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Salisbury, Harold Hubert (1915–1991)

Harold Hubert Salisbury, who has died at his home in England, was South Australia's most controversial police commissioner.

Mr Salisbury was chief constable of the York and North-East Yorkshire Police Force when, at the age of 56, he was appointed as the first career policeman to become commissioner in South Australia.

It was 1972, a time of profound political and social change in South Australia. There had been disquiet leading to a Royal Commission on police handling of Vietnam anti-war marches.

One consequence was that the Dunstan Government, sensitive to civil libertarian principles generally, was committed to bringing the police force under direct ministerial control.

This was a matter on which Mr Salisbury held strong views. At the time of his appointment, he was quoted as saying: "Once you accede to political pressure, both sides have got you.'' He was not in the job long before he realised he had a potentially explosive and highly embarrassing case on his hands—the drowning of a homosexual academic, Dr George Duncan, in the River Torrens. There were allegations, never proved in court, that members of the vice squad were responsible.

More conclusive—especially for Mr Salisbury—was the affair of the special branch files, which led to his summary dismissal by the Dunstan Government in 1978.

A report on the affair stated that Mr Salisbury continued the practice of his predecessor in passing on special branch information to ASIO — and in preventing Mr Dunstan from learning of this.

Mr Dunstan was outraged. He disbanded the special branch and sacked Mr Salisbury, saying he had misled the Government, Parliament and the people over the branch's activities.

Mr Salisbury was a man of conservative social views. He condemned the "agents of darkness'' who, in his view, planned the destruction of marriage and the family way of life.

In his professional role, however, he was something of a radical. He had police learn Aboriginal languages and brought about big changes in police-Aboriginal relations; introduced the police dog squad, and launched the first holiday traffic safety campaigns.

Soon after his dismissal, Mr Salisbury and his wife left South Australia to retire to his home in Pershore, Worcestershire.

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'Salisbury, Harold Hubert (1915–1991)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/salisbury-harold-hubert-14851/text26207, accessed 24 October 2021.

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