What will the Police Commission say?

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

By Peter Ibbotson

The Commission of Enquiry on the Police has finished its hearings, and we must sit back and await its report. In all the evidence given by members of the public to the Commissioners, the police have appeared not as friends of the public, not as men to be trusted, and not always as upholders of law and order. Too often, they have appeared as ogres, as the servants of one particular community, as oppressors who are concerned only with reconciling how to feather their own nests with, at the same time, how to get promotion by securing an adequate number of convictions.

One man who was giving evidence said: “Chaque fois qui mo dimane licence la police dire moi chanté, mo pas connait qui ça oulait dire chanter.” This business of “chanter”, that is of giving bribes to the police, is a very serious matter which cropped up more than once before the Commission. It has not been unknown for a constable, when he has caught a man riding a bicycle without a light, to bargain with that man as to what bribe he will accept to forget the incident. For such a trivial offence a couple of cigarettes appears to be the usual tariff.

Another serious matter concerning “gifts” to the police arises with regard to Chinese immigration. At present the laws on Chinese immigration into Mauritius are very tight, to prevent the infiltration of Communists. However, it is very difficult to control Chinese immigrants (even if you know their place of birth) because they have a habit of adopting temporarily the names of dead Chinese. It sometimes happens that after being born in Mauritius, some Chinese leave the island for China or Hong-Kong, and stay there for a considerable period. When they are eager to come back to Mauritius, they need an entry permit which has to be obtained from the police. The police can at the beginning refuse permits to such immigrants; but when a “substantial gift” is offered, the permit is forthcoming. Chinese, particularly, know the channels through which to make confidential bribes.

Several witnesses spoke of the ineffectiveness of the police in tracking down offenders against the traffic laws. Typical of the reports of road accidents, which are a far too frequent item of news in the daily papers, is this one from Le Cernéen of November 20th: “Lundi soir, en face du marché de la Butte, un cycliste a été renversé par une auto qui ne s’est pas arrêtée.” Such cases, of a car or motorcycle not stopping after knocking down a pedestrian, are all too common; and also, all too often the police seem helpless to find the offender.

Typical of this is the case of the late Mr H.V. Orange who was killed at Belle Etoile on June 1st, 1950. He was riding a motorcycle with a friend on their way to Port-Louis. An unknown car hit them, they both fell on the road, but the car did not stop. A person who saw them lying on the road tried to stop cars going in either direction with the view to having them taken to hospital. A motorist who was driving a black car hit the unconscious body of Mr H.V. Orange on the ground. This second car stopped and the man who was trying to get help told the driver what he had done. This time several other cars stopped, (a number of people were on their way to the theatre of Port Louis) and in the general brouhaha the driver — whose name unfortunately no one had taken — saw the time was opportune for him to slip away; which he did. No one could recall his car number. When Mr H.V. Orange died as the result, presumably, of being hit a second time, the police took the case in hand but they never traced either of the cars involved in Mr Orange’s death. To this day, the identity of the motorists responsible for his death remains unknown.

Also wrapped in mystery are the exact details of the Lionnet case, to which it was inevitable that Hon. Bissoondoyal would refer in his deposition.

“It is supremely important that men of integrity and enterprise should consider a police career sufficiently attractive to prefer it to others. And one has to remember that a great deal is asked of men who join the police. Every policeman lives, in a sense, a dedicated life — that may sound pretentious, but I believe it to be true. He cannot merely perform certain routine duties during duty hours and consider that he has fulfilled his obligations. On the contrary, he is never free to behave irresponsibly at any time — to get drunk, for instance, or indulge in the sort of escapades which most young men are attracted to occasionally, or to hang around with pals who, while being excellent company, may not be above a little dishonesty now and then. The policeman must remain circumspect at all time throughout his career for the simple reasons that if he has a guilty secret he is in a vulnerable position and is liable to be blackmailed by those who know of his lapse and obliged by them to connive at their own misdoings.”

This paragraph is quoted from Cloak without Dagger, the autobiography of Sir Percy Sillitoe, who before becoming Director General of M.I.5. (the British Security Service) in 1945 had been Chief Constable successively of the police forces of Chesterfield, the East Riding of Yorkshire, Sheffield, Glasgow and Kent. Throughout his career as a chief constable, he always insisted that “the police force needs not exceptionally high standards of education, but very great integrity and strength of character, combined with the wisdom which comes to some — though not all — men when they have had wide and varied practical experience of human nature.”

If all the people’s complaints against the police are justified, or even if only a few of them are, there would seem to be room at the head of the police department for a man of Sir Percy Sillitoe’s calibre. Although he has now retired from M.I.5., Sir Percy was offered a short-time job investigating illicit traffic in diamonds in South Africa on behalf of the De Beers Consolidated Mines and the Diamond Corporation. This job he accepted: to plan a campaign against the big shots of the international diamond smuggling racket. It is not impossible that Sir Percy, who had considerable experience in cleaning up large-scale graft in Glasgow, might be tempted to Mauritius to investigate and put into effect such reforms in the Police Department as the depositions before the Commission have indicated as, in the public interest and the public view, desirable. Should, of course, the Report of the Commissioners indicate the necessity of reform, then again Sir Percy Sillitoe (who is not yet 70) would be the best man to see them carried out.

Mauritius Times – Friday 20 December 1957
4th year – No 176


* Published in print edition on 2 November 2021

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