Sir Robert Mark: the man who cleaned up the Met Police

Sir Robert Mark
Image caption Sir Robert was an articulate and candid speaker

Sir Robert Mark, who was Metropolitan Police Commissioner from 1972 to 1977, came to be regarded as one of the great reforming administrators of his time through his strengthening of police discipline.

When he took over as commissioner in April 1972 after four years as deputy, morale in the force was low and there was evidence of considerable corruption in Scotland Yard. By firm action, he did much to restore public confidence.

At one stage he threatened to put all 3,200 officers in the CID back into uniform and start again from scratch unless they conformed to his standards. The measures he took led to 450 officers leaving the Yard as a result of or in anticipation of disciplinary moves.

He ended autonomy for the detectives, made the role of the police the subject of much more open debate, and tried to create a new and trusting relationship with journalists.

Born in Manchester, the son of a clothing manufacturer, Robert Mark was educated at William Hulme's Grammar School, where he was head boy, worked briefly for a carpet firm, and entered the Manchester City Police Force in 1937.

During WWII he served in north-west Europe as an officer in the Royal Armoured Corps and at the end of it stayed in Germany for a couple of years as a major in the Public Safety branch of the Control Commission.


In 1957, he became the youngest chief constable in Britain when, at the age of 40, he was appointed to Leicester and 10 years later Roy Jenkins (then Home Secretary) brought him to London as assistant - and a year later deputy-commissioner.

While still holding this post, he was one of the police advisers to the Hunt Commission on Northern Ireland, which resulted in a disbanding of the B Specials, and he assisted Lord Mountbatten during his inquiry into prison security.

By the time he became head of the Metropolitan force in April 1972, Mr Mark had a considerable reputation as a thoroughly professional and forward-looking policeman.

As part of his strengthening of discipline, he intensified the investigation of complaints from the public and tried to improve police relations with racial and other minority groups.

At the same time, he carried on an unrelenting war against crime, using new techniques and reorganising the forces at his command to make them more effective. He was particularly successful in combating IRA and other terrorism.


Sir Robert - he was knighted in 1973 - was a forceful speaker, not only articulate but very candid. He once described his time as deputy commissioner as "awful" - most of the other senior officers had been against him as an "outsider".

His BBC Dimbleby Lecture of 1973 caused some controversy with its contention that the British legal system was too lenient to professional criminals and was exploited and even abused by some lawyers.

His misgivings about the operation of the jury system in particular brought him into conflict with sections of the legal profession.

In the autumn of 1975, Sir Robert won considerable credit for the successful "wait and see" tactics adopted by the police in the Spaghetti House siege in London's Knightsbridge, where three gunmen eventually surrendered after holding six hostages in a restaurant cellar.

A year later, he staunchly defended the deployment of more than 1,500 police officers during a West Indian carnival in Notting Hill which ended in serious rioting and declared: "There are not going to be any no-go areas in London - we will police every street to uphold the law".

Sir Robert retired on his 60th birthday and was succeeded by Mr David McNee, Chief Constable of Strathclyde. Out of office, Sir Robert remained busy. He lectured in America, acted as a security consultant and started work on an autobiography.

In 1978 he went to Australia to advise the police there on anti-terrorism measures. Later he went to Canada to advise on complaints against the police. Sir Robert also made a number of television commercials for a famous tyre firm and for some time he gave all the money he made from them to charity.

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