Keeping the Peace? Policing Strikes 1906-26

The controversy caused by the role of British police in recent industrial disputes has its counterpart in the troubled years before and after the First World War.

Since the repeated scenes of violence between police and strikers over the last ten to fifteen years, the policing of industrial disputes has become a major issue of public concern. A vigorous debate has ensued over who should decide on policing policies and to whom the police should be accountable. The police would claim, in the words of a Metropolitan Police handbook, that a constable is not answerable to any public body or official, but only to the law and that he holds his office independently of anyone else. Others believe that the independence doctrine is a police-created myth, and a dangerous one at that.

These issues have arisen because of the ambiguous statutory position of the police, in which who makes policy and to whom the police are accountable have never been legally clarified. Because of this confusion the police have been subject to a much wider range of external pressures and influences that is usually acknowledged. The police's own view of themselves as an autonomous body is, in fact, of fairly recent origin and does not stand up to historical scrutiny.

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