use of private investigators? Long before the Guardian led the charge against News International for phone hacking, Gillard and his then co-author Laurie Flynn, were flagging this up.

So it was with much excitement that I came across a new book by the author For Queen and Currency. And boy does he not disappoint. Gillard has been in the news a lot lately, what with a high court action by an East End “businessman” he linked to organised crime (more on that later) but what I didn’t know is how closely he had followed the tale of Paul Page, the SO14 officer who had operated a massive ponzi scheme. I thought that I knew all there was to know about that sordid story, having followed it closely through the pages of the papers, but reading For Queen and Currency I realised that I didn’t know the half of it.

In forensic detail Gillard tells the story of a rather cocksure young officer’s fall from grace. He paints a picture of an almost unbelievable level of naivety, avarice and just plain stupidity amongst people – police officers from various specialist squads, business people, and accountants – who invested in Page’s schemes all in the pursuit of a quick buck. Not one conducted due diligence. Not one questioned how the rates of returns offered by Page were possible, or where the money was coming from.  Gillard ties this all convincingly to both the stupidity of crowds and wider society’s addiction to cheap credit, which helped fuel the credit crunch. He also tellingly points out the banks ran similar schemes with all our money, but unlike Page, not one has ended up in jail.

I suspect that SO14’s reputation might be permanently tarnished. Gillard portrays a sort of Dad’s Army of dodgy blokes, all too lazy to do their job. Rather than crack cops trained by the SAS, they come across as a bunch of skivers looking for the easy life. They sleep on duty, actually having a ring around service to watch out for each other so that they’re not caught napping by superiors; they drink heavily; they pose for photos on the throne. Oh and when justice finally catches up with Page, it’s in the guise of our old friends in the Directorate of Professional Standards (the Met’s version of internal affairs) that Gillard first introduced us to in Untouchables. Once more, he finds them lacking.

This is a superb book and one I will unhesitatingly award five stars. But it was a surprise to me because I was expecting Gillard to turn his recent high court victory against that East End “businessman” into a book instead. Well, according to the author biog page in For Queen and Currency, he is planning on doing just that. I for one can’t wait to read it.

I would give this book a well deserved 5 out of 5 stars

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