David McNee

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Person.png David McNee  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
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BornDavid Blackstock McNee
23 March 1925
Glasgow, Scotland
Died26 April 2019 (Age 94)
SpouseIsabel Hopkins

Sir David Blackstock McNee was a Scottish police officer who was Chief Constable of the City of Glasgow Police (later Strathclyde Police) from 1971 to 1977, and then Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police from 1977 to 1982.[1]

Early life

Born in Glasgow, McNee worked as an office boy at the Clydesdale Bank before joining the Royal Navy as a rating in 1943. During World War II, he served as a telegraphist on several ships, including HMS Empire Mace.[2] He was involved in the Normandy landings on D-Day.[3]

In 1946 McNee began his career in the police when he joined the City of Glasgow Police, serving as a uniformed constable before joining the force's Marine Division as a Detective Constable in 1951. He rose up the ranks to Inspector and served in the Flying Squad and Special Branch, until attending a senior command course at the Police Staff College, Bramshill, after which he was appointed Assistant Chief Constable of Dunbartonshire County Constabulary. In 1971 he took charge of the City of Glasgow Police, which, during his tenure as Chief Constable, was merged with six other local Scottish police forces to form Strathclyde Police. He joined the Metropolitan Police in London in 1977 as the Met's Commissioner, the first time he had served outside Scotland as a police officer.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner

McNee had commanded the second largest police force in Britain in Strathclyde and was now in charge of the largest. His lengthy experience as a low-ranking beat officer in Glasgow, however, was at odds with the academic and theoretical training he had received at Bramshill in the Senior Officers's course. Determined to improve the working conditions of London's beat bobbies, McNee implemented several reforms to the Metropolitan Police, some of which would be further refined by his successors.

Iranian Embassy Siege

One of the most dramatic incidents to occur during McNee's time with the Metropolitan Police was the siege of the Iranian Embassy in 1980. McNee and the Met were praised for their response and actions during the siege, however, when the first hostage was shot, McNee immediately handed control of the operation over to the British Army, who deployed the Special Air Service to storm the building and resolve the situation.

Brixton Riots

One of the most serious riots in London of the 20th century took place in Brixton over 10, 11 and 12 April 1981. The riot resulted in almost 300 police injuries and 45 members' of the public being injured; over a hundred vehicles were burned, including 56 police vehicles; almost 150 buildings were damaged, with thirty burned. There were 82 arrests. Reports suggested that up to 5,000 people were involved in the riot. McNee considered that it was unfair for the subsequent Scarman Inquiry into the riot to concentrate on policing and not extend in depth to the wider social, political and economic context. He believed the police were being set up as scapegoats for the riot.

Initially McNee alleged the rioting was not spontaneous but organised outside the Brixton area by extremist left-wing militants, however, no evidence of a prior conspiracy to trigger the riot was uncovered by Lord Scarman.[citation needed] McNee was against the repeal of the sus law, believing that no evidence had been provided that arrests under that law did harm to the relationship between the police and black people. He did not believe pressure for repeal came from the law-abiding citizens of Brixton but instead from external extremists.[4] He had earlier expressed his opinion that black people were disproportionately targeted by the sus law because there were indications that they were "over-represented in offences of robbery and other violent theft".[5]

Buckingham Palace incident

On 9 July 1982, a man later identified as Michael Fagan broke into the private apartments at Buckingham Palace, where he spent ten minutes chatting to Queen Elizabeth II in her bedroom until he was apprehended by police and palace guards.[6] The Home Secretary, William Whitelaw, sent his Permanent Secretary to ask McNee to take responsibility for the incident and resign; a request McNee declined.[7]

Operation Countryman

The investigation into corruption amongst City of London Police officers and Metropolitan Police officers known as Operation Countryman occurred predominantly during McNee's tenure. McNee was very critical of the conduct of the investigation, in particular that the investigation team would not pass him evidence relating to complaints made against his police officers.

Later life

McNee was knighted in 1978, and remained as Metropolitan Police Commissioner for five years until his retirement in 1982. He published his memoirs, McNee's Law, in 1983.


  1. Obituaries 'Sir David McNee Glasgow-born Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police at a turbulent time of strikes, the Brixton riots and the Iranian embassy siege' The Daily Telegraph p 25 Issue no 51,002(dated Thursday 9 May 2019)
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/may/08/sir-david-mcnee-obituary
  3. https://www.heraldscotland.com/opinion/17631536.obituary-sir-david-mcnee-glaswegian-became-commissioner-metropolitan-police/
  4. McNee's Law: The Memoirs Of Sir David McNee, Five Critical Years At The Metropolitan Police isbn = 0-00-217007-8
  5. https://www.runnymedetrust.org/histories/race-equality/45/runnymede-reports-on-use-of-sus-law.html
  6. http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/july/9/newsid_2498000/2498731.stm
  7. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200405/ldhansrd/pdvn/lds06/text/60608-17.htm