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Home > Reviews > Investigating Organised Crime and War Crimes

Investigating Organised Crime and War Crimes

Author Anthony Nott

ISBN No 9781473898912

Review date 19/11/2019

No of pages 216

Publisher Pen and Sword

Publisher URL

Year of publication 18/08/2017


Our Review


£ 20

In some ways, the stories from the countries where Anthony Nott went as a senior UK policeman to work, as the title of his memoir says, feel a long time ago. And there's no denying the fact that the material in the book is grim; it could hardly be otherwise. Besides all the merits of first-person autobiography - giving us, the reader, a ringside seat - Nott has an important story to tell, and he puts across well and movingly the pain and rewards of doing such work.

The pages that he devotes to the kidnap and death of Margaret Hassan in Iraq are relevant today. Nott sets out how the UK government's 'strategic approach was to distance itself from her British nationality'. Nott repeats the official well-worn phrase, that the UK would 'not negotiate with terrorists'. Nott bluntly adds: "This whole strategy was fundamentally flawed and doomed to failure," which he then lays out. In what he describes as a 'new age of protracted asymmetric warfare', he wonders if new laws need to be created, 'to protect us all from the new and emerging dangers of the 21st century'. As for whether to negotiate with hostage taking terrorists, Nott argues this policy is flawed ('as a practical cop, it is in my DNA to negotiate').

As he points out, police negotiate to talk the mentally disturbed down from roofs, and with drunks on Saturday night; and the UK Government had to speak to the IRA eventually to make peace: "In the same way, the UK government should have engaged with Margaret's kidnappers and it wasn't a hopeless case for a negotiator." On paying a ransom, he does think that the UK government position of not paying ransoms is correct, while he believes that commercial companies pay criminals who kidnap for profit. But payment of ransom should be separate from the tactic of negotiation.

He sums up: I am afraid to say that my assessment of this and other kidnappings is that the UK embassy in Iraq's main priority at this particular time [mid 2000s, while civil war raged in Iraq, whatever anyone tried to call it otherwise] was to protect the policy of the UK government; the victim was very much secondary." This topic, over a few pages in the book, is covered here at length because it shows the style and content of the book; Nott has opinions of his own and was not afraid to air them; which may be, as he puts it in another context elsewhere in the book, why he never made chief constable.

If you were in the former Yugoslavia during or after the civil wars of the 1990s and in Iraq after the Coalition invasion and the 'mayhem' for some years after, this book may be a bittersweet reminder; of the tears, and the persistent humanity despite it all. Nott was, as the subtitle to his book says, a 'senior detective', there to make arrests and close cases; neither Kosovo nor Iraq were like the Dorset he left and indeed was able to return to. He left the Iraq mission in May 2006 'feeling frustrated at not having done enough'. Interestingly he admits that he owed a lot to the Control Risks (CRG) bodyguards ('who kept me alive') yet adds that he was 'stifled by the security blanket'; not able to fully do his job with the Iraqi police, he means. With typical empathy he reminds us of the families of service personnel, diplomats and aid workers who suffer while worrying whether their father or husband or sister is going to die abroad.

Near the end of the book Nott also writes about abuse of children in Northern Ireland, where he did a case review ('I am afraid that throughout the rest of the UK this pattern of child abuse and lack by the police and other agencies of joining up the dots carried on with sickening regularity') and of a DFID-arranged Palestinian police training project in Jerusalem. Here as elsewhere Nott found that 'foreign missions are very much about establishing relationships and maintaining integrity'. As someone told Nott while he was at work in Iraq, the country would be there after they had left; so to return to the start, the western intervention in the Middle East may have passed, but Nott's wise advice remains of use, besides as a valid and important part of the historical record. And, we can suspect, something that Nott felt he had to get off his chest. As he says at the end, he left loose ends: "True detective stories unfortunately reflect life which is far from perfect."

He closes with some names of people he was glad to work alongside, and this book can also be read with profit by someone who's looking to work in this field. Like other freelance work, you have to be ready to answer the phone and say yes, and be prepared to leave the UK and family behind. As for how demanding the work can be, take for example in the chapter 'Banja Luka' Nott's work with an interpreter to head off an international incident as a mayor sought to move the border with Croatia by 100m. While reading the story can hardly be enough to equip you to face something similar, Nott tells the story vividly and with plenty of insight. As indeed he does throughout this book.