Who will police the police?

February 5, 2015

In his defence of Robert Lambert (“In defence of autonomy”, Opinion, 22 January), Stefano Bonino disparages the idea that lecturers be made accountable for their non-academic past. In most cases, he would be correct. But if that past has a very direct bearing on the lecturer’s field, it should be considered. As Bonino notes, Lambert is valuable in academia because of his past employment by Metropolitan Police Special Branch. Yet this is not the glowing career it was once claimed to be. It is arguably one of the darkest episodes in recent policing history.

The recent revelations about Lambert raise difficult questions. If his employers, London Metropolitan University and the University of St Andrews, were informed prior to his employment of his deceptive sexual relationships with women he was spying on, of his alleged involvement in spying on Stephen Lawrence’s family and of the other shocking acts he is now thought to have been responsible for, then they should publicly answer for themselves. But if Lambert hid any such acts, then he would appear to have deceived his employers just as he deceived the political groups and family campaigns he infiltrated.

Bonino says that the calls for Lambert to stop teaching policing studies and criminology “elevate morality to an absolute virtue floating outside the realm of a complex political world”. The growing clamour from politicians, opinion formers and the wider public for Lambert to be sacked comes precisely because morality is not divorced from the political world. Ethics must be integral to teaching, and nowhere more so than in the tutoring of those who will have privileged power over the lives of citizens and the political movements essential to democratic society.

Given the long-term deception of so many people by Lambert, including the sexual exploitation of women, which the Association of Chief Police Officers’ Sir Jon Murphy has described as “grossly unprofessional”, we ask is there anyone less well-qualified to teach the next generation of senior police officers and management staff?

Dr Simon Lewis
Department of geography, University College London

Dr Alice Bell
School of Arts and Social Sciences, City University

Dr Nick Butler
School of Economics and Management, Lund University

Dr Uri Gordon
Department of politics, history and international relations, Loughborough University

Dr David Harvie
School of Management, University of Leicester

Dr Keir Milburn
School of Management, University of Leicester

Dr Michelle Moram
Department of materials, Imperial College London

Professor Jonathan Oppenheim
Department of Physics and Astronomy, University College London

David Wearing
Soas, University of London

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