Tributes paid to Wigan-born former Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Sir James Anderton

The larger-than-life, Wigan-born former Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, Sir James Anderton, has died.

By Charles Graham
Friday, 6th May 2022, 1:55 pm

The force today (May 6) led the tributes to the 89-year-old, praising a lasting legacy to policing through his pioneering work.

Sir James was once strongly tipped for Britain's top police job as Commissioner of the Metroplitan Police.

But he proved a divisive character for some, and his provocative comments on a wide range of topics from law and order to religion and homosexuality set him on a collision course with his Labour-controlled police authority.

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Sir James Anderton on one of his many visits back to Wigan

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He caused outrage with a speech on Aids in which he said homosexuals were "swirling around in a cesspit of their own making'' and later suggested he could be a “Prophet of God.”

From there on in he was nicknamed “God’s Copper.”

Born and brought up in a coalmining family in Wigan, Sir James was educated at St Matthew's CE Primary in Highfield and later at Wigan Grammar School.

Greater Manchester Chief Constable James Anderton getting his teeth into a Poole's pie as he receives various traditional Wigan souvenirs from the then Divisional Commander, Chief Superintendent Gordon Burton, during a special lunch at Wigan police headquarters for the Wigan born top cop to celebrate his knighthood on Tuesday February 19 1991.

He performed three years' National Service in the Royal Military Police before joining the Manchester City Police force in 1953.

He began his career as a beat constable in the Moss Side area of Manchester before being talent-spotted by then Supt Robert Mark who later became Met Commissioner.

Sir James rose rapidly through the ranks of the Manchester City Police, studying criminology at the Victoria University of Manchester.

He became a chief superintendent of Cheshire Constabulary and later the assistant chief constable of Leicestershire Constabulary.

In 1975 he became deputy chief constable of the newly founded GMP and in 1976, he was appointed chief constable aged 44.

One of Sir James’s first acts was a drive against pornography and prostitution.

A special squad raided 284 bookshops, newsagents and warehouses, confiscating 160,000 magazines to a street value of £200,000. Seizures included The Sun Page Three Annual.

The crackdown received support from some feminists and anti-pornography campaigners, but was criticised by civil liberties groups as a moral crusade.

There was also a drive against late night drinking in Manchester city centre with a particular focus against illegal drinking clubs and after-hours drinking in licensed bars and clubs. As a result, 24 nightclubs had their licences revoked by magistrates.

Sir James was frequently criticised by gay rights activists of devoting undue attention to the policing of the area due to his alleged prejudice towards the gay community.

While he was in charge of the force it became the first English police force to deploy a plainclothes "decoy" squad to lure street robbers or "muggers" into the open, the idea having been adopted the tactic from the New York City Police Department.

Another of his achievements was to order the creation of the Tactical Aid Group (TAG) which was responsible for providing GMP with a mobile reserve for combating public disorder and crime. It was regularly deployed to combat football violence and disorder during demonstrations and industrial disputes.

In 1986, Sir James was embroiled in national political controversy when his deputy, John Stalker, was suspended over allegations of his friendship with a man called Kevin Taylor, who was accused of fraud and drug-dealing through an alleged association with the Quality Street Gang. The suspension came on the point of Stalker’s completing an official report critical of the Royal Ulster Constabulary’s policing policies.

Sir James praised his officers, and warned the British public during the height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union of the threat of left-wing subversion.

When challenged by left wing Labour councillors and community activists on what they believed was his heavy-handed approach as chief constable, Sir James directly confronted his opponents and accused them of subversion, undermining police morale and threatening British democracy.

Sir James was vocal about his Christian faith – he was a Methodist lay preacher before converting to Catholicism due to Rome's stance on moral issues.

He was quoted as saying the police were a means of providing moral enforcement against "social nonconformists, malingerers, idlers, parasites, spongers, frauds, cheats and unrepentant criminals", and was a vocal opponent of gay rights, feminism, pornography and those who "openly hanker[ed] after total debauchery and lewdness".

He was knighted in 1990 and retired in June 1992 at the age of 59.

But he did not disappear entirely from public life. Just months later he was back in his home town to promote a new anti-drugs campaign and went on to champion work turning young people away from criminality.

Current GMP Chief Constable, Stephen Watson, said: "During his 15-year service as Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, James Anderton led the force through some of the most extensive periods of change in UK policing.

"He was a public servant of significant stature who oversaw many innovative and important operational developments, leaving behind a lasting legacy in policing.

"He was highly regarded by police officers and staff and is still well remembered within GMP after over twenty years of retirement. On behalf of everyone at Greater Manchester Police I extend our sincere condolences to Mr Anderton’s family.”

A spokesperson for the National Association of Retired Police Officers added: “Sir James enjoyed tremendous support from those that were privileged to serve with him throughout his tenure and he continued to serve NARPO as our President here in Manchester after retirement.

"His commitment to the community of Greater Manchester and to the welfare, training and service delivery of all the police and support staff at Greater Manchester Police as Deputy and then Chief Constable, that helped himdeliver such a high standard of policing, cannot be exaggerated.

"He is still held in the highest esteem, even after his retirement and now his passing, by so many people who thrived under his leadership and example.

“Never one to shrink from addressing issues faced in Greater Manchester and nationally, his legacy is his reputation among his colleagues of being ‘a Copper's Copper’.

“RIP Sir James. We all thank Lady Anderton and their daughter Gill for sharing him with us.”