Hard to believe, but the (relatively young) man who preceded Hugh Orde as head of the PSNI, Colin Cramphorn, has died recently. Dean Godson’s memoir of him paints a picture of a politically literate man, but one not given to deflection from his role as a policeman for political considerations:
Some chief constables are militantly apolitical to the point of self-destruction; others are too swayed by fashion. Cramphorn managed a perfect balance. Peter Clarke, head of the Metropolitan Police’s Anti-Terrorist Branch – an old friend from the Senior Command Course at the Police Staff College at Bramshill – told the Belfast Telegraph: “Colin accepted the inevitability of politics but was never affected by it.”
This independence of character was most apparent in his stewardship of the investigation into “Stormontgate” in 2002. The critical period occurred during his period as Acting Chief Constable after the retirement of Sir Ronnie Flanagan, though by the time of the actual raid on the Sinn Fein offices at Parliament Buildings took place in October 2002, the new Chief Constable, Hugh Orde, was already in post.
Despite pressure from elements in Government and MI5 to soft-pedal the investigation because of the impact on the peace process – as attested to by Chief Superintendent Bill Lowry, then head of Belfast Special Branch – Cramphorn let the investigation into the alleged republican spy ring in the Northern Ireland Office run its course.
In consequence, the devolved Executive was suspended and despite numerous efforts by the British and Irish governments, it has still not been revived. Cramphorn was unrepentant: his first duty was to the law. As such, his impact on the history of this island was considerable.