Obituary: Ian Cameron, 1938-2021

In a just society Ian Cameron, who recently died at 83, would have been an Emeritus Research Fellow in Crime, Police and the Press. He didn’t look like a university product, and he didn’t sound like one. 

Self-educated, Ian was born to a poor family in Brixton. His mother was a Ward of Court whose father was one of the showbiz Grade-Delfont family. She never sought contact. Ian’s father had once been a drinking companion of the Clydesider John Maclean. Ian went to a local school, then to Brixton College of Building. He worked as a jobbing draughtsman. His early interest in radical and revolutionary politics led him to work with the CND Committee of 100, and to read voraciously. His unique library of books factual and fictional about crime and the press and radical activity went back to the 1780s. He delved into the London Corresponding Society, Thomas Paine and Thomas Spence, the Plug Riots, the Chartists. He discovered an unknown pamphlet of the 1800s in dialect English. 

Ian’s lifelong preoccupation was with what he described as “the untidy and unpredictable world in which villains and cops move together”, and with “the people who don’t matter”, in Mary Grigg’s words from her 1965 study of police corruption, The Challenor Case. By scrutiny and evaluation of individual cases in the press, in police reports, in memoirs and court records and in interviews with villains, Ian sought to bring leftwing criticism of “political police” into a wider perspective. Were all prisoners to be supported, or mainly political prisoners? Ian’s PROP publication of 1973 Political Prisoners or Prisoner’s Unions? Conflict or Cooperation? addressed that issue. Civil liberties, Ian wrote, are best protected if they are held to be indivisible. An infringement of one person’s liberties is an assault on the liberties of all. 

To show the unchanging roots of modern police practice and of police corruption, Ian first pointed to extralegal operations during WW2 instigated by the police backed up by politicians in his article The War Against Crime in Peace News of 15 March 1974. It inspired at least one PhD without acknowledgment of Ian’s work. 

For 14 years from 1970 Ian worked at the civil liberties organisation RELEASE. Ian was largely responsible for writing the 1978 Release Bustbook, Trouble with the Law. It won the Cobden Trust annual award for the best civil liberties publication. Police Review was deeply impressed by its exhaustive coverage of police procedures. The 1970s was a decade of social unrest started by the OZ trial, the Angry Brigade and the Stoke Newington 8. PROP to protect and extend prisoners’ rights was founded in 1972, a year in which there were over 100 prison riots. RAP, Radical Alternatives to Prison was set up at the same time to work for community rehabilitation to make prisons irrelevant. JAIL was Justice against Identification Laws. 

All these activist organisations, like Up Against the Law magazine, were composed of ex-prisoners, radical lawyers such as Ian McDonald, Geoffrey Mansfield, Gareth Peirce, Peter Kandler, Geoffrey Bindman and others such as Ian, devoted to justice, and to exposing injustice. ’One Bad Apple’, its periodical nationwide lists of policemen accused or and convicted of malpractice, is much missed. Ian spent many months helping families whose man had been entrapped by the infamous eyewitness identity parades, George Ince in particular. The Free George Ince campaign, backed by a song of the Tom Robinson Band, was a precursor to the George Davis is Innocent campaign. 

Ian’s 17-page article in Up Against the Law No. 9 of 1974, Fitting Up George Davis, the inside story of the Ilford Robbery, is an unprecedented forensic analysis of a crime and the police investigation. George Davis was shown to be innocent of the crime for which he was convicted. Along with Martin Walker of JAIL, Ian was busy with the extraordinary working-class George Davis is Innocent campaign. When its activists such as Ian’s friend Peter Chappell wrecked the Headingly cricket test match pitch in 1975, Chappell received savage class justice, a prison sentence. Steady rain would have stopped play anyway… 

In 1984 Ian resigned from Release for two reasons : Release had earned its earlier reputation for principled work in defence of civil liberties, because of the welfare and legal work it performed at summer festivals. By 1982 Release stopped its work in that area because such festivals were held to be politically incorrect, sexist. An elitist policy was also developed within Release which dictated that anyone before the courts or in police custody for any offence involving violence to women, homosexuals or any racial minority must not be advised in any way. This was the time of militancy of Women Against Violence Against Women

A life sentence prisoner with serious health problems, Frank Marritt, in the 17th year of his imprisonment for the murder of a young woman friend during a quarrel, was considered unworthy of Release assistance. Although Release had commissioned Ian’s original research, they shunned it. Likewise, the National Campaign for Civil Liberties would not allow Ian access to their file. Ian’s 90-page book An Account Paid in Full, the Frank Marritt Dossier, was published jointly in 1982 by RAP and PROP. It is a humane indictment of penal policy, which contributed towards Marritt’s eventual release.  “The principle on which we say he should be released is that he has met the demands which society once reasonably made of him. The system is now destroying him.”

Ian and his fellow-campaigners’ activism led to the development in the 1980s by numerous London boroughs of staffed units that took on board the need to democratically challenge highlight and improve policing standards and practices. Following the Brixton Riots of 1981, Greenwich Council exposed the deliberately secretive process of Riot Policing in Greenwich in its report on River Way Police “Holding and Training Centre”, for which Ian was largely responsible. From the same pressures sprang later the establishment in 2000 of the Metropolitan Police Authority. Change and development there was, not as much as the radicals had worked for. PROP and RAP and JAIL and UPAL are history now. 

Ian’ last extraordinary original publication was in 2000, We’re breaking new ground : Operation Century. Only one newspaper, The Sun, featured the covert police Operation Century. What its reporter called “a bizarre plot” included Special Branch officers posing as IRA drug runners ringing up a suspect in his home in Essex on 9th February 1996 to threaten him. The RUC were assisting Essex police to put pressure on him in the hope he would provide information to help them in their ongoing December 1995 Rettenden Triple Murders investigation. They pointedly told him that Canary Wharf had just been blown by the IRA, minutes after it had happened. Ian noted that Essex police admit that there was no Rettenden- Irish connection. 

Ian’s report drew on Century tapes, transcripts and related correspondence. He decided in 1998 to take up the blatant police abuses of suspects’ human rights with Essex Police, Police Authority, Home Office ministers Straw, Boateng and Hoey and the Parliamentary Ombudsman. Cameron was repeatedly stonewalled with double talk and lies – with bland claims that Century was properly authorised and supervised, and that no direct threats were made to any individuals. Ian argued to the contrary : it was an ill-conceived shambles.

Ian gained access to a partly unpublished Sun text citing interviews with Detective Superintendent Ivan Dibley. Dibley saw himself as Century’s star. He reportedly stated: ‘We’re breaking new ground….when you have no evidence you have no choice….the whole purpose of the exercise was to threaten and frighten [the suspects].’ Ian compared bullish Dibley with cocky Challenor, the most notorious policeman of the 1960s, who in 1990 bragged of murder threats he had made. 

For 15 years Ian went on solo walking holidays in Sicily (see his website Sicily Ablaze) in the National Park of the Madonie. Some of his poems were translated into the local dialect and declaimed publicly to great applause, in particular WHAT I NEED of 2009. Every Italian or Hispanic countryman dreams of his own little finca. 

What I need
is a small plot of land
that expands and contracts
to my desires
like an elastic band
with sun, sea and flowers
birds, mountains and sand.
Yes, what I need 
is a small plot of land
there’d be folk that I liked
who liked me too
Yes, this magic plot of land would very nicely do.

Ian’s very first pamphlet was anti-huntin’ shootin’ and fishin’. He contrasted a hypocritical speech of Prince Charles about Gandhi and non-violence with his latest massive bag of slaughtered birds, lauded in the shooting mags. The royals learn how to handle a twelve-bore when they’re in the cradle. Ian was forever outraged by cruelty to animals. 

At the time, Ian threw a brick through the West End window of a prominent gunsmith, and wrote a poem about it. 

Ian was always an original. He never chose to call himself an anarchist, he was just that way inclined. 

Julius Hogben 04.08.2021 

His family and friends remember him at