In view of the controversy concerning the police and whether we could trust them, this was an exchange between two colleagues concerning the police in the UK. They had been in West Africa and seen the way that the police could arrest and detain people without trial. It was at the same time that Ken Sirawawa was executed. It comes from my novel An Ordinary Life.
' Back at the hotel that evening over a beer before going to bed, Brian remarked. “ At least this could not happen in the UK, Tom. There would have to be suspicions and some evidence before anybody was arrested. Then the trail would have to be in public with proper evidence.”
Tom smiled. “ I am not so sure that the police are above trying to get at people they do not like in ways other than arrest and trial. Look, if they arrest somebody but do not charge them they can influence the life of that person substantially. They can even spread rumours through their friends in the press or drop hints about people they suspect or do not like without even arresting them. You know how difficult it is to shake off a bad reputation even when any rumours are proved unfounded. Still what happened here could not happen in the UK, I give you that.”'
When he arrived home This happened to Tom.
' Jane never finished what she was about to say because the front door bell sounded. Looking at Tom, she said, “ I’ll go and see who it is.”
A few moments later Jane appeared back in the kitchen followed by two men. Her face was white and drawn. Tom frowned because he felt he recognised one of the men but could not place him. It was the square body that nudged Tom’s memory and the face though this was more fleshy than he remembered.
“ Professor Houseman?” the man asked looking Tom up and down.” I am Detective Inspector Henderson. Will you accompany me to the station voluntarily?”
Tom shrugged. “ Why?”
“ We want to question you about your relationship with Derek Jones.” he stated grim faced.
“ What if I refuse?”
“ I will have to arrest you but I would not like to do that. It would be easier for all concerned if you came with me.”
“ Of course,” Tom smiled shrugging his shoulders into his jacket.
To Jane he said. “ Phone Tony and ask him if he will come to the main police station to help me. Tell him what has happened. Get Belinda if you can to come and keep you company. Then phone Edward and inform him of what has happened.”
Tom put his arm round her shoulder. “ Don’t worry. We will soon clear this up and I will be back with you.”
Henderson said to Jane. “ We will send some men to search his papers. They will have a search warrant.”
Tom followed the policeman out of his house. Jane stood in the doorway watching as he got into a car, waving slightly in reply to Tom’s reassuring smile.
The car ride to the station was undertaken in silence. Tom hardly noticed the passing houses and streets or the park by his old school. Deep in thought, he was rehearsing in his mind the likely path of the interrogation. Glancing at his companion, he remembered back to his school days. Phil Henderson had been a classmate but not a friend. In those days he had been something of a loner and had always made plain his envy of Tom’s apparent friendship with most of the other pupils. When they had both left school, Tom had gone to university, Henderson into the police. They had played football together for the school team, Henderson a bull of a centre forward, Tom a fast winger. Even then Henderson had not fraternised with the rest of the team. Tom wondered what effect their earlier relationship would have on the interview. Since leaving school they had met on a number of occasions mainly at civic functions but had hardly acknowledged each other.
The car arrived at the police station and Tom was ushered quickly into the building, down echoing corridors to be placed in a sparse room with a formica topped table, a number of plastic chairs and a standing cupboard with some electronic equipment on top.
“ I have to leave you for a moment,” Henderson informed him. “ I will order some coffee. Constable Barnes will be by the door.”
Henderson left and a few moments later another police man came in with the coffee. Tom sat and stared at the wall well aware that Henderson was playing games, trying to make him nervous about what was going to happen. As he had managed to do in similar circumstances like waiting to address and take questions from other experts at international conferences, Tom sank into himself. He waited, not showing the observing policeman that he was concerned.
About thirty minutes after he had been left on his own, the door opened to bring Tom back from calmness. Henderson entered followed by another man dressed in a rather crumpled suit with his tie lose at his neck.
Henderson pulled up a chair to the table indicating for the other man to do likewise. He placed a green cardboard folder on the table and nodded for the tape machine to be switched on.
“ Time 1550 at Porthampton Central Police Station. This is an interview with Professor Tom Houseman concerning his relationship with Derek Jones. Present Professor Houseman, Detective Inspector Henderson and Detective Connolly. Will you confirm you presence?”
Tom smiled. “ Professor Tom Houseman.”'
Even though Tom was released without charge, this is what happened concerning his work.
' He was ushered into the Vice Chancellors office as soon as he arrived. The office looked empty when he entered with the large oval table ready to seat a dozen in conference, blank and uncluttered. The glass fronted cabinets lining the walls reflected the sunlight streaming in through the large picture window at the far end of the office from the door. Prominent on one shelf clearly visible to anybody in the room were the books written by Professor Keeley, Porthampton University’s Vice Chancellor. In front of the window was the biggest desk Tom had ever seen even when compared to those of some of the pumped up government ministers in places he had visited.
Behind the desk with the light at his back in true Hollywood fashion sat Professor Keeley. A small man with balding head but surprisingly broad shoulders, Professor Keeley was one of the most eminent scientists of his generation.
“ Come and sit down Tom,” Professor Keeley indicated one of the chairs on Tom’s side of the desk. As Tom sat down he took note of the copy of the local paper with the screaming headline lying on the top of the desk.
“ You wanted to see me?” Tom asked politely.
“ I will come straight to the point,” Professor Keeley picked up the paper and held it up for Tom to see. “ I suppose you have read this?”
“ Yes,” Tom replied his eyes narrow but his face expressionless.
“ Can you explain what it means?”
“ What is reported in the paper,” Tom waved at the paper in Professor Keeley hand. “ It is supposition about my private life and as such is no concern of yours or the university.”
“ Let me be the judge of what concerns the university and what does not.” Professor Keeley snapped, throwing the paper onto the desk top. “ Any adverse publicity for the university whether involving one of the staff or the whole university has an effect on the reputation of the university in the wider world. Having policemen come to the campus with a search warrant to get into one of my professor’s offices came as quite a shock.”
“ Did they find anything?” Tom demanded.
“ I have no idea. It is not something they would have told me.”
“ So on no evidence of wrong doing, you are going to apply sanctions to me or take me before the council?”
“ That is a university procedure. If any member of staff is engaged ion activities which bring the university into ill repute, they have to answer to the Council.”
“ I have done nothing wrong. The police let me go without any charges being offered. That says I am innocent of any wrong doing.”
“ You were still taken in for questioning by the police.” Professor Keeley was being stubborn.
“ So if we take this to its logical conclusion, if you do not like somebody you can get your friends in the police to take them in for questioning and then discipline them even if they have done nothing wrong. That smacks of a police state.”
“ Don’t be silly Tom. You will have your say at the Council. What do you suggest I tell the Council people when they ask?”
“ Tell them what you know,” Tom shrugged.
Professor Keeley steepled his fingers above his desk. “ That is part of the problem. I only have the report in the local paper and the television item to go on. I was hoping you would fill me in with your side of the story.”
Tom shook his head. “ I still think this is all part of my private life and no business of the university. Everything I have done which might have effected my standing in the university and the university’s reputation has been with the agreement of the university committees. It really bugs me this attitude of you and some of the Council. You have been quick to take part of the credit for my research findings especially when it has been successful and gained publicity. I have always made sure that the name of the university is prominent whenever I give a paper at a conference or publish anything. All of my consultancies have been taken under the university procedures and a great deal of money put into the university coffers. What more could I have done?”
“ But it is your association with a known criminal that worries me.”
Tom got angry then. “ Who the hell says that Derek Jones is a known criminal? Where is your proof? If a student included that sort of accusation as a fact in one of my essays I would tell them to back it up with examples before including it. Now where is your proof?”
Professor Keeley sat upright in his chair. “ I grant you that there is no proof about Derek Jone’s criminal activities but you were shown to be an associate of a man with a very murky life.”
“ Stop there, Marcus,” Tom ordered. “ You are in danger of libel. He is the Chairman of a listed company, Hunt Enterprises which owns many sub businesses especially in the transport field. I have known Derek all my life. We lived close to each other and went to the same school as infants and juniors. All right I passed the eleven plus and he went to secondary modern but we stayed friends. He introduced me to Mr. Hunt of Hunt Enterprises and I did some consultancy work. Mr. Hunt turned Hunt Enterprises into a limited company and asked me to be a non executive director. After consulting the university authorities, it was agreed. I have been a non executive director ever since. Derek succeeded Mr. Hunt when he died. That is the story of my friendship with Derek Jones. As even you have to admit there is nothing sinister in our friendship.”
“ I hear what you are saying but I still have to put your arrest before the Council,” Professor Keeley spread his hands. “ The next meeting will be in a month. Make sure you are there.”
“ I must protest,” Tom said angrily. “ You do not have any grounds for putting me before the Council!”
With that closing remark, he stormed out of the Vice Chancellor’s office without saying goodbye.
As soon as the meeting started Tom realised he was not going to win the backing of the majority of the Council. There were too many other professors and academics who, for some reason, appeared to resent his position in the university and the outside world. They were supported by many of the non university members. Why he could not say though that might have been the product of the way Derek and the other board members had built up Hunt Enterprises. No matter how he put forward his arguments and his defence there were many voices raised against him. It was as though they believed the police and wanted there to be truth in the matter. Even many of the people who he regarded as friends remained silent in the face of so much hostility.
After the meeting, Tom now very angry and trying to contain his erupting emotions, barged into the Vice Chancellor’s office. The security guard in the foyer tried to stop him but one look at Tom’s face and he quickly got out of the way. After all Professor Houseman was one of the senior academics in the university. Professor Keeley’s secretary tried to stop him but Tom barged passed.
Professor Keeley was standing by the window talking to one of the other professors Hugh Morely.
“ What is the meaning of this?” Professor Keeley demanded putting down his cup and reaching for the bell.
“ Hugh would you leave us please?” Tom asked politely.
Hugh put down his cup and left.
“ Sit down Professor Keeley,” Tom ordered. “ I have something to offer you as a way out of our problem.”
Professor Keeley sat down behind his desk. “ Nothing has been decided yet about how the university is going to deal with you.”
Tom laughed. “ Professor Keeley you were at the meeting. There were enough staff and outsiders against me for me to realise that if it comes to a vote, I will be asked to resign. In other words I will be sacked. Now I will fight any dismissal right to the top of the profession even appealing to the Privy Council if need be. That would not do the university much good would it?”
“ It would cause grave danger to our reputation,” Professor Keeley conceded.
“ Now this is my proposal,” Tom smiled. As he had that day in Nigeria when he had decided on a course of action, he felt at peace with himself. “ The university is asking staff who are over fifty to put in for early retirement. They are giving away ten years enhancement to the pension. I will put in for early retirement on those terms. You will then give me a contract for sixteen hours a week, the hourly rate to be determined, to complete my research contracts. Don’t say anything until I am finished. There are many universities both in this country and abroad who would jump at the chance of employing me. Now all but one of the research contracts I am fulfilling at the moment are in my name. I would be within my rights to take these with me if I left. Is my proposal acceptable to you? Will it be accepted by the rest of the university?”
Professor Keeley looked as though he had been manoeuvred into a corner and did not like the feeling. He looked around the office as though trying to find a way to refuse but finally he nodded his head.
“ You have us in an untenable position, Tom,” he said eventually looking at Tom over the top of his glasses. “ Some of my colleagues are not going to like this. I will have all the papers drawn up and sent over to you as soon as possible.”
“ Good,” Tom turned to leave but then turned back. “ Oh one other thing. If I am to help you out in this way you will have to get any chance of me being censured off the agenda. I will follow the minutes of the next meeting of the Council with interest.”'
Most policemen are honest and doing a great job in protecting the public. The problem is that each incident which sheds doubt on their honesty even though it might involve only a few policemen, puts in doubt the the trust between the public and the police.
AN ORDINARY LIFE can be purchased from Amazon for downloading to electronic readers or as a paperback.