Manchester’s former Chief Constable and moral puritan James Anderton has died.
We’re often told that we shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, as if the act of dying somehow makes previously awful people somehow beyond criticism. But a terrible individual does not have their past sins purged when they die and James Anderton – former Chief Constable of Greater Manchester who has died aged 89 – was a despicable bigot and moraliser who ran the city like a tyrant, pushing his own fundamentalist beliefs over the rule of law under what he genuinely believed to be direct instruction from God.
Anderton became Chief Constable in 1976 and immediately set out to rid the city of ‘sin’. This meant that not only did Great Manchester have the only dedicated Obscene Publications squad outside Scotland Yard, but that his war on porn was pursued with an evangelical zeal by him and the officers that he moulded in his own image. Anderton had a rather broad interpretation of what was and wasn’t ‘obscene’ – in the 1970s, it included Page 3 of The Sun and magazines like Mayfair, publications that would not trouble the authorities anywhere else in the country but which were scooped up in raids and then sent for (alleged) destruction on the orders of compliant magistrates without ever having their obscenity tested by a jury. In the 1980s, Anderton added Electric Blue videos to his personal list of what wasn’t acceptable in ‘his’ city – such was his power that he was able to issue personal fatwas against anything that he objected to.
He also waged war on sex work and late-night drinking and launched a very personal vendetta against Savoy Books and their city centre shops – Savoy were one of the few businesses to defy Anderton and as a result, they were raided over sixty times in a nakedly corrupt attempt to force them out of business. Savoy fought back with biting mockery of Anderton in their Lord Horror comics and vinyl releases, taking his outrageous attacks on gay men – of which more in a moment – are putting his words into the mouth of Nazi leftover Lord Horror, substituting ‘Jew’ for Anderton’s ‘homosexual’. It should’ve been seen by everyone as an exposé of Anderton’s bigotry but sadly was lost in the outrage over the comic’s relentlessly savage dark humour that too many people took at face value. Savoy co-founder and Lord Horror author David Britton was sent to prison for publishing the book in 1992. Yes, we were still imprisoning people for writing novels in the 1990s. Extraordinary, isn’t it? Savoy’s shops, meanwhile, would buy their own porn magazine stock back from dealers who were working with the police – the obscenity protection racket was in full flow in Manchester during the 1980s and 1990s.
Anderton’s contempt for everything sexual extended, of course, the gay community. While he was ultimately powerless to prevent the development of the Gay Village in Manchester, his officers were always on the lookout for immoral behaviour, indoors or out. In 1986, as the threat of AIDS made even Margaret Thatcher realise that a government health campaign was needed and the ‘don’t die of ignorance’ leaflets made their way into every home in the country, Anderton was demanding that “sodomy in males” be made illegal and claimed that gay AIDS victims were “swirling around in a cesspit of their own making”, as well as pushing for corporal punishment to be made law – he wanted to beat offenders of all types until they begged for mercy and repented their sins. Presumably, he included atheists and “subversives” – one of his descriptions of anyone who criticised his reign of terror; others included “moral lepers” – amongst those deserving of flogging.
Of course, under Anderton’s rule, gang violence and gun crime spiralled in Manchester. A more pragmatic and focused Chief Constable might have had that, rather than girly magazines, as his priority – but presumably, God was silent on the matter during his nightly instructional visits to his chosen police chief.
Anderton somehow survived his anti-gay rants, even though local politicians would have loved to be rid of him. He had admirers in high places – the highest of places, in fact, as fellow moralist and hate-driven bigot Margaret Thatcher was a supporter. Amazingly, he was knighted in 1990 and became president of The Association of Chief Police Officers, something that baffled many given that he was widely seen by other police officers as an embarrassment who made them all look stupid.
In 1991 he retired – how willingly is still a matter of debate – and quickly slipped from the public eye. He might have had influence and power while Chief Constable – and it is fair to say that he was probably the most famous policeman in Britain for many years – but few people could stomach his ideas and once he was out of the job, there was no media career forthcoming.
Anderton’s pointless life was driven by mean-spirited moral certainty and an entirely misguided belief that he, and he alone, could decide what other people could see and do. He will not be missed.
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