The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has refused to release a report on policing reform during the Troubles which was written by a British intelligence officer who held racist views.
John Morton wrote an “ambitious” report recommending an increase in the size of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) special branch in 1973 as paramilitary violence was reaching a height.
The PSNI, which holds RUC records from that era, has refused to disclose the document, arguing that the Morton report was exempt from freedom of information laws because it related to a “security body”. A PSNI spokesperson declined to comment further on the matter.
Morton, who spent decades as a colonial policeman in India, wrote in his memoirs that, over time, “it dawned upon me, and became deeply ingrained, that the British were the rulers of India and that the Indians were a sort of immature, backward and needy people whom it was the natural British function to govern and administer.
“Correspondingly, it also seemed the natural place of the Indians to serve their masters, the Sahibs, and show deference and respect towards them.”
Morton continued: “It was inspiring to realise that I was born into this splendid heritage and that to be British was to be a superior sort of person.”
Morton later became a director at MI5 and held various positions inside Whitehall. He died in 1985.
Queen's University Belfast legal scholar Dr Kevin Hearty criticised the PSNI's decision to conceal the report.
“This is not a security issue by any stretch of the imagination, it’s about saving face over what is likely to be another damaging revelation about the RUC special branch.
“The PSNI should facilitate a proper and informed discussion of the ethos, culture and the directives that RUC special branch worked under by releasing this report,” he said.
Some declassified British files indicate Morton’s report considered how to enhance the intelligence capabilities of the RUC.
In the mid-1970s, officials planned to reduce the size of the British army in Northern Ireland and hand over some of its duties, like covert surveillance, to the police. The policy was known as police primacy.
Dr Hearty said: “If special branch were working to police primacy policies devised by a racist, it would add further strain to their fragile reputation.”
The RUC special branch was involved in numerous controversies during the mid-1970s, including alleged collusion with loyalist groups.
Files from 1976 show that the RUC proposed “a comprehensive system of collation and speedy dissemination of information, together with protection of special branch intelligence and sources and the development of specialist high level surveillance teams”.
One British official commented that “the Morton report set out proposals to cover this and progress has been made by the RUC”.
The report’s recommendations were still relevant as late as 1977, when a Northern Ireland office civil servant wrote that “the suggested special branch increase stems from the Morton report of 1973”.
Morton’s counter-insurgency advice was not just limited to the Troubles. He went to Sri Lanka in 1979 where conflict between the Tamil minority and the ruling Sinhalese majority was brewing.
There, Morton made “practical recommendations for the total reorganisation of the intelligence apparatus”, according to a UK foreign office file.
John Percival Morton, CMG OBE, better known as Jack Morton, was born in India in 1911. He joined the Indian Imperial Police Service in 1930 in the midst of anti-colonial unrest.
He commanded an armed paramilitary police unit before becoming a special branch officer.
While raiding an Indian independence activist's house in Amritsar, he found literature about Michael Collins and Sinn Féin.
“The Irish connection and the wider ramifications of the revolutionary movement made a deep impression on me at the time”, he said. “My interest in special branch matters now quickened.”
In 1944 Morton took charge of Lahore District at the age of 33, the youngest officer to command its 4,000-strong police force.
As partition unfolded, Morton was offered a job with MI5 in Baghdad. He rose through the ranks of MI5, becoming a director.