Rule Britannia: Begging, Boozing, Bugging and Burgling


Review: Simon Parkes, Black Flag (independently published, 2017), pp. 458, RRP £9.99

 “Those memory sticks you had analysed, the circumstantial evidence you’ve gathered surrounding them, the Mossad guy, the woman from Six,” said the American. “It’s a Black Flag, you know it and I know it. We’ve been goaded into following a trail to Tehran. The Israelis have gone too far this time but it changes nothing. If those hostages die we’re going to war.”

 Black Flag: a masterclass on the interplay of domestic and international relations. Turf wars between faceless Home Office bureaucrats, Cro-Magnon Met coppers and unaccountable spooks at MI5 and MI6; fought alongside the interests of America and Israel. Aren’t they all on the same side? Perhaps those who we pay to govern the nation on our behalf should avoid the undignified scramble to sport the earliest poppy pre-November, a charade comparable to “Christmas”…

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Those Thoughts

How summer sparkles,

when there’s no sun to be seen.

Too scared to sleep or wake,

strapped in sweat-sodden sheets.

But for my radio –

stamping out the silence, stifling them below.


(Do you still hear,

those thoughts?

It’s the easy way out.

Reach out, for the vodka,


in the bottle; as low as your spirits.)


So cheers. To salvation,

through saturation. The anticipation,

of getting pissed.

Of passing out, for your sake:

to sleep and not to dream,

to dream and not to wake.

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Justice for Daniel Morgan 30 Years On

Jonathan Rees was drinking with his business partner, 37-year-old private investigator Daniel Morgan, at the Golden Lion pub in Sydenham, south-east London, on 10 March 1987. Morgan left the pub at 9pm, fifteen minutes after Rees departed. As Morgan unlocked his BMW he was hit in the back of the head with an axe. The fourth and final blow was so ferocious that the blade fused with Morgan’s cheekbone.

Why was Daniel Morgan killed? Threats of violence are an occupational hazard in the seedy and squalid world of private detection. David Bray, a bailiff at Morgan and Rees’s firm Southern Investigations, claimed that Morgan had been having an affair with a local lady and that “the husband had found out about them and had phoned Danny at home and threatened to kill him.”

A few weeks prior to his murder, a West London repossession led to Morgan receiving a phone call: “Living on borrowed time. You’re a dead man.”

But the hit on Morgan appears professional: sticking plaster wrapped around the axe handle provided extra grip while rendering fingerprint identification impossible.

Five police investigations at a cost of £50 million have been conducted into the murder of Daniel Morgan. The stench of Met corruption remains strong. At the crime scene, the police failed to stop people from leaving the Golden Lion or to collect glasses and ashtrays for prints.

As the last known person to see Morgan alive, it was important for Rees (a freemason like more than a few policemen) to be questioned thoroughly. Rees was interviewed by his drinking buddy and confidante Detective Sergeant Sid Fillery, who moonlighted for Southern Investigations. Neither were Rees’s car nor clothes examined forensically. After Fillery visited the company offices, Morgan’s desk diary for 1987 disappeared.

According to senior investigating officer Douglas Campbell, Fillery had “ripped the guts out of the case”. Three weeks later, Rees, his two crooked brothers-in-law, Fillery and two cops from Catford nick – within whose bounds Morgan was killed – were arrested for murder. The matter was then dropped.

Ex-DS Sid Fillery then went on to work at Southern Investigations. As journalists Michael Gillard and Laurie Flynn conclude:

In essence, Rees’s best friend who ended up playing an instrumental role in the bungled murder inquiry had effortlessly left the Yard on a full medical pension, only to resurface in Daniel’s private investigation agency filling the dead man’s shoes and working in partnership with the main murder suspect.

Southern Investigations under the name Law and Commercial went on to earn hundreds of thousands of pounds a year from newspapers – £116,000 a year from the News of the World alone in 1996/97. In the words of Peter Jukes Southern Investigations was a “one-shop stop for illicit information because of their ability to blag, bug, burgle and bribe cops.”

In concert with senior News International employee Alex Marunchak, the firm acted to destabilize the fourth investigation into the murder of Daniel Morgan by placing Detective Chief Superintendent Dave Cook under surveillance.

Earlier this year, Dave Cook himself was found to have perverted the course of justice in his pursuit of Rees and co, though Mr Justice Mitting ruled that Cook “genuinely” believed men to be guilty.

The Met believe today that Morgan was hawking a story around Fleet Street concerning bent cops, south London drug dealers and Irish paramilitaries. Apparently detective constable Alan “Taffy” Holmes, who had worked on the Brinks Mat robbery investigation (1983 see, was one of Morgan’s sources.

Holmes was master of the Manor of Bensham Masonic Lodge, Croydon. Four months after Morgan’s death, Holmes killed himself. According to a journalist, Holmes was “so bent that his police colleagues openly joked that the undertaker wouldn’t be able to straighten him out long enough to nail down the coffin lid.” At his funeral, one wreath bore the tribute: “To our brave, wonderful and worshipful master who chose death rather than dishonour his friends and workmates.”

In 2013 the then Home Secretary Theresa May appointed the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel to:

shine a light on the circumstances of Daniel Morgan’s murder, its background and the handling of the case since 1987. In doing so the Panel is seeking to address questions arising, in particular those relating to:

  • police involvement in Daniel Morgan’s murder;
  • the role played by police corruption in protecting those responsible for the murder from being brought to justice and the failure to confront that corruption; and
  • the incidence of connections between private investigators, police officers and journalists at the News of the World and other parts of the media, and alleged corruption involved in the linkages between them.

Alastair Morgan has spent the past three decade fighting for justice for his brother Daniel. While supporting the Independent Panel, Alastair initially hoped for a judicial inquiry into Daniel’s murder. Alastair believes this request was refused because of the embarrassment around ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson’s employment as David Cameron’s director of communications.

Given that investigations into the murder of Daniel Morgan have been compromised from the start, what better way could the government hope to achieve some kind of justice for Daniel than by listening to Alastair and commencing with Leveson Two?


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A Scandal in Soho

Since 2013 the Met Police’s Operation Joseph, an internal inquiry under the auspices of the Directorate of Professional Standards Anti-Corruption Command, has been investigating the relationship between officers of the Westminster licensing unit and the owners of clubs, pubs and bars in Soho.


Soho’s Windmill. Source: Rudolph A. Furtado, 2009, WikiCommons

Fourteen people have been arrested so far including 43-year-old Sergeant Frank Partridge, known as the “Sheriff of Soho”, Constable Jim Sollars, a 55-year-old known as the “Gruffalo” on account of his 6ft 8″ frame, and Ryan Bishti, owner of the exclusive Cirque le Soir.

“Fun Time Frankie” was dismissed from the Met late last year on unrelated charges of fraudulently travelling first-class on trains.

Aside from claims that the officers received free hospitality at Soho’s nightspots, Partridge is said to be fond of strip clubs while Sollars loved listening to live jazz at Ronnie Scott’s, it is alleged that these officers were pressurizing venues into using security from firms TSS and Profile Protection.


Source: Tom Morris, 2014, WikiCommons

Terry Neil, the head of the now defunct TSS, was believed to control around 80% of the doors in Soho. A former enforcer for the notorious Adams family with a conviction for armed robbery, Neil was particularly found of fast cars and Premier Cru Chablis.

By late 2013 those involved were aware of these allegations. Partridge was planning to take a job with Profile Protection; over the next two years insiders at TSS confirm that they lost a number of contracts to Profile. Sollars was hoping to be employed as a consultant for a leading London licensing lawyer.

Four security companies have complained to the police and journalists that they faced unfair competition from both TSS and Profile. Allegations have also been made against licensing units in Camden and Croydon.

A former TSS employee claims that Neil had been entertaining police officers at strip clubs since 2007, prior to Partridge and Sollars working for the Westminster licensing unit. Under condition of anonymity this person told BuzzFeed: “I think it’s a lot larger than just the people who have been arrested and I think it goes back a lot longer. I’ve been told that it went … incredibly high.”

A senior official for Westminster council commented: “You do have to ask whether those who were responsible for line management and professional setting of standards were asleep at the wheel or ignoring it. If they didn’t hear about it one must question what they were doing in that role.”

The investigation continues.




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Lowlife Literature: The Gilt Kid


James Curtis

 ‘You still in the racket?’ he asked.
‘You mean am I still in the same game?’
‘Sure. Use your loaf. What the hell else would I mean?’
‘Yes. There’s nothing else for it when you’ve once been inside.’

One screwsman to another. Fresh out of Wormwood Scrubs after a nine-months spell in stir for housebreaking, twenty-five-year-old William Kennedy, known as the Gilt Kid on account of his blond hair, is a young man determined not to go straight.  The Gilt Kid.  An exploration of a world of petty criminals, ponces, poufs, prostitutes and heavy-fisted policemen in London’s West End; the cancer at the heart of Empire. A slice of hardboiled film noir.


Published in 1936, the Gilt Kid chimes with the end of an era. Victorian and Edwardian avatars, Rudyard Kipling and George V, show their colours, and die. Dead but not banished. Shadows of Dickens and Mayhew, Conan Doyle, Conrad and Robert Louis Stevenson stalk the scene. A life on the margins, a world of  five-penny ales, lizzie (cheap Lisbon red wine), Gold Flake cigarettes, the public bar, seedy cafés and coffee stalls. More than 30,000 souls eking their living off the streets. A London living on borrowed time, the death knell signalled by the Blitz, her demise hastened by the affluent society.

For ‘London had become a city of flats’, so said Sir Austen Chamberlain, MP. Take Hammersmith, the borough of the Scrubs, where Kennedy commits his crime.  A place with its own hidden histories: murder and suicide off the Hammersmith Bridge, shady clubs and Fascists meeting at the town hall. Hints of decay, middle-class flight to the suburbs. An area clinging desperately to its vanishing respectability. Early echoes of post-45 high-rise crime-blight:

The block of flats was built of red brick and the inner walls of the staircase were made of those white glazed tiles with which public lavatories and police-court cells are built. Their feet sounded hollowly on the stone steps. There was a nasty iron handrail. The flats were obviously for the lower middle class. It was unlikely that any of them contained anything worthy of a burglar’s time or attention. …

It’s funny, he was thinking. Every one of these gaffs holds a family. Each family is cut off from the others. Nobody has the foggiest what is going on anywhere else. They read the crime news in the papers and get a thrill out of seeing a film about crooks, yet if they were to know that a couple of burglars were walking up their main staircase they would fall down dead with fright.

Forget the making of modern London, the whiff of America – metroland, milk bars and the motor car; radio and refrigeration, Selfridges and Woolworths, the Savoy and the Ritz, the nightclub and the cinema. Curtis’s London is an experience in cold truth. Victorian ghosts, the marginal stage centre.


Copyright: Dreamstime

Suffused with an aura of decline, the Gilt Kid’s home life is centred around the shabby gentility of his cheap furnished lodgings in Pimlico – ‘the houses, for one thing, had been built for far wealthier people than were living in them’ – and the cheerful vulgarity of the environs of Victoria, a downmarket red-light district on the wane, a step down from the Lisle Street janes, patronized by soldiers stationed at the many local barracks and commuters. All that glitters is not gold:

The market stalls in Warwick Street, which at night added a vivid gaiety to the street scene, looked by day merely squalid. The ground around them was littered with bits of paper and cabbage leaves. Pale, harassed-looking women, for the most part with string-bags hanging from their arms, stared either at the stalls or into the windows of the cut-price shops; spinning their money out as best they could, they would be buying cheap tinned salmon, condensed milk, hard soaplike Canadian cheese, and salt-encrusted, badly cured Empire bacon. Those who scorned margarine would purchase imitation imported butter at tenpence a pound. On  Saturdays they could get cheap scraps of dusty meat from the stalls. Few, if any, ate real food.

Hardly the glam of the smash-and-grab kings Ruby Sparks and Billy Hill. Hill has much to answer for. An imaginative man. Watch out for Duncan Webb too. You can’t trust a journalist. Or a policeman.

Curtis is a guide to the lowlife, his characters companions to Patrick Hamilton’s whores, Gerald Kersh’s pathetic ponce Fabian and Robert Westerby’s small-time race gangs; all authors with more than a degree of experience of the worlds which they narrate. Neither a Home Counties whodunit, nor an underworld of misremembered celebrity gangsters before their time.


Darby Sabini, ‘Britain’s Godfather’ according to an ex-Daily Express hack, who had long-left London by the thirties, was immortalized by Graham Greene as Colleoni in Brighton Rock. Hoxton thug Jimmy Spinks, who may or may not have thrown the chip shop owner’s cat into the deep-fat fryer when asked to pay for his supper, as Richard Attenborough’s Pinky. A seventeen-year-old kid. Juvenile delinquent in-extremis. Spinky the great-uncle of bare-knuckle fighter Lenny McClean, of Lock and Stock cameo fame. See Curtis’s complaint to Curtis Clark, a producer at Raintree who had an option on the Gilt Kid:

An elementary error in dramatic construction is the way those Mafia characters are dragged in at the heel of the hunt. […] The so-called Sabini mob from Clerkenwell in the 30s were Anti-Fascist and, though of Italian parentage, were thoroughly Cockney in speech and  behaviour. They operated mainly around the Races and Dog tracks.

Take Isabella’s, a café,  a ‘ribby kind of a gaff’ in Lisle Street – the haunt of ‘drabs’ the lowest of Soho’s generally poor prostitutes – on the fringes of the Italian quarter centred on and around Newport Dwellings, Newport Buildings, Gerrard, Frith and Old Compton Streets:


Gerratd St, now part of Soho’s Chinatown – Dreamstime

At the top end an Irish girl was sitting with two men, both of whom wore striped suits with   wide, padded shoulders. One of them had a north-country accent. All three of them were    talking in low vehement tones. They were, apparently, having a row about something of another. Money or women. Very likely the two.

The Gilt Kid ran a disapproving eye over them. He did not like these Grecian cows. They swore like navvies, drank like fishes, and fought like hell among themselves. They always picked up with ponces, usually Yids, and then turned them down for another bloke.  That was probably what the barney was about now. Both the men looked as if they might be on the Jo Roncing stakes. Irish janes were good to fellows on the bum and to the boys on the gagging lark, he’d heard somewhere.

An antidote to the alzheimic  golden memories of Frankie Fraser, Freddie Foreman and the Krays, myths retold by ex-journalists, Edward Hart and Duncan Webb, the staple of ‘true-crime’ historians, Brian McDonald, James Morton, Robert Murphy and Donald Thomas.

London, the city of the dispossessed, more Stephen Graham’s London Nights than John Bull or the News of the World. More downtrodden than deviant. The illusion of freedom shrouds this city of dreadful delight:

The pavements were crowded, girls hung on men’s arms, laughed up in their faces. A sound of laughter, a buzz of conversation, a busy rattle of glasses issued out from all the public houses. He was companionless. He could, naturally, if he wanted to do so, go into a bar and help to increase its hum; he could, if he wanted to do so, pick up a girl, even a straight-cut, and have her walk arm-in-arm with him. What was the use? He would have only purchased companionship in the bar by virtue of the money in his pocket, he would only have a girl  hanging on his arm because he was a man and she craved male society in order to show off in   front of her friends. In cold truth, nobody in the world cared a damn about him. He was as lonely here, at liberty in the streets of London, as ever he had been, sitting on the floor of his locked cell in prison sewing mailbags. It was a hell of a life.


Soho – Dreamstime

A man marked, the Gilt Kid avoids underground stations, he’s a ‘suspicious person’.  No chances, no choices, the future written on him. At mercy to the streets: ‘He spread, with a characteristic gesture, his long thief’s fingers fanwise on the bar in front of him and then, noticing their ingrained grime and the black rims of his nails, hastily hid them from sight.’ A man determined. Just as Marx said.

The Gilt Kid ‘wanted to be a good communist but it seemed to him that all this theorizing was rot.’ He despairs with the Left, moaning to a vendor of the Daily Worker:

‘Listen, you hold demonstrations,’ he began, ‘meetings, hunger-marches and all that bull. What the hell good does it do? Just a few mugs get nicked and a few more have sore heads where the slops have bashed them with their batons. You can’t tell me that brings the revolution any nearer.’

… ‘Start a riot. Lead a row in Bond Street and loot all the shops. Collect all the bums in London and take them into one of the flash hotels and let them demand to be fed. You hear about hunger-marchers making rows and demanding grub. Where’d they go? To the Ritz, to Lyons’ Corner House, even? No! The workhouse. That’s just about your mark, kicking up a shine at the spike.

Life went on to imitate art when in November 1938, 200 men descended on the Ritz Grill and ‘demanded tea for tuppence.’ May Day. Call the police.

‘Bastards. All bogies were bastards’, a not unpopular view in more than a few of London’s working-class districts. Police as Law, the ever-present threat of the truncheon. Memories die hard. Violence echoing from the hunger marches through to Cable Street, and beyond. The Gilt Kid ‘could remember back in stir that when people said that Justice was blind, they really meant that it shut one eye.’

There’s only one way to be heard. ‘He’d lost seven days’ remission in prison for hitting a cleaner whom he thought to be carving him up over his rations.’ Teased by a lousy Victoria Station tart for not being able to get it up, the Gilt Kid threatens her with ‘a kick in the minge if you don’t shut up.’ Brute force as Law:

The policeman caught the connecting link of the Gilt Kid’s handcuffs and yanked him to his feet. He dodged, bounded forward between the uniformed men at the detective and, raising his hands above his head, dashed the heavy steel into the startled officer’s face. Before he fell to a sledgehammer blow behind on the back of his neck he had the joy of seeing blood spurt all over his victim’s face.

Crook and copper, both products of the same streets. All know their place, suffocated by the stench of class:

A street-hawker came into the bar. He kept his goods – razor blades, cards of studs, boot-laces, safety pins and ties – in a cheap suitcase made of paper grained to look like leather. The management here, as in most other public houses, would allow him only into the public bar. Public bar customers were only working men and having, for the most part, less money than the harlots and petit bourgeois in the saloon, were entitled to be worried by the importunities of hawkers and street musicians.

Most of them stared the hawker blankly in the face when he held his open suitcase in front of them; some turned their heads away as if they did not care to look upon the unholy sight of a poor man earning his bed for the night …Poor bastards, none of them was far above the poverty line himself. Some of them, maybe, would have to go hungry as a result   of having drunk a couple of pints of fivepenny ale.

The language of class imprisons all. Waiting to come up before the beak at the police court, the Gilt Kid:

looked disgustingly at his fellow prisoners. There were four of them, all bums. They were just the sort of people who gave the boys a bad name and started people chucking off hot air about the ‘lower criminal classes’. One was up for begging, one for obstruction with a coster’s barrow, the third for hawking without a license, and the fourth for bashing his old lady. Not one of them a decent screwsman could chat with.

Those at the bottom of the pile haunt the Gilt Kid. A down-and-out world of screevers (pavement artists), gaggers (generic street performers), nobbers (collecting coins for beggars), chanters (street singers), clodhoppers (street dancers), mugfakers (street photographers), didecais (gypsys) and tobys (tramps). For the tramp is his shadow, and his fate. The Gilt Kid has seen:

The worst of rooms was better than the best of kips. And the worst of kips was better than being properly on the ribs. Christ, yes, he thought, I’d rather be back in stir again than have another night on the deck. One of those had been quite enough.

Creeping around the place all night, sitting on the seats in Trafalgar Square and along the Mall until it had been too cold to stay seated any longer; and then walking about to get warm until his feet, blistered from broken boots and sweat-rotten socks, had grown too sore to let him walk any more; sitting down again until it was too cold, and so on until five o’clock when the café opened in St Martin’s Lane – that café where they charge three-ha’pence for a cup of tea and let a man sit for two hours or more over it.

Of course, some bums touch lucky, they manage to forget their misery, the cold and their red-rimmed sleepless eyes, by dropping off for a few minutes till a policeman comes along and wakes them up. Crowds of them lie every night on that little triangle of grass   behind the Admiralty Arch which they called the Cabbage Patch.

The Cabbage Patch, where John Worby sees ‘dozens of men and women of all types sprawled out on the grass.’ Orwell’s ‘prostitutes and men lying in couples there in the bitter cold mist and dew.’ Details, grist to documentary fiction.

And it is to Trafalgar Square, the emblem of Empire, where in October 1921 Wal Hannington and other members of the newly-formed National Unemployed Workers’ Movement unfurled the Red Flag from the plinth of Nelson’s Column, that the Gilt Kid’s fate is sealed.


Trafalgar Square – Dreamstime

Trafalgar Square, where the Gilt Kid meets Jimmy Nunn, an ex-lag. A bum. The Gilt Kid’s guide and his future. Of whom the Gilt Kid learns the tricks of the trade. The secrets of the beggar’s parcel: old shirts, a couple of empty tins, old newspapers, brown paper to keep off rheumatism. And the box full of kerbstone twists – recycled tobacco fetched three pence an ounce on the streets –‘long, short, broken, some flattened with the impress of a careless heel, some idly thrown away with only a puff or two drawn out of them. The Gilt Kid made a vow never again to tread on an unwanted cigarette end.’ Of their kin, the Gilt Kid had spent his time penniless on London’s benches. He belongs with those on the crook:

They got too old for the game and had to end their lives sitting about in Trafalgar Square and on the Embankment. That was, unless they touched real lucky and went down for a long time. Five years’ penal servitude and seven years’ preventive detention. Some copped that.  They died in Camp Hill instead of coughing their lungs up under Hungerford Bridge. It was a bastard whichever way you looked at it.

True crime feeds a willing market. Fictions weaved from Fleet Street, memory and the official report. Policing at the expense of the policed, lived experience sacrificed to the cult of the fact. Tear down the idols and dare to read the re-forgotten. Along with Patrick Hamilton’s The Midnight Bell, Gerald Kersh’s Night and the City and Robert Westerby’s Wide Boys Never Work, James Curtis in the Gilt Kid strips away the underworld’s seductive garments, relishing the cruelty.

References and Further Reading: Exploring London 1918-39

The time is ripe for travelling through the capital between the wars. While the maps are not as detailed as those charting the Victorian period, there are markers to aid the virgin explorer.

Ken Worpole’s Dockers and Detectives (Nottingham: Five Leaves, 2nd edn., 2008) is one of the first guides to draw attention to London’s rich popular literature. For a brief introduction to such novels see Merlin Coverley’s London Writing (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials, 2005). Our capital visions are a collision of fiction, memory, myth and history. A quirky yet poetic meditation on these themes lies in Iain Sinclair,Lights Out for the Territory (London: Penguin, 2003). The novels considered in my essay include:

  • James Curtis, The Gilt Kid, intro. Paul Willetts (London: London Books, 2007 [1936])
  • ________ They Drive by Night, intro. Jonathan Meades (London: London Books, 2008 [1938])
  • Graham Greene, Brighton Rock, intro. J.M. Coetzee (London: Vintage, 2004 [1938])
  • Patrick Hamilton, Twenty Thousand Streets under the Sky, intro. Michael Holroyd (London: Vintage, 2010 [1935])
  • Gerald Kersh, Night and the City, intro. John King (London: London Books, 2007 [1938])
  • John Sommerfield, May Day, intro. John King (London: London Books, 2010 [1936])
  • Robert Westerby, Wide Boys Never Work, intro. Iain Sinclair (London: London Books, 2008 [1937])

Day-to-day snapshots of London were garnered from The Times. The grainy photographs and commentary captured in Paul Cohen-Portheim’s, The Spirit of London (London: Batsford, 2011 [1935]) are a useful complement. No London explorer can fail to ignore the London School of Economics’ nine volume New Survey of London Life and Labour (1930-35), in particular S.K. Ruck, ‘The Street Trading Community’, in Hubert L. Smith (ed.), The New Survey of London Life and Labour, Vol. 3: Survey of Social Conditions (1) The Eastern Area (London: P.S. King & Son Ltd, 1932). Further anthropological insights were gleaned from George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London (London: Penguin, 2013 [1933]) and his diaries The Orwell Diaries, ed. Peter Davison [London: Penguin, 2010]). Stephen Graham’s haunting London Nights: A Series of Studies and Sketches of London at Night (London: Hurst & Blackett, 1925) is essential reading.

Anyone interested in London lowlife cannot fail to avoid the, at times, fantastic memories of this period. The following were consulted for this essay:

  •  Frankie Fraser and James Morton, Mad Frank: Memoirs of a Life of Crime (London: Little, Brown, 1994)
  • Graham Greene, Ways of Escape (London: Bodley Head, 1980)
  • Billy Hill, Boss of Britain’s Underworld (Hornchurch: Billy Hill Family Ltd, 2008 [1955])
  • Brian Magee, Clouds of Glory: A Hoxton Childhood (London: Pimlico, 2004)
  • John Worby, The Other Half: The Autobiography of a Spiv (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1937)

The above are a staple source for the burgeoning ‘true crime’ market. While such histories are light on meaning and interpretation, the authors deserve congratulation for raising the profile of London’s seamier side. The more fascinating include:

  • Edward T. Hart, Britain’s Godfather (London: True Crime Library, 1993)
  • Brian McDonald, Gangs of London: 100 Years of Mob Warfare (Wrea Green: Milo, 2010)
  • James Morton, Gangland Soho (London: Piatkus, 2008)
  • Robert Murphy, Smash and Grab: Gangsters in the London Underworld, 1920-60 (London: Faber and Faber, 1993)

Following in the footsteps of Clive Emsley, the pioneer of police history, a number of historians have looked at this period with a more critical eye, see especially:

  •  Heather Shore, ‘“Undiscovered County”: Towards a History of the Criminal “Underworld”’, Crimes and Misdemeanours, 1 (2007), 42-68
  • _______ ‘Criminality and Englishness in the Aftermath: The Racecourse Wars of the1920s’,Twentieth Century British History, 22, 4 (2011), 474-97
  • Stefan Slater, ‘Prostitutes and Popular History: Notes on the “Underworld”, 1918-1939’, Crime, Histoire & Sociétés/Crime, History and Societies, 13, 1 (2009), 25-48
  • John Carter Wood, ‘“The Third Degree”: Press Reporting, Crime Fiction and Police Powers in 1920s Britain’, Twentieth Century British History, 21, 4 (2010), 464-85

If I had only one book to recommend, it would be Jerry White’s Campbell Bunk: The Worst Street in North London between the Wars (London: Pimlico, 2nd edn. 2003), a thick description of what is condescendingly referred to as the ‘lumpenproletariat’. White’s ‘Police and Public in London in the 1930s’, Oral History, 11, 2 (1983), 34-41, is an early foray into the history of policing, while his magisterial London in the Twentieth Century: A City and its People (London: Penguin, 2002) places many of the themes addressed above in a wider historical context. Another well-written survey, based on oral interviews, is Gavin Weightman and Steven Humphries, Joanna Mack and John Taylor’s The Making of Modern London (London: Ebury Press, 2007).

An earlier version of this essay was posted on the London Fictions website in 2013 at

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Rich Relations: Britain, Bahrain and Police Brutality

Bahrain, the kingdom of the two seas. A mainly Shia people of 1.4 million ruled by a minority Sunni elite. The despotic Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa heads this nominal constitutional monarchy. A good egg, Mons Officer Cadet School (now Sandhurst) educated. Bans on public demonstrations. Restrictions on freedom of expression. Political parties prohibited, political societies allowed. Discrimination in jobs, health and housing. Five years in prison for “undermining” the government. A silence of journalists. Self-censorship. And 2017 marked death by firing squad for three Shia Muslims convicted of involvement in a bombing three years earlier, the first executions since 2010. Rumours of confession through torture.


Admiral Gary Roughead, Chief of US Naval Operations meets King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, 17 January 2011. Source: Official Navy Page, Wiki Commons

Manama, Bahrain’s capital, home to the Arab Spring’s Pearl Revolution of 2011. Saudi troops called in to crush civil and political rights activists. Around 50 dead and hundreds arrested and injured. Over 3,500 imprisoned under this “Egyptian” strategy. Allegations of torture and mistreatment by the Ministry of Interior’s Criminal Investigation Directorate: beatings, electric shock, extreme cold, forced standing, mid-air suspension while handcuffed, and sexual abuse. The king’s son, Prince Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa, was allegedly involved in this torture. More than 4,000 sacked from their jobs or kicked out of university. No dissent brooked.


Tents burn as security forces storm Pearl Roundabout, 16 March 2011. Source: Bahrain in Pictures, Wiki Commons

Rich relations persist between Britain and Bahrain following the latter’s independence from “protection” in 1971. 500 UK commercial agencies operate in Bahrain, with 90 businesses having branches in the kingdom. £295.5 million worth of goods were exported to Bahrain from Britain in 2014. £45 million of British arms sold to Bahrain between the Arab Spring and 2015.

With a liberal economy based on oil, banking, finance and construction, Bahrain was the first Gulf state to sign a Free Trade Agreement with the USA. The US Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based there too.

Are British interests in Bahrain, both commercial and political, causing a blind-eye in Westminster and Whitehall being turned to human rights violations in the Gulf?

The UK College of Policing has earned over £8.5 million from its overseas work since 2012. According to Alex Marshall, the College’s chief executive,

The College would never provide training, or support the use of its products, in a country which was considered to be using British resources for unethical purposes. [ … ] The College would consider it a disappointing lack of due diligence if a proposed formal contract had to be rejected on the basis of further human rights guidance from IPAB [International Police Assistance Brief].

Yet when pressed on this matter by the Home Office Select Committee, officials stonewalled:

We asked the College of Policing for details of their overseas work. Alex Marshall told us that he was advised by the Foreign Office not to answer our questions on this matter and cited reasons of commercial confidentiality and security.

The College of Policing signed an “agreement for the provision of services” with Bahrain in June 2015. Daniel Carey, of DPG Law, criticizes the document for not referring to human rights:

The agreement cedes a lot of control to the Bahrain government to pick and choose the areas it would like training on. It provides for all of the other controls you would expect: freedom of information; force majeure; confidentiality; intellectual property; termination; bribery. Why not human rights? Saying that this will be slipped into a subcontract does not seem to be an effective way to protect against human rights risks, especially after resisting disclosure of any of these details to a parliamentary committee.”

Collaboration by both British and Bahraini security forces is managed from the UK by the shadowy £1 billion Conflict, Security and Stability Fund (CSSF). Set up in April 2015 to replace a fund previously overseen by the Department for International Development, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence, the CSSF is run by the National Security Council, a Cabinet Office committee. Partners comprise such controversial companies as G4S. Other repressive regimes receiving CSSF cash include Ethiopia.


Atop the nearby police station, men in street clothes used high-powered cameras to snap photographs of protesters, 2011. Source: Al Jazeera English, Wiki Commons

In September 2015, the CSSF paid for a group of officials, including representatives from the British Embassy at Manama, to attend the British Mission to the United Nations at Geneva. According to journalists Alan White and Richard Wilson:

Experts who attended the meetings have told BuzzFeed News that the delegation who arrived in Geneva played a key role as British diplomats pushed their testimony around the UN while they pressed for references to torture and other human rights abuses to be removed from the draft text of the statement.

British officials are accused of watering-down a UN resolution criticizing human rights infringements in Bahrain. An early draft of this resolution seen by BuzzFeed shows that references to “arbitrary detention”, “indiscriminate use of riot police” and “repressive measures” were excised from the agreed final text. The sentence “We urge the government of Bahrain to make the institutions more impartial” was massaged to “We support the government of Bahrain continuing to work to make these institutions and the judiciary more impartial.”


Bahrain, a Ballardian realization, July 2011. Source: Majed othman almajed, Wiki Commons

Last year Britain spent £2.1 million on “reform assistance” to Bahrain’s security apparatus. Earlier this week the Sunday Times disclosed that Maya Foa of Reprieve, a human rights organization, has seen details of CSSF financed activities, including a trip by Tariq al-Hassan (Bahrain’s chief of police) to Northern Ireland:

The documents reveal that al-Hassan toured Belfast’s “flashpoint” neighbourhoods in a visit in June 2014 that included a briefing on gathering “community intelligence” and human rights complaint systems. In August 2015 a delegation of Bahraini senior commanders and frontline officers visited Belfast to learn how to manage “large-scale public order issues in a human rights compliant fashion.”

Briefings were given on dog-handling and water cannon. Reprieve charges further that “Britain paid for Bahrain’s police to learn how to whitewash deaths in custody.”

The Foreign Office denies that any public order training took place, the visit was a “technical assistance” programme. Using similar Orwellian language Alan Todd, assistant chief constable for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), issued a similar denial:

The Bahrain delegation visited in August 2015 and, while in Northern Ireland, they observed a number of public order events and received a number of presentations on aspects of PSNI public order planning and delivery. At no time did the PSNI undertake any form of training with the officers.


Police Officers at the 2011 Belfast riots. Source: Sinead, Flickr, Wiki Commons

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, charges:

The UK government has repeatedly denied providing any public order training, and now we know for a fact they’ve trained a police force which violently crushes pro-democracy protesters with sophisticated, British-made methods.

Are British officials conniving to cover-up relations by the British and Bahraini police? I agree with a report issued by the Home Affairs Select Committee:

We fully support the UK assisting police forces in other countries to improve the service they provide. The College of Policing has been put under pressure by the Home Office to raise revenue, including through providing overseas training, and we support its efforts in doing so. We note in passing the College’s insistence that as far as England and Wales are concerned they do not see themselves as a training body but as a standards setting body. The UK brand of policing is rightly respected internationally and should be disseminated as widely as possible. However, the provision of training on the basis of opaque agreements, sometimes with foreign governments which have been the subject of sustained criticism, threatens the integrity of the very brand of British policing that the College is trying to promote. It simply smacks of hypocrisy.


Map of Bahrain. Source: CIA World Factbook, 2002, Wiki Commons


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Zeitgeist Slices: Cocaine Nights

Which book captures the spirit of the age for you? Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta? Philip K Dick’s The Penultimate Truth? Maybe Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World? Or George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four? In two essays for the Guardian, journalists and readers select their choice of novel heralding Donald Trump’s inauguration as President of the USA. Western critiques of twenty-first century society. Yet no mention of J.G. Ballard, the sage of Shepperton, who in his 1968 pamphlet “Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan” predicted the rise of the celebrity and his presidency.

Nearly thirty years later, Ballard released his crime fiction Cocaine Nights, not a “whodunit” but “how did it happen” detective story in a similar vein to Alan Moore’s Victorian melodrama From Hell. Hints of Murder on the Orient Express. A 1996 story focusing not on the psychology of the murderer, but an exploratory pathology of modern times.

Psychiatrist Dr Sanger informs the travel-writing protagonist Charles Prentice:

But how do you energize people, give them back some sense of community? A world lying on its back is vulnerable to any cunning predator. Politics are a pastime for a professional caste and fail to excite the rest of us. Religious belief demands a vast effort of imaginative and emotional commitment, difficult to muster if you’re still groggy from last night’s sleeping pill. Only one thing is let which can rouse people, threaten them directly and force them to act together. Crime.

Set in the gated expat communities of Spain’s Costa del Sol’s “white-walled retirement complexes marooned like icebergs among the golf courses”, brain death is “disguised as a hundred miles of white cement.” A white silence hovers over this soporific society. The surveillance society and the new puritanism. Camera as memory. Amnesia, people forget who they are. A world peopled by those whose “only civic loyalties were to the nearest hypermarket and DIY store.”

Scratch at the veneer of civilization and see the boredom, alcoholism and drug – both illegal and prescription – addiction. People under house arrest, inside their own minds. Exhausted futures.

Charles Prentice prophesizes:

Already thinking of a travel article, I noted the features of this silent world: the memory-erasing white architecture; the enforced leisure that fossilized the nervous system; the almost Africanized aspect, but a North Africa invented by someone who had never visited the Maghreb; the apparent absence of any social structure; the timelessness of a world beyond boredom, with no past, no future and a diminishing present. Perhaps this was what a leisure-dominated future would resemble?

J.G. Ballard, Cocaine Nights (London: Fourth Estate, 2014 [1996]), pp. 334, RRP £8.99

Further Reading

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Should All Police Officers Be Armed With Tasers?

The Police Federation, committed to the right of any constable to be trained and armed with Taser, launched a survey last month into officer views on these stun guns. This rank and file organization cites a recent Ipsos Mori poll, claiming “71% of respondents consider it acceptable for police officer to carry Taser when on patrol.”

Opponents of the tendency of police officers – citizens in uniform – to resemble RoboCop, have a coup in the case of Judah Adunbi, the 63-year-old grandfather tasered in the face just over a week ago. Imagine the red faces and swiveling eyes at Avon and Somerset constabulary’s senior management, press & PR teams, faced with headlines along the lines of:

Bristol Police Taser their own Black Race Relations Adviser in case of Mistaken Identity.

Adunbi was a founding member of Bristol’s Independent Advisory Group, a forum for fostering co-operation between the Afro-Caribbean community and local coppers.

Stopped on the street by two police officers, Adunbi was told he was under arrest. According to Adunbi, this was the second time he has been mistaken for a drug dealer. A neighbour filming can be heard criticizing the constables for intensifying the incident.

Support also came from Nick Glynn, a black man who served on the thin blue line for 31 years:

Confronting an individual based on a vague description and using a weapon that can kill is neither an acceptable nor effective method of policing. This shocking footage of police officers tasering a black man on the basis of mistaken identity only serves to alienate people who could be helping officers with their inquiries. It is particularly disturbing to see officers target a man who is dedicated to supporting the police and keeping everyone safe.

Vince Howard, speaking on behalf of the local Police Federation, defended his colleagues:

Officers try to de-escalate the situation by explaining who they are looking for and their belief that he is the wanted man. At no time during the interactions between the officers and this man does he say he is not the wanted person, he simply continues to be abusive towards the officer. The two officers then arrest the man, during which time one of the officers is assaulted and Taser is deployed. The officers were doing what the public expect of them, attempting to detain a wanted and potentially dangerous man.

As to what actually happened will be revealed by an Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation; Avon and Somerset police referred the case, in accordance with procedure, to the IPCC. Both officers were wearing body cameras.

The Adunbi affair is bound to reignite concerns by civil liberies, community relations and social justice groups about police use of tasers. Back in 2015, a Freedom of Information request submitted by the BBC to the Home Office revealed that black people were three times as likely to be tasered than their white counterparts. Forming only 4.4% of the population, black people were on the receiving end of 12.7% of Taser incidents. Though Asians, accounting for 8.1% of the population, were only involved in 4% of episodes.

Who May Carry a Taser?

The Taser X26 model, a yellow pistol shaped gun, discharges up to 50,000 volts at 0.0021 amps to a target at a maximum distance of 21 feet. Introduced to firearms officers in England and Wales in 2004, Taser use was extended to specially trained constables four years later. Policemen and women must undergo 18 hours of training over 3 days before being issued with a Taser, a 6 hour refresher course must be attended annually. According to National Police Chiefs’ Council guidelines:

Every chief constable makes a decision, based on an assessment of the risks in their own area, to train and deploy a proportionate number of officers to use Taser so that the public are kept safe and their officers are protected as far as possible.

How effective are Tasers?

Deterrence is the chief value of the Taser. An action must be recorded every time an officer draws a Taser. Home Office figures show that that Tasers are only fired at a target 20% of the time. While the number of taser actions increased from 6,649 to 10,380 between 2010 and 2013, the latter year was the first time all 43 constabularies across England and Wales issued full Taser returns to the Home Office. Despite concerns over “mission creep”, that Tasers will be used because they are available rather than necessary, that they are no longer a means of last resort. Taser firings stabilized at an average of 1,732 incidents 2013-15.

What about the consequences of being Tasered?

Last year the High Court, at the request of the IPCC, overturned an IPCC report clearing Greater Manchester Police of any wrongdoing in the death of Jordan Begley in 2013. The police were called by Begley’s mother to their house in Gorton, Manchester, she claimed he had a knife and feared for him getting into a fight. 23-year-old Begley, an ice-cream worker and known piss-and-coke-head, was tasered and died two hours later. Two years later, a jury found that Taser use and subsequent police restraint techniques contributed to Begley’s untimely death.

However, it would be imprudent to ignore a review of Taser use by the British Medical Journal in 2010:

The medical consequences of these discharges include barb injuries, localised discharge burns, and injury from falls or from the intense muscle contraction. Eye and brain injuries from barb penetration have been documented. Tonic-clonic seizure [often associated with epilepsy] after discharge of a conducted energy device to the head has been described. Pneumothorax (collapsed lung) after pleural barb penetration has been reported. Six fatal head injuries may have resulted from falls induced by these devices. Discharge of a conducted energy device does not induce clinically relevant changes in heart rate, blood pressure, or respiratory related parameters in healthy subjects. Reports in the medical literature of serious injuries associated with the deployment of Tasers are few, despite several hundred thousand estimated uses of the device.

I have no problem with the principle of police officers carrying Tasers. It is questionable as to whether this weapon should be issued to all constables. Advice by the National Police Chiefs’ Council on Taser use is vague:

Taser provides an additional option to resolve situations, including the threat of violence, which can come from any section of the public. In certain circumstances, the use of Taser is more appropriate than other use of force options in resolving dangerous situations safely and with less risk of serious injury. In addition, officers who are trained and equipped with Taser must decide on the most reasonable and necessary use of force in the circumstances. The level of force used must be proportionate to achieve the objective and officers are individually accountable in law for the amount of force they use on a person.

Will both the police and public benefit from more RoboCop?


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Shoot the Messenger

Be it Benjamin Franklin or Edward Ward, whoever said “nothing is certain except death or taxes” failed to account for the impulse of institutions to punish heretics profaning the cherished corporate image.

Whistleblowing. An affront to the Met’s “Total Policing”, an Orwellian creation of Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe.

Shoot the messenger. Police canteen culture has never been kind to the whistleblower, no one likes a grass. Watch out for the firm in a firm. But it’s nothing new.

Back in 1922 Sergeant Horace Josling was posted to London’s “C” Division, a West End manor covering parts of Soho. Within a week of joining his beat Josling’s colleague, George Goddard, invited him to the weekly divvy up from the local street bookies – off-course cash betting being a criminal offence until 1960. The bookies were on his case too. Josling declined politely.

Tiring of the situation and wary of reporting these concerns to his immediate superiors, Josling wrote directly to the Commissioner. The proverbial book was thrown. After two days of cross-examination, Josling was required to resign from the Met after ten years of duty, service record marked: “Discreditable conduct – acting in a manner prejudicial to discipline or likely to bring discredit on the reputation of the Force”.

In January 1929 Sergeant George Goddard was sent down for eighteen months of hard labour, with a £2,000 fine plus costs. Receiving 89 commendations from the Commissioner for his role in raiding nightclubs, brothels and betting houses, this guardian of London’s morals had been living the high life. On a respectable salary of  just over £6 a week, Goddard’s venal ventures had acquired him a freehold at £1,875 and a Chrysler for £400. £12,471 and 10 shillings were also stashed in three safety deposit boxes. Overall, Goddard’s realizable assets amounted to nearly £18,000. Depending on what your measuring, eighteen grand is worth around £3 million today.

History does not repeat itself, as Mark Twain may have said, but it often rhymes; echoing through to the twenty-first century.

The Met’s Detective Sergeant Pal Singh is facing a gross misconduct hearing for alleging to the Daily Telegraph that the Crown Prosecution Service is “afraid to tackle honour crimes for fear of causing unrest in Asian communities”. Singh, who has received a Metropolitan Police Service Award, amongst others, for “Outstanding Individual Contribution to Victim Care”, told the Telegraph:

Forced marriage is a violation of human rights, which invariably leads to marital rape and years of domestic abuse and modern slavery, with sometimes fatal consequences. If this is not a policing priority then I am content at being dismissed.

Within five years you’ll be reading about Mr Singh’s successful employment tribunal, an undisclosed payout – a cost to the taxpayer – and Met management bollocks-speak about “cultural sensitivity” and “lessons learned”.


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Not Impressed: Section 40 & the Death of Investigative Journalism

As the clocks strike 5 this afternoon, hark that they call “time” on the government’s press regulation consultation. Perhaps the bell tolls too for our free press. I’m open to the case for Leveson 2 – an investigation into the relationship between the police and the press – otherwise the boys in blue are off the hook. But I’m unnerved by the prospect of parliament implementing Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. Under this legislation, any newspaper that fails to join a regulator approved by the Press Recognition Panel, will pay costs if sued for libel or breach of privacy – even if they win the case.

For the first time since 1695 the British press may be compelled, all but in name, to sign up to an official “independent” regulator, Impress. Control underpinned by Royal Charter thrashed out in a cosy deal between the main political parties and Hacked Off – a pressure group of celebrities seeking command of their public image.

Senior members of Impress have voiced their hatred for the popular press. Jonathan Heawood, chief executive, and Marie Messenger Davies, code committee chair, are both supporters of Stop Funding Hate, a pressure group urging advertisers to divest themselves from the Daily Express, Daily Mail and the Sun. Impartial?

Impress will be financed for its first four years by a £3.8 million donation from the Alexander Mosley Charitable Trust, a body in turn funded by former International Automobile Association president Max Mosley. The same Max Mosley who has pursued a vendetta against the tabloid press since 2008, when he won a libel case against the News of the World who wrongly accused him of taking part in a Nazi-themed orgy. His wife wasn’t best pleased. Max being the son of fascists Oswald Mosley and Diana Mitford, a couple who were married in at the home of Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels in 1936.

Oswald Mosley forsaw for his regime:

The press will not be free to tell lies … they will stoop to any lie or any debauch of the public mind. This must be stopped and the freedom of the press … must be curtailed.

In turn Max Mosley wrote to The Times in 1962:

We do wish to end coloured immigration … To say that this is “hatred” or “provocation” is a grotesque travesty.

Whatever Max’s politics may be today, Index on Censorship raises the objection:

the idea that a single wealthy individual should control the purse strings for a supposedly independent regulator should strike fear into the hearts of those who favour a free press.

The campaign to muzzle the press gained momentum as the phone-hacking scandal erupted from 2007 and the subsequent Leveson Inquiry (2011-12) into the culture, practices and ethics of the press.

Phone-hacking pissed off the public. Murdoch’s popular Sunday News of the World, subsidizing her more up-market stablemates, was forced to close.

Let us not forget, however, that the tawdry tabloids were not alone in mixing with semi-deniable assets; seedy yet savvy private investigators. One of these hackers investigated by the Serious Organized Crime Agency revealed that the press formed only 20% of his client base. Blue chip companies, debt collectors, insurance firms, lawyers and wealthy individuals are adept at the “dark arts”. But they’re different. SOCA refuses to name those involved as “disclosing the information could undermine the financial viability of the organizations by tainting them with ‘criminality’.” The tabloids are guilty scapegoats.Writing of the Guardian, Michael Gillard and Laurie Flynn charge that questions “remain unanswered about the newspaper’s own dealings with private investigators, including former MI6 officers.”

Forget not that phone-hacking, more grist for the mill for Leveson 2, has been illegal since 2000 under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

More than 5,000 people have responded to the government consultation on press regulation through the website of Hacked Off. 52,000 pages of evidence has been submitted to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport demanding the imposition of Section 40.

Yes, there are problems with the Independent Press Standards Organization (IPSO), the self-regulatory body with 2,500 members – including the Daily MailSun, Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph. Peter Jukes points out that IPSO is funded by five (legally) tax-dodging billionaires. The National Union of Journalists, yet to take a stand on Impress, opposes IPSO for preventing journalists from being involved in the ethical code committee. As Rupert Murdoch seeks to increase his grip on Sky, monopoly ownership is an issue which needs addressing too. Trinity Mirror, the owner of the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror and the Sunday People, is in merger talks with Richard Desmond – owner of Express titles and the Star.

In his usual even-handed fashion, veteran journalist Roy Greensalde writes of IPSO:

For the most part, it works well and uncontroversially, especially for regional and local titles. But at moments when it is called on to adjudicate on high-profile complaints involving national papers, its independence is called into question. And there lies the central problem for IPSO: public perception. Whatever the reality, how can it persuade people that it is entirely free from interference from publishing paymasters, especially those responsible for having created the crisis that led to the Leveson inquiry?

But for Greenslade, his distrust of the press is trumped by his contempt for politicians:

Does the BBC feel safe from political interference because it has a royal charter? Parliamentary control of the corporation’s budget has had the effect of removing editorial staff and thereby reducing news coverage.

Even newspapers that haven’t joined IPSO – the Evening StandardFinancial TimesGuardian and Private Eye – have refused to recognize Impress. Not one national newspaper has joined the ranks of Impress. And when newspapers from the Mail on Sunday to the Morning Star oppose the new system of regulation, it gives me pause for thought. In a leader for the Spectator, Fraser Nelson comments:

When every single newspaper has decided that it would rather risk massive new libel costs than submit to a regulator sanctioned by the state, it is a sign of the depth of feeling on this matter across the press, from left to right.

Parliamentarians from former Home Secretary David Blunkett – a victim of phone hacking – to Damian Collins, chairman of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, oppose Impress.

Apart from acting as a boon for “ambulance-chasing” lawyers, Section 40 threatens the quality of investigative journalism. How did the public find out about politicians abusing their expenses? Through the Daily Telegraph. Who helped keep alive the campaign for justice for Stephen Lawrence? The Daily Mail and Guardian. Who revealed the drug-taking of cycling champion Lance Armstrong, the extent of violent thug David Hunt’s illegal activities and FIFA corruption? The Sunday Times. Andrew Norfolk, who exposed for The Times that various public authorities knew about the extent of child grooming in towns such as Rotherham, yet did nothing, warns:

Had section 40 been on the statute book when I became a trainee journalist 27 years ago, countless articles published in this and other newspapers would never have seen the light of day. The risk would have been too great. In fact, it’s barely even a risk. It’s almost inbuilt guarantee of punitive financial sanctions. 

According to a recent report, the British public trust the press less than their counterparts in Greece and Serbia. Yet a lack of trust in public institutions, an increased questioning of authority and a general decline in deference since the Second World War are mentalities fostered, albeit partially, by the fourth estate.

A free press is crucial in holding power to account. Newspapers are being blackmailed to join Impress “voluntarily”, or self-censor. You have until 5pm today to register your opposition to Section 40.


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On the Enchantment of Discovery

I confess with unconfidence to merely flirting with my greats: Shakespeare, Blake, Dickens; Evelyn Waugh, Kingsley Amis and Graham Greene. Others prove more seductive. J.G. Ballard, in his iridescent idiom, the seer of the city. Peter Ackroyd, medium for the dead. The antiquarian anthropology of Iain Sinclair’s perambulations.  Alan Moore’s magic words. Desire at the threshold of love’s jealousy and intoxication. Addiction. A compulsion to read everything. Except poetry.

Poetry. Memories. Vile mid-school verse. Staid sixth form recollections. As a pupil at an all boys’ school, poetry belonged to the province of the pouf. Neither did I feast with panthers nor experience life’s way of taking the piss. Middle-class, relatively privileged, stable (ish) upbringing. No perception of poetry’s potency. Until I discovered Sinclair’s enigmatic and esoteric Lud Heat. Childhood resurrected.

An enchanting encounter. Then a gift: Andrey Kneller’s translation of Backbone Flute: Poetry of Vladimir Mayakovsky.

Lyricist and agitator, the chain-smoking, gambling and womanizing Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930) was a Futurist poet and servant of the Soviet socialist (bureaucratic collectivist) state. He shot himself at the age of 36. Some say he was killed twice when five years after his death, Stalin beatified the “iron poet”.

A new love. And listen to this modernist meditation on the age-old question as to the meaning of existence. “Listen” was written in the late winter of 1913, published the following year.

When reading, a reaction provoked (perhaps) by the centenary of the First World War, I see the spirit of British foreign secretary Sir Edward Grey looking out from Whitehall to the sunset across St James’s Park; Sir Edward remarking to friend and journalist John Alfred Spender on 3 August 1914: “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” Listen:


if the stars are lit,

then someone must need them, of course?

then someone must want them to be there,

calling those droplets of spittle pearls?

And wheezing,

in the blizzards of midday dust,

he rushes to God,

fearing he’s out of time

and sobbing,

he kisses God’s sinewy hands,

tells Him that it’s important,

pleads to Him that the star must shine!


that he won’t survive this starless torment!

And later,

he wanders worried,

though seemingly calm and fit

and tells somebody:

“Finally, nothing can

frighten you,



if the stars are lit,

then someone must really need them?

that is essential

that at least one star

is lit

over the rooftops each night?!


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A Liberal Democratic Victory?

I fail to see what is liberal or democratic about Sarah Olney’s victory at the Richmond Park by-election. Olney is the ninth member of parliament’s rump party. The so-called Liberal Democrats, a political project committed to reducing parliament’s status to that of the parish council. A party committed to demos-defying federalism, austerity at the altar of the Euro and economic protectionism.

Elected by a majority of 1,872 votes, with only  53.6 percent of Richmond’s constituency bothering to turn-up at the ballot box, Olney sneers at the people. For she promises to vote against parliament triggering Article 50, a process for Britain to leave the European Union. A decision made by 17,410,742 people (turnout: 72.2%) voting in a referendum for Britain to leave the European Union.

But Brexit stinks. Even though I support it. I don’t blame Baroness Warsi for switching to “Remain”. The vile vitriol and vomit of Farage & Co taints us liberal internationalists seeking to shake-off the shackles of fortress Europe.

“Brexit means Brexit” is bollocks too. Let us encourage an exchange of ideas to parry populism’s phantom. A letter to The Times  (2 December) from two QCs, Anthony Speaight and David Wolfson:

Far from it suiting the UK to assert that the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement would fall away on leaving the EU, it may be a better tactic to assert the opposite. First, the EEA agreement contains provisions for free movement of goods, services and capital – but the provision on free movement of persons applies only between the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) states and “EC member states”, so arguably would not cover the UK after leaving the EU.

Second, by Article 126 the EEA agreement applies only to the territories to which the European Community treaties apply, and a list of EFTA states; after leaving the EU, the UK would be neither. It must be strongly arguable that the effect is that the remaining EU countries would have to accord access to goods, services and so on in their territory, but that there would be no obligation on the UK to allow free movement in Britain. Third, settlement of a dispute between the UK and the other 27 countries as to whether the above argument is correct would not go to the European Court of Justice.

Until the UK gives notice of withdrawal from the EEA, the UK remains a contracting party. It might well be in the UK’s interests to maintain that position, unless and until the EU member states agree satisfactory terms in the coming negotiations.

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The Miners’ Strike: Voices from the Blue Line

Monday 18 June 1984, the Battle of Orgreave. Over 6,000 police officers faced 10,000 pickets attempting to block deliveries destined for steelworks from Orgreave coking plant (near Rotherham, Yorkshire). Using what some officers described as “paramilitary” tactics based on colonial practices from Northern Ireland and Hong Kong, the police deployed armoured riot teams, baton charges, horses and dogs against a battery of bricks, bottles, paving stones and petrol bombs.

Over 100 people were injured, with 95 arrested by snatch squads for riot and disorder. All those prosecuted in the operation led by the South Yorkshire constabulary – “whose culture of malpractice with impunity” was demonstrated at Hillsborough five years later – had charges against them thrown out of court. South Yorkshire police paid out £425,000 in compensation without admitting liability.

Following a BBC documentary in 2012 concerning officer collusion in the writing of statements, South Yorkshire police referred itself to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The IPCC declined to act.

On 31 October 2016 Amber Rudd, Home Secretary, ruled out a public inquiry into the Battle of Orgreave. Rudd resisted pressure to investigate as “ultimately there were no deaths or wrongful convictions” and that”very few lessons for the policing system today [are] to be learned from any review of the events and practices of three decades ago”.

Norman Tebbit, a Thatcherite toady, praised the government for “a sensible decision which underlines that the police behaved properly at Orgreave.” Writing for the Spectator Charles Moore, former Daily Telegraph editor and official biographer of Margaret Thatcher, similarly lauded the miners’ defeat as victory for rule of law and castigated advocates of an inquiry for their “world according to Ken Loach” who wished “to turn history into a trial”.

Commenting from the opposite end of the political spectrum, Jeremy Corbyn is “appalled”, Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, is “shocked and dismayed”, while Barbara Jackson, secretary of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, called the government’s decision “a complete shock and a great disappointment.” Michael Mansfield QC may seek a judicial review.

Memories of Orgreave are talismanic, totemic. Historian Dominic Sambrook acknowledges the evocative power of this infamous battle:

That night, millions of people watched the televised pictures with horrified disbelief. Ever since, Orgreave has become a kind of shorthand for the ideological confrontation of the Eighties, which saw Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government locked in battle with Arthur Scargill’s National Union of Mineworkers … Nobody doubts that there were excesses on both sides that day, or that the police behaved with reckless abandon. But we have known that for years. 

Other measured voices may be heard above the divisive din. In response to Labour MP Andy Burnham’s accusations of an “establishment stitch-up”, Simon Jenkins writes for the Guardian that:

some suffered through being bailed is sadly true of thousands of innocent citizens each year. Why does Burnham suddenly want an inquiry into Orgreave? Back in 2005 he was a junior minister at the very Home Office he now wants to put on trial. There was no inquiry then. Could it be that Burnham was part of Tony Blair’s new labour establishment, eager to forget the taint of Scargillism, whereas he now wants to be mayor of Manchester?

Jenkins continues to comment on point of public inquiries:

Public inquiries have assumed from parliament the job of debating public policy. As such they upstage both the House of Commons and the investigative functions of select committee. They anaesthetise controversy, lancing some political boil by removing it from the theatre of parliament. But they have come to seem more like kangaroo courts, with the voices of victims loudest, and little attempt to balance blame. Chilcot lost credibility by being absurdly indulgent of Downing Street officials. Leveson sought to chain the press, yet let the police and BBC off the hook.

While a cross-party group of MPs are touting a parliamentary select committee inquiry as a cost-effective and efficient means of exploring Orgreave, The Times’s David Aaronovitch suggests it may be “better to throw open the archives and the files and leave it to the historians.” Given the glacial process with which official documents are released and the likelihood of files being “lost”, I’m not too optimistic. Yet the historians may have a hand to play. Back in the late 1980s Roger Graef – Visiting Professor at the Mannheim Centre for Criminology (London School of Economics), member of the Metropolitan Police advisory group on race and a multi-Bafta winning documentary maker – interviewed 500 police officers from 12 different forces.

Graef’s research cautions against any simplistic construction of a police mindset, revealing the boredom, the fear, pent-up aggression, and disgust. All fuelled by long shifts and alcohol after hours. The lack of radio communication, decision making on  the spot. Here are the voices of police officers serving at the front line.

Police violence at Orgreave was supported by most officers interviewed. According to one constable from a northern force:

It was late in the afternoon the horses went through. And when they came back, we all applauded. I’ve never been in a situation like it. It was great to see them smashing into all them bastards who’d been giving us grief all day. A lot of bobbies were injured. It was though as somebody thought, “Right. We’re not standing for this crap anymore. We’ll sort it out.” And that’s what they did. It was the greatest thing I ever saw.

The Miners’ Strike 1984-85 resulted in 1,392 officers injured – 10 per cent requiring hospital treatment – the cost of the police operation to the public purse being £200,000,000. Perhaps a degree of battle-hardening was fostered, as one superintendent from a home counties force recalled:

One time a group of over 3000 pickets had stoned and driven off a team of Yorkshire policemen and smashed two dog vans. It was essential that my officers moved the pickets back. There was a railway bridge which you could defend. Once they got past that, you’d had it. As we moved our first unit down, we were stoned. So we baton-charged them and moved the crowd back. Then we were stoned from the railway bridge above, so we moved two units up there and took it. We held that for an hour, but at a cost – we had thirty-seven men injured out of eighty.

The sheer weight of numbers meant trouble often escalated. Another home counties constable noted:

Some bugger at the back of the crowd starts to push and the poor sods at the front meet Mister Wood. They try to escape backwards and it creates panic. It’s usually a great barney where we get stuck in.

A Met Chief Inspector continued:

Now, if both sides are being pushed from the back, the tonnage in pressure on the front line is incredible. And eventually there’s trouble – the majority of the miners were ordinary people, but one or two were very evil men. You’d get people holding darts through their fingers. They were normally in the second row of miners – all of a sudden through the line comes pff! and hits one of my officers in the face. Immediately he goes down, and that starts an eruption because his mates straight away go for that miner.

Another Met PC went on to say:

It was terrifying. You feared for your safety – for your life! Then all the brave people at the back of the crowd started picking up rocks, flints and large stones from the field and started throwing them. So the stuff started coming over and there were police officers dropping all round and pickets as well because they were hitting their own people. In that situation what do you do? A senior officer from the Greater Manchester Police told us to draw out truncheons and we did. Then you hit the first thing in front of you. But the person in front of you wasn’t doing anything. They haven’t thumped you. They were getting hit by the stones as well.

That some officers deliberately fomented trouble was duly noted. One Deputy Chief Constable from a mining area commented:

We had off-duty police officers, partially dressed in uniform, getting drunk and then being abusive to ordinary people – like anybody who’s away from home and living in semi-military conditions. It’s not too easy to take for the people who happen to live there and see their husbands, sons or fathers out of work. People refuse to serve them, they were an army of occupation. And a lot of places were out of bounds to them. Policemen rolled money down to the pickets, shouting “You’re hard up!” Others flashed ten pound notes from the windows of police vans. These miners are proud men, defending what they see as being their right to keep their pit. These outsiders com in – men who were much younger than them – and do these things that were pretty indefensible. It was bound to lead to violence.

Allegations went beyond aggression. A Met sergeant recollected a most malign incident:

I knew from the officers involved about a rape by two Met PCs that was covered up during the miners’ strike. It was up at Nottingham. We were on duty for eighteen days straight so we all ended up on the piss down the Palais in Notts. They picked up this girl, took her back to her flat. One went upstairs where she performed, while the other waited downstairs pissed out of his brains. Finally he decided he’d have a go too and went upstairs and raped her. Then they caught a cab back to the pit, and the girl complained. Suddenly they were taken off the picket line by two plain-clothes DCs from the local force and thrown in the cell. … The blokes just put up their hands up and asked if there was anything the Notts lads could do to help them. And there was. It was talked about at high management levels – don’t know how high, but pretty high up. In the end the girl agreed that “if he’d asked nicely she might have let him”, so it wasn’t what I’d call a serious rape. She wasn’t hurt or anything. So she withdrew the complaint.

For officers hailing from mining communities, loyalties were tested:

I come from Derbyshire originally and I was going back to be billeted within fifteen miles of my parents’ house! The miners then had a march and went up to London, to Downing Street. The police cordon went along the front of Downing Street. I was there. It was a very dumb job. That day the march didn’t do anything particularly bad but for some reason a police charge was ordered. I never saw what did it and to this day I don’t know why it happened. It was really horrible, I felt sick watching it. Then all the women walked past spat at me and said in Derbyshire accents, just like all my friends at home would say “and you’re going to go home to your wives and children” – that kind of abuse. That was the most upset I ever was in the police.

With an eye to future police-public relations, scarred by the urban riots of 1981, an officer lamented:

There were a lot of incidents of violence, but it was on both sides. There’s no doubt about that. Every time it happened it got nastier and nastier. Now you’ve got 120,000 anti-police people, just on the mining side. We’ve got enough enemies out there now – political enemies, coloureds, youngsters. We don’t need the working man as well.


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Crime: An Evidence Based Approach

Review: Tom Gash, Criminal: The Truth About Why People Do Bad Things (London: Allen Lane, 2016), pp. 337, RRP £14.99

Remember that mass brawl last month, involving 100 school boys in Northumberland Heath, Bexley, South East London?

“Never seen anything like it”, Jeanne Asquith wrote on Facebook. Another local told the Guardian, “This is the first time for a long, long while that we’ve had gang-related problems round here”. A witness informed the Daily Mail, “It was just scary. It was school kids, basically, all in their uniforms, with hoods up and lots with their faces covered up. Some had knives and bats and who knows what.” Sharon McHattie, landlady of the nearby Duchess of Kent was quoted in the Daily Telegraph,“It’s a miracle no one was killed,” she said. “They all had their hoods up and balaclavas on. How they never got killed I don’t know. They were all standing in the middle of the street.”

Bloody kids. I’d forgotten too.

Commenting on the London riots of 2011, the then prime minister David Cameron spoke in parliament, to the nation:

Mr Speaker, whenever the police face a new threat – they must have the freedom and the confidence to change tactics. This government will make sure they always have that. The fight back has well and truly begun. But there will be no complacency. And we will not stop until this mindless violence and thuggery is defeated and law and order is fully restored on all our streets. … No-one will forget the image of the … furniture shop that had survived the blitz now tragically burnt to the ground.

An inference that something has seriously gone wrong with the youth of today. The age old complaint and the complaint of old age. Criminologist Geoff Pearson noted ten years ago that the trope of decline is common to public discourse on criminality:

The youth crime debate in the UK is invariably accompanied by, and embedded within, some notion of generational decline in terms of family, community, authority, tradition and morality, so that young people with their senseless crimes and their tuneless music reflect some kind of modern emptiness. For example:

“That’s the way we’re going nowadays. Everything slick and streamlined, everything made out of something else. Celluloid, rubber, chromium steel everywhere.. .radios all playing the same tune, no vegetation left, everything cemented over.. .There’s something that’s gone out of us in these twenty years since the war”. Or again:

“The passing of parental authority, defiance of pre-war conventions, the absence of restraint, the wildness of extremes, the confusion of unrelated liberties, the wholesale drift away from churches, are but a few characteristics of after-war conditions”.

We know this sorry postwar blues off by heart. However, the immediate and complicating difficulty is that these are both complaints from before the war. The first is from George Orwell’s pre-war novel Coming Up for Air. The second is a Christian youth worker, James Butterworth, reflecting in 1932 on his experiences in the boys’ club movement in the Elephant and Castle area of working class London.   

In Criminal, Tom Gash, a senior fellow at the Institute for Government and former member of the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, tackles the myths surrounding discussions of crime and adopts an evidence-based approach to further the understanding of why people commit crime.

Gash’s analysis may be boiled down to three questions: what, who and why?

What’s Going on?

“If it bleeds, it leads”, so goes the old crime reporters’ motto. “Crime”, so seductive and simple a word. A Manichean manifestation dividing the “hangers and floggers” from the “do-gooders”. Assumptions and emotions amplified by our rolling 24 hours news (shorter deadlines, tighter budgets) feeding national historical amnesia. Violence, against people and property, catches the eye.

Despite popular assertions that the world is going to hell in a handcart, violence – and tolerance of violent crime in the western world – is at an all-time low. Research undertaken since the 1980s, popularized by Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature and James Sharpe’s recent A Furious and Fiery People, shows that twentieth-century England was 95 per cent less violent than the fourteenth century. Take the case of Oxford, the homicide rate fell from 110 per 100,000 people to less than one.

Lies, damn lies and statistics. Yet the pioneering hypotheses of English murder by J.S. Cockburn and Ted Robert Gurr were confirmed by Manuel Eisner’s studies of homicide in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and Switzerland.

And while experts claim that US murder rates during the 1990s would have been three times higher if medical technology had been on a par with 1960s practices – eighteen times higher than those of 1900 – most of decline in death occurred prior to the twentieth century.

Using Norbert Elias’s “civilizing process” as an exploratory tool, Pinker writes

As Europe became more urban, cosmopolitan, commercial, industrialized, and secular, it got safer and safer.

Particularly pertinent to Tom Gash’s study is the shift from a culture of honour to one of dignity:

as Elias points out, the habits of refinement, self-control, and consideration that are second nature to us had to be acquired – that’s why we call them second nature – and they developed in Europe over the course of its modern history.

Self-control, twinned with opportunity, as the key. So forget “organized crime”, a term selling journalistic copy and justifying more resources for the police. Yes, there are “crime lords” out there – take the vicious David Hunt who remains at liberty – but most crime is small scale.

Drugs serve as a useful example. Most “drug deals” are consenting transactions, often between friends and acquaintances. Peter Reuter, Professor in the School of Public Policy and Criminology at the University of Maryland, cautions for the distinction between “illegal markets” and “organized crime”:

What I’m struck by, is how small are the firms in illegal markets, and that is a real structural consequence of product illegality … your principal cost – at least if there’s any enforcement – is the cost of the risk associated with activity. And if you make the firm larger, then the number of people who can inform against you goes up. So you want to keep it pretty small. Drug organizations are almost always quite small.

Who Commits Crime?

Did you ever buy booze before your eighteenth birthday? Smoke a spliff? Fuck a fifteen-year-old when you were in your late teens? Buy something from the “man in the pub”? Pay a plumber in cash for a reduced rate?

Chance is, you’ve committed crime, but don’t consider yourself a criminal. You’re not a murderer, rapist or robber.

In the UK, more eleven-year-olds are cautioned or convicted than 45-year-olds. The most prolific public offenders are males in their teens and early twenties. Self-control, or the lack of it. Tom Gash poses the question:

Could it be that, rather than gradually learning the skills of a criminal lifestyle, many people are born with antisocial instincts which they eventually learn to shake off?

Self-control and opportunity helps to explain why nearly 50 per cent of female murder victims are killed by a partner, or an ex, and why two-thirds of serious sexual assaults on women are committed by a partner, or an ex (52%) or family member (10%). Even tit-for-tat gang murders, with their culture of respect (honour), turn out to be exaggerated responses to the death of a friend.

Gash also examines the politically provocative province of migration and crime. Particular attention is paid to the “paradox of assimilation”, where data from across Europe shows that second and third generation immigrants often, though not always, have higher offending rates than “natives”:

they often compare their lot with that of others in the country in which they live rather than the country of their parents’ birth.

Profiling and discrimination built-in to the justice system aside, ethnic minorities do tend to be over-represented in criminal statistics. Gash offers the sensible suspicion:

There is plenty of evidence that points to the fact that resentment of perceived injustices can make people lash out – with violence or other forms of ‘expressive’ behaviour, including vandalism and looting.

Why Behave Badly?

Self-control and opportunity. Professor Adrian Raine of the University of Pennsylvania spent most of the 1990s examining the brain scans of criminals:

The main difference was that murderers generally had far lower levels of brain activity in the pre-frontal cortex area, the very same area responsible for planning, reasoning and problem solving […]. The death row murderers in Raine’s sample were clearly a particular type of criminal. But they did suggest a pattern linking brain dysfunction to short fuses and extreme violence […]. Those murderers who didn’t have deficits in the areas of the brain responsible for self-control usually did have noticeable differences in the other parts of the brain, in particular the amygdala, hippocampus and thalamus, areas that are associated with primitive human urges.

IQ appears to correlate with criminality. Gash writes:

A Swedish study measured children’s IQ at age three and followed the children throughout their lives. The researchers found that those who ended up committing the most crime had an average IQ of 88, whereas non-offenders had an average IQ of 101. Similar studies in Michigan, Philadelphia, Copenhagen and Cambridge, UK, have had similar results.

Delectation for the Daily Mail. Born criminals? Gash is quick to quash these headline-grabbing quotes with the qualification of King’s College London’s professor Terrie Moffitt:

Knowing something is inherited [in scientific terms] does not IN ANY WAY tell us anything about whether changing the environment will improve it.

Urban planners believe that it may be possible to design-out crime. The Groningen (Netherlands) experiment of 2008 showed that twice as much litter was dropped in a cycle-parking alley when the rubbish bins were removed and graffiti was present than when the walls were clean.

Research of Pittsburgh public housing also shows that high-rises tended to suffer higher violence yet lower property crime than low-rises:

Presumably it’s difficult to make a quick getaway from a burglary on the seventh floor but equally difficult to escape a fight.

What’s To Be Done?

Explaining crime trends since the Second World War, Gash observes:

The period of economic expansion from the 1960s saw a dramatic increase in criminal opportunities. High-value consumables became a tempting target for theft and at the same time shifting social values brought ever-increasing numbers into situations where violence was a risk: for example, the mixed-sex urban settings where intoxicated men could be tempted to prove themselves through violence. […] Crime only fell as society adapted to these changes with better policing and home security and far more effective supervision of social spaces. We may also have benefitted from technological advances, which made computer games much better than they used to be and kept more teenagers indoors and out of trouble.

Rather than advocating sweeping policy statements to combat crime, Gash concentrates on the local, what may unhelpfully be called micro-behaviour. Initial research into prison diet shows that supplementing food with Omega 3 and other vitamins may help to reduce violent behaviour.

Motor-cycle theft fell in Germany, Netherlands and the UK when the wearing of crash helmets became compulsory. Disposing of stolen goods through the traditional route of the scrap-metal dealer has been stymied by the introduction in 2012 of legislation banning cash-in-hand payments, compelling dealers to acquire a licence and keep records for three years, and forcing sellers to produce ID at the point of sale.

Confirming the bonds of crime, self-control and opportunity are the presence of crime spikes in most countries following pay day – more goods to steal and inhibitions lowered by drink. Knowledge is king. A study in Minneapolis showed that an area covering just three per cent of the jurisdiction accounted for 50 per cent of emergency calls to the police.

More targeted policing is critical for crime fighting. Office workers are crucial to data collection and analysis. The very workers bearing the brunt of cuts in these austere times. As historian Chris Williams reminds us:

Cut the back office too far, and we’re back to the early nineteenth century, when policing was as good as the individual police officer, but could never be any better.


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Light on the Fifth Floor please: A Request for Information

Exploring the seedy side of Scotland Yard, through the spectrum of the 1970s, raises more questions than answers. My Life on Mars blog was conceived as a single essay on Metropolitan Police corruption during the 1970s. I’m now reading, procrastinating, writing and procrastinating on “Part V: Operation Countryman”.

Life on Mars has had 1919 views, and a number of people with personal connections to this period have subsequently contacted me with various tidbits of information. Much obliged.

One aspect of this story I have touched upon, warranting further interrogation, are the institutional politics of Scotland Yard. References to the “Fifth Floor” intrigue me.

I first stumbled across the “Fifth Floor” while reading ex-Detective Commander Leonard “Nipper” Read’s, of Kray-catching fame, ghosted memoirs:

It was clear that the Fifth Floor had taken a distinct dislike to me. There were further disturbing signs when a newspaper article appeared, indicating that the Yard was launching a purge on the personality cult. Headed “Yard takes Star Men out of Limelight”, the report said that the Commissioner, Sir John Waldron, and [Assistant Commissioner Crime] Peter Brodie were worried about two recent cases which had resulted in publicity for the officers leading them. These were the Great Train Robbery and Tommy Butler and the Kray case and me. … The information had been leaked by the Fifth Floor to the newspapers to discredit me. …

Indeed, the reaction by the top brass to the Kray inquiry had been mixed all along. My appointment to the inquiry had been treated with some disdain by the favoured ones on the Fifth Floor, the men who flitted from one department of the Yard to another and who were never involved in anything other than carefully selected inquiries. They received rapid promotion and were always in high profile at functions, chumming it with senior officers. (Leonard Read and James Morton, Nipper: The Story of Leonard “Nipper” Read [London: Macdonald, 1991])

Ex-Detective Constable Jock Murray recalled:

I was one day on the fifth floor of Scotland Yard. This floor was where all the senior officers of various squads had their offices. If a junior officer was seen there colleagues would immediately think you were sucking up to them for something. (Jock Murray, The Whaler of Scotland Yard [Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2011])

I’ve yet to visit the National Archives to find the relevant files. If anyone can recommend any reading on the “Fifth Floor”, or, more pertinently, has any experiences or elucidations on this subject, please contact me. Any information passed on will be received gratefully and confidentially.

Thank you.

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Operation Midland: Opaque, Mismanaged & Misleading?

The conclusions of an inquiry into an inquiry into allegations of an elite Westminster based paedophile ring will not be made public.

Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe ordered the review of Operation Midland back in February. Following the shock revelation that self-proclaimed peado Jimmy Savile liked shagging young kids, the Met launched Operation Midland to investigate allegations of historic child sex abuse. Former head of the armed forces Lord Bramall and ex-Tory MP Harvey Proctor were publicly and wrongly accused of being kiddy-fiddlers. At a cost of £2.5 million, no arrests were made.

Sir Richard Henriques’s review of Operation Midland will be handed to the Met this week. While the force refuses to answer questions about blame, The Times hints that police officers criticized may be offered a chance to respond to the draft report, delaying final publication.

Assistant Commissioner Helen King comments that the report needs to be examined “not just in terms of what can and cannot be published from it but also the extent to which the [force] agrees or otherwise with all of its findings and recommendations.”

Harvey Proctor’s verdict is damning:

Not content with appointing their own judge, setting their own terms of reference, excluding historical matters and ensuring Henriques reports to Hogan-Howe directly, now the MPS [Metropolitan Police Service] are ensuring it is not be independent by tampering with their own report once written.”

Daniel Janner QC, son of Labour peer and alleged child molester Grenville Janner, is considering pursuing legal means to grant full disclosure.


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The Battle of Cable Street

The rich said, “Damn’ Jews! They’re all Communists, reds – revolutionaries!” and the ignorant befuddled poor said, “Bloody Jews! They’re all rich – they’re all millionaires”. So between the two – smacked in the face and kicked in the backside at the same time.

(Simon Blumenfeld, Jew Boy [1935, reissued by London Books 2011])


Red plaque commemorating Battle of Cable Street, Dock Street, near Cable Street junction. Photo: Richard Allen, Wikimedia Commons.

Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists planned to march through the Jewish East End (parts of the London borough of Stepney) on 4 October 1936. Six thousand police officers were deployed to protect the right of these thugs to demonstrate in public. Between 310,000 and half a million people gathered to block the fascists, adopting the slogan of the Spanish Civil War “They Shall Not Pass”. The ensuing fight between locals – Jews, cockneys, Irish dockers, Labour and Communist Party members – and the Metropolitan Police led to the Commissioner Sir Philip Game to order Mosley and his three thousand blackshirts to call off the demonstration.


Metropolitan Police Historical Collection, Charlton: Photo Archive, Cable Street

During the 1980s Roger Mills and the Cable Street Group interviewed a number of eye-witnesses and participants in this famous fight. (Roger Mills, Everything Happens in Cable Street [Nottingham: Five Leaves Publications, 2011]) On the eightieth anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street, here is Mr and Mrs Ginsberg’s story:

Mr Ginsberg: I lived in Cable Street all the time up until 1938 when I got married. People by then were scattering all over the place. I didn’t know my wife then but she was at the Battle. I was there right at the front. I saw the crowds so I went right through them. Foolish! Mosley’s crowds were in Royal Mint Street. The police were lined up in Leman Street and Dock Street and the beginning of Cable Street so I went – Nosey Park – right to the front to see what was happening. I was foolish being in front because when they started pushing forward – the police were on horseback – they didn’t care who they pushed or threw down.

Mrs Ginsberg: Policemen’s helmets were flying and boys’ teeth were being knocked out. They were banged on the head with truncheons. It was terrifying.

Mr Ginsberg: I went to help this chap, the horse had jumped on his stomach. He was in terrific pain. I went to help him but the police were saying, “Get back, get back.” They were going to hit me, I had to go back; I couldn’t help the man. But Mosley never got past. We all expected it – that was why there were so many people there. It was a very heavy atmosphere. Many people were afraid, they stayed in their houses and wouldn’t come out. But a lot of us did. When they did turn back there were people on the floor, injured.

Mrs Ginsberg: I belonged to the Labour League of Youth – the Labour Party. The Blackshirts were going through our streets and a friend of mine said, “Come on, join us.” So I did and we all went to Cable Street and that’s how I became involved. I was there in the thick of it and saw all the horses coming at us. I was terrified. I went to the corner and said to the police, “I want to go home.” He said, “No, you can’t go that way,” and he sent me back into the melee. It was like a war. They built a barricade in the middle, the men did. Everything they could lay their hands on – tables, chairs and God knows what.

Mr Ginsberg: It came as a great shock because the police were our friends. They used to walk along  the street and we used to say hello. Every time the police walked they used to try the door. Every door they tried. They used to give advice and have a drink in the pub. They were very friendly the local police. But here they were from the Midlands – somewhere up north – goodness knows where they came from. They had strange policemen. And they were banging people on the head. A great shock.

Mrs Ginsberg: They suffered too. We saw policemen with blood streaming down their faces. They didn’t have it all their way. It was their job to allow Mosley to march through. They tried but there were masses and masses of people and it was impossible to get through even with horses. They had to give up in the end and turn him back.

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Cold Case: The Met’s Missing Paperwork

Scotland Yard has lost the case files of thirteen unsolved murders, according to a report in the Daily Mirror. Rumour abounds that corrupt cops may deliberately have destroyed some of these documents relating to homicides during the 1980s.

Operation FileSafe was launched in 2014 to re-examine police archives following allegations that malign Met officers “lost” paperwork linked to the murder of Stephen Lawrence. So far the £3 million inquiry, set to last until 2018, has examined 900,000 files. The report in the Mirror notes:

A 2014 memo marked “restricted” stated: “The MPS [Metropolitan Police Service] does not know what information it holds, where it is stored or how to retrieve it.” Another found last year: “54% of files were missing.”

A Met spokeswoman released the following statement:

At the current time 13 files are classed as missing, but work is ongoing to locate them. We are not prepared to identify those cases where we cannot currently find the files. Due to the age of these cases, we have not informed any of the families as this could cause considerable distress after so many years. To date our efforts in locating some of the files have not suggested that police corruption is a factor. However, this is kept under constant review.



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David Hunt: Untouchable?

You’ve heard of the Krays. And if you’re a connoisseur of true crime, you may be familiar with the Adams family, Richardson brothers, Billy Hill, Jack Spot and the Sabinis. But David Hunt?

55-year-old Hunt hit the headlines in 2013 losing a libel case against the Sunday Times. Veteran journalist Michael Gillard successfully defended his research that Hunt headed an organized crime syndicate earning millions from robberies, protection, drugs and prostitution. Earlier this year BBC Panorama alleged that Hunt may have been involved in taking out a contract to kill three officers based at Newham Crime Squad, Stratford, East London.

Described in police reports as possessing “a propensity for violence”, sources state “murder is second nature to him”. Yet Hunt remains at liberty, his last conviction was as a 26-year-old when he was sent down for nine months, suspended for two years, for conspiracy to handle stolen goods. Believed by some at Scotland Yard as “too big to take on”, an official minute notes:

Intelligence shows that [Hunt] maintains and controls a powerful position within a large criminal network … It is clear the subject’s business interests are not legitimate … a large number of associates willing to work for him, and despite a wealth of intelligence dating back approximately 20 years, police appear to have a very poor success rate in developing and progressing this into prosecution material. As a result the subject believes he has untouchable status …

Who is David Hunt? Born in April 1961, the youngest of 13 children in East London’s Canning Town, Hunt “was not unusual in getting into trouble with the law as a young man.” A keen amateur boxer, Hunt graduated to providing security for pubs and clubs. By the mid-1980s police reports claim that Hunt was “moving up the ladder” of the Snipers firm involved in lorry hijackings.

Hunt muscled-in on the Soho sex scene with his usual flair for violence. A set of flats used by prostitutes in Berwick Street were acquired when Hunt’s men turned up and threw the pimp out of the first-floor window. An employee at Peter Street’s Bizarre was kidnapped, had two fingers cut off with a bolt-cutter, with one of the digits being posted to an associate in Hackney. A similar pattern of intimidation forced landlords to handover property deeds. One sex-shop owner brave enough to refuse a £250 a week rent hike described Hunt’s methods to Observer crime correspondent Tony Thompson:

A few days later one guy came and cut one of my staff with a razor all round his backside. After that, we decided to pay. I don’t know what else to do. I can’t exactly go to the police because of the nature of the business. We’re not really hurting anybody, but I would not say what we’re doing is 100 per cent legal. It’s all getting out of hand. Am I scared of them? Of course I am.

By the mid-1990s, Hunt had acquired the freehold of 2 Green’s Court, Soho, a property comprising a basement “clip joint”, a ground floor unlicensed sex shop, the top three floors being rented out to prostitutes. Between 1997 and 1999, 55 “major crime allegations”, were linked to the premises, including allegations that under-age prostitutes worked from the rooms. Activities at Green’s Court alone generated a weekly profit of £2,000.

Police intelligence confirms that Hunt, along with the notorious Adams family, has co-financed the shipment of large quantities of cocaine and heroin into the UK, and profiteered from the dodgy acquisition of land compulsory purchased for the 2012 Olympics. Despite a police raid in 2006 at an East London storage facility leading to the discovery of £250,000 worth of jewellery in a safe and 16 containers of alcohol, tobacco and other stolen goods – facilitating the finding of a further 40 cases of stolen champagne at Woolston Manor Golf and Country Club in Chigwell, Essex, owned by Hunt – he remains free.

Is Hunt untouchable? He’s clever. The proceeds of Hunt’s illegal activities were laundered through his legitimate business interests, including scrap-metal. Aiding arms-length ownership, and evading the taxman, was facilitated by a series of off-shore accounts in Jersey and Panama. The “Panama Papers” revealed Hunt benefitted from the attention of Mossack Fonseca.

Hunt’s also violent, as Sunday Mirror journalist Peter Wilson found to the cost of a fractured eye socket. Wilson was investigating the murder of Terry Gooderham, a stocktaker (possibly on the fiddle) for a number of London clubs, who was shot dead with his girlfriend Maxine Arnold by a contract killer in December 1989. Subsequent inquiries by Wilson led him to Hunt. In Wilson’s words:

This time I noticed the Claimant [Hunt] himself, walking quickly up the path from his house in a determined and aggressive manner. He looked furious. I instinctively backed-off a few steps; and without saying a single word or pausing, he grabbed me by the lapels and violently head-butted me just above my right eye. I offered no resistance at all. He then said to me, “You fucking cunt. I’ll up you, talking to my wife about fucking murder.” I remember these words clearly … I staggered back in pain and shock and made my way to the car.

Would you testify against Hunt? Billy Allen, a property trader and convicted fraudster, said of Hunt in court:

I’ve got serious concerns and serious worries that I’m even standing here and I don’t want to get involved with these proceedings. I’ve done everything in my powers not to come here today. I did not want to give evidence in this case. I’m forced into giving it. I’m telling the truth. I’ve certainly no vendetta against Davey Hunt, and I hope to God he hasn’t got a vendetta against me…

As for Michael Gillard, his work for the Sunday Times led Mr Justice Simon to conclude:

On the basis of the information of Mr Gillard received from sources he was entitled to treat as reliable and knowledgeable, as well as the information contained in documents … I am satisfied that it was reasonable for him to describe the Claimant as a violent and dangerous criminal and the head of an organized crime group implicated in murder, drug trafficking and fraud.

Gillard has received numerous death threats and currently keeps a low profile.

Difficulties in mounting a prosecution aside, Hunt also has friends in blue. Such was Scotland Yard’s concern at Hunt’s ability to avoid the law, Operation Tiberius was launched in 2002 to investigate police corruption. 42 serving officers and 19 former detectives were named for bent behaviour. Both the Adams and Hunt families were highlighted for their aptitude in infiltrating the Met “at will”.

And when Newham Crime Squad paid closer attention to Hunt, the team faced investigation when rogue officers planted false corruption allegations. According to the Sunday Times, Hunt used his venal links to thwart 27 Met police investigations.

Hunt may have racked up a £800,000 bill when his libel suit against the Sunday Times failed. Barclays may have called in a £4.2 million loan when learning of his case, yet (the partially state-backed) Lloyds stepped in. David Sullivan also lent this West Ham supporting thug a further £1 million. Hunt remains free to enjoy his mansion – with indoor and outdoor pool, gym, tennis court and a lake – set in 20 acres of countryside in Great Hallingbury, Essex; a property which he purchased for £600,000 back in 1993 as a 32-year-old scaffolder.







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The Pubs Code: A Very British Compromise

Wonder why your beer is so dear? Resigned to not getting much change from a tenner for two drinks down the local? Your landlord is probably paying wet rent, a product of the beer tie. Under such arrangements, leaseholders and tenants are contracted to purchase drinks from their freeholder. An estimated 48 per cent of pubs are tied to a brewer or pub company.

While these companies offer rent discounts and business support services, such benefits are more than offset by wet rent. As a licensee complained recently to the Morning Advertiser about pubco Enterprise Inns:

All “wet” products must be purchased from the pub company. At full discount that means approximately a minimum of 30 per cent above market value. Some tenants can pay as much as 60 per cent over the going rates. All pumps are measured and monitored so as to make sure you are keeping in line with your “tie”. Large fines are there to discourage you. … We were paying an extra £40 per cask than the local brewery would supply direct. Enterprise kept the difference.

Since the enactment of the Pubs Code last month, government puff proclaims:

All businesses owning 500 or more tied pubs in England and Wales are now covered by the new code. This gives around 12,000 tenants new rights and protections such as increased transparency about the tied deals available, a fair rent assessment and the right to move to a free-of-tie tenancy in certain circumstances.

The Pubs Code applies to the “big six” pubcos: Admiral Taverns, Enterprise Inns, Greene King, Marstons, Punch Taverns and Star Pubs & Bars (Heineken UK).

This new legislation is a response to a campaign to combat the monopoly of the “big six” over the pub trade. The Guardian castigated the “downright bullying between the big pubcos, such as Enterprise Inns and Punch Taverns, and their tenants”. Private Eye damned the pubcos for being “greedy property companies with a cuddly name – and they own nearly half the country’s pub freeholds.”

How did this cartel come to pass? Back in 1989 the Monopoly and Mergers Committee reported on the pub trade. Of concern was above inflation beer price rises in pubs and the lack of competition. Particular attention was paid to the “big six” brewers – Allied Lyons, Bass, Courage, Grand Metropolitan, Scottish & Newcastle and Whitbread -who produced 75 of beer drunk in British pubs. Over half of hostelries were in turn owned by the “big six”.

Put simply, these companies were too big, with beer not their sole concern. Whitbread (current owners of Beefeater Grill, Brewers Fayre, Costa and Premier Inn) generated nearly half of its profits from retail, including businesses Beefeater and Pizza Hut. Grand Metropolitan invested £3.5 billion in Burger King. And if “economies” forced a village pub to close, customers would probably patronize the nearest pub, often owned by the same freeholder.

This report blamed price rises on monopoly practices. To encourage competition the ensuing Beer Orders of 1989 compelled the “big six” to sell 11,000 pubs, just under a third of their estates.

Out of the ashes of this sales blaze rose the phoenix of the pubco. Allied sold 1,800 pubs to Punch Tavern in 1999, a company formed two years earlier when 1,450 boozers were bought from Bass.Enterprise Inns was born in 1991 from the purchase of 368 pubs from Bass, with further acquisitions from Scottish & Newcastle and Whitbread’s portfolios. By 2004, Enterprise was the UK’s largest leased and tenanted pubco, owning 8,700 establishments. In the year to October 2015, Marstons made nearly 50 per cent of its operating profit of £160 million from the beer tie.

The cost of a pint didn’t fall, the Independent in 1997 cited evidence from the Campaign for Real Ale that pub prices had continued to rise above inflation since the passing of the Beer Orders. Former pub landlord and tenants’ rights campaigner Bill Sharp laments:

That all changed with leases and it became a poorer business arrangement because the new owners really didn’t care as long as you bought beer off them and paid the rent.

The day the Beer Orders came in, the relationship between the publicans and pub-owning companies changed. Before, your district manager would come to your kids’ christenings because you were all part of a big family.

The better you did, the more encouragement you got. Since the Beer Orders, it’s been a constant struggle to achieve a normal relationship because it’s been “us and them”. You have to wonder whether it was all for the best.

A monopoly of brewers and freeholders gave way to a cartel of property companies and drinks suppliers.

Once again, a government has promised to shake-up the pub trade. Will such a move result in more competition? Some say you should never talk politics in a pub. Yet the backrooms of Westminster have always been open to the boardrooms of the brewers. Historian Peter Clarke notes of the political economy of early twentieth-century Britain:

Liberal propaganda pointed to the significant number of Tory peers with interests in brewing. It is true that the “beerage” comprised the largest section of British industrialists to become ennobled, partly because brewing was the longest-established large-scale British industry. It is also true that “the trade” was a significant financial contributor to Conservative funds.

Brewers funded 5 percent of the Tory Party’s war chest for the 1987 general election. And the Sunday Express reported in 2014 that opponents to pub reform donated £187,850 to the Conservatives since 2008.

Politics, property and pubs continue to converge and confound competition. Of the eight peers who scrutinized the Small Business and Enterprise Bill promulgating the Pubs Code, one such noble included Tory peer Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots, director of Marstons 2002-14. Private Eye indicts the code for being:

a complicated, legalistic system of arbitration … It is so complicated, in fact, that even seasoned tenants’ representative at the Pubs Advisory Service can’t make sense of it.

Under the terms of the code compliance will be overseen by an independent adjudicator, Paul Newby. According to business minister Margot James:

Paul Newby is the right person to oversee the code. He knows the challenges pubs are facing and is committed to providing a fair and robust service.

Newby is more than familiar with the challenges pubs are facing. Until April of this year Newby was a director of pubco adviser and valuer Fleurets. In the year to September 2014, Fleurets earned around £1.1million, 23 percent of total fee income, from the “big six” pubcos. Since resigning as director of Fleurets, Newby continues to own an 11.52 per cent stake in the business.

I won’t be calling time on the beer tie just yet.




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Booze, News and Nothing to Lose

Review: Mike Molloy, The Happy Hack: A Memoir of Fleet Street in its Heyday (London: John Blake, 2016), pp. 336, RRP £8.99 

Alas, for the changes of time! The Fleet, that little, quick-flowing stream, once so bright and clear, is now a sewer!

So wrote Walter Thornbury in 1878, an apt analogy – some may say – for the trades immortalized on the street of ink and drink. The written word burns deep. For it was on this very thoroughfare that the “poet Chaucer is said to have beaten a saucy Franciscan friar in Fleet Street, and to have been fined 2s.” Wynkyn de Worde, Caxton’s assistant, was the first printer to set up shop in Fleet Street during the late fifteenth century. The Daily Courant, Britain’s first newspaper, published on the street of shame from 1702.

Close to intelligence from both the City and the legal establishment, with the relocation of Reuters from Aachen to Fleet Street in 1851 (the year that the first cable was laid across the English Channel), the abolition of the penny newspaper stamp four years later and the scrapping of paper duty in 1861, the foundations of the future were laid. According to historian Jerry White, the appearance of the Daily Mail in 1896 “augured a new era in democratic journalism for the century to come.”

One child of this revolution was the Daily Mirror. By the time 15-year-old messenger boy Mike Molloy arrived at Fleet Street in the summer of 1956, the Mirror was approaching its heyday. Under the odd couple of Cecil King and Hugh Cudlipp, the left-of-centre Mirror hit a circulation of over five million copies. Journalist John Beavan said of the Mirror’s message:

to enlarge the knowledge, freedom and welfare of ordinary people. But to be effective the mission had to be carried out with fun as well as earnestness, with dramatic even sensational impact, as well as common sense. A good paper, Cudlipp wrote, must be an Open University. Yet it must destroy taboos and foment controversy.

Working on the Sunday Pictorial and the Daily Sketch, the dyslexic Molloy went on to join the Mirror in 1962, reaching the position of editor in 1975, a post he held for ten years.

In The Happy Hack, Molloy evokes the Ealing comedy chaos of his time at Fleet Street. Amongst the clatter of typewriters and the interminable din of phones ringing, hidden in a fug of tobacco, drowning in a Sargasso Sea of spiked copy, proofs and newspapers, were the journalists. One of Molloy’s favourites was sports editor Tony Smith:

who knew how to relax after a hard day’s work. One evening at about seven o’clock I saw him returning to the department.

“How’s this for a record lunch, Michael?” he asked.

“Only seven o’clock, Smithy. I’ve known longer lunches than that,” I replied.

“I went out yesterday,” he retorted.

Molloy’s memoir bursts with boozy anecdotes. Take the tale of Molloy visiting bomb-happy Belfast hack Chris Buckland, sent to New York for a change of scenery:

As we entered the bar I heard the strains of “Danny Boy” on the jukebox and I realized he’d taken me to a bar with a counter holding Noraid collection boxes, a jukebox of Irish songs of the Bing Crosby variety and a clientele of third-or-fourth-generation Irish cops.

I sat uneasily at the bar as Buckland ordered the drinks. When we were served he rapped smartly on the countertop and loudly proclaimed, “I’m going to sing you an Irish song.”

Immediately he had the attention of the whole bar. Raising his glass, he then sang them the anthem of the Northern Ireland Protestants, “The Sash My Father Wore”. To my amazement we weren’t instantly dismembered by the crowd. When he’d finished he even got a loud round of applause. 

“Are you trying to get us murdered?” I hissed when he’d finished. He just laughed. “These fuckers know nothing about Ireland. Tell them it’s an Irish song and they think it’s got to be attacking the English.”

The Mirror was, in words of Les Hinton, “a brilliant, highly-functioning alcoholic”. Boozers frequented included the Printer’s Devil (patronized by news sub-eds), the White Swan (known affectionately by the incumbent sports staff as the Mucky Duck) and the White Hart – the infamous Stab in the Back, where Keith Waterhouse picked up a Chihuahua, the landlord’s wife’s prized pet, and requested two slices of bread for his sandwich.

Situations satirized in Michael Frayn’s novel Towards the End of the Morning (1967):

Various members of the staff emerged from the Hand and Ball Passage during the last dark hour of the morning, walked with an air of sober responsibility towards the main entrance, greeted the commissionaire and vanished upstairs in the lift to telephone their friends and draw their expenses before going out again to have lunch.

Pleas in mitigation were given for the long lunch, in Molloy’s words:

Part of the reason people spent so much time in the office pubs, apart from the obvious pleasures, was that the hot-metal process involved long periods of waiting. It was a waiting game for everyone, and the pubs seemed the natural place to kill time. But, in truth, no one really needed an excuse. … “He was pissed” was always greeted with an understanding nod of the head.

Molloy’s business meant mixing with the likes of Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, Roy Jenkins, JK Galbraith, Paul and Linda McCartney, and Rod Stewart. Working with Kingsley Amis, Jeffrey Bernard, Alastair Campbell and Delia Smith. And taking lunch with the Queen.

The music would not last forever. Intransigent print unions aside, Molloy and the Mirror faced two implacable foes. First, the Mirror failed to check the ascendancy of the Sun. Former Mirror sub Larry Lamb and new Sun owner Rupert Murdoch met for lunch. Journalists Peter Chippindale and Chris Horrie write of this meeting:

The two men agreed immediately on the main point. The Mirror had grown old along with the wartime generation of readers who had taken its sales to five million. It needed younger readers, but it had badly misjudged the younger generation and left a huge gap in the market. The blame was laid on the paper’s “mission to educate”, which had let to it being said that Hugh Cudlipp would have made a good teacher for the Workers’ Education Association. For Lamb, the Mirror’s heavyweight three times a week “Mirrorscope” insert, a sort of tabloid Guardian containing in-depth material about science and the arts, summed up everything that was wrong with the paper.

Like the old Sun, Mirrorscope was a pet Cudlipp project, a journalist’s version of what a newspaper should be. It was patronizing and it irritated the readers. It was as though they were being told: “This is the important bit – the rest, the things you are actually interested in, is rubbish.”

Molloy concurs:

It was greeted by the media pundits as a breakthrough in popular journalism. It won prizes and was hugely popular with everyone – except most of the readers of tabloid newspapers, who found it too demanding. But it did serve a useful function for Rupert Murdoch. He became even more convinced that the Mirror was leaving an enticing slice of the readership to be snapped up by the Sun.

Bearing down too on Molloy was the oleaginous, orange-faced and overweight Mirror owner Robert Maxwell. Described by Molloy as having “the look of a music hall comedian” with a smile “like that of Richard III”, Maxwell was a complex character. Devoid of humour, yet unintentionally hysterically funny, possessing no manners yet aped the mannerisms of others, Molloy confesses

It took some months to realize that he was simply a street trader who was mortgaged up to the hilt. Maxwell had an astonishing memory and amazing skills of mental arithmetic, but he had no innovative abilities at all. He just had the compelling drive to imitate other successful ventures. His previous headquarters in the city had been named Maxwell House in order that fools would imagine he also controlled the coffee giant.

Tom Pitt-Atkins, a psychiatrist and friend of Molloy, observed of Maxwell prophetically:

“I’ve been watching him for some time now: the man’s off his head. He’ll end up bringing his whole empire down around him.”

The Happy Hack will be of interest to historians, journalists and lovers of biography. Psephologist and sociologist too may care to take note of Molloy’s personal journey from a Labour-supporting family to working for a newspaper supporting the so-called Common Market, the mixed economy and the abolition of Clause Four from the Labour Party manifesto, to a man backing David Cameron in 2010.


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A School Governor and the Towel Tribunal: Misuse of Met Money?

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Maxine de Brunner of the Metropolitan Police is in the news for the wrong reasons, again.

The Mail on Sunday revealed that de Brunner attempted to organize an exhibition of Met police officers at Chinthurst School (Tadworth, Surrey) last month. At an estimated cost of £10,000 a firing range, armed response vehicles and riot vans were to be on display.

Back in June 2014 De Brunner, who also acts as chairwoman of the school’s governors, arranged for officers of the Territorial Support Group – with cars, dogs and horses in tow – to stage an event at this private school attended by her son.

This time de Brunner’s request was refused and Hertfordshire constabulary are conducting an investigation into the affair.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, commented:

These decisions require a full explanation. At a time of severe cutbacks to the police, care should always be taken about the use of police resources and time. In the current climate, these are precious.

In charge of implementing budget cuts of £500 million, de Brunner was criticized in 2013 for spending £660 of public funds on her plumed ceremonial headdress.

De Brunner was also in the public eye last month for losing the “towel tribunal”, the result of an internal and criminal investigation against Chief Inspector Adrian Denby, the officer in charge of Central London Territorial Support Group.

Denby, who had served as an adviser to the Kabul City Police, won a sexual discrimination case against de Brunner after she took offence at his men walking through the office in towels.

It is believed that de Brunner was attempted to stamp out the TSG’s macho culture, a unit the Met describes as “the strategic reserve for public disorder and incident response”. Detractors style the TSG as London’s paramilitary police.

Denby was found by the tribunal to be “an impressive and straightforward witness”, while shards of de Brunner’s script were deemed “not credible”.

A damages hearing is to be held in October.




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Child Sex Abuse, Cover-Ups and Bent Cops

The Independent Police Complaints Commission announced today that 43 investigations are being conducted into the Metropolitan Police’s alleged role in covering-up child sex offences.

In March of last year the IPCC launched 14 lines of inquiry into Met corruption, by the end of the year 29 referrals were being pursued. All the offences relate to cases of paedophilia from the 1970s onwards.

Many of the allegations arose from the testimony of former police officers, some who claim to have been threatened with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act if they spoke out.

According to the IPCC’s deputy chair, Sarah Green: “These allegations are of historic, high level corruption of the most serious nature.” The allegations concern the supressing of evidence, halting or hindering investigations, and the covering-up of the involvement of suspects who were members of parliament or police offices.

The Met’s Directorate for Professional Standards is leading the investigations, under the management of the IPCC.


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A Letter to So-Called Progressives: Why I Voted “Leave”

The people have spoken and voted incorrectly. I’m guilty of this thought crime too, all the more unforgivable since I’m middle-class, university educated and hail from an Anglo-Polish family: I voted for the UK to leave the European Union.

Yes, the tenor of the debate has been tawdry, with Messrs Cameron, Osborne and Carney over-playing short-term economic shocks; yet a consensus seems to be forming amongst right thinking people (especially the twatterati of the twitter-sphere) that the Remain campaign is on the side of the angels. A conceited conflation and confusion of those critical of the EU as being anti-European.

To vote Remain is to be modern, progressive, international in outlook. To vote Leave condemns you as a bigoted, myopic little-Englander. Given the way that elements of some who favour Brexit deliberately whipped-up public concerns with migration, I confess to feeling contaminated by the violent vitriol vomited by Farage & co.

Unlike some voters, however, such as the odious Kelvin MacKenzie, I do not suffer “Brexit buyer’s remorse”. Despite the post-Thatcher paradox that we’re all Marxists now – it’s the economy, stupid – heed the warning of former Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King that this debate should not be “reduced to a cost/benefit analysis”.

What is this abandoned new Jerusalem?

The European Commission acts as the EU’s executive. Comprised of 28 officials appointed by each of the member states for a five-year term, this body proposes EU laws and promotes the greater good of the EU – what in other contexts would be called the national interest. Majority voting has steadily encroached into areas of national competence over the years.

Legislation proposed by the European Commission is amended and adopted by the Council of the European Union, allowing national ministers a voice. Laws are finally revised by the 751-strong European Parliament. David Charter, Berlin correspondent for The Times points out :

The EU’s law-making system contains a crucial inversion of the democratic system invented by the British. In Brussels it is the unelected European Commission that devises and draws up legislation and the elected MEPs and national ministers who scrutinise and amend them. In Westminster the opposite is the case: the elected government proposes laws in its manifesto and unelected peers scrutinise them.

Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan has the acid outlook: “If the EU was a country applying to join itself, it’d be turned down for being insufficiently democratic.”

Holding the executive to account is compromised by the lax lobbying regime. Left-wing journalist Owen Jones observes:

Because the EU’s lobby register is voluntary, there is a considerable lack of clarity about what companies are doing and which EU politicians and bureaucrats they are speaking to.

Such is the suasion of the business lobby, the EU has prohibited state aid, on pain of financial penalty, and encoded privatization within EU law. Polls across Britain show that most voters, including those of a Tory bent, favour renationalisation of what may be termed “public goods”. Listen once more to Owen Jones:

A very unsexy, technical-sounding treaty is a case in point. At the end of 2013 the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the European Union and the US received virtually no media attention, and certainly no political condemnation. It included a so-called “investor-state dispute settlement”, a device that could allow multinationals to sue elected governments to get their own way in a process administered by corporate lawyers and bypassing local judicial systems. According to the Democracy Centre, this device “effectively operates as a privatized justice system for global corporations”. Where it had been in force elsewhere, dozens of legal actions “have been taken by corporations against governments on issues ranging from mining to water to nuclear power”.

“It is a very grave threat indeed,” says campaigning journalist George Monbiot … “It shuts down a huge number of political alternatives, and shuts out many of the policies many of the people in this country would badly like to see. For example, preventing the commercialization and privatization of the NHS becomes pretty much impossible, if the Treaty went ahead in its proposed form.”

The strength of the agricultural lobby hampers the ability of developing countries to do business with the EU and earn hard currency. Leaving the EU would allow Britain to pursue her own trade policy with these expanding markets. As journalist and Tory peer Matt Ridley explains:

 Outside the EU we would immediately be free of the EU’s external tariff. Instead of charging consumers 9 per cent tariffs on Basmati rice from India to placate Italian rice growers we could charge nothing. British consumers and African and Asian farmers all suffer from the EU’s protectionism.

Outside the realm of economics, lovers of civil liberties should be wary of the EU’s reach into criminal justice policy. The European Arrest Warrant serves as a case in point. Designed to fast-track the surrender of suspects to foreign countries, the EAW is based upon “mutual recognition of criminal justice systems in the EU.” In practice, use of the EAW has raised issues of proportionality. Shami Chakrabarti, the former director of Liberty, highlights the flaws of this system:

Take the case of Andrew Symeou, a British student extradited to Greece in 2009. Serious doubts emerged about the reliability of the evidence against Symeou and he was ultimately acquitted of manslaughter, but not before spending 10 months in appalling prison conditions away from his friends and family. The case against him was fundamentally flawed, but our courts were powerless to prevent the extradition. The same is true of Garry Mann, the former fireman extradited to Portugal in 2010 following a trial described by British judges as an embarrassment and a violation of his right to a fair trial.

Deceit, duplicity, fear and hyperbole have darkened the debates on Britain’s membership of the European Union. None so great as the grand deception colouring British politics since the UK joined the EU in 1973, the grand deception of dragging Britain into a United States of Europe. Prior to the original six countries of the EU signing the Treaty of Rome in 1957, a Foreign Office memo minuted the desire:

to achieve tighter European integration through the creation of European institutions with supra-national powers, beginning in the economic field … the underlying motive of the Six is, however, essentially political.

This erosion of national sovereignty was not alluded to in the government white paper The United Kingdom and the European Communities. In the words of Christopher Booker and Richard North, a grand deception:

There was no mention of economic and monetary union. There would be no loss of national identity. Britain’s  monarchy, parliament, and courts would all remain exactly as they were. The legal system would “continue as before”, apart from “certain changes under the treaties concerning economic and commercial matters.” And in one sentence often quoted later, it was stated that: “There is no question of Britain losing essential national sovereignty; what is proposed is a sharing and an enlargement of individual national sovereignties in the economic interest. … [Edward] Heath persistently misrepresented Britain’s membership of the Common Market as no more than a trading issue, when behind the scenes this was already being given the lie by … proposals for monetary and political union.

Margaret Thatcher attempted to fight the federalist turn to no avail. The head of the Cabinet Office’s European Secretariat, David Williamson, recalled to historian Peter Hennessey:

I was present at No 10 Downing Street on one occasion when Mrs Thatcher came down the stairs and said to me, “I have read every word of the Single European Act” (which passed through Parliament in the spring of 1986). She certainly knew “from the start that there were two competing visions of Europe” but at that stage she “felt that our vision of a free enterprise Europe des patries was predominant”.

No such options are on the table. Nothing, especially democracy, is to stand in the way of the federalizing juggernaut. When Denmark voted to reject the Maastricht Treaty, which formally transformed the European Community into a Union, the country was made to vote again until the “correct” result was delivered. Copenhagen witnessed the worst riots since the Second World War. When France and Holland rejected the European Constitution, the proposals were re-hashed as the Lisbon Treaty.

To the four million who are calling for Britain to hold a second referendum on EU membership, and the 64 per cent of 18-24 year-olds who couldn’t be arsed to vote in the first place yet claim their future has been ruined by old farts, I cannot advocate the UK remaining part of a moribund and sclerotic protectionist trading bloc, an undemocratic fledgling state known as the European Union.




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Sleeping with the Enemy: Dead Babies and State Rape

Cast aside the mendacious messages dominating the headlines by the Remain and Leave campaigns for tomorrow’s referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. For today Sir Christopher Pitchford “will consider whether the state has a duty to disclose to the parents of a deceased child that the child’s identity was used for police purposes.”

The Pitchford inquiry was established last year by Theresa May, Home Secretary, in the wake of the Guardian’s revelations from 2011 on the activities of the Met police’s Special Demonstration Squad (SDS). 106 covert identities were used by officers of the SDS. Formed in the aftermath of the anti-Vietnam war protests in Grosvenor Square in 1968, the remit of the SDS was to ensure “sufficient and accurate intelligence to enable the police to maintain public order”.

Using controversial tactics such as identity theft, acting as agent provocateurs and forming sexual relationships with members of groups under state surveillance, the SDS’s list of subversives also included those seeking justice for Stephen Lawrence, victim of a racist murder, and supposed Stockwell bomber, in fact innocent engineer, John Charles de Menezes.

Seven women who were hoodwinked into encounters with undercover cops have received a public apology and compensation from the Met. Jacqui, a former animal rights protestor whose child “Francis” was fathered by former police officer Bob Lambert, believes she was “raped by the state”. Writing in the New Statesman, Laurie Penny takes this analogy to its logical conclusion:

The women who were betrayed and exploited by police officers are the first victims of this outrage – but everyone with a stake in civil society has a right to answers. Until we know how the police are operating, until we know who is watching us and why, the public cannot give informed consent to be governed – and that’s a violation of everyone’s dignity.

Pitchford’s terms of reference are to

  • investigate the role and the contribution made by undercover policing towards the prevention and detection of crime;
  • examine the motivation for, and the scope of, undercover police operations in practice and their effect upon individuals in particular and the public in general;
  • ascertain the state of awareness of undercover police operations of Her Majesty’s Government;
  • identify and assess the adequacy of the:
    1. justification, authorisation, operational governance and oversight of undercover policing;
    2. selection, training, management and care of undercover police officers;
  • identify and assess the adequacy of the statutory, policy and judicial regulation of undercover policing.

More than 100 police officers infiltrated 460 political groups over a forty year period. According to the Guardian,

An internal inquiry uncovered evidence that the managers of the secret Scotland Yard unit, known as the Special Demonstration Squad, clearly exaggerated the value of intelligence gathered by its undercover officers.

Given the poor press which the police has faced over the past decade with heavy-handedness evident in the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests (2009) and Plebgate (2012); incompetence and fraud by Royalty Protection officers (2009 and 2014); set alongside allegations of kickbacks to cops from Soho night club owners (2015) and corruption in the ongoing investigation into the murder of private detective Daniel Morgan (1987), it remains imperative that Pitchford is no whitewash.






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A Tale of Four Davids: London’s Lurid Olympic Legacy

West Ham United speaks for London, for the nation. For we know of no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodic fits of football fever. Witness any World Cup. Witness David Cameron’s perplexing public support for West Ham last year, he’s an Aston Villa fan. West Ham certainly supports the government, the club donated £12,500 to the Conservative Pary last January.

Everyone loves West Ham. The club played host to a Passing Out Parade for 144 Met Police recruits on 14 July 2014. According to a spokesman,

This was only the second time the parade has been held in a public place. The break with tradition is part of the Met’s bid to open doors to its traditions and give members of the public the opportunity to take pride in their police service.

West Ham is co-owned by pornographers David Gold and David Sullivan. The club’s Vice-Chairman is bullying litigant Karren Brady of Apprentice fame, known formally as the Tory peer Baroness Brady of Knightsbridge in the City of Westminster. Back in February of last year, general election looming, all three paid up to £1,500 each to attend a fundraiser for the Conservatives at Grosvenor House Hotel.

David Sullivan, who has the distinction of a conviction for living off immoral earnings (something to do with a sauna and naked ladies offering “massage”), lent £1 million to East London thug turned Essex mansion resident David Hunt three months after he lost a libel battle with the Sunday Times.

Known as the “Long Fella” and a corrupter of Met cops, West Ham fan Hunt hit the headlines in 2010 when Michael Gillard alleged that he was the head of a “notorious crime syndicate” seeking to cash-in on a share of a £20 million government regeneration fund for the London Olympic Games. Five intelligence sources confirm a contract to kill three Stratford coppers looking too closely.

Other malign mutterings. Iain Sinclair

heard the Hackney solicitor Bill Parry-Davies describe how, after a series of mysterious fires, Dalston Lane lost its Victorian theatre and sections of Georgian terrace, to facilitate a new transport hub that would service the vital axes, south to the City, east to the Olympic Park.

The 2012 Olympics, what Jonathan Meades damned as a “festival of energy squandering architectural bling worthy of a vain third world dictatorship, a jobbery gravy train, a payday for the construction industry”. Intitial projected budget of £2.4 billion bloated to £9.29 billion. Actual cost of £8.92 billion. A triumph: “our £6.89bn overspend was actually just a £6.52 overspend, when all things are taken into account! Huzzah!” Savings made from mixing, contrary to official guidelines, radium and thorium with low-level waste in post-industrial Stratford.

Throw in the £2 billion allocated to London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the total cost of London 2012 was £11 billion – equivalent to the Home Office (including the police and intelligence services) budget for 2010-11.

An exercise is state-enforced jollility. No dissent. Sinclair banned from speaking on Hackney Council property for his opposition to this corporate extravaganza, boosting his new book through six printings.

“The legacy the Games leave is as important as the sporting memories,” so said Tony Blair. Or as Sinclair puts it, “the presentation of the event was bigger than the event itself.” Rowan Moore, the Observer’s architecture critic, excoriated the

fudging, sleight of hand and compromise. The building of a Westfield shopping centre was portrayed as evidence of the Games’ regenerative power, even though it was planned before London won the Olympic bid.

Some locals are happy. Average house price inflation in Stratford and its parent borough Newham has been 60 and 43 per cent respectively since 2005, set against a wider London rise of 36 per cent. Homes near the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park have risen from £171,081 to £293,105 over the same period, a rise of 71 per cent. Though when 29 single mums at a local hostel protested against their removal to properties in Birmingham, Hastings and Manchester, Robin Wales the Mayor of Newham called them “dispicable”, “If you can’t afford to live in Newham, you can’t afford to live in Newham.” You call it gentrification, I call it social cleansing.

What of the Olympic Stadium? Converted at a cost of £272 million, of which the new owners will contribute £15 million and pay an annual rent of £2.5 million, this venue will be the new home of West Ham United.



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Incompetent, Homophobic and Racist: Sergeant Kirsten Treasure

Sergeant Kirsten Treasure was dismissed from the Metropolitan Police last Friday after a two week inquiry found her guilty of gross misconduct.

42-year-old Treasure’s conduct came into question over her failure to respond to a call for help at John Ruskin College, Selsdon Park Road, Croydon on the night of 24 April 2014. Andrew Else, a 52-year-old father of three and estate agent, was returning from a night down the pub. After dismounting a bus near his home, Else died after being stabbed more than 200 times in an unprovoked attack by paranoid schizophrenic Ephraim Norman.

The initial alarm for assistance was ignored by Treasure; she claimed to be unfamiliar with the location of the stabbing, just 700 metres from her base at Addington police station. Treasure reportedly confused Selsdon with Coulsdon, despite having policed Croydon for 14 years. According to The Times:

Ms Treasure is understood to have ordered the officers back and claimed that other duties, such as policing the town centre, took precedence.

After the allegations were referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, who ordered an internal Met investigation, it was claimed that Treasure lied under interview about her handling of events.

Treasure was also accused of making of making 15 homophobic and racist comments about colleagues and members of the public.

Carol Scott, Andrew Else’s 74-year-old mother-in-law, said in a statement:

We are so glad Kirsten Treasure has been dismissed. She was a horrendous person and we don’t need police officers like her in the force. … We think perhaps if the police had got there quicker Andrew would have been saved. We don’t blame the police officers, we blame Kirsten Treasure who was in charge of them. I am so angry with her. She was a nasty piece of work and called them horrible names. 

The Crown Prosecution Service decided not to press criminal charges against Treasure. Chief Superintendent Matthew Gardner of the Met’s Directorate for Professional Standards commented:

The catalogue of misconduct by this officer is truly shocking. Police Sergeant Treasure has abandoned her sworn duty to protect the people of London and had no regard for the victim, Andrew Else. Her language and behaviour has left no room for her to remain within a police service which demands the highest levels of integrity and professionalism. Her attitudes to people, be they colleagues, the public or victims of crime, had been shown to be truly appalling, the polar opposite of what those of a police officer should be, and it is clear that the panel were justified in dismissing this officer.

24-year-old Norman admitted manslaughter in February 2015 and was ordered to be detained indefinitely in a secure hospital under the Mental Health Act.



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John McDonald: Another Case of Met Corruption?

Detective Sergeant John McDonald, a Metropolitan Police officer on secondment to the National Crime Agency’s International Corruption Unit, has been transferred to Scotland Yard and “subject to an internal review of [his] status” following allegations of corruption.

McDonald was part of a Department for International Development-funded team targeting misappropriation of monies by African officials and politicians. Operations by this squad resulted in the conviction of billionaire James Ibori, ex-West London Wickes cashier and former governor of the Nigerian black gold Delta state. Ibori – who owned homes in London’s Hampstead and Regents Park, a £120,000 Bentley, a fleet of armoured Range Rovers, a private jet and sent his children to top British boarding schools – was sentenced to 13 years prison in 2012 for fraud and money laundering. The investigation and trial cost £50 million.

Allegations of corruption first surfaced in 2011 when an anonymous bundle of documents suggesting Met Police malfeasance was sent to both Sir Paul Stephenson (then Commissioner) and the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

An investigation by the Met’s Directorate for Professional Standards concluded that invoices detailing payments from Risc Management Ltd (a firm of private investigators then headed by ex-Scotland Yard detectives Keith Hunter and Cliff Knuckey) to Detective Sergeant McDonald were forgeries.

The Mail on Sunday revealed that current Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe was warned personally three years ago that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred in the Ibori case. And Met Commander Peter Spindler had earlier told the BBC that the corruption claims were false, despite not checking the veracity of the documents.

Allegations of police misconduct reappeared earlier this year when Bhadresh Gohil, Ibori’s former business lawyer who himself was jailed for seven years, stood trial for perverting the course of justice by forging the above documents. According to the Sunday Times:

The decision to prosecute him backfired in January when the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] was forced to produce documents, which it had previously told the court did not exist, that appeared to support Gohil’s claims of police corruption. The judge directed that he be found not guilty after the prosecution abandoned its case.

Evidence of bent behaviour includes 19 unexplained payments of around £500 each into McDonald’s bank account in 2007 and 120 phone calls from Risc to Met officers over the course of the Ibori operation.

Caution must be exercised when exploring allegations of bribery. Malicious and false charges of corruption are a tried-and-tested means of questioning the integrity of legitimate investigations. Yet given the Met’s chequered history in dealing with police malpractice, the IPCC needs to institute an inquiry.

As to the safety of Ibori’s conviction, a former CPS employee informed the Sunday Times:

This is potentially very significant. If it is true that a police officer in a major corruption investigation was himself corrupted, then I would have thought the Court of Appeal would regard that as very much calling into question the proceedings.








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A Reply to Matthew Parris, “We Can’t Go on With Such Incompetent Police”

I began to notice everywhere, as I had not noticed before, what shockingly low standards of police competence and honesty were passing almost unremarked. Later I kicked myself for believing the police’s story about Hillsborough; and I’m ashamed of having looked away from troubling allegations of police brutality at Orgreave, just because I didn’t support the miners.

Ephiphany, the scales fell from Parris’s eyes. Times journalist Matthew Parris joins Tory MP David Davis and the Guardian in a call to the government to establish a Royal Commission on Policing in England and Wales. I only feel comfortable in writing about the Met, the charge sheet doesn’t look good:

  • 2005 – Shooting dead of Jean Charles de Menezes.
  • 2007 – Commander Andy Hayman resigns from the Met.
  • 2008 – Death of black musician Sean Rigg at Brixton Police Station.
  • 2009 – Death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protest.                                                                                  Fraud by Royalty Protection officers exposed by the Sunday Times.
  • 2011 – Phone hacking scandal erupts.                                                                                                          Commissioner Paul Stephenson forced to resign.
  • 2012 – Plebgate.
  • 2013 – Special Demonstration Squad’s infilitation of “subversives”, such as those                            campaigning  for justice for Stephen Lawrence, revealed.
  • 2014 – Allegations that restricted items confiscated from tourists visiting                                        Buckingham Palace had been “mishandled” and appeared on eBay.
  • 2015 – Allegations of kickbacks from security at Soho bars and strip joints to officers                  at Scotland Yard’s Westminster licensing unit.
  • The ongoing investigaton into police complicity in the murder of Daniel Morgan in                      1987.

Parris’s indictment is three-fold. The first offence:

Britain’s police seem able to collude without fear of any colleague ever breaking ranks.

In many of cases of alleged police malpractice, the cover-up eclipsed the original “crime”. Any investigation into police “canteen culture” needs to be mindful of the realities of the job. Esprit de corps, morale, trust is essential in a profession where men and women put their lives on the line. Battle-hardening sets in.  Ex-cop Paul Page told investigative journalist Michael Gillard:

It doesn’t take long for you to become very cynical. You see things the general public never will – murder victims, elderly muggings, rape victims, a child sexually abused, or facing death. Anyone who says joining the police doesn’t change the way you see society is a liar.

You take on a role. It is a tough life if you are lower down the social scale. There are people out there who don’t care what they have to do to get money and they don’t care about the police and will shoot them if they have to. Officers can get disgruntled over different things. Mainly that nothing’s going to be done, that [the criminal] will be out soon and they didn’t respect us.

At Marylebone there was a (small) hard core of “reliable officers”. There was the surface of policing and then another surface and those officers weren’t prepared to stand by and watch the real, hardened criminals who were daily causing misery to people to get away with it and there a concerted effort to target them and make their life a misery.

The “mobile classroom” was a police van we’d take out and violent criminals with no respect for the law and us as police officers was [sic] taken targeted and put in the van, driven round for ten minutes and “taught a lesson”, then kicked out.

None of them complained. They knew they were violent and got away with a lot of things. And in their eyes, I imagine it was, “Well it’s better than getting nicked.”.

The ties of “noble cause” corruption. Such bonds are reinforced by a degree of social isolation. Jerome Skolnick writes of the findings of a study for the last Royal Commission into Policing (1960-62):

In Britain, two thirds of a sample of policemen interviewed … stated difficulties in making friends outside of the force; of those interviewed 58 per cent thought members of the public to be reserved, suspicious, and constrained in conversation; and 12 per cent attributed such difficulties to the request that policemen be selective in associations and behave circumspectly.

The second area of concern identified by Parris is the “low calibre” of police officers. A decent wage should reduce the temptation of officers to gild the lily. David Buss, a Met PC 1973-88, recalled of his time before the police pay rise of 1979:

I remember being absolutely skint standing on the North End Road in Fulham, waiting for the pubs to shut at 10.30, and so for the chance to arrest a man for being drunk and disorderly. That meant you could take him to court the next morning: four hours overtime. I found it demeaning. You would be offered all sorts of freebies by publicans, even greengrocers, and you’d take them, because you were so badly paid.

Better pay, more men, more resources does not, despite the protestations of the Police Federation, necessarily yield better results. Simon Heffer, by no means a man of the Left, noted that crime doubled across the country between 1979 and 1991, despite the Tories trying to prove themselves the party of law and order.

As for attracting a higher class of recruit? Met Commissioner Lord Trenchard introduced the Hendon scheme in 1934, direct entry to the rank of inspector for educated young men. Discontinued on the outset of the Second World War, the creation of an officer class faced oppositon from police, politicians and public alike.

Parris’s final observation is the statement:

Something has gone very badly wrong with policing in Britain. I doubt it’s recent and suspect it’s been gradual. 

I disagree, my hunch is that the overall conduct of the police is a damn sight better than it was in the 1970s. Remember the words of Sir Robert Mark, Met Commissioner (1972-77):

I had served in two provincial police forces for thirty years and though I had known wrongdoing, I had never experienced institutionalized wrongdoing, blindness, arrogance and prejudice  on anything like the scale accepted as routine in the Met.

A decline in deference questioning of authority and a fall in public trust in institutions has sharpened the spotlight on police behaviour. Atoning for sins of the father at Hillsborough and Orgreave.

I join Matthew Parris in his call for the appointment of a Royal Commission on Policing in England and Wales. Such a body is no silver bullet. Writing of the Royal Commission on Police Powers and Procedures (1929), crime and police historian Clive Emsley comments:

The Royal Commission concluded that “black sheep” were responsible for the “isolated incidents” of misconduct, and from the testimony of “responsible and judicial authorities” its members formed a favourable opinion “of the conduct, tone and efficiency of the Police Service as a whole.”

An official inquiry must not be an excuse for whitewash. Honesty and openness on behalf of the police is crucial. Of attemps by commissioners Paul Condon and John Stevens (1993-2004) to manage malpractice, Michael Gillard and World In Action veteran Laurie Flynn note:

The Yard just can’t seem to get its story straight over the true scale of the corruption problem at any one time. In 1993, Roy Clark, when first pitching the Ghost Squad to commissioner Condon, claimed it was “probably very few”. In 1994, Roger Gaspar was said to be operating a list f 83 detectives. In 1996, Paul Condon told the Guardian there were 200 bent cops in his force. In December 1997 he told Parliament it was up to 250. In June 1999 Stevens reduced that to 50. Then two months later the CIB [Complaints Investigation Bureau] press office told The Job magazine “experience and current intelligence suggests the real numbers are much closer to 100”. And in an interview with Commander Andy Hayman in March 2000 we were told about “1,000 entries” on the CIBIC [CIB Intelligence Cell] computer, of which which 250 to 300 were “worth going for” and over the next three years “80 to 100 [were] real runners”.

Whatever form of an investigation into modern policing, it remains imperative to address the question: how to square the circle of police accountability with efficient execution of duty?


  • Clive Emsley, The English Police: A Political and Social History (London: Longman, 2nd edn., 1996)
  • Simon Heffer, “How Twice the Crime is Twice as much reason to Play the Law and Order Card”, Spectator, 15 February 1992
  • Michael Gillard, For Queen and Currency: Audacious Fraud, Greed and Gambling at Scotland Yard (London: Bloomsbury, 2015)
  • _________ and Laurie Flynn, Untouchables: Dirty Cops, Bent Justice and Racism in Scotland Yard (London: Bloomsbury, 2nd edn, 2012)
  • Robert Mark, In the Office of Constable (London: Fontana, 1979)
  • Matthew Parris, “We Can’t Go On with such Incompetent Police”, The Times, 7 May 2016
  • Robert Reiner, The Politics of the Police (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 3rd edn., 2000)
  • David Rose, In the Name of the Law: The Collapse of Criminal Justice (London: Jonathan Cape, 1996)
  • Jerome Skolnick, “A Sketch of the Policeman’s ‘Working Personality'”, in Tim Newburn (ed.), Policing: Key Readings (Cullompton: Willan, 2005)
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Down and Out in Twenty-First Century London

Review: Ben Judah, This is London: Life and Death in the World City (London: Picador, 2016), pp. 432, RRP £18.99

“The English are dying. The English are declining and they are declining fast … You can see it on the streets. In the markets, there used to be only English people there screaming, in the cockney accent. But they’ve gone now … and all the English pubs, they are boarding up, and the English churches, they are being rented out to the Africans.”

The London policeman’s pronouncement. Pig, he would think that. 90 per cent of Met cops are white. Policing a city where 55 per cent of the population are from ethnic minorities. A city which has seen the white British constituent decline from 86 per cent of London residents down to 45 percent between 1971 and 2011. EastEnders and Only Fools and Horses as alien to London as Alf Garnett. The English are dying. A sentiment to be found in the saloon bar banter of UKIP sympathizers. Not, as in the instance of the Met copper recorded above, a Nigerian who migrated to the UK in 1989.

Following in the footsteps of George Orwell, Ben Judah in This is London takes to the streets and traces the hidden cities within the city. A city which can’t banish Victorian ghosts. Romance-in-reverse redolent of Dickens, Mayhew and Booth. More than 550,000 Africans, akin to a metropolis the size of Sheffield, making up 95 per cent of those who clean up the Coke cans and sandwich wrappers, newspaper pages, piss, puke and spunk from the Tube. More than 35,000 Roma, with thousands like the 16 from Slobozia living in the underpass under Hyde Park Corner eking an existence by begging. Struggling to pay 100 per cent interest loans for the privilege of living so. The night Judah slummed it with the Roma, they collected 82 pence. More than 150,000 Polish migrants, builders dossing, 16 sharing a two-bedroom one-bathroom ex-council house. Ill-educated tramps, over 5,000 of them, mainly from rural Poland and Romania. Unloading trucks for Turkish shopkeepers for sour White Ace high-octane cider, spiced at times with a hit of hospital handwash, men roasting rats in the back streets of Tottenham.

This is London: the liberal lure and lie of multiculturalism. Accommodation adverts: “Europeans, Hindus and Sikhs only”. As one woman mourns:

“I don’t live in Britain … I live in Lithuania. I watch Lithuanian TV … I use Lithuanian internet … My friends they are all Lithuanian … I only meet Lithuanians. The only thing I do in Britain is pay taxes to the British.”

No assimilation or integration, but parallel lives. In the words of Mukhtar, a Somalian living in Harlesden:

“Every community is to their own. Nobody communicates to each other … It’s not like it was … I mean I had a white girlfriend, she was my first … They see each other as aliens … The Somali community is on their own … And the Polish community is on their own.”

Yet commerce has always bred co-operation. Soho sex workers increasingly in thrall to Albanian not Maltese hard men; or, more positively, the erosion of Cockney counter-weighted by the embracement of Street – listen for the ubiquitous “dis” and “dem”. To the shame of those who submit to the belligerent intolerant strain of the religion of peace: “the Pakistani racket hands over a few grams to the Romanian racket, who pay their whores with drugs, and then give the Pakistanis a cut of their profits for their spots.” Even worse, Muslim girls spotted discarding traditional dress at school for makeup, mini skirts and high heels.

For a man who doesn’t trust statistics, Judah presents the reader with a battery of numbers:

There is a whole illegal city in London. This is where 70 per cent of Britain’s illegal immigrants are hiding. This is a city of more than 600,000 people, making it larger than Glasgow or Edinburgh. There are more illegals in London than Indians. Almost 40 per cent of them arrived after 2001. Roughly a third are from Africa. This is the hidden city: hidden from the statistics, hidden from the poverty rates. They all discount them: a minimum 5 per cent of the population.

This is London: launderettes, boarded-up pubs, cash-and-carries, halal butchers, money transfers, pavement fruit stalls and processed sausage-selling corner shops; betting, fried chicken and pound shops. This is London: an alchemical illusion. Aspiration anaesthetized. The streets aren’t paved with gold. East European labourers queueing-up outside Wickes for £4 an hour, waiting to to be called-up like Depression-era dockers. Africans washing-up in restaurants earning per shift what a customer pays for a main dish, not the £3,000 a month promised back home for pushing the button on the mythical magical machine. Brazilian, Lithuanian, Romanian, Slovak and Thai “models” in debt bondage. No Belle Du Jour dream. A glassy-eyed shrivel-breasted crack whore in Edmonton who’ll suck cock for a tenner.

Aspiration? Dad’s gone and mum’s working double shifts to pay the rent. Is it any wonder the teenagers “hug the block”? Gang as family. Gang as a leg-up. Listen to Moses from Grenada:

“It’s about who you are … Are you some sucker who’s gonna do these three GCSEs and go join dem niggas in Tesco bleeping that shit and get replaced in six months by a machine? Are you gonna be like your sad old pops slaving away on the Central Line and who can’t afford two fucking pairs of trainers? Or are you someone who’s gonna take that risk? Are you gonna shot white? Because unless you magically become a lawyer … gang-banging is your only go on the big-money roulette.”

Bolivian marching powder, charlie, coke, white. Cocaine? 30 per cent pure, if you’re lucky. Crap cut with creatine and sugars, dilutions disguised with caffeine, lidocaine or benzocaine. And levamisole: a white blood cell depleting animal de-wormer. Demand fuelling a boom outstripping that of property in the cocaine capital of Europe: “Everyone was doing it now: the investors were sniffing, the solicitors were sniffing, the students were sniffing, even the builders were sniffing now.” Hoxton hipsters unwittingly yet directly fuelling the gang postcode wars of Hackney. A demand so strong that water authorities notice a spike in the presence of this drug in the sewers on Tuesdays.

This is London, the disappearing city. Apparitions of the white working classes absent. A lost tribe whose diminution was depicted back in 1996 in John King’s Football Factory:

I suppose we’re like niggers in a way. White niggers. White trash. White shit. We’re a minority because we’re tight. Small in number. We’re loyal and dedicated. Football gives us something. Hate and fear makes us special. We have a base in the majority which means the cunts in charge can’t work us out. We have most of the same ideas but we’ve worked them round to fit ourselves. We’re a bit of everything. There’s no label. We’re something the rich cunts hate and slumming socialists can’t accept. We’re happy with life and there’s no need for social workers. 

Everyone is being pushed out, not just the natives. The inner city as J.G. Ballard’s redundant mausoleum, a rich man’s playground with locals dispersed to Parisian-style banlieus.  Rumours amongst the blacks of Brixton of an imminent white take over. Brixton in south London. Where Lambeth council have raised £55.65 million since 2011 by selling housing stock. Where house prices have risen 76 per cent over the last ten years and the average rent for a one bedroom property costs £1,744 a month.

In the adjoining borough of Southwark, the Heygate Estate has been demolished in Elephant and Castle. 3,000 people gone. Kicked out to the banlieus and beyond. Only two per cent of the new flats rented to the poor. This is London, the money-laundering capital of the world, where according to Transparency International 36,342 properties covering 2.2 square miles are owned by shell companies. Grass roots campaigns to fight dreaded gentrification, commodifocation and sanitization of East London’s Hackney and Norton Folgate and the West End’s St Giles and Soho.

Gentrification, a term coined in 1964 by the Marxist urban geographer Ruth Glass and popularly associated with developments in East London. Writer and broadcaster Patrick Wright notes:

The Spitalfields Trust, which started buying threatened Huguenot houses along the eastern edge of the City of London in the late Seventies, claims never to have displaced anyone. But the “New Georgian” mythologies that emerged from, or perhaps usurped, its activities as the market took off were hardly so fastidious: they celebrated the discrepancy between the re-Englished Georgian interior and the grainy Bangladeshi world outside, treating the extremes of social inequality not as a spur to reform but as vivid local colour.

Gentrification embodying the ideal of London as the city of villages, an estate agent’s conceit, what historian Roy Porter describes as

a myth of local identity solid, rooted, stable, duckponds and all; in reality, London’s districts were ever in flux, turbulent eddies of change, as citizens ceaselessly moved on, to avoid going down in the world.

This is London, Dryden’s “Phoenix in her ashes”, the perpetual collision and congruence of continuity and change. To the royal blue of Monopoly’s Mayfair, bounded by the retail throughfares of Bond and Oxford Streets and up-market Piccadilly and Park Lane. Mayfair, the address to have by the mid-eighteenth century. Where a survey of the Grosvenor estate (to this day creating cash for the Duke of Westminster) in 1790 revealed the residence of 37 peers, 18 baronets, 15 “Honourables” and 39 “Ladies”. Grand designs including Berkeley Square, Dorchester House, Grosvenor House. Grandees representing less than 10 per cent of the population. 55 butchers living locally.

Mayfair, which witnessed the first transformation of an old stable to “bijou mews house” as early as 1908. Where in the Edwardian period old mansion houses were torn down to make way for luxury apartments. A process magnified after the first world war with the development of opulent hotels and smart shops. A quarter morphing from Fauborg St Germain to the Champs-Elysees. Lamented by Sassoon with the mid-1920s destruction of Devonshire (formerly Berkeley) House:

Strolling one afternoon along a street

Whose valuable vastness can compare

With anything on earth in the complete

Efficiency of its mammoniac air – 

Strolling (to put it plainly) through those bits

Of Londonment adjacent to the Ritz, 

(While musing on the social gap between

Myself, whose arrogance is mostly brainy,

And those whose pride, on sunlit days and rainy,

Must loll and glide in yacht and limousine),

Something I saw, beyond a boarded barrier, 

Which manifested well that Time’s no tarrier.

Where stood the low-built mansion, once so great,

Ducal, demure, secure in its estate – 

Where Byron rang the bell and limped upstairs,

And Lord knows what political affairs

Got muddled and remodelled while Their Graces

Manned unperturbed Elizabethan faces – 

There, blankly overlooked by wintry strange

Frontages of houses rawly-lit by change,

Industrious workmen reconstructed quite

The lumbered, pegged, and excavated site;

And not one nook survived to screen a mouse

In what was Devonshire (God rest it) House.

Talismanic properties evoked in the early 1930s by writer Paul Cohen-Portheim:

Mayfair is one of those golden symbol-words which make millions of people tremble with delight – like Ascot, Cowes, Eton, or Oxford. Most of these millions would probably deny this imputation – but look at the space these symbols take up in print! … Mayfair is still a place for the rich, but for the rich of all nations and of no matter what origin or ancestry. 

Meeting Egyptian rich-kid Nahla, Ben Judah writes of Mayfair today:

There have always been daughters like her in Mayfair: errant, raffish, refusing to marry to their fathers’ wishes – their rebellion tolerated by Daddy, perhaps because he sees in her eyes shards of his own repressed self. They have been here as long as the town houses. But the real princesses and heiresses are no longer English. They are from Dubai and Qatar. 

This is London, testament to the peculiar power of place.

Further Reading

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The British Boozer, Surrey Edition: The Happy Man

The ley lines of lush align to form a pissed pentagram in the village of Englefield Green, Surrey. Channelling subterranean rivers of the forgetting. Memories of decayed wives, lives and livers, running through Runnymede’s hinterlands. Runnymede: topping in 2007 the Liverpool John Moores University’s twatted-table of hazardous drinkers. Englefield Green: home in 1852 to England’s final fatal duel. A village honeymooned by Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe. Almost stockbroker belt.

Forged at the congruence of two intemperate lines of force on Harvest Road, lies the Happy Man. A hostelry slaking the communal thirst for a century and more. Academics and airport workers, plumbers and professionals, taxi-driver and tradesmen, students; all pay homage to this temple to Bacchus. Incubus and succubus to the Royal Holloway College, child of Thomas Holloway, quack purveyor of pills and potions. French-Gothic design of William Crossland, namesake of a campus bar. Architect of local loony-asylum turned unaffordable homes. A land where Russian ex-pats, those who profane Putin, experience an alarmingly high suicide rate. Englefield Green, feeding off the Ballardian Badlands of Heathrow. Edgelands of London’s orbital.

The Happy Man: two Victorian cottages morphed into four rickety bars, seating clad in claret, traces of nicotine cream. Four cask ales in eternal rotation. CAMRA award-winning pub. Ubiquity in absence: no Fullers, Greene King or Doom Bar. Home-made pub grub, token veggie dishes. Screening the Sport of Kings, sod Sky. Dogs more welcome than children. The Happy Man: 1970s period piece, though no antediluvian throwback: commitment to the sisterhood vouchsafed by the practice of positive discrimination, fair barmaids in their teens and early-twenties.

Amongst the reverie, heightened by fixes fed, a tactful voice may be heard: “It’s good steak & chips, for £9.25”, “No, we don’t serve fucking tea and coffee”. Belsen-chic in shape, simulacrum of the ageing rock star with all of the vices, and none of the talent, is Stef, current custodian of the cup of crapulence. Fond of both the grape and the grain, customers low in luck may witness the increasingly dubious encounter of this deliverer of dipsomania “sleepwalking with events”.

Pub Prices

Real Ale: £3.75 – Old Rosie: £4.20

Thatcher’s Gold: £4.05 – Aspall: £4.20

Pseudo-Australian Piss Water: £3.90 – Becks Vier: £4.05

Cointreau Bombs: £2.50 – Nigerian Lager: £4.20

Kozel (Cz): £4.30 – Wife Beater: £4.30

Further Reading

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Jean Charles de Menezes: A Reminder

The European Court of Human Rights has backed the decision not to prosecute any Metropolitan Police officers for shooting Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes dead at Stockwell tube station on 22 July 2005. Being a swarthy South American, this 27-year-old electrician was mistaken for a Muslim suicide bomber.

Given the febrile atmosphere enveloping London in the wake of the 7/7 bombings, the death of de Menezes may be interpreted as an unfortunate, yet understandable, error. What remains disturbing, however, is the culture of cover-up at Scotland Yard revealed by this case.

Any death at the hands of the police results in a referral to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Following the death of de Menezes, three days elapsed before an inquiry was handed over to the IPCC – well outside the usual 48 hours which are seen as crucial for evidence gathering.

Senior officers at the Met also failed to inform Commissioner Sir Ian Blair until the day after de Menezes’s killing that an innocent man had been shot. A later IPCC investigation apportioned particular blame to Blair’s staff officer, Moir Stewart. Four years later, Commander Moir Stewart was appointed Director of Investigations at the IPCC.

Such apparently minor delays allowed the police time to construct an official narrative: that de Menezes had been wearing a bulky jacket (which could have concealed a bomb) and that he vaulted  a barrier at Stockwell tube station. A perfect police public relations exercise: de Menzes was acting like terrorist.

Evidence submitted to the IPCC challenged the Met’s story. Linda Vandenberghe, an IPCC secretary, described watching video footage of de Menezes entering Stockwell tube station:

There was a dead silence, absolute silence. I think the impact of everyone learning the actual truth was … well, you could cut the air with a knife. We actually stopped and had a moment of silence for Jean Charles. We had a moment of prayer for him.

Disgusted by the lies emanating from Scotland Yard, and spun by most of the media, Vandenberghe leaked documents disputing the police point of view to an ITN journalist. Both were subsequently arrested in early-morning raids by Leicestershire Police at the behest of the Met and the IPCC. Both were released without charge. The IPCC fired Vandenberghe.

Vandenberghe received no payment for her story. She justified her leak, citing her belief that “‘politics’ would have prevented the truth coming out.”

Reporting in 2006, the IPCC concluded that the death of de Menzes was avoidable, but the Crown Prosecution Service declined to press charges. The Metropolitan Police Authority, the body supposed to hold the Met to account, was fined £175,000 for breaching health and safety legislation.

Acclaimed investigative journalists Michael Gillard and Laurie Flynn offer a coruscating and damning judgement:

The £300,000 report into the Stockwell tragedy magically protected the Yard, concluding but not explaining why senior officers apparently kept Blair in the dark for 24 hours that his officers had killed an innocent man. Shortly thereafter, the group of defence lawyers on the IPCC’s advisory board resigned. They were in post to ensure independence and to provide a proper voice for complaints. Now they were packing their bags, citing concerns that the watchdog was not properly accountable or even an effective oversight body.

As is often the case with British institutions, the cover-up was worse than the crime.


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Making Ron Kray

Ron Kray, the reincarnation of Attila the Hun or Genghis Khan? Worshipper of imperial legends: Churchill, Gordon of Khartoum and Lawrence of Arabia. Student of Al Capone, cultivator of gangster-chic: imagine this increasingly corpulent Kray swaddled in a purple dressing-gown attended-to by a private barber, chairing crime conferences in the kitchen of a Bethnal Green slum. A man with a penchant for Puccini, as well as young pricks. Public fascination with twins, brothers breaking taboo. Keep it in the family. Ron Kray, self-made legend. Racketeer. Murderer.

Born in 1933, Ron and his brother Reg exhibited a taste for violence extremely early; more so than other six-year-olds. Ron the more manic of these maturing sado-masochists; by the time he was sixteen, proficient in facial laceration via sheath knife. A taste for violence honed by boxing and national service. Boxing taught the twins how to fight, while their stint with the Royal Fusiliers instilled the principles of leadership, organization and weapons training.

Ron’s more dominant and disruptive nature was visible after his much longer recovery from the diphtheria and measles which the twins contracted at the tender age of three. Diseases which some argue may be linked to the paranoid schizophrenia afflicting Ron from his mid-twenties. A condition with violent associations aggravated by Ron’s mixing of the tranquilizer Stematol with heavy, some may say alcoholic, drinking.

All the above has been well documented, but it is to the social world in which the twins grew up to which we must look to explore, if not explain, their turn to violence. A world removed from the merry myth of the East End of yore. For while Ron’s favourite memory of his Aunt Rose may appear disturbing – “Coppers is like Germans. The only good one’s a dead one” – this expression evokes less emotion with the knowledge that an old children’s saying could still be heard on the streets of ’30s London: “If you know a good copper, kill him before he goes bad.” Coppers could be bastards, even in those glorious days before the war. Of his time walking the beats in 1930s Finsbury, ex-police sergeant Arthur Battle recollected:

The way in which the men at City Road dealt with the local ‘yobs’ was brought home to me very sharply one day. I left the station in company with PC 124 Joe Vincent to walk to our beats in the Goswell Road area. We turned right off Central Street into Bastwick Street, one of the least salubrious streets in the district. It had a very narrow pavement, with only room for the two of us to walk abreast. When we got near to the end of the street I saw four of the local “layabouts” standing outside a cafe on the narrow pavement. I was talking to Joe, a chap very near to the end of his service, all of which he had spent at the same station, and as we got close to the four on the pavement I casually stepped into the roadway to get by them. Joe decided otherwise. One of the “yobs” was standing with his back to us. Joe unhooked his tightly rolled cape from his belt, and         hit the fellow on the backs of his legs, causing him to fall flat on the ground as he fell against the   other three. Not a word was said by anyone. When he had passed by Joe hitched his cape back on his belt, and said so casually to me, “Never get in the road for those bastards. Shift ‘em!”

A world skirting the eastern fringes of the City, forming an arc from Whitechapel to Bethnal Green, through Hoxton, Clerkenwell to King’s Cross. A world of small-time crime in the form of thieving and fencing (passing on stolen goods) and “protection”. A world of the “villain”, whom the author, journalist and Kray confidante John Pearson describes as:

A fighter who lives on his reputation for not caring what he does or what happens to him. He makes a living any way he can, chiefly from lesser criminals. His weapon is intimidation. His virtues, such as they are, are “gameness” and an unconcern for money once he has it.

A world of crooked Cockneys, Anglo-Italians and Jews. Alliances formed, fractured and re-formed. Though a world which did not impinge visibly on the local community. Philosopher, broadcaster and SDP MP Bryan Magee remembered of his ‘30s childhood:

The locals, provided they kept their mouths shut, had nothing to fear from them, partly because most of the locals had nothing to steal anyway, but also because the criminals were usually careful to adhere to their well-known maxim, “Never shit on your own doorstep”. They took pains to keep their assaults on the law-abiding community away from the areas in which their own wives did the shopping and the children went to school. Nearly all the local violence – and there was a lot of it, much of it extreme – went on among the criminals themselves, and was to do with disputes over territory, the breaking of deals, the punishing of informers, and the paying off of personal scores.

Two East End villains held in high esteem by the young Ron included “Dodger” Mullins and Jimmy Spinks. Jack “Dodger” Mullins chalked up his first conviction as a 16 year-old in 1908 when he was jailed for wounding. Running protection rackets across Bethnal Green and possessing a flair for violence, Mullins was employed as a bodyguard for strike-breakers during the General Strike of 1926. Further notoriety was gained by Mullins’s involvement in the Dartmoor prison mutiny of 1932. Mullins was introduced to the twins by their father Charlie as “the old guvnor of the East End”.

Ron’s other hero, also known to his father, was Jimmy Spinks, great-uncle of hard man Lenny McLean of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels fame. Built like a bull and weighing around 20 stone, Spinks came to the fore of his Hoxton mob as the leading bare-knuckle fighter of his day. Violence written on his face, the tangle of razor scars were said to resemble the London Underground. McLean described Uncle Jimmy as “a ‘ten-man job’, because to bring him down you would have to go ten-handed or turn up with a shooter.” Spinks evoked such fear that Bryan Magee never forgot the childhood tale:

During a row with his girlfriend he had grabbed a heavy mirror off the wall and smashed her over the head with it and killed her, and her blood had splashed all over him. In a drunken panic, his first thought was to get away from the scene, so he ran out of the house and tried to get on a bus. When the bus conductor saw this wild-looking man, obviously drunk and covered with blood, stumbling to get his feet up on the platform, he refused to let him on, and pushed him away, and the bus pulled off without him. Several passengers saw this scene, which would not have been easily forgettable, so putting a case against Jimmy was essentially a matter of establishing the identification: was the blood-covered man that all these people saw Jimmy Spinks? None of the witnesses could say. Confronted with Jimmy, not a single one of them could remember.

Forever etched in legend is the story that “Jimmy Spinks ordered some fish and chips, and when they cut up rough because he wouldn’t pay, he threw the fish-shop cat in the frier.” As with all crime stories, beware fables with flimsy foundations told and re-told. Yet for some, the truth lies in the telling. A truth reborn with the Krays. In the words of John Pearson:

In their imagination they were re-creating their father’s world with their fights and secret wars and passionate vendettas, the old criminal fraternity of the East End, of Dodger Mullins, Jimmy Spinks and Wassle Newman – the world their mother hated. The reality had been bombed out of existence. When it arose the new East End would be a very different place, and the free-drinking, free-spending, dead-end cockney villain would be a figure of the past.

How did the Krays ascend from East End thuggery to the status of celebrity gangsters, courted by the great and good, accorded fear and respect, icons of the swinging Sixties?


  • Arthur Battle, “The Job’s Not Like it Used to Be” (1972, unpublished manuscript deposited at the Metropolitan Police Historical Collection, Charlton)
  • Ron Kray with Fred Dineage, My Story (London: Pan Books, 1994)
  • Brian McDonald, Gangs of London: 100 Years of Mob Warfare (Wrea Green: Milo Books, 2010)
  • Lenny McLean with Peter Gerrard, The Guv’nor (London: John Blake, 2003)
  • Bryan Magee, Clouds of Glory: A Hoxton Childhood (London: Pimlico, 2004)
  • Steve Myall, “Gangster Twins Ronnie and Reggie Kray ‘Had Secret Gay Sex with Each Other'”, Daily Mirror, 1 September 2015
  • John Pearson, The Cult of Violence: The Untold Story of The Krays (London: Orion, 2001)
  • __________ The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins(London: William Collins, 5th edn., 2015 [1972])
  • Jerry White, ‘Police and Public in London in the 1930s’, Oral History, 11, 2 (1983), 34-41




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The Death of Ron Kray: Twenty-One Years On

Glamourized on screen by the effete Kemp brothers (1990) and with psychological menace by Tom Hardy (2015), the vile and vicious Kray twins live forever in the pantheon of London’s East End. Every cabbie knows someone who knew the Krays. Immortalized eternal in cockney myth alongside Jack the Ripper and jellied eels, Alf Garnett and East Enders.

The Krays. Long-firm fraud and fruit machines. “Protection”. Fledgling peddlers of pills and porn. Whispers of police corruption.

London’s first celebrity thugs,  lionized by the likes of David Bailey: “To be with the twins is to enter the atmosphere (laconic, lavish, dangerous) of an early Bogart movie”. Friends in high places: Lord Boothby, Tom Driberg. Criminal enterprise curtailed in 1969 with both Ron and Reg sentenced to life for the futile murders of George Cornell and Jack “the Hat” McVitie. Twins separated at thirty-four.

Pre-mortification sanctification. By the time of Ron’s death, the twins were raking in over £100,000 a year – via intermediaries – on back of the Kray name: the Krayleigh Security firm of “minders”, photos, T-shirts and other trinkets boosted by the 1990 film The Krays.

Depressed by the end of his marriage and smoking over 60 cigarettes a day, Ron Kray died of a heart attack on 17 March 1995. In Broadmoor.

Funeral as pornography. Wreaths from the American Gambino and Genovese mafia families. Hangers on: Roger Daltrey and Barbara Windsor. £950 coffin carried by six plumed black horses. Black limousines. Dave Courtney, Freddie Foreman, Johnny Nash, Joey Pyle, other shit of the earth. Gangster chic. Lapped-up by on-lookers. Recorded by John Pearson, the chronicler of the Krays:

The crowds turned out in their thousands and reverently lined the route. Young mothers born long after Ronnie was arrested lifted their own children to catch a glimpse of this historic moment as the cortege passed. Old cockneys in the crowd talked intimately about their friends “The Twins”, when most of them had never met them.

A sentiment noted by Iain Sinclair,  the seer of the city:

Young women with long skirts and shoulder bags. Some of them have bought small bunches of wild flowers, violets, which they drop without show on the floral carpet.

The effect was both emotive and grotesque, an overblown rhetoric of grief. Self-aggrandizing tributes to a man who had been, for years, a chemically palliated zombie; a man whose humanity had died with his victims. In a sense, he couldn’t die: he was dead already, estranged from himself. Victim and servant of the voices. The endlessly repeated (and revised) fables of those few short months of glory, which left him trapped forever in a coffin of newsprint. 

Myth bleeds into history. Mourned by “Nipper” Read, the Yard’s man who caught the Krays:

Perhaps the way the Krays were regarded in the East End is summed up by the attitude of a man I interviewed. He had been a prosperous businessman in good health and socially secure. Now, as a result of persistent pressure from The Firm, he was a sick, penniless outcast. I pointed out to him he had been ruined physically, socially, and financially by the Twins and he agreed. “But, Mr Read.” he said, “they’re such nice fellas.”

Who was Ron Kray?


  • John Pearson, The Cult of Violence: The Untold Story of The Krays (London: Orion, 2001)
  • __________ The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins (London: William Collins, 5th edn., 2015 [1972])
  • Leonard Read with James Morton, Nipper: The Story of Leonard “Nipper” Read (London: Macdonald, 1991)
  • Iain Sinclair, Lights Out for the Territory: 9 Excursions in the Secret History of London (London: Penguin, 2003 [1997])


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Life on Mars Part IV: Marking the Met

I told them simply that they represented what had long been the most routinely corrupt organization in London, that nothing and no one would prevent me from putting an end to it and that if necessary I would put the whole of the CID back into uniform and make a fresh start.

Words uttered by Sir Robert Mark, Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis 1972-77, to representatives of the CID. Only two weeks into his job. A commitment to deal with with Met corruption and criminality swept under the carpet by his predecessor Sir John Waldron and Peter Brodie, the head of the CID. Men more blinkered than bent. Couldn’t or didn’t want to see.

Appointed to the Met in the late 1960s as Assistant Commissioner in charge of organization, the urbane yet authoritarian Sir Robert Mark was viewed with suspicion. Provincial police background. An outsider. Seen as a Home Office Trojan Horse. Within a week of his arrival, Commissioner Sir Joseph Simpson encouraged him to apply for the position of Chief Constable of the Lancashire force. On the death of Simpson in 1968, Mark was asked to accept the top post. He refused preferring to work behind the scenes as Deputy Commissioner. Mark needed time to fight the old guard under Simpson’s regime.

Simpson was a Met man through and through, the first officer to rise through the ranks to hold this most senior of policing posts. Creator of specialist squads to provide aspirant officers focus and opportunity. Paternalistic. A man who saw complaints about the force as a “domestic matter” and, according to his biographer, “he reacted with appropriate vigour to criticism of the force that he considered unjust”. Simpson came “instinctively t0 the force’s defence”. Viewed by his officers as “one of us”, his death was genuinely mourned by most of the Met.

In an interview given during the 1990s Commander Michael Briggs, who joined the Met in 1961, outlined the view of the “old school” of justice:

It was a paternalistic approach, in which all concerned believed they were acting in the best interests of society. The courts provided reassurance to police officers that they were doing  the right thing, in the public interest. I never took a bent penny in my life. But looking back, I used to make sure that gaps in evidence had been filled or bridged. The messages in court were messages of reassurance – that “you and your colleagues are looking after us all”.

Mark’s problem was how to adjust the force to the new context of policing heralded by the 1960s, described by Robert Reiner, LSE emeritus professor of criminology:

corruption, abuse of powers, racial and gender discrimination, growing public disorder and violence interacting with a controversial militarization of policing tactics, the politicization of law and order, demands to make the police more accountable, and an increasing volume and complexity of crime. Mark’s years as metropolitan commissioner saw the beginning of these changes.

Mark had to change the culture of the CID. A culture of cultivating informants. One officer who joined the Met in the 1970s spoke of his early days to lawyer-turned historian James Morton:

What are you doing? Are you getting to know them? These were the questions asked by officers of young men in the CID. How you did it was left up to you. If it resulted in turning a blind eye and operating an unofficial licensing system, then that was not necessarily frowned upon. A set of double standards existed. The people you were sending to prison, as long as you treated them in a way that they felt was their due, had no resentment. If you dealt with their family by their lights they’d be willing to become informers on their release.

I knew officers who looked after wives, making sure they didn’t behave too widely; who looked after post office and building society books, bringing in money each week for the wife.

The relationship between the police and villainy was wholly different from today. We were encouraged to be much closer.

Informers were a wholly personal thing. You didn’t allow anyone else to know who your informant was. If you went to your DI or DCI and said, “My informant tells me …,” if you were accepted as a working DC, then your superior officer would never dream of asking the informer’s name, or if he did he wouldn’t expect you to name him.

A culture of intermingling with crooks. As Bob Dixon recalled of his time in the CID:

I well remember such an occasion when a colleague and I took our wives out for a meal and a drink to one of our favourite pubs, and among the other customers were three men I knew as career criminals accompanied by three women – two of whom I recognized as their wives. After several minutes, the barman presented us with four glasses of champagne, which he said were the compliments of the three villains who were sitting at a table further down the bar. I gave them a wave, acknowledging their hospitality, and saw that they had two or three bottles of champagne and were obviously celebrating something. A short while later I went to the Gents’ and bumped into one of our benefactors, I’ll call him Jeff. I thanked him for the drinks and casually asked what they were celebrating. “Let’s just settle for a birthday, shall we?” he replied. He smiled and winked and I knew it would be imprudent to enquire further.

A culture whereby an assistant commissioner was believed to have protected the members of one major London crime gang during the 1960s, so high-grade was the intelligence they provided. Who was this gang? Time will never tell. But during the trial of the vicious south London Richardson family, rumours circulated of a spy based at Scotland Yard. Charlie Richardson, in his self-serving memoir, writes that “the police were paid to protect us from the police”.

A culture of operational independence, territorial independence guarded with zeal, intra-departmental competition. Mistrust. John Pearson, chronicler of the psychopathic Kray family, observes of Detective Leonard “Nipper” Read’s fight against the twins:

While Nipper had been hard at work, setting up his operation with the backing of the Assistant Police Commissioner [Peter Brodie] and the Home Office, no one had told him that for over a year, his boss, and the head of Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad, Commander John du Rose, had been quietly conducting an undercover operation of his own to catch the Krays, and seems to have told no one else about it. Only in an organization as riddled with distrust as Scotland Yard in the sixties could two totally separate operations against a pair of murderers as dangerous as the Twins have been carried out in such a way. I never did discover whether Brodie became aware of what du Rose was up to. Probably not. Nipper was certainly ignorant of what was happening.

The nature and pressures of the job also fostered a culture of drinking. Bob Dixon romanticized the memory of a “well-known” detective superintendent who

visited a particular pub in south London so frequently that, after he successfully investigated a murder that had occurred near the pub, the landlord had a brass plate put on the wall near the seat he always took when having a drink, which read, “He Solved Them Here”.

A culture of which often conflated criminal and people of colour, as ex-Commissioner (1987-93) Sir Peter Imbert who joined the Met in the 1950s noted with candour:

It’s often been said that the young Caribbean youth had a street culture where the indigenous youth didn’t have a street culture in quite the same way. I think we in the police didn’t see that. When we saw black youth hanging around street corners we couldn’t understand why. We automatically thought – quite wrongly, of course – on every occasion that they were up to no good. 

A culture of freemasonry bleeding into corruption. One former senior detective informed journalist Martin Short in 1990:

I became a Mason [in the 1960s] at the suggestion of an officer who is now a deputy assistant commissioner. He wanted me to join his lodge but most of the members weren’t policemen. He wanted me to join his lodge but most of the members weren’t policemen. Indeed he asked a non-policeman to propose me, so that other members did not think the police were trying to take over the lodge, as sometimes happens. I soon realized that not all police Masons were as honourable as my sponsor. At the time I was a junior detective in Scotland Yard. One day a senior colleague came in crowing that he had been selected for a place on the intermediate command course at Bramshill. I was taken aback and asked him how he did it.

He said, “It cost me £300. I put it about in the right place.”

“You mean you bribed someone?”

“No. I took out ‘X’ [a Commander] for a few lunches and invited him and his wife to my lodge ladies’ night. I bought her a little present, paid for the meal and the drinks. And what do you know? I’m off to Bramshill next month!”

He then told me that he’d realized the Commander could get anyone from our squad on the course. Without his recommendation you didn’t stand a chance. Now the Commander clearly wasn’t someone you could bung fifty quid or take to a nightclub and get laid. You couldn’t bribe or compromise him because he was straight. However, he was also naive so it was fairly easy to buy your way into his good books by lunching him or inviting him and his lady to your annual lodge shindig. He may have guessed what was in my colleague’s mind but, even so, he felt able to accept as a fraternal Masonic gesture what in any other circumstances would have constituted an “inducement”. You appreciate that a non-Mason would have no such opportunity.

My colleague was exceptionally unpleasant: a real crawler. Transparently obsequious, he’d do anything to get on. Most Masons are all right, so it would be unfair to damn them all because of him, but I have seen how such men manipulate Masonic connections to perpetrate acts of evil.

Some years earlier this same man worked on the same team as me. He found two villains in possession of stolen goods. They offered him a substantial bribe and he devised a way to get them out of trouble. Two fall guys were to be arrested and charged in their place. He went on holiday and our governor, a chief inspector, put me temporarily in charge of the case. However, at this stage I knew nothing of the crooked dealings which had already taken place.

I soon had to attend court because two men who had been charged with the crime were being remanded in custody. At the court one of them came up to me and said, “You needn’t think we’re going to prison to save the skin of your Masonic friend” – meaning my police colleague. I asked him what he meant, and he convinced me that they had both been framed so the two villains who had committed the crime could get off. …

I was in a quandry. I had not been involved in the arrests and I did not wish to see the wrong men go to jail. I went back to Scotland Yard and reported the affair to a senior officer: a detective superintendent who was also a Mason and whom I trusted to sort it out. When my colleague came back from holiday he admitted to the superintendent that he had framed the two men on behalf of his villainous friends, and that he had taken a bribe. The superintendent was wild, but my colleague appealed to him as a brother for help.

I dreaded what might now happen. Would my colleague be put on trial for corruption? Would I be fitted up for betraying him? Or would the trial go ahead, with the defendants squealing in open court that they had been the victims of a frame-up?

To my relief at the time, the matter was sorted out – but in an extraordinary way. The defendants were given a Masonic solicitor whose brother was a barrister. The solicitor persuaded them to plead guilty to the crime which they had not committed. The barrister then did a deal with the judge who let them off with a suspended sentence and a fine. That fine and all their legal fees were paid by the villains who had committed the crime! No action was taken against the crooked officer, but I was moved to another job because he said he could not work on the same team as me!

Combined with a culture of unquestionable integrity, these factors conspired to form an atmosphere of conceit, corruption and blatant criminality  – as evidenced by press revelations of Met police corruption from 1969. Yet until these stories broke, the public stock of the Met was high. Kray expert John Pearson believes:

During the mid-sixties, despite its internal problems, the CID had achieved two great successes – two big, headline-grabbing trials which became part of the history of the decade: the Great Train Robbery trial at the Old Bailey in 1964 followed  by the so-called “torture trial” of the Richardson gang in 1966. Both these trials had fallen very neatly into the lap of the CID. Although there was much talk at the time of inspired detective work, the Great Train Robbers had helped to arrest themselves by leaving their fingerprints at Leatherslade Farmhouse, where they assembled following the robbery, in their hurry to share out the enormous booty. The CID were even luckier when one of the victims of the Richardsons came forward to the police with a story of sadistic treatment, after a fight at Mr Smith’s Club in Catford, in March 1966, where a member of a rival gang was killed. Widely and enthusiastically reported in the press, both trials had done much to maintain public confidence in the CID.

Further newspaper exposes of serious Met police corruption from 1972 emboldened the new Met Commissioner, Sir Robert Mark, to take on the “institutionalized wrongdoing, blindness, arrogance and prejudice” of the CID. Time to focus on what Mark exemplified as “real policing”:

The uniformed policeman in London bears the brunt of violence, whether political, industrial, criminal or from hooliganism and he long resented the airs and graces of the CID, generally known as “the department”. The CID regarded itself as an elite body, higher paid by way of allowances and factually, fictionally and journalistically more glamorous. 

Gilbert Kelland, an active freemason who went on to lead Mark’s anti-corruption drive, recollected his appointment to the CID in 1971:

When news of my transfer and appointment was published in the next issue of the Metropolitan Police Orders, an article appeared in the Daily Telegraph under the headline “Yard angry over CID to uniform switch”. It mentioned my appointment and went on to discuss this “major change in policy”. The crime correspondent wrote, “As I toured various divisions last night I was met with a barrage of questions about the new scheme and told repeatedly that not only had it taken CID officers by surprise but that it was against all their advice.” … I had been around for too long to be alarmed by newspaper comment and certainly in the next few months I experienced no sign of the alleged anger … though at a higher level relationships with some of my immediate superiors, the departmental Deputy Assistant Commissioners, can best be described as formal.

Mark’s reforms asserted the primacy of uniformed officers. A drive aided by the head of the CID, Peter Brodie, retiring two years early – the day before Mark assumed the office of Met Commissioner. All detectives based at the twenty-three territorial divisions were now responsible to their uniformed divisional commander, the four Area Detective Commanders based at Scotland Yard were deployed to their respective regional offices under the supervision of the uniformed deputy assistant commissioner, and the uniformed A10 (complaints) branch gained authority over the CID.

Within a year, two officers a week were leaving the Met as a result of Mark’s purge. A purge which, not coincidentally, led to a swift fall in the number of bank robberies in the capital – from 65 to 26 1972-73. A purge which resulted in 487 policemen being dismissed or required to resign from the force under Mark’s tenure. A purge which culminated in a series of trials leading to the imprisonment of a number of coppers including Commander Wally Virgo, former head of CID Central Office at Scotland Yard, Commander Ken Drury of the Flying Squad and Detective Chief Superintendent Bill Moody of the Obscene Publications Squad. A purge from which some got off lightly. Virgo’s conviction was quashed at the Court of Appeal on a legal technicality. Other crooked cops escaped prosecution altogether, as criminologist Dick Hobbs notes of a bizarre tale:

Detective Inspector Vic Wilding and his superior at Wembley, Chief Superintendent Cecil Saxby, were prominent figures in A10’s subsequent investigations. Saxby was accused of stealing £25,000 from one of the robbers with whom he had a relationship that had lasted a number of years. Despite some intriguing tape-recorded telephone conversations between Saxby’s wife and the wife of the robber concerned, A10 cleared Saxby, who then retired from the force.

Whispers too of corruption at a more senior level. During the trials of the detectives it was alleged that Virgo asked Moody for a greater slice of backhanders. Request declined. Moody claimed the money had “gone upstairs”. Prosecuting counsel David Tudor Price commented:

What he meant by “upstairs” is a matter of inference. But in Scotland Yard, the evidence will be that it is on the top floor where most of the senior officers are accommodated. The inference is that he had paid the money to somebody more senior than Virgo.

Serious questions need to be asked, and will probably remain unanswered, about how Deputy Assistant Commissioner Richard Chitty, Deputy Assistant Commissioner John du Rose and Commander Ernie Millen tried to nobble early inquires into Met corruption from 1969.

Investigative journalists Barry Cox, John Shirley and Martin Short claim that the organization of the pre-Mark CID made high-ranking graft all but inevitable:

But if the men at the very top did not appreciate what was going on, it is clear that a number of men at the next level – some of the deputy assistant commissioners and commanders – knew perfectly well what was happening, and did nothing about it. In a few cases of course they were actively engaged in the corruption themselves. Others, it seems, may no longer have been directly involved, but had had a good run for their money earlier on in their careers, and were now happy to allow favoured subordinates to go about their bent business unmolested, except for the discreet reprimand when it became too blatant.

Sir Robert Mark’s time as head of the Met Police caused a shock wave throughout the CID. As to how successful his reforms were over the long term, you’ll find out soon.


  • Barry Cox, John Shirley and Martin Short, The Fall of Scotland Yard (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977).
  • John Davis, “Sir Joseph Simpson (1909-1968)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010)
  • Bob Dixon, Bobby on the Beat: Memoirs of a London Policeman in the 1960s (London: Michael O’Mara Books, 2013)
  • Dick Hobbs, Doing the Business: Entrepreneurship, the Working Class, and Detectives in the East End of London (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988)
  • ______ “Sir Robert Mark”, Independent, 4 October 2010
  • Gilbert Kelland, Crime in London: From Postwar Soho to Present Day Supergrasses (London: Grafton, 1987)
  • Robert Mark, In the Office of Constable (London: Fontana, 1979)
  • James Morton, Supergrasses and Informers (London: Little, Brown, 1995)
  • John Pearson, The Cult of Violence: The Untold Story of the Krays (London: Orion, 2001)
  • ________ The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins (London: William Collins, 5th edn., 2015)
  • Robert Reiner, “Sir Robert Mark (1917-2010)”, ODNB (2014)
  • Charlie Richardson, My Manor: An Autobiography (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1991)
  • David Rose, In the Name of the Law: The Collapse of Criminal Justice (London: Jonathan Cape, 1996)
  • Martin Short, Inside the Brotherhood: Further Secrets of the Freemasons (London: Grafton, 1990)
  • Jason Tomes, ‘Gilbert James Kelland (1924-1997), ODNB (2004)
  • James Whitfield, “The Historical Context: Policing and Black People in Post-War Britain”, in Michael Rowe (ed.), Policing Beyond Macpherson: Issues in Policing, Race and Society (Cullompton: Willan, 2007)
  • “‘Hard Line’ CID Chief Retires Early”, The Times, 13 January 1972
  • “Man Senior to Commander May Have Taken Bribes”, The Times, 2 March 1977
  • “Appeal Court Frees Former Police Chief”, The Times, 16 March 1978
  • ‘Sir Robert Mark’, Daily Telegraph, 1 October 2010




Posted in Crime, History, Life on Mars, Policing, Society, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Rule Britannia: Begging, Boozing, Bugging and Burgling

Review: S.J. Parkes, Black Flag (independently published, 2017), pp. 458, RRP £9.99

 “Those memory sticks you had analysed, the circumstantial evidence you’ve gathered surrounding them, the Mossad guy, the woman from Six,” said the American. “It’s a Black Flag, you know it and I know it. We’ve been goaded into following a trail to Tehran. The Israelis have gone too far this time but it changes nothing. If those hostages die we’re going to war.”

 Black Flag: a masterclass on the interplay of domestic and international relations. Turf wars between faceless Home Office bureaucrats, Cro-Magnon Met coppers and unaccountable spooks at MI5 and MI6; fought alongside the interests of America and Israel. Aren’t they all on the same side? Perhaps those who we pay to govern the nation on our behalf should avoid the undignified scramble to sport the earliest poppy pre-November, a charade comparable to “Christmas” television adverts, and read S.J. Parkes’s first novel. Echoes of Conrad’s The Secret Agent.

Sorting out the shit on the streets is ex-infantryman Owen Gallagher. One of many deniable assets. Gallagher’s record is impeccable: Sandhurst, Special Reconnaissance Regiment, MC. Expert in bugging, burglary and covert surveillance. Known for his Marxist (Groucho) club-ability and “for having little interest in small talk, or doing anything, including drinking, in moderation.”

You can’t escape the booze. Occupational hazard. Self-medication. On Gallagher’s good days, a bottle of chilled Alsace Pinot Noir at Le Lion Rouge, just off the Charing Cross Road. (A session at Le Beaujolais on Litchfield Street will give you an idea of the place.) Worse when a driving job looms: one’s too much. Solitary staring into the abyss of the night with nothing to salve the screaming across the synapses.

Think not of damaged goods or the haunted. But the dead. Zombies. Walking dead from the point of service. For Gallagher:

He’d quickly realized that the only way to deal with it was to consider yourself already dead. Nothing to worry about on that score from then on. You could think about it and drive yourself mad to distraction, but then you’d fuck up, other people would get hurt. Far better to accept that you were already dead – walking, talking, eating, shitting, pissing, sleeping, running, sweating, shooting, diving, crawling, dead.

 Forever marked men:

The dust and the diesel, the gun oil, the cordite and sulphur, the rotting vegetation, the seat, the shit, the blood, the stinking wounds and decomposing bodies. How could it leave you? Why would it leave you?

Not just battle-bruised, but battle-hardened. Gallows humour, as with other professions dancing with death – clergymen, doctors, firemen, funeral directors, nurses and paramedics – prevails. Of Gallagher’s wingman Harry Burgess suffering yet another dark night of the soul:

Blackness: a heavy suffocating blackness weighing down a consciousness racing with fear. And cold: the cold of the night-sweat. And silence: silence punctuated by a rapid heartbeat pounding in a paralyzed body. Control the breathing. Look for clues in the darkness. Listen. Move slowly. Legs moving, keep it slow. Arms responding. No sudden movements. Eyes scanning the darkness. A chink of light. Up in one swift movement. Go to the light.


“Are you OK?” a tired voice asked.

“Yep,” said Harry, feeling foolish, lying on the floor.

“You’re not wearing your false leg, you silly sod.”

All writing contains elements of biography, and it is no secret that S.J. Parkes is ex-army. Expert knowledge. Eye-opening for the uninitiated. The importance of attention to detail on a find and a fix: finding and locating the target. The obvious kit: binoculars, coffee flask, covert radio, microphone, “wax trap” (earpiece), torch, maps, mobile phone, notebook and pencil. But don’t forget the spare batteries. Or empty plastic bottles and zip-bags for piss and shit. As for the surveillance van, don’t use white; looks like the filth may be following. Make sure the tyres are legal and the tax is up to date. When parking after dark, don’t be an amateur. Rest the van under a lamp-post: the light bounces off the windows making it harder for a passer-by to see inside.

And an insider’s eye. A gaze piercing through the glam to the the horror of war. On the aftermath of the Richmond bombing:

She looked at the man cradling her head in his hands. She tried to smile but saw the sadness in his eyes and the fear in the face of his friend. The pain in her ears was unbearable, a piercing whine of knitting-needle intensity, modulated by the dull shouts of those assisting the wounded and the urgent sounds of the sirens growing nearer. She could smell an earthy smell. No, she could taste a metallic smell. She’d never tasted a smell like that before. What was burning? She watched a tear roll down the face of the man holding her head

Seduced still by conflict? Look at another scene from Richmond, sunny Surrey:

The young mother was rocking the remains of a pushchair back and forth next to a wrecked litter bin. The front of the buggy had been blown away with its occupant. The woman hadn’t seemed to have noticed that her left arm was missing.

More Belfast or Bosnia than mainland Britain. Be angry at what you read, channel those visceral feelings . It’s not a computer game. Remember Mark Keane, one of Gallagher’s men now sleeping rough, too proud to tell his family. One of Sassoon’s noiseless dead:

He just couldn’t imagine living a normal life and it was difficult to sleep when the memory of driving a bayonet through another man’s throat had a habit of floating up in the darkness.

Thriller aside Black Flag simmers, documenting the greed and self-interest clogging the arteries of twenty-first century Britain.  A coruscating critique of how short of civilization society falls. Unspoken uneasy questions as to whether you side with the authoritarians or libertarians. I can’t wait for the sequel.



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The Met and the Media: The Long View

A waste of money, so some newspapers say. Legal bills aside, the Metropolitan Police spent over £41 million investigating the dodgy doings of journalists. On Friday 11 December this costly exercise was killed, to the relief of Mr Plod and Mr Pressman, when the Crown Prosecution Service announced that there was insufficient evidence to pursue any more phone hacking allegations. Costly and complex cases comprising Operations Elveden (payments to public officials), Golding (phone hacking by Mirror Group newspapers), Tuleta (computer hacking) and Weeting (phone hacking by Rupert Murdoch’s News UK).

Unease felt by the media and the Met alike. Writing for the Sun, Trevor Kavanagh complained:

Wives and children have been humiliated as up to twenty officers at a time rip up floorboards and sift through intimate possessions, love letters and entirely private documents …

Their alleged crimes? To act as journalists have acted on all newspapers through the ages, unearthing stories that shape our lives, often obstructed by those who prefer to operate behind closed doors.

A poisoning of police-press relations prophesied by The Times’s Sean O’Neill:

The result, I fear, is a press that is all too willing to bash the police at every opportunity because it has now seen bully-boy policing up close.

Hunter turns hunted. The Met turned up at fortress Wapping following the arrest of the News of the World’s royal editor Clive Goodman in 2006. Detective Chief Inspector Surtees was in charge of the mission:

We got to the desk of Goodman, we seized some material from the desk of Goodman. There was a safe on his desk, which was unopened. My officers were confronted with photographers, who were summoned from other parts of News International, and they were taking photographs of the officers. A number of night or news editors challenged the officers about the illegality of their entry into News International. They were asked to go to a conference room until lawyers could arrive to challenge the illegality of the section 8 (1) and 18 (5) and section 8 PACE authorities, and it was described to me as a tense stand-off by the officer leaving that search [Detective Inspector Pearce thought the staff “may offer some form of violence”]. The officer tried to get our forensic management team, our search officers into the building. They were refused entry, they were left outside. Our officers were effectively surrounded and photographed and not assisted in any way, shape or form. That search was curtailed. Some items were taken. The search did not go to the extent I wanted it to.

The Met’s troops on the ground have taken a hit too. No more “off the record” briefings. Thirsty workers beware: booze is now the exception, not the rule.

Will this game end? For it’s as old as the tabloids. Everyone likes a good story, especially crime. Nothing sells like sex and death. Who better to approach than a policeman? In return for a tip, the hack has his copy. As for the copper, he needs information too. Who better to approach than a journalist? Private enterprise. There’s a drink in it for everyone.

From the birth of the late News of the World in 1843, the editor’s assistant used to slip the duty inspector at Scotland Yard a bottle of whisky every Saturday. Before long, the Screws was the Met’s “trade paper”. A rather relaxed relationship which went on until 1919 when the Yard set up a press bureau “with the main objects of enlisting the co-operation of the press in police matters and preventing them from buying information from police and others.” And it worked, so said a report into an investigation into the workings of this new office:

The Committee passed very lightly over the question of improper leakage of information through police officers. It did not think anything of the kind occurred except in isolated instances due to “inadvertence or indiscretion.” 

Yet only two years later Ralph Blumenfeld, editor of the Daily Express, was whinging to Brigadier-General Sir William Horwood, Met Police Commissioner, that someone had leaked the details of a recent burglary case to the Daily Mail. Horwood replied:

Some of this enterprise, as we both know, takes a highly reprehensible form, and I am doing my best to stop it. You know how difficult these irregularities are to detect and what little practical help I get from the newspaper world itself to detect them.

The charge was repeated in 1927 following the murder of 21-year-old typist Constance Oliver in Richmond Park. Howell Gwynne, editor of the Morning Post, took his complaint to Sir William Joynson-Hicks, the Home Secretary:

Quite between ourselves – and please do not give me as the source of information to anybody – the Newspapers Proprietors’ Association have been discussing the question of police bribery by the newspapers … . A newspaper of eminent respectability telephoned to the police at night and asked whether there was any news of the arrest of this man. Apparently they had got some inkling of it outside, but the reply was that he had not been arrested. The next day another newspaper came out with a full account of the arrest; and it was assumed that the information was in the full possession of the police, and was refused to the journal which telephoned, but was given to another newspaper.

The 1920s. Golden days. Before the war. When there was a bobby on the beat. And an old children’s phrase could still be heard on the streets of London: “If you know a good copper, kill him before he goes bad.” A time of heated public debate over police practices. Liberty more than a matter of lip-service than in our supine society. Allegations of corruption. Something must be done.

Westminster and Whitehall have a time-honoured tradition of appearing to do something: appoint a royal commission. Reporting in 1929, a paternal finger was wagged:

the public must also bear its share and recognize that in this matter it has its own obligation to the police, first and foremost in ceasing to regard the successful offering of a bribe to a policeman as something of an achievement, and secondly in not exaggerating the extent of an evil which we are convinced is confined to comparatively few members of the force.

Over the next couple of years stories mysteriously appeared in newspapers moaning about new procedures: the honest copper couldn’t get on with his job properly. According to Kingsley Martin, editor of the New Statesman, “These statements have at least the appearance of Scotland Yard inspiration.” And so the game was set.

In 1931 Lord Hewart, the Lord Chief Justice, fined the Surrey Comet and the Daily Mail £500 and £1,000 respectively for contempt of court in publishing information calculated to prejudice the fair trial of two defendants. Summing up, Lord Hewart reminded the defendant of “the many warnings which had been given, especially in recent years.” While the editor of the Comet accepted full responsibility, his barrister noted “that the information published, emanated from the Press Bureau at Scotland Yard and was not sought for.” Turning his attention to the Mail, Hewart observed: “It is baffling to think how and by what means such information is obtained, but the impropriety of printing it … is too obvious to need any explanation.”

In another “time-honoured” tradition, J.R. Clynes, Labour Home Secretary, remarked to the House of Commons on 23 April 1931:

I do not know what grounds, if any, exist for the allegation that the details in the Surrey Comet in the other case emanate from Scotland Yard. On the facts of these cases, therefore, no ground at present appears for any change in practice.

If, however, journalists were believed to have stepped out of line, police cooperation was denied. Historian Clive Emsley explains of this time:

When British Paramount News showed police lashing out at crowds in Hyde Park in October 1932, the commentary eulogized “the most humane force in the world” but the pictures could not hide what appeared to be police officers losing control. The response of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to the showing of these images was to withdraw assistance to the film company for filming the Lord Mayor’s Show, which effectively meant that the procession could not be filmed.

During that same year when austerity and unemployment ravaged the country, the Police Federation was flexing its muscles over a pay cut. A study of the BBC noted a complaint from Whitehall over its news coverage:

On 31 October 1931 the Home Office wrote to Reith [BBC Director-General] querying the inclusion in the previous night’s bulletin of a protest from the Metropolitan Police Federation about proposed cuts in police pay. Reith replied next day that the item came from the usual agency sources but that he had given instructions that “no stuff from the agencies re cuts in pay, protest etc is to be broadcast … only HMG’s official statements in future.”

Little was done in practice to upset the game, a relationship of mutual assistance. Ex-Superintendent Percy Savage recalled:

In my capacity as a senior officer, I always used my discretion and gave the press all the information I could. On not a single occasion have I known the newspapers to go beyond the facts or to give publicity to facts which I asked them not to mention. As for the “good story”,  of course the newspapers want a good story, and the better the story is presented the more it will be read by the people whose co-operation in the elucidation of crime is urgently desired.

This game was well established by the 1960s, despite the efforts of senior officers. Questions were raised in parliament as to why a chief superintendent had ordered all officers in his division to report upstairs any inquiries made by Tommy Bryant, a well-established hack who went on to be managing director of the Fleet Street News Agency. Police officers were only supposed to pass on authorized information. Like any good copper, Bryant was good at cultivating sources. His method was:

to do the rounds of police stations distributing his phone number among the lower ranks. If a tip-off came good, the copper was paid accordingly. If the tip was a bust, the copper would still find a ten shilling note in his post.

Behaviour bordering on the criminal. And don’t forget the crooks, along with the cops and the writers of copy, all have a stake in this game: information, for a price. A rich relationship captured by Anthony Frewin in his thriller London Blues:

It’s a three-sided conspiracy with each side playing an equal part. The small-time criminals want to be portrayed bigger than they are, it increases their standing, makes them feel better. This, naturally, makes the police look better when they collar them. The public can see that they’re not just arresting no-hoep amateurs, they are arresting Major Figures. Now, of course, the bigger the arrest the bigger the story and this is where the journalist plays his part. This is the Sinful Symbiosis operating daily in the cheap papers.  The close relationship doesn’t end when the copper retires.  Then we get the obligatory Murder on My Manor: The Memoirs of Detective Chief Inspector Backhander (“As told to Desmond Raeburn”). Plugs for the book follow in his column over the next few weeks and this saves work as Desmond can then recycle what’s written in the book (which is just recycled from his column anyway). He gets paid for the same stuff three times. Nice work if you can get it.

Despite such mutual dependency, the Fourth Estate’s task to hold power to account made a clash between police and press all but inevitable. From the late 1960s throughout the 1970s, newspapers such as The Times and the Sunday People revealed serious corruption at the Met, especially in specialized sections such as the Flying and Obscene Publications Squads. Whether police malpractice was widening and deepening or simply becoming more visible, due to social changes including the long-term decline of deference, is a matter which has yet to be explored in detail.

Senior officers at the Met, some perhaps on the take, pursued another “time-honoured” tradition: shoot the messenger. The journalists were, eventually, vindicated. Perhaps as a result of the Yard attempting to clean its own stables, more serious steps were taken to stymie unofficial contact between press and police. Tommy Bryant was tried at the Old Bailey for trespass during a murder inquiry. Bryant was also charged, at a later date, with handling police material. On both occasions, he was found not guilty. Allegations were aired that the Met tapped Bryant’s phone.

One of the more outrageous examples of the police hounding a hack occurred during the mid-1970s. Jonathan Ponder of the Evening Standard was cleared of receiving stolen police photos and inducing an officer to commit a breach of discipline. In the sixteen months between Ponder’s arrest and being found not-guilty, he shot himself in a fit of despair and had his spleen removed. Jonathan “Sword of Truth” Aitken, then a Tory MP and ex-journalist, remarked: “if the police code forbidding the passage of information of information still existed it was much more honoured in the breach than in the observance.” Ponder observed of his situation:

I believe I was a scapegoat and that I was used to stop the long accepted practice of individual police officers and journalists sharing a confidential relationship.

Reflecting on these events in 2004, former Daily Express and Mail on Sunday journalist Victor Davis lamtented:

The relationship between crime reporters and rank-and-file policemen never recovered. The year was 1975.

Forty years later, following the Leveson inquiry and police investigations into journalistic jiggery-pokery, relations between the Met and the Media will never be the same again. Balls. All will be forgotten and natural relations resumed. Current Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, who in 2012 decreed that officers should record all information disclosed in dealings with journalists, breached his own guidelines a little over a year later: failing to take notes when briefing the press about “Plebgate”. More damningly a column in the Spectator, not noted as a hotbed of pinko thought, accused the Met eight months ago of being “probably more authoritarian and opaque than at any time in modern history.”

It’s business as usual for Rupert Murdoch, reappointing Rebekah Brooks to run News UK. Even though she ordered the deletion of three million emails from the files of News International. While in turn shafting junior journalists (allegedly) to save her skin. Some hacks are pissed off.

Don’t be mistaken in thinking that the “black acts” are practiced only by the tawrdy tabloids. Writing of the Guardian, Michael Gillard and Laurie Flynn indict that questions “remain unanswered about the newspaper’s own dealings with private investigators, including former MI6 officers.”

And don’t forget that one of the phone hackers investigated by the Serious Organized Crime Agency revealed that the press accounts for only 20% of his client base. Blue chip companies, debt collectors, insurance firms, lawyers and wealthy individuals are adept at the “dark arts”. But they’re different. SOCA refuses to name those involved as “disclosing the information could undermine the financial viability of the organizations by tainting them with ‘criminality’.” The tabloids are guilty scapegoats.

Tackling the undercover, if not always underhand, peccadilloes of the police and press has remained elusive across the twentieth and present centuries. Both institutions suffer from the bureaucratic practice, common to most corporate institutions, of elevating the idea and image of the organization above other concerns. Such a mentality induces a culture of cover-up greater than any “crime” committed originally.

The practice of policing and journalism depends on individual discretion. More of a free rein than workers in many other institutions. Governance, to use bullshit-bingo lingo, is difficult. Yet both institutions have faced recent accusations of poor management.

At heart, police officers and journalists rely upon intelligence. Capturing such material defies managerial diktat. The question has for long lingered: how is police and press accountability to be squared with effective discharge of duty?


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The Writing on the Wall: Jack the Ripper – Case Cracked?

Review: Bruce Robinson, They All Love Jack: Busting the Ripper (London: Fourth Estate, 2015), pp. 850, RRP £25.00

Read all about it: Jack the Ripper. Case closed, again. One of around thirty suspects. A top-hatted, Gladstone bag and Liston knife carrier. 1888, the era of high Victoriana. Poverty-stricken prostitutes butchered. Today, books snapped-up by publishers guaranteed commercial success. A miasma of words as thick as a fog swirling the cobbled streets of nineteenth-century East London. Conan Doyle, cut your heart out. Or Carry On, Hammer Horror.

An intoxicating tale, infectious. Eminent historian Charles Van Onselen ruined an otherwise excellent biography of trans-Atlantic criminal Joseph Silver by fingering him as Jack the Ripper. Further madcap final solutions include Patricia Cornwell spending $6 million to name Walter Sickert, one of Europe’s greatest artists, as the murderer. Case closed. Last year witnessed a media frenzy over the use of an old cum-stained shawl and dodgy DNA to “prove” that Aaron Kosminski was the culprit. A perpetual game of Cleudo for cunts.

2015 has not failed to disappoint. One writer claims an ancestor was in fact victim Mary Kelly and that her husband murdered her. Poet Francis Thompson has also been claimed as the killer.

In They All Love Jack, Bruce Robinson, director and screenwriter of Withnail and I and The Rum Diary, draws on two strands of his much-detested Ripperology: conspiracy theory and a hoax diary “discovered” in 1992.

An establishment cover-up comprising leading Freemasons was first popularized by Stephen Knight in 1976. Robinson believes Knight got the wrong man, but was onto something. Back in 1992 the diary of Jack the Ripper was found. The owner? James Maybrick. Wrong man again. But the diary is genuine. The owner? James’s brother, Michael, a popular contemporary singer-songwriter. One million copies of the sheet music to his song The Holy City were sold. Versions have been re-recorded by Vera Lynn and Charlotte Church. Oh, and he was Grand Organist at the Supreme Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons, 1891-92. By then he was living the life of a virtual recluse on the Isle of Wight, on the orders of the establishment. But as Craig Brown puts it:

All very well, but Robinson neglects to mention that, during this period, Michael Maybrick was five-times Mayor of Ryde, Chief Magistrate of the Isle of Wight, President of the Ryde Philharmonic Society and Chairman of the Isle of Wight Conservative Association, as well as representing the Isle of Wight at the coronations of King Edward VII and King George V at Westminster Abbey.

You can taste the bile seeping through the pages of They All Love Jack. Intermingled with wit and colour. Light relief is provided by the knowledge that:

It was at about this time when Verdi became popular with London’s window-cleaners, whistling while they polished to the air of La Donna é mobile lyrics courtesy of the fellows of their class

Arseholes are cheaper today

Cheaper then yesterday

Little boys are half a crown

Standing up or lying down

Bigger boys are three and six

They are meant for bigger pricks …

Overall, a gut-felt assault on the idiocies, inequalities and injustices of Victorian Britain. Blind rage. An enchanting edifice of gonzo-history:

My conclusions are that Scotland Yard under Bro Sir Charles Warren was corrupt from its back door to the front, and, as the Star put it, “rotten to the core” … Blair was afraid to admit that his nation’s foreign policy belonged to a foreign nation, just as Warren and his culpable mob were afraid to admit that their investigation of Jack the Ripper belonged to Freemasonry.

A wonderful work of drama. Fits P.D. James’s description of detective fiction:

There must be a central mystery, and one that by the end of the book is solved satisfactorily and logically, not by good luck or intuition, but by intelligent deduction from clues honestly if deceptively presented.

Ah ha! The clues. An unholy trinity of traces point to Michael Maybrick as Jack the Ripper. In 1892 W.T. Stead, editor of Review of Reviews, received a letter from the mysterious Moreau Masina Berthrad Neuberg. Who was he? Michael Maybrick, of course. For MOREAU/MASINA/BERTHRAD/NEUBERG is an anagram of  I BEGAN A BRUTE MASON MURDERER HA.

The second fantastic “clue” lies on page 543 of They All Love Jack: a photograph of the in situ eviscerated corpse of Mary Kelly. Despite two large gins, two pints of cider (ice in the cider) accompanied by a Camberwell Carrot, I failed to see the letters “FM” (Florence Maybrick) “visible on the wall behind Kelly, probably written in her blood.”

For the final piece of evidence: the graffito of Goulston Street. Following the murder of Kate Eddowes, Robinson believes Maybrick chalked a message to Met Commissioner Charles Warren on a wall:

The Juwes are

The men that

Will not

be blamed

for nothing

Juwes. Referring to Jubela, Jubelo and Jubelum, Jewish craftsmen, the Three Assassins. That’s why Warren rushed to Goulston Street to obliterate this damning sign. Quite.

Or, given that two murders had occurred on the same night, Warren genuinely feared that the flames of anti-Semitism would be flamed. Cryptic clue, or an offensive piece of graffiti written by someone who couldn’t spell “Jew”? When approaching any tale of Jack the Ripper, it’s useful to use Occam’s Razor. Drew Grey who has written one of the most readable yet sensible books on the Whitechapel murders notes:

It has been noted since that the writing was in such a position on the wall that it would have to have been written in daylight. The author had chosen to write his message in chalk on the painted part of the entrance so that it was clear; he or she could not have done this in the dark.

The police were more corrupt and incompetent than pawns in a grand conspiracy. Turning to Grey yet again:

Serial killers are extremely rare and very hard to track. Most murderers leave clues behind because they kill those close to them while serial murderers choose strangers. Without the benefits of modern technology and forensic science the Victoria police were severely hamstrung and almost totally reliant on catching “Jack” in the act. The nature of the victims meant that the murders occurred in out of the way places where few witnesses were likely to have seen anything. They were also not an organization steeped in the principles of detection [the CID was created in 1878], and for this Warren and his predecessors are perhaps culpable.

Jack the Ripper, case closed? I think not. Yet the myth of Jack the Ripper endures. More candidates will be damned as the murderer. Bruce Robinson quotes Hemingway with approval: “All writers need a cast-iron bullshit detector”. Perhaps that’s difficult when you’ve spent over 12 years of your life and £500,000 of your own money writing a book. I’ll leave the final word to epic dramatist Alan Moore:

The main thing that I learned about conspiracy theory is that conspiracy theorists    actually believe in a conspiracy theory because that is more comforting. The truth of the world is that it is chaotic. The truth is, that it is not the Jewish banking conspiracy or the grey aliens or the twelve-foot reptiloids from another dimension that are in control. The truth is more frightening, nobody is in control. The world is rudderless.

Related Blog

To Hell with Hawksmoor: Alan Moore and Myths of Jack the Ripper 


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The Twilight Zone: Bonfire Night

Had Guido Fawkes not been caught in flagrante  on 5 November 1605 – 36 barrels packed with 2,500 kilos of gunpowder in a cellar beneath the House of Lords – the ensuing explosion would have wiped out  those attending the State Opening of Parliament, and 500 metres of prime London land. Not an entirely unattractive proposition today, though I’d miss the Gothic grandeur of the Palace of Westminster and the imperial architecture of Whitehall.

“A despicable relic of a culture that commended, in the name of Christian duty, the persecution of religious minorities, the burning of witches and the ritual desecration of suicides,” so says one historian. But so stupefying is the collective historical amnesia afflicting British culture, recent events, let alone the plotting of over 400 years ago, cannot be recalled unless sanctioned officially.

Just under 1,000 people are injured each year on Bonfire Night (around half being children) and calls to what’s left of the fire brigade may triple. But Guy Fawkes night has become another commodified and sanitized spectacle in the dreary Disneyfied diary of organized fun which YOU WILL enjoy. Don’t forget your safety goggles and poor Miss Tiggy-Winkle. Dull, dull, dull.

As ever, social commentary leads me to the twilight zone, what the historian Eric Hobsbawm refers to as the gap

between history and memory; between past as a generalized record which is open to relatively dispassionate inspection and the past as a remembered part of, or background to, one’s own life. For individual human beings this zone stretches from the point where living family traditions or memories begin … to the end of infancy, where public and private destinies are recognized as inseparable and as mutually defining one another.

Back to those glorious day, before the war, when there was a bobby on the beat and a quarter of the globe painted imperial pink. Bonfire Night in the 1930s was a riot. In 1931 The Times reported a “pitched battle” fought between “thousands” of revellers on Parliament Hill using fireworks as weapons. Four years later, a man was fined the then not insignificant sum of £5 for obstructing and assaulting a policeman attempting to put out a street bonfire. Guy was the National Government. Such was the mayhem in 1936, London Fire Brigade’s 60 stations received a record 116 calls in four hours to put out street fires.

Of the Campbell Bunk, a long-demolished street off the Seven Sisters Road near Finsbury Park tube station, with known “rough families”, lodging houses and attendant itinerant workers and prostitutes, one ex-copper mused:

I remember Bonfire night in 1937. The street was alight from one end to the other, doors, window frames, sofas blazing away and the Fire Brigade were unable to do anything. Hoses were cut and Police had to stand by in case of incidents. The next year arrangements were made for a number of PCs, myself and an Inspector to patrol the road from about 4pm. We were able to assist the local authority dustmen to remove any rubbish that was being prepared for a bonfire and the Firemen put any fires that started. About 10pm the rain came down, and as all was quiet we decided to withdraw but the residents had the last laugh, for suddenly the Inspector in Charge was struck full in the chest with a bag of flour which burst, and one can imagine the laughter that caused to the residents. 

Don’t forget the students. In 1930 six students were arrested and up before the beak at Bow Street when police were called by the Warden of University College to put out a fire. 200 students were involved in this fracas and threw fireworks into the bonfire. Reports have it that “pandemonium reigned for a considerable time.” Over in the Strand, a crowd of 600 undergraduates ran wild tearing down theatre placards and smashing lamps.

So you won’t be surprised to learn that I won’t be attending any fireworks displays or bonfire parties. But I’ll discard my atheism, for the day, and pen a letter to the Guardian whining “offence” – once a Catholic … and toast the “fuck you” spirit of the ’30s, through a glass darkly.


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Gunchester Awakes? The Salford Shootings

It was the funeral that gave it away. Paul Massey’s diminutive five foot frame boxed-up in a coffin, carriage led by four plumed white horses. Man United colours. “Salford Legend”, read the wreath. 55-years-old.

Burly shaven-headed men, white shirts and jeans, emerged from chauffeur driven cars, shaking hands with the mourners. Lager lapped and the whiff of dope. Gangster chic. Charles Bronson, Massey’s former jail-mate, reportedly sent flowers. Salt of the earth.

A few faces to be seen. Paul Ferris – former debt collector for the late Glaswegian Arthur Thompson, Scotland’s “godfather” and the “biggest man” in the now departed “Mad” Frankie Fraser’s prime – was there too. Ferris, another “salt of the earth” chap, received 10 years bird in 1998 for receiving three Mac-10 sub-machine pistols, ammo, silencers and detonators.

49-years-old Stephen Lydiate was also present to mourn the departure of his brother-in-law. On license from prison after receiving a twenty-two stretch for conspiracy to commit murder and kidnap. Revenge attack following an attempt on his life. Norman Shawcross, one of Lydiate’s thugs, held petty criminal James Kent on a farm in an attempt to get him to grass:

A man in a Balaclava appeared. “You see this man?” Shawcross said. “He’s going to rape you. He’s going to fuck you up the arse unless you talk.” The masked man moved forward but as he moved closer he declined: Kent’s legs were bleeding too much, it was putting him off.

Lydiate’s not the last man laughing. Chemicals in the eyes and whacks around the head, from a wooden support used to lower Massey into his hole, landed Lydiate back in prison. Breach of license.

That’s two shits off the streets. And an undignified scramble for the spoils. Crack and smack “flooding” Massey’s old stomping ground of Ordsall, near the BBC’s lavish MediaCity.

But Massey had friends. Remember Massey’s message, seer of his own death:

Too many people around me are friends, they’re not associates, they’re friends, there’s personal friendship. Them personal friends wouldn’t lie in bed at night if something happened to me.

A seven-year-old boy and his 29-year-old mother are the latest victims believed to be linked to the murder of Massey. Shot above the knees on the doorstep of their own home. No accident, the kid took a point-blank blast. The two gunmen, who didn’t bother to wear masks, were looking for the victims’ father and husband, Christian Hickey. Another “salt of the earth” character:

Locals say Mr Hickey has turned his life around after falling in with the wrong crowd when he was younger.

Hickey served seven years inside following a fatal stabbing in 2002.

Sources on the ground suggested to journalists that locals know who is responsible for the latest spate of shootings, yet the police can’t get past the “wall of silence” – don’t talk to the filth. This “wall of silence” has deep foundations. Robert Roberts remembered of the police Edwardian Salford:

Like their children, delinquent or not, the poor in general looked upon him with fear and dislike. When one arrived on a “social” visit they watched his passing with suspicion and his disappearance with relief. Here was no councillor or friend. Except for common narks, one spoke to a “rozzer” when one had to and told him the minimum.

Don’t be seen talking to strangers. Journalists for the Daily Mail investigating a recent grenade attack in Salford were approached by a well-built man:

Fuck off you grasses. You’d better go now if you know what’s good for you.

Whispers that the area is reverting to infamy, the days of “Gunchester” (1999-2009) when 112 fatal shootings occurred. Chief Superintendent Mary Doyle, commander of Greater Manchester Police’s (GMP) Salford division, implored:

Salford’s very different to other places. We had a similar but in other ways completely different picture in Moss side years ago. We had the mothers against violence and they were instrumental in helping us resolve those issues in that community, we haven’t got that here. Which is why we’re appealing to the women of Salford saying, actually, you lot have got to stand up and help us here. It’s your children potentially that are going to get shot – it’s you potentially that is going to get shot, your young children are clearly in the picture.

The kneecapping of Christian Jnr and Jayne Hickey marks the 21st shooting in 18 months. Nine have occurred since the murder of Massey, two of which have been linked formally to his murder. Police are offering a £50,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of Massey’s executioner.

Why was Massey killed? There’s no doubting he was involved in serious crime. As for the bollocks written about Massey being anti-drugs, “use smack and get smacked” only applied if you weren’t buying his gear. Massey’s interests included protection, running lucrative unofficial car parks for football matches near Old Trafford and money laundering. All washed through a legitimate security business.

Word on the street has it that Massey was on good terms certain police officers, though most successful big-time crooks need to have elements of old bill onside. Investigations by the Observer revealed:

“I don’t think there was money involved. He was just passing on bodies – information,” said one, who had known Massey for decades. He added, “In turn the police helped him, backed him up. He didn’t speak to the local officers; he spoke to the serious end. Sometimes if you crossed him, next thing you’d know is that your front door was being kicked in by the police.

One recounted rumours of a firearms deal for which, instead of Massey, police officers turned up. Another source cited an alleged incident in which police intervened to avoid a tax inspection at Massey’s Salford security firm in the late 90s. “It was common knowledge the book-keeping was dodgy, that it was a front, but the police got involved, saying it was under surveillance.”

Massey was no fool. On good terms with other local nutters such as the Cheetham Hillbillies and the Noonan family, Massey also used kids to do his dirty work. Forty-one-year-old Bobby Speirs, Massey’s right-hand man, was sent down for life with a minimum sentence of 23 years in 2009 for ordering the assassination of fellow thug David Trotton three years earlier. Two men were hired to do the job. Kids really. And it was a fuck up. Although Trotton was seriously injured, one of the guns jammed and the two assassins ended up being disarmed, shot and beaten to death. Carlton Alveranga and Richard Austin, the would-be-killers, were aged 20 and 19 respectively. Trotton refuses to speak to the police.

Salford has the second highest child poverty rate in Greater Manchester and is ranked 26th nationally in this premier league of penury. Forthcoming tax credit cuts are expected to bite hard. Gentrification of Salford Quays appears to have by-passed poorer districts, such as Ordsall. When the BBC opened MediaCity, 3,172 locals applied for jobs, a mere 24 were successful. Eight of these posts went to under-19-year-olds, on six-month contracts, earning less than £5 an hour. Gangs and guns, gilded glamour.

Around 160 organized crime groups operate across the Greater Manchester area, approximately 8,000 families are noted as “troublesome”. In the wake of the latest shootings, police have launched a number of dawn raids and confiscated a significant quantity of drugs. Hundreds of Osman – threat to life – warnings have also been issued by the GMP recently (to put this figure in perspective, 352 such notifications were made by the Met police for the whole of London in 2010).

Don’t believe all the stories. Local Lynsey Wilding and her family have run a convenience store for 13 years, they haven’t been robbed once. Over the period June 2013 to June 2014, Salford was one of the few divisions in the GMP area where crime fell. 864 fewer offences were recorded in Salford, as compared with a total rise of 6,700 crimes in Greater Manchester. The launch of Project Gulf – a multi-agency partnership between local council services, GMP, the National Crime Agency and MI5 – in April 2010 has led to over 300 arrests, the seizure of £9.1 million worth of drugs and 26 firearms. Raids on money laundering fronts, such as car parks, garages, security firms and sunbed shops, has diverted £11 million from the pockets of crooks. 67 known criminals linked to 19 gangs are currently under observation in Salford.

Hopefully a short-term spike, current firearms offences are a shadow of their incidence in “Gunchester’s” heyday. 112 fatal shootings occurred between 1999 and 2009. High noon for the year 2007-8 witnessed incidents involving guns including 146 shootings, an average of over three a day. 397 such incidents were recorded last year, representing a fall of nearly two-thirds.

Drug policy in Greater Manchester, as with the rest of the UK, is akin to an attempt to kill the Lernaean Hydra. Without doubting the misery of illegal drug misuse on some individuals and families, the physiological impact is often no worse than that of alcoholism. Pot, in particular, a weaker poison than Polish vodka. Statistics for 2012-13 show that 75% of drug seizures by the GMP relate to cannabis, not the greatest use of resources to a product not entirely socially unacceptable. Portugal implemented total illegal narcotic decriminalization 14 years ago without the country descending into a national stupor. For Salford, Greater Manchester and the country as a whole, a more radical experiment may benefit. Misha Glenny, an award-winning journalist and historian, has studied the economics of international organized crime. Glenny’s studies led him to this unsettling, for some, observation:

If a country supports prohibition, it also guaranteeing that on the supply side all profits will accrue to underground networks; and on the demand side it is guaranteeing that any social or public-health problems associated with drug-taking will only come to light in the great majority of cases once they are out of control. If the UN is right and drugs account for 70% of organized criminal activity, then the legalization of drugs would administer by far the deadliest blow possible against trans-national organized criminal networks.


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Business as Usual: Incompetence, Corruption and Cover-Up at Scotland Yard

Review: Michael Gillard, For Queen and Currency: Audacious Fraud, Greed and Gambling at Buckingham Palace (London: Bloomsbury Reader, 2015), pp. 432, RRP £9.99.

“The best place about the towne for persons of the best quality to be exceedingly cheated at”, so wrote diarist John Evelyn (1620-1706) of the fashionable Mulberry Garden. Pleasure grounds born of King James I’s failed enterprise to encourage the growth of silk. Long buried beneath present-day Buckingham Palace. Symbolic heart of nation to some, expensive tourist attraction to others. Perhaps the distant echoes of history may still be heard, for within Nash’s cadaverous crumbling asbestos-ridden Regency edifice, a fool and his money are soon parted.

No mere metaphor, for Michael Gillard’s new book For Queen and Currency serves both as an expose of the parlous state of Metropolitan Police accountability and an autopsy upon the rotten anatomy of twenty-first century Britain. His narrative is based on an array of primary sources including police reports, interviews, secretly recorded telephone calls and witness statements. Gillard’s pedigree is impeccable. Formerly of the Sunday Times Insight team and now resident at BuzzFeed UK, Gillard was voted Journalist of the Year in 2013.

At the heart of this story lies the career of ex-police officer Paul Page. In 1998, three years after joining the Met, 28-year-old Page was recruited to the ranks of the Royalty Protection Department, known as SO14. Page’s post: Buckingham Palace. During his time at Buckingham Palace, Page persuaded fellow SO14 officers and Royal Household staff to join his wide boy money-making schemes. With losses amounting to £3 million, the occupational alcoholic Page was arrested in 2006 after he threatened a Sun photographer with an imitation Berretta. Following his mental breakdown, and being found not guilty of assault, Page was tried in 2009 for fraud and sent down for six years.

That this scandal erupted not only pours scorn on the idea of SO14 as an elite unit. The Paul Page debacle also points to, at best, poor management practices at Scotland Yard. Gillard also raises questions as to how banks and building societies (AA Savings, Abbey, Alliance & Leicester, Barclays, Halifax HBOS, HSBC, Lloyds TSB, MBNA, National Savings, Nationwide, NatWest, Scarborough, Virgin One and Woolwich) allowed large sums of money to be transferred between his accounts. On the first year anniversary of Page’s deployment to Buckingham Palace, his basic pay was £33,000 a year. Few concerns were raised as to how a young officer in such a sensitive post was earning ten-times his income in share dealing. In 1999 Page gained nearly £1 million, tax-free, from his share dealings. Gordon Brown had abolished “boom and bust”.

Gillard’s analysis of the culture at SO14 disabuses the notion of a specialist police division. Page gave “the impression of a Sunday league football team of hung-over, middle-aged dads, not a Praetorian guard”:

Those within Royalty Protection were stationed there for limited reasons. Some were lazy and did not wish to work hard so therefore enjoyed the slow pace of the squad until retirement. Others had just had enough of policing and were clearly frustrated with the legal system. Some wanted the “down time” for studies to progress through the ranks by preparing for police exams. A further common feature was officers using their time to make money from other business interests outside the police.

The prevailing attitude within the Royalty Protection Department was that it was a license to print money for officers. Thousands of pounds could be earned on overtime for doing very little. All these factors made the system very close knit and officers wanting to join would be “vetted” by other officers before their formal interviews. This exercise would entail the potential departmental recruit being invited to spend a day with departmental officers. If they were not deemed popular they would be “blackballed”.

The cast of colourful characters whose activities contributed to the annual £128 million bill for Royal and VIP security included “Barry Norman” (watches films all day), “The Don” (Police Federation representative and well respected), “Doug the Slug” (particularly overweight and lazy), “Eddie the Hen” (forever moaning and spitting feathers), “Elton John” (looks like the singer), “Elvis” (moonlighting Elvis impersonator), “Fagan” (unhealthy interest in the Royals, named after the infamous Buckingham Palace intruder of 1982), “MAPS” (My Arm Pits Stink), “Monkey Boy” (white copper built like a gorilla), “Mr Angry” (short fuse)”Pretty Boy” (fond of personal grooming and sunbeds) “Shaky” (dipso) and “Two Heads” (split personality).

New recruits deemed “sound” underwent the rite of passage of being allowed to sit on either of the two chairs of state in the Throne room. Heavy drinking was also prevalent amongst these plods. Sleepy officers on guard duty would evade detection by the establishment of a ring-round system. Drug-dealing, gambling and trading in hard-core porn were not unknown.

Family, friends and potential investors to SO14’s “Currency Club” benefitted from the perks of the job too. Gratuities included being able to park at St James’s Palace when visiting the West End for a shopping trip or a night out and attendance at Buckingham Palace garden parties.

Slack practices thrived as SO14 was not only charged with protecting the security of the Royal family. SO14 was also unofficially deputed to safeguard the idea and institution of monarchy. Such was the closeness between certain SO14 officers and members of the Royal Household that, as recently as 2008, they formed their own masonic lodge. Yet, at times, the dual duties of protection conflicted. For example, while a constable was never supposed to leave his post, on one occasion Page and another policeman were ordered by the duty inspector to drive a senior palace aide to a lap-dancing club who, after being ejected from the premises, had left behind a briefcase containing sensitive documents. Prince Andrew was a prominent piss-taker  on the issue of security protocol. Page remarked in a defence statement that Randy Andy:

would often have lady friends come to visit him, including frequent visits by Ghislaine Maxwell, daughter of the disgraced late Robert Maxwell. Very rarely would they have to sign in the “gate book” when entering the Palace grounds, in direct contravention of accepted protocol. In addition royalty officers would be told on occasion  to drive these “lady friends” home when this was a clear dereliction of their duties. When on occasion [officers] challenged Prince Andrew and/or his guests [he] was verbally abusive. Any complaints made to the department were not properly dealt with.

These allegations were not denied by the prosecution in court, they were merely swept aside as irrelevant to the charges which Page faced. Feathers were ruffled. Gillard remarks:

According to a well-placed source, the judge [Geoffrey Rivlin] was “panicking” over the defence statement, in particular the references to the Royal Family. He believed that the case could spiral out of control from a straight fraud into a media circus unless experienced barristers, so-called Queen’s Counsel, held the reigns. Rivlin ordered that each side should have a QC and a junior barrister paid for by the taxpayer.

How was it that Page was able to run his Ponzi scheme without attracting the attention of his superiors for so long? Page’s shenanigans first reached the attention of Scotland Yard as early as 1999, when one bank forwarded its misgivings to the Met’s Complaints Investigation Bureau, the forerunner of the Directorate for Professional Standards (DPS). It was not until 2004 that the DPS’s covert Intelligence Development Group, known as the “Dark Side”, identified nine transactions totalling £236,000 between May and June of that year which showed “cause for concern”. The DPS informed SO14’s second-in-command Chief Superintendent Peter Prentice:

Whilst there are no criminal or discipline concerns at present, there are welfare concerns around PC Page with regards to his gambling addiction and that upon his return [Page was on unpaid leave] to Buckingham Palace from his career break he would have access to a firearm and confidential SO14 intelligence.

The report was shelved. The ramifications of the Met’s inaction were disastrous:

Page had already taken approximately one million pounds from police and civilian investors. Over the next two years he would take at least two million more before his fraud collapsed in a spiral of alcohol abuse, degenerative gambling and violence.

Two officers warrant distinctive criticism for allowing Page’s venal behaviour to run unchecked. Peter Loughborough commanded SO14 between 2003 and 2014. An old Etonian, member of the exclusive White’s Club in St James’s and hereditary peer who sits as a crossbencher in the House of Lords, a number of embarrassments occurred under the watch of the 7th Earl of Rosslyn and 10th Baronet St Clair. Royal blushes included Aaron Barschak disguised as Osama Bin Laden in a dress gate-crashing Prince William’s twenty-first birthday party at Windsor Castle (2003), Fathers 4 Justice protesting at Buckingham Palace (2004), News of the World journalists gaining access to Buckingham Palace posing as Middle Eastern businessmen (2009) and a break-in at Buckingham Palace (2013).

Commander Loughborough has been described as an “impeccable diplomat” who “speaks the Queen’s language”, though there is no doubting his early-career credentials. He cut his teeth pounding the streets of Southwark and Peckham and gained praise for leading a clampdown in 1994 against crack dealers on one of Paddington’s (West London) more notorious estates. Despite Loughborough commanding SO14, Page was not allowed to call him to court. On retirement Loughborough was bestowed the honour Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO), a gong in the personal gift of the Queen, and subsequently employed by Prince Charles as Master of the Household at Clarence House.

The second unwitting facilitator of Page’s fraud was Scotland Yard’s Assistant Commissioner for Human Resources. Back in 2003, Page set up United Land & Property Development Ltd (UPLD). Effectively a hedge fund for police officers, the company had no staff, no offices, no accounts, wasn’t VAT registered, and the Financial Services Authority was not notified of its existence. Police officers had to inform Scotland Yard of private commercial interests. The Assistant Commissioner wrote to Page that “I consider that this business interest is compatible with your membership of the Metropolitan Police Service”. Such outside interests had to be reviewed annually before they were renewed. In 2008, the Crown Prosecution Service informed Page’s lawyers:

Paul Page’s business interest was not reviewed after it was first approved (in November 2003) and the questionnaire that should be completed each year before the annual review is not on the file and does not appear to have been submitted.

The officer then in charge of human resources? Bernard Hogan-Howe, better known by his current official title: Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis.

In the Met’s time-honoured tradition, the activities of Page were portrayed as those of a black sheep, a rotten apple, a rogue cop. Gillard indicts:

Nothing had been done to interrupt the fraud or protect investors from Page, or Page from himself. Instead, SO14 and the DPS had secretly agreed a strategy that Page would never come back to work from his period of extended leave.

Gillard, the only journalist to cover the entire fraud trial, overheard one juror voice misgivings about the integrity of the DPS investigation and developed a sense some of the prosecution witnesses should have been in the dock alongside Page. No other SO14 officers were prosecuted.

Protection Command, the umbrella detachment comprising SO1 (Specialist Protection, such as guarding the Prime Minister), SO6 (Diplomatic Protection Group) and SO14, is still dogged by malpractice. The Guardian revealed recently that 80 police officers and civilian staff have been disciplined for misconduct since 2013, though SO6 accounts for the majority of misbehaviour.

The Met is not alone, however, in seeking to protect its corporate image. Persecution of whistle-blowers within the NHS suggests that closing ranks in the face of criticism is common to many institutions. Moreover, it would be mistaken not to acknowledge that conduct common to the police up until the 1990s is unacceptable today. The culture of the canteen room is not tolerated, at the very least, in public.

Yet the death of Ian Tomlinson during the G20 protests (2009), the phone hacking scandal (2011), “Plebgate” (2012), evidence that the Special Demonstration Squad was infiltrating “dangerous subversives” such as environmentalists and those campaigning for justice for Stephen Lawrence (2013), allegations that restricted items confiscated from tourists visiting Buckingham Palace had been “mishandled” and appeared on eBay (2014) and that officers working at Scotland Yard’s Westminster licensing unit have been receiving bribes from security firms working for Soho bars and strip-joints (2015) suggests that more work is needed for the Met to gain public confidence and consent. Police officers would do well to live up to their self-fashioned myth of being citizens in uniform.

Related Blogs

Michael Gillard: An Appreciation of an Indefatigable Investigative Journalist

The Best Police in the World?    

Further Reading

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Salford’s Mr Big: Who Was Paul Massey?

I could be shot dead anytime. I’ve realized that for years. If it’s meant to happen, it’s meant to happen. I pity the bastard who did it after. The only reason that’s kept me alive today is because the person who fires that shot knows that they’ve got to fly the flag and handle the pressure after it. They are not going to be able to handle it. They are getting it.

Prophetic words spoken by Paul Massey who was shot dead outside his home in Clifton, Salford, Greater Manchester, around 7.30pm last Sunday (26 July 2015) as he stepped out of his BMW. Partner of Louise Lydiate for 28 years, this 55-year-old father of five was a controversial character.

Growing-up in the inner-city area of Ordsall, the inspiration for Coronation Street, Massey was sent to an approved school at the age of 12 years for criminal damage to an empty house. Forever a marked man? Massey muscled his way onto the Manchester rave scene, his security business controlling entrance to the most popular nightspots. Manning the doors of clubs such as the Hacienda, allowed Massey’s team to oversee the sale of ecstasy in the city. Useful, as Massey & co were importing pills from Holland.

By the time of his death, Massey’s rap sheet hit 25 convictions, including offences such as violence and possessing an offensive weapon. The proverbial tip of an iceberg? Difficult to tell. Successful lags try and stay out of the limelight. Massey avoided two prosecutions against him, disturbances outside a Manchester nightclub and a Birmingham boxing match, when the cases collapsed. Yet rumour has it that during the 1990s, Massey was under surveillance by D7, the branch of MI5 acting in concert with customs and the police against so-called organized criminals.

Journalists write euphemistically that  “he wielded considerable influence during the 1990s”. A local councillor dubbed Massey “Mr Big” following the ambush of police officers during the riots of 1992. Six years later, Massey escaped death when the house he was standing outside was sprayed with machine gun bullets.

Massey’s luck appeared to run out in 1999 when he was sent down for 14 years for stabbing a man in the groin, severing an artery. Nice chap: according to Andrew Gilligan two years were added to this sentence, for when Massey was stopped by the police for drink driving, he threatened “I’ll get you all shot”.

During 1999 Massey’s brother-in-law Stephen Lydiate was also shot at the Ship boozer in Salford. Doctors believed that a bullet-proof vest, which mysteriously disappeared by the time they arrived at the scene, saved Lydiate’s life. In revenge, Lydiate was later sentenced to 22 years inside for kidnap and torture.

All in the past? After release from prison Massey campaigned to be elected mayor of Salford in 2012. Stemming drug use amongst the young was a campaign theme. Stickers on Salford lamposts warned “use smack and get smacked”.

Manchester Evening News crime reporter Neal Keeling described Massey as “articulate, intelligent and street-wise.” Down to earth character. One local resident said of Massey:

He is a real person. A lot of people from Salford are probably like Paul. They would probably relate to him a lot better than any of the councillors. It could be a good thing that somebody like Paul, who is not well-educated and has a criminal past, is given another chance to prove himself. Because that is the problem – once you have committed a crime it is very difficult to get an opportunity to prove yourself.

A man of contradictions. Anti-drugs yet made significant money selling drugs. A man who didn’t like to show off, though at one point in his life he enjoyed travelling in a Rolls Royce drinking champagne.

Popular guy, but beware tales of Robin Hood: 1,995 people voted for Massey, representing 4.5% of the ballot. Of the ten candidates, Massey ranked seventh. Popular, respected or feared?

Family stress that Massey had turned his life around following his long stretch inside. One acquaintance told the Guardian he had been mediating frictions between two rival gangs and “he may have come unstuck”. Another source informed the Daily Mail that “Massey was an old school gangster and hated the idea of youngsters fighting amongst each other.”

Peter Wash, author of Gang War: The Inside Story of the Manchester Gangs, said of Massey. “He had a strong anti-authority streak. He wasn’t the biggest, he wasn’t the toughest, but he was quite charismatic and very principled in his own way.” The sort of bloke “not to lord it over people”.

How criminally active was Massey on the eve of his death? His property and security interests may be legitimate while acting as legal cover for illicit funds. For the past three years, Massey had been on bail following the regional organized crime squad examining his role in money-laundering.

And within recent memory, the name Massey was a name to be feared. Back in 2010, 39-year-old Lee Taberner from Oldham received an eight year prison sentence for masquerading as Massey in an attempt to extort £1 million from a Leicestershire businessman.

When asked of his criminal misdeeds Massey denied being a gangster, replying with the art of a politician:

A gangster is a person who goes out letting off guns unnecessary, shooting people unnecessary and basically getting involved in unnecessary crime. 

The execution of Massey is not unique to this corner of the north-west of England, though Greater Manchester Police (GMP) claim that there is no intelligence linking his death to 14 shootings  in the Manchester area over the past few months. However, Graham “dyslexia is a cruel fiction” Stringer, Labour MP for the adjoining constituency of Blackley and Broughton, accuses Sir Peter Fahy, chief constable of the GMP, of “deprioritizing” organized crime:

We have seen the failure of a chief constable who believes in keeping people out of prison and a social worker’s attitude towards prison. It is likely that the increase in the number of shootings is related to this attitude. What’s important for Greater Manchester now is that we get a chief constable who is interested in charging and getting gangs locked up. … He’s got more excuses for not doing his job than Dennis the Menace had for not doing his homework. We need a proper copper at the top.

In Sir Peter’s defence, despite the poverty and unemployment which still blights Salford, official statistics suggest that crime has fallen in the district since at least 2008. Sir Peter responded curtly to Stringer’s charge:

I am not going to apologize for the fact that we have adopted a neighbourhood approach which means we have the highest level of public confidence in policing for many years.

Hopefully Sir Peter is not holding himself a hostage to fortune. Hints that friends of Massey know the identity of the killer. Do these friends include relatives of the late Manchester thug Desmond Noonan, who was stabbed to death in 2005, and seen mourning the death of Massey? In a video recording made in 1998, Massey predicted his own death and vowed revenge:

Too many people around me are friends, they’re not associates, they’re friends, there’s personal friendship. Them personal friends wouldn’t lie in bed at night if something happened to me.

Related Blogs

Gunchester Awakes? The Salford Shootings 


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To Hell with Hawksmoor: Alan Moore & Myths of Jack the Ripper

Photo: John Salmon, Wikimedia Commons

Christ Church. Photo: John Salmon, Wikimedia Commons

“Here’s Hawksmoor’s most affecting church; his creed of ‘Terrour and Magnificence’ most forcefully expressed. Its tyranny of line enslaves the nearby streets, forever in its shade. Its angles trick the eye, seem from a distance flat then swell upon approach … its tower about to topple forward like some monstrous corpse … Its atmosphere envelopes Spitalfields, casts shadow-pictures on the minds of those whose lives are spent within its sight.”

On the fringe of the City, Christ Church punctures the skyline east of Commercial Street. A looming classical edifice enhanced by a ferocious Baroque. Examine the earth. Foundation stone laid by a Dyer: “Old Nick himself!” Unhallowed ground.

Photo: Steve Cadman, Wikimedia Commons

St Anne’s. Photo: Steve Cadman, Wikimedia Commons

The hospital fields tended to the poor and sick, ancient dumping ground for the dead. Weavers consumed by plague and fire, scorched by Lud’s heat. Cursed and memorialized by Mayhew. Huguenot, Irish then Jew tramped from the docks close by. A path followed by twentieth century arrivals: Cypriot Greek, Maltese, Bangladeshi. A path followed too by the unfortunate Liz Stride. See the Tarot of the Moon dealt at St Anne’s, witness to poor Liz’s Limehouse nightmares: “Arrived, we live by canal, Limehouse Cut. I see the ugly Limehouse Church and I am thinking of Torslanda. It makes me alone, that church.” Early memories imparted to Marie Kelly, herald of the four whores of the apocalypse.  (1)

Sweet Marie, drawn first to rooms where a third church hovers like an angel of death: St George’s. Behold the black architecture of history, an invisible curve rising through the centuries:

Photo: John Salmon, Wikimedia Commons

St George’s. Photo: John Salmon, Wikimedia Commons

“Near Ratcliffe Highway, pirates hanged. The ghost of Ratcliffe’s murderous clergyman still walks, who dumped his victims here. The wharf is closed at five, beyond which lightermen fear working. Hawksmoor’s George’s-in-the-East is flawed,   despite its pyramid and Roman alters. Obelisks are missing; the alignment’s wrong. Hawksmoor bade the commissioners demolish neighbouring shops thereon to site his church, aligned with other monuments, but was refused. Years later, on that selfsame ground, the draper, Marr, his wife, their babe and their apprentice died. An iron mallet smashed their skulls, throats slashed from left to right, symbols of masonry. A man, John Williams, was accused, to sate the mob. Before the trial he ‘hanged himself’… although in this perhaps he was assisted. Williams’ corpse to a crossroads was taken, buried with a stake thrust through his heart. The outrage stoked demands that a Police Force should be formed. Was this the murders’ motive all along? A ritual act, to shape society? A pattern of control drawn with a finger dipped in  infant’s blood?” (2)

Nicholas Hawksmoor’s unholy trinity: the triangle of Christ Church, St Anne’s Limehouse and St George’s-in-the-East. If only the bricks could speak. Criminal, foreigner, prostitute and beggar, an eternal present. Welcome to outcast London. And heed the message to Sir

Dorset St, 1902, Wikimedia Commons

Dorset St, 1902, Wikimedia Commons

William Gull, our chimerical top-hatted killer, hints of the secrets of the metropolis: “Perhaps Hawksmoor gouged more deeply an existing channel of suffering, violence and authority.” See what isn’t there: the fog, Gladstone bag, horse-drawn coach. A past haunting the present, bleeding back into history. Seeping to the future …

Photo: Jack 1956 (2008), Wikimedia Commons

Dorset Street 2008. Photo: Jack 1956, Wikimedia Commons

Shadowed by the spire of Christ Church opposite, long-buried at the fringes of Spitalfields Market, unrests the ghosts of Miller’s Court, Dorset Street. Dosset Street. But the lodging houses have since departed. Today a sorry private service road running north of White’s Row car park is all that remains of this once blackest of streets; a solitary set of metal steps, an apparition of an arched passageway. Memory traces of the smell of death: shit and mincemeat. Farewell Marie. For in November 1888, 13 Miller’s Court witnessed the climax of the autumn of terror. The final macabre marriage. Deliverance, From Hell.

Forget film and screw the silver screen; especially the Hughes brothers and Heather

Stephen Knight's historical horse-shit from 1976

Stephen Knight’s historical horse-shit from 1976

Graham. Johnny Depp as Inspector Abberline, the ripper hunter? His colleagues in the Met would have beaten the shit out of him for sporting that haircut in the 1980s let alone a century earlier. It’s Michael Caine for me. For From Hell is no Jack the Rip-Off: Walter Sickert, a whisper of royal scandal; the Masons, the Met and murder. False starts: the Juwes are the men who will not be blamed for nothing. A 1970s confection born of three mischief makers: Thomas Stowell, Joseph Sickert and Stephen Knight. Doctor, royal pretender and journalist. An unholy trinity. A final solution. An inspiration. (3)

Don’t look for answers in the glorious gore of the gothic masterpiece that is From Hell. Polaroid literature. Alan Moore drinks an ocean and pisses a cupful, detective fiction in reverse. Magic words inscribed on Eddie Campbell’s stygian sketches. Dickens and Doré, on acid. A master-class in how fiction, a sensibility, sharpens history’s snapshots.

West against East, rich against poor. From his home in bountiful Brook Street, Mayfair, feeding off the blood of the submerged Tyburn, engorged on the London hanged, departs Sir William Gull for his great work. (4) A seventy-one-year-old Physician-in-Ordinary to Queen Victoria. Partially paralyzed from a series of strokes, forgotten father of anorexia nervosa. Learn the lessons imparted to Gull’s driver:

Sure you want to carry on?

“Oh God!” “Ha ha! Yes … but not yours.” Sure you want to carry on?

I spoke of grand work, Netley. Grand work. A GREAT work must have many sides from which we may consider it. Think of the classic legends, with their layers of significance. Diana, for example: is she but an ancient FAIRYTALE? A SYMBOL  meaning dreams and womanhood? A deified PRINCESS from long ago. A myth? A symbol? History? Or take this CITY, in itself a great work, you’ll agree: a thing of many LEVELS and COMPLEXITIES. How WELL do you know London, Netley?”

Descend with our guide to the city, don’t forget your Dante. No turning back: “In his INFERNO he suggests the one true path from Hell lies at its very heart … and that in order to escape, we must instead go further in.” To the dead hamlets, to the East End.

To Whitechapel and Spitalfields, where families eke out a living in the cellars and workshops sweating out boots, clothes and furniture. The age-old miserable litany of poverty, overcrowding and unemployment. The screams of the centuries. Where men and women drink because they are poor, not just poor because they drink. Violence, be it on the streets or behind closed doors, like a bad poem: man-on-man, man-and-woman,

“It is instead a literature of stone, of place names and associations. Where faint echoes answer back from off the distant ruined walls of bloody history.”

woman-on-woman and woman-on-man. The kids have it worst. A newspaper fragment from 1888, 24-year-old-woman on her bastard five-year old son. Forever seared across the synapses, shit and mincemeat:

The prisoner forced him to the ground and then jammed filth into his mouth. She then put a poker in the fire until it was red hot. In the meantime, she put soil in a cloth and tied it round the child’s mouth so that it went down his throat. She then took the poker from the fire and, having stripped the child, applied the weapon to the bottom of his back, burning him severely. She kept the poker in one spot for about three minutes. Prisoner then knocked the poor child down, and kicked him about the ribs, and afterwards jumped on him with all her force. (5)

The good old days. Victorian values, everybody’s doing the business. Sharp witted and desperate: men take, women sell, themselves, for a ‘thrupenny upright; the logic of the free market. Ask Inspector Fred Abberline. He spent fourteen years there. Abberline of the Yard. Married, decent working-class stock, “we vote Tory, always have done.” Neither time for the desk-bound bureaucrat, the untested ideas of the amateur detective; nor experiments, be it either bloodhound or fingerprint. Condemned to return, to his old patch:

Polly Nicholls

Polly Nicholls

“All fields and gardens this was once, [sergeant] Godley, outside the city walls. Now look at it. Whitechapel on a Friday night. Just look at it. D’y’know, there’s less than two hundred and fifty lodging houses in Whitechapel? Housing eight and a half thousand people? That’s what, thirty five, forty people per house.” “Bloody Hell.” “Hell’s about right. I’ve seen it all ‘ere lad. Alligators waddling through the shit in the gutters; Albinos being led about on chains … I’ve stepped over kids, no more than nine, having it off in broad daylight, probably with their sisters.” “Well, they’re married by twelve, most of ‘em.” “S’right. And when they separate, she’ll start whorin’. Twelve hundred tarts in Whitechapel. Officially. My arse: ANYBODY in Whitechapel’s yours for under a shilling. I mean how are you supposed to manage it, eh? How do you maintain law and order in a fucking bedlam like this?” 

Street pedlar, policeman, pauper and prostitute, all Whitechapel victims alike.

Annie Chapman

Annie Chapman

Five women, broken relationships, battling the bottle. Walk the streets or face the workhouse. Five women, linked with the Flower and Dean Street rookery near Christ Church. Five women butchered by a man to remain forever unknown. Unfathomable. Five women, a dedication, From Hell: ‘Polly Nicholls, Annie Chapman, Liz Stride, Kate Eddowes, and Marie Jeanette Kelly. You and your demise: of these things alone are we certain.’ Sealed into history. Five women, or maybe more. One killer. Hunter becomes the hunted. Cluedo for cunts played for a century and more: ‘Dr Grape. In the horse-drawn carriage. With the Liston knife.’

Jack the Ripper, it’s catchy, it sells. Eavesdrop on a wily Wapping journalist:

Personally … I couldn’t give a monkeys fuck who did it. It’s what we can MAKE of           it. …A name … That’s what WE need. We need a NAME. … And if we can’t make    one, well … We shall just have to conjure one up, shan’t we!

Read all about it! There’s a pretty penny to be made. Stage a waxwork or two. Everyone’s at it. You’ll even hear his name on the track and turf.

Flower and Dean St, marked in purple.

Flower and Dean St, marked in purple.

The real Jack is more mundane. Look with the criminologists. Stalk the scarlet tracings, see the spider’s web. Strands centring on Flower and Dean Street. Take a tour.

A Study in Terror (1965)

A Study in Terror (1965)

To Sherlock Holmes, a phantom From Hell’s canonical cast of characters: Boudicca and Blake, Aleister Crowley, Joseph Merrick, William Morris, Walter Sickert, Robert Louis Stevenson, Queen Victoria, Oscar Wilde and W.B Yeats. (6) The deduction: a man, relatively young in his twenties or early-to-mid thirties, local or familiar. Does this matter? Who is Jack? Which Jack? When was Jack? Myth born from death: ‘The complex phantom we project. That alone, we know is real. The actual killer’s gone, unglimpsed, might as well not have been there at all.’ Not bound to 1888 he is everywhere: Spring-heeled Jack, Jack the Strangler, Jack the Stripper and the Yorkshire

Murder by Decree (1979)

Murder by Decree (1979)

Ripper. (7) A name that ranges across the centuries. Mark the words of a dying Gull, locked up in an Islington asylum by top-brass coppers on the square, so said the fabulists:

I am wholly concept now. Without the flesh to contradict, I truly AM as I’m PERCEIVED, in all the myriad ways. All things to all men, I ascend. … I am escaped  from space into the sphere of the mind and myth and angels. I am Jack. I rise up hungry through the human night towards a naked moon. Which is the world’s unconscious self. Which is all poetry and dream. … I am set free from flesh and time. I am become a symbol in the human soul; a fearful star in mankind’s inner firmament.

From Hell, Vol. 7.

From Hell, Vol. 7.

And the light burned ever brighter on the eve of the centenary. Living memory recedes. A time ripe for conspiracy chasers: Marilyn Monroe, JFK, Watergate. The 1970s, dirty tricks, succour to the paranoid. Lord Lucan, foul play, a disappearing act. Those at the top always look after their own. For the Met, revelations of a ‘firm within a firm’; heads rolled at the top of the Drugs (Detective Chief Inspector Vic Kelaher), Flying (Commander Ken Drury) and Obscene Publications Squads (Detective Chief Superintendent Bill Moody). A police force trying to catch more criminals than it employs. Truth stranger than fiction. Drury and Moody, both ardent freemasons. The bonds of the brotherhood survived the purges that followed. Crooks and cops on the square, Scotland Yard’s dirty linen still unwashed: unrecovered Brink’s-Matt gold and murder. Remember Daniel Morgan and Stephen Lawrence. Some in the Met would rather you forget. Unresting ghosts. (8)

Alan Moore, cover photo of Lance Parkin's Magic Words.

Alan Moore, cover photo of Lance Parkin’s Magic Words.

From Hell. Look at the dates, 1989-1996, you can be almost forgiven for reading From Hell literally, historically. Don’t be fooled. For Alan Moore:

The main thing that I learned about conspiracy theory is that conspiracy theorists actually believe in a conspiracy theory because that is more comforting. The truth of the world is that it is chaotic. The truth is, that it is not the Jewish banking conspiracy or the grey aliens or the twelve-foot reptiloids from another dimension that are in control. The truth is more frightening, nobody is in control. The world is rudderless. (9)

Don’t rely on London’s blue-plaqued cultural condom as a barrier against the frictions of fiction and history, myth and memory. Ghost Milk. Jack the Ripper as anti-hero, a figure of local legend. Like the Krays. Neatly packaged with jellied eels, the Blitz, Alf Garnett and East Enders. From Hell gives voice to those condemned to remain silent in the archive. Moore’s autopsy of the city points at a truth, Victorian shadows: corruption, injustice, inequality, racism and misogyny. A Guardianista’s wet dream.

Brick Lane 2008. Photo: Brynn, Wikimedia Commons.

Brick Lane 2008. Photo: Brynn, Wikimedia Commons.

And now the City encroaches, behold the temples to mammon. Dreaded gentrification: the restored Georgian house, Gilbert & George and Tracey Emin. Banglatown, Brick Lane, is trendy too. Yet there’s a lingering poverty behind the façade. The slums may have been torn down, but the street walkers still stalk the shadows of Christ Church. Though it’s crack, heroin and smack, not beer and gin. (10)

Eternal recurrence? With Gull, be angry, see yourself, don’t forget:

Raging Gull

Raging Gull

“Where comes this dullness in your eyes? How has your century numbed you so? Shall man be given marvels only when he is beyond all wonder? Your days were born   in blood and fires, whereof in you I may not see the meanest spark? Your past is pain and iron! Know yourselves. With all your shimmering numbers and your lights, think  not to be inured to history. Its black root succours you. It is INSIDE you. Are you asleep to it, that [you] cannot feel its breath upon your neck, nor see what soaks its cuffs? See me! Wake up and look upon me! I am come amongst you. I am with you       always!

The Weird Stuff Explained

(1) Designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661-1736), preparations for Christ Church began in 1714, consecration not achieved until 1729. Renown architectural historian Nikolaus Pevnser describes the church as megalomaniac, perverse, the tower adding ‘to the late Roman Baroque of the picture an odd Gothic note’, Outline of European Architecture, p. 182. The foundation stone was laid in 1715 by Edward Peck, a dyer. (See ‘Christ Church: Historical Account’, in F.H.W. Sheppard (ed.), Survey of London, Vol. 27: Spitalfields and Mile End New Town (1957) In Peter Ackroyd’s haunting novel Hawksmoor (1985) Nicholas Dyer is the macabre architect. Old Nick is, as seen in Charles Dickens’s Barnaby Rudge (1841) and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Mosses from an Old Manse (1846) a reference to the devil. A mid-nineteenth century ‘visit to the thieves’ dens in Spitalfields’ is described in Henry Mayhew’s London’s Underworld (1862), pp. 204-14. St Anne’s Limehouse as the Tarot of the Moon derives from Iain Sinclair’s Lud Heat (1975): ‘hidden enemies, danger, calumny, darkness, terror, deception, occult forces, error’, p. 28.

(2) The ghost of the vicar has been seen since 1973. Three years earlier John Philby (son of the infamous Kim) was renovating an old warehouse on Ratcliffe Wharf. Philby, along with his friend Frank Smyth (then associate editor of Man, Myth and Magic magazine) invented the story of a former vicar who ran a lodging house in this area then popular with sailors. Pretty women lured men upstairs, the vicar killed them, stole their money and unceremoniously dumped the bodies in the Thames. Following a BBC documentary dramatizing the hoax, ghosts appeared: Richard Wiseman, Paranormality (2011), pp. 226-27.

(3) Albert and Allen Hughes directed From Hell released in 2001. This film stars Johnny Depp as Inspector Abberline and Heather Graham as Marie Kelly. For justifiably unfavourable criticism see Iain Sinclair, ‘Jack the Rip-Off’, Observer, 27 January 2002. Chiming with the centenary of the Ripper murders, Michael Caine played Abberline in a two-part TV series Jack the Ripper in 1988. Both productions follow the conspiracy theory line championing Dr William Gull as the murderer. This nonsense originated first with Dr Thomas Stowell in an article in the Criminologist in 1970. Prince Albert Victor was, without being named, fingered as the culprit, and the Gull connection mentioned for the first time in print. Stowell went on to deny the royal link in a letter to The Times. He died shortly afterwards, his son burning his personal papers along with other rubbish. One Joseph Gorman Sickert, who claimed to be the son of the painter Walter Sickert, went on to cast Gull as Jack for a BBC TV series Jack the Ripper in 1973. East London Advertiser journalist Stephen Knight built upon Sickert’s story adding the freemasons to the mix with Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution (1976). Two years later Joseph Sickert went on to deny the story as ‘a hoax … I made it all up’. He then then denied his denial, in a manner of speaking. Stephen Knight died of a brain tumour in 1985 fuelling murders that he had been bumped off by masonic interests. The fun doesn’t stop there. Melvyn Fairclough’s book The Ripper and the Royals (1991) developed this conspiracy based upon the alleged diaries of Inspector Abberline. In this version, Prince Albert Victor did not die in 1892, but in 1933 after protracted incarceration in Glamis Castle. And George V, his younger brother, was despatched prematurely to prevent a death-bed confession in 1936. Guess who possessed the Abberline diaries? Correct: Jospeh Gorman Sickert. Got it? Completely fucking mad.

(4) ‘From Marylebone Lane the Tyburn flows a southward course along Oxford Street, where it turns south-east into South Molton Lane; Brook Street is named after it’: Peter Ackroyd, London Under, p. 52. Oxford Street used to be known as Tyburn Road where prisoners completed the route from Newgate prison in the City to be executed at Tyburn, near present day Marble Arch: Peter Linebaugh, The London Hanged.

(5) Bill Fishman East London 1888 (1988), p. 250.

(6) In the 1965 film thriller A Study in Terror Sherlock Holmes follows the trail of Jack the Ripper. The sleuth with the deerstalker follows the Stephen Knight crap in the British-Canadian film Murder by Decree (1979). For fans of computer games Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper was released in 2009 for Microsoft Windows and Xbox 360.

(7) Spring-heeled Jack (1837-38), touched upon in the reading list above, was first seen with goat’s horns, a tail, and bat’s wings. His spring-heels allowed him to leap over walls. Others attacked by him claimed to see a best with flaming eyes who belched fire. Jack the Strangler was a name given by the tabloid press to the unconnected murders of three prostitutes in Soho between 1935 and 1936. (See Stefan Slater, ‘Prostitutes and Popular History: Notes on the “Underworld”, 1918-1939’, Crime, Histoire & Société/Crime, History and Societies, 13, 1 (2009), 25-48.)) Known as the Hammersmith (Nude) Murders, Jack the Stripper was responsible for the deaths of between six and eight prostitutes between 1964 and 1965. (A good jumping-off point is the autobiography of the investigating officer John Du Rose, Murder Was My Business (1971)). No individual was identified as responsible for the atrocities above. The Yorkshire Ripper (1975-80), Peter Sutcliffe, was convicted for the murder of 13 women and the attempted murder of seven others.

(8) Detective John Symonds was recorded and exposed by The Times in 1969 saying to a small-time crook who was being blackmailed: ‘Always let me know straight away if you need anything because I know people everywhere. Because I’m in a little firm in a firm. Don’t matter where, anywhere in London. I can get on the phone to someone I know I can trust, that talks the same as me.’ Frank Williamson, a Chief Inspector of Constabulary, was appointed to oversee the inquiry. But the police officer in operational control was Bill  Moody. Williamson claimed he was nobbled. On the back of a Sunday Times investigation in 1972, the Met’s drug’s squad was bust, yet Kelaher was allowed to retire on medical grounds. Moody and Drury were convicted of corruption in 1977. The Brinks-Mat robbery saw over £26 million, mainly in gold, being stolen from a warehouse near Heathrow in 1983. Masonry and dodgy dealings links both crooks and cops involved in the investigation of this bullion robbery and the murders of private investigator Daniel Morgan (1987) and teenager Stephen Lawrence (1993). At the time of writing, Baroness Nuala O’Loan is chairing an independent panel into the unsolved murder of Daniel Morgan.

(9) Lance Price, Magic Words, p. 324.

(10) For recent comments on Spitalfields and the sex industry, consult: Mike Brooke, ‘Police Arrest Suspect Prostitutes in Spitalfields Clampdown’, Docklands and East London Advertiser, 2 May 2012,, idem, ‘Mums Drive Out Prostitutes from Spitalfields’ Flower and Dean Estate’, Docklands and East London Advertiser, 6 May 2012,, Alan White, ‘The Streetwalkers of Spitalfields have been Badly Let Down, New Statesmen, 5 July 2012,, Leila Zerai, ‘Olympics Prostitution “Clampdown” Criticized’, Your Tower Hamlets (n.d.), ‘Put Out the Red Light’, Inside Housing, 20 September 2013,

Reading East London

All the quotations above, unless stated otherwise, are derived from Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, From Hell: Being a Melodrama in Sixteen Parts (London: Knockabout, 2000). The occult influences in this magnum opus are taken from Iain Sinclair’s Lud Heat: A Book of the Dead Hamlets ~ May 1974 to April 1975 (Cheltenham: Skylight Press, 2012 [1975]); his slightly less trippy White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings (London: Penguin, 2004 [1987]) answers and asks more questions. Hawksmoor’s eerie churches haunt Peter Ackroyd’s anti-heroic Hawksmoor, intro. Will Self (London: Penguin, 2010 [1985]), another ‘must read’.

For those of a more academic turn of mind, the following texts place the oeuvre of Alan Moore’s work and the place of the Hawksmoor churches in critical context:

  • David Ashford, ‘The Mechanics of the Occult: London’s Psychogeographical Fiction as Key to Understanding the Roots of the Gothic’, Literary London Journal, 10, 2 (2013).
  • Mark Bernard and James Bucky Carter, ‘Alan Moore and the Graphic Novel: Confronting the Fourth Dimension’, Image TexT: Interdisciplinary Comics Studies, 1, 2 (2004).
  • Sean Carney, ‘The Tides of History: Alan Moore’s Historiographic Vision’, Image TexT, 2, 2 (2006).
  • Lance Parkin Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore (London: Aurum, 2013).

There is no escaping the smell of shit, not just human. Topping the horseshit stakes is Stephen Knight’s Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution (London: George G. Harrap & Co Ltd, 1976). Candidates vying for second place include Patricia Cornwell, Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper, Case Closed (London: Little, Brown, 2002), Paul H. Feldman, Jack the Ripper: The Final Chapter (London: Virgin, 1998) and Shirley Harrison, The Diary of Jack the Ripper: The Chilling Confessions of James Maybrick (London: John Blake, 2010). For a semblance of sanity see:

  • Paul Begg and John Bennett, The Complete and Essential Jack the Ripper (London: Penguin, 2013).
  • Stewart P. Evans & Keith Skinner, The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Sourcebook: An Illustrated Encyclopaedia (London: Robinson, 2000).
  • Drew Gray, London’s Shadows: The Dark Side of the Victorian City (London: Bloomsbury, 2010).
  • Philip Sugden, The Complete History of Jack the Ripper (London: Robinson, 2nd, 2002).

On the darker side of the Metropolitan Police, a subject of collective amnesia in the public mind, read and be prepared for the dawn knock:

  • Michael Gillard and Laurie Flynn, Untouchables: Dirty Cops, Bent Justice and Racism in Scotland Yard (London: Bloomsbury, 2nd 2012 [2004]).
  • Graeme McLagan, Bent Coppers: The Inside Story of Scotland Yard’s Battle Against Police Corruption (London: Orion, 2004).
  • James Morton, Bent Coppers (London: Little, Brown, 1993).
  • Martin Short, Lundy: The Destruction of Scotland Yard’s Finest Detective (London: Grafton, 1992).
  • ________ Inside the Brotherhood: Further Secrets of the Freemasons (London: HarperCollins, 1993).

Guiding lights through London’s fog:

  • David Aaronovitch, Voodoo Histories: How Conspiracy Theory has Shaped Modern History (London: Vintage, 2010).
  • Peter Ackroyd, London Under: The Secret History beneath the Streets (New York: Doubleday, 2011).
  • William J. Fishman, East End 1888 (Nottingham: Five Leaves Press, 2005 [1988]).
  • Judith Flanders, The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime (London: Harper Press, 2011).
  • Rachel Lichtenstein, On Brick Lane (London: Penguin, 2008).
  • Peter Linebaugh, The London Hanged: Crime and Civil Society in the Eighteenth Century (London: Verso, 2006).
  • John Marriott, Beyond the Tower: A History of East London (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012).
  • Nikolaus Pevsner, An Outline of European Architecture (Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith, 2009 [1943]).
  • Peter Quennel, London’s Underworld by Henry Mayhew (London: Bracken Books, 1983 [1862]).
  • Fiona Rule, The Worst Street in London (Hersham: Ian Allen, 2008).
  • Iain Sinclair, Lights Out for the Territory: 9 Excursions in the Secret History of London (London: Penguin 2003 [1997]).
  • _______ Ghost Milk: Calling Time on the Grand Project (London: Penguin, 2012).
  • Jerry White, Rothschild Buildings: Life in an East End Tenement Block, 1887-1920 (London: RKP, 1980).
  • ________ London in the Nineteenth Century: A Human Awful Wonder of God (London: Vintage, 2008).
  • Richard Wiseman, Paranormality: Why We See What Isn’t There (London: Macmillan, 2011).
  • Patrick Wright, A Journey through Ruins: The Last Days of London (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2nd, 2009).
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1215 and All That: An Excursion into the Absurdities of the English

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
Your rights were won at Runnymede!
No freeman shall be fined or bound,
Or dispossessed of freehold ground,
Except by lawful judgement found
And passed upon him by his peers.
Forget not, after all these years,
The Charter Signed at Runnymede.

A portion of a poem from C.R.L. Fletcher and Rudyard Kipling’s A School History of England (1911). The White Man’s Burden? Meaning and memory more than history. Sealed in 1215 and torn-up within a matter of weeks, it wasn’t until the seventeenth century that Magna Carta was interpreted as a radical text by lawyer and parliamentarian Sir Edward Coke on the limits of arbitrary power. To renown royalist Oliver Cromwell the text was merely “Magna Farta”.

Don’t doubt the magic of this “virtuous national myth”. Justin Champion, professor of the Early Modern History of Ideas at Royal Holloway University of London points out that readings of Magna Carta have been used to legitimize the American Revolution of 1776 and the defence of Black Civil Rights in the US. In 1994, a Federal district judge invoked this charter in Paula Jones’s sexual harassment case against Bill Clinton.

What does Magna Carta mean? Something for everyone? Given the concentration of police in this slice of Surrey, 15 June 2015 must have been a great day to commit crime in the county. A day to celebrate our freedoms.

As a resident of Runnymede, there is something sinister at the sight of David Cameron appropriating Magna Carta in an attempt to abolish the Human Rights Act under the guise of a Bill of Rights while at the same time proposing to grant the state increased powers to spy on its subjects (“security, it’s not a dirty word you know”). The same David Cameron who back in 2012 couldn’t translate the phrase “Magna Carta” on the David Letterman show. Magna Carta. So symbolic. Monument in Runnymede erected in 1957, by the American Bar Association.

Thomas Macaulay once wrote “We know of no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality.” Stick in pageantry and insert hypocrisy and welcome to modern Britain.

“Try saying that in fuckin’ Russia”, so they still say in saloon bar society. Come on. I’m British. Increasingly English. I take the piss. Tory aide-de-camp David Starkey acidly astute, as ever:

It seems to me a little absurd to commemorate the second greatest humiliation in the history of the monarchy by making the Queen attend. I wonder how we’re going to commemorate 2019, the anniversary of the execution of Charles I? Will we create an executioner’s block in Whitehall and drag the poor Queen there to cut the ribbon? “I declare this block open.”

Perhaps Mr Cameron needs to swot-up on his history homework? Study a classic of English history? Kings, queens and acts of parliament. Mr Gove will be familiar. Our Septic Isle. To 1066. A work of late Oxonians. Halcyon days. Before the War. Ticks all the boxes.

Walter Carruthers Sellar and Robert Julian Yeatman’s 1066 and All That was even serialized in Punch prior to publication in 1930. Such a hit 1066 spawned a successful West End musical. Look up the bits on King John. Englishness encapsulated:

There also happened in this reign the memorable Charta, known as Magna Charter on account of the Latin Magna (great) and Charter (a Charter): this was the first of the famous Chartas and Gartas of the Realm and was invented by the Barons on a desert island in the Thames called Ganymede. By congregating there, armed to the teeth, the Barons compelled John to sign the Magna Charter, which said:

  1. That no one was to be put to death, save for some reason (except the Common People).
  2. That everyone should be free (except the Common People).
  3. That everything should be of the same weight and measure throughout the Realm (except the Common People).
  4. That the Courts should be stationary, instead of following a very tiresome medieval official known as the King’s Person all over the country.
  5. That no person should be fined to his utter ruin (except the King’s Person).
  6. That the Barons should not be tried except by a special jury of other Barons who would understand.

Magna Charter was therefore the chief cause of Democracy in England, and thus a Good Thing for everyone (except the Common People).

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The Long Weekend: Reflections on the Hatton Garden Heist

Fleet Street’s not-so-finest dubbed them the “Diamond Wheezers”, “Dad’s Army” and the “Old in the Wall” gang. Nine men aged between 48 and 76 years arrested for their role in the Easter weekend Hatton Garden heist. A cornucopia of clues for those seeking to chart the contours of English culture.

Natalie Clark of the Daily Mail hit upon this stygian fascination with the corrupt and the criminal, the seedy and the salacious:

Not since Michael Caine uttered the immortal line “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” in the 1969 movie The Italian Job has a crime of this nature captured the public imagination.

Life imitates art with inspiration for this larceny also attributed to the films Lock, Stock and Two Smoking BarrelsOcean’s 11 (2001 version), Reservoir DogsSexy Beast and The Usual Suspects. My favourite is a letter to The Times from Terry Ballard:

May I recommend that the police check on the whereabouts of the actors Albert Finney and Martin Sheen over the Easter weekend? The plot of the 1981 film Loophole was a template for the recent Hatton Garden burglary – even to the point of being located at nearby Blackfriars and the police not fully investigating the alarm.

Crime scene: the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Ltd. Not quite a good old-fashioned heist. No evidence of police culpability. Plenty of questions about the competence of the control room for downgrading the response to the burglar alarm triggered in the early hours of Good Friday. Questions too about the reliability of underpaid local security.

Not so much whodunnit, but the telling of the tale. Seems like everyone has something to say. Dominic Lawson remarked disapprovingly:

The Guardian, with a hint of wistful approbation, described the raid as “Return of the old-fashioned heist” and quoted a former armed robber from East London: “Everybody’s happy because everybody’s skint at the moment and they reckon – rightly or wrongly – whoever’s lost something can afford it.”

Think safe deposit, think rich and famous. Or someone with something to hide. Rumours of the ugly Adams family taking a hit. For the second time. Back in 1998 their financial adviser Solly Nahome, a Hatton Garden diamond merchant, was shot dead outside his home. Be afraid if they’ve been tapped, they’re “worse than the Krays”.

Despite Lawson’s later hysterical point linking support for Labour with support for those involved in the Hatton Garden heist, he has a point: the not-so-rich use safes too. Those who can’t afford the necessary insurance. The diamond necklace, a family heirloom, exhumed for special occasions. Or the independent craftsman, sole tradesman and small wholesaler without the means for their own security.

Why the fascination? I’m guilty too. Where lies the allure?

The audacity of the burglary attracts. And the timing was perfect. Immortalized by the press as Mr Ginger, The Gent, Mr Strong, Mr Montana, The Old Man and The Tall Man, the gang is believed to have broken into offices above the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit, abseiled down a lift-shaft and used an array of power and cutting tools to break into the vault.

Given the number of Jewish run businesses operating in and around Hatton Garden, the district was unusually quiet as Easter runs parallel to the Passover festival. The evening of Maundy Thursday and the morning of Easter Sunday frame the time of the burglary. A further 48 hours lapsed before the raid was discovered.

Only 72 safety deposit boxes were broken into. While the gang has been charged with stealing items in “excess of £10 million”, estimates of the proceeds of this heist are as high as £200 million.

Bare facts fuelling speculations that the  burglary was an inside-job. There is no doubting the gang had done their homework. Apart from choosing the Easter bank holiday weekend, this team knew that any noise from drilling would be assumed to stem from the Crossrail excavations or repair work resulting from a power blackout the previous weekend.

Yet the gang would need knowledge of the layout of the building, the dimensions of walls and the nature of the internal security. Was it a coincidence that a number of small businesses recently moved their stock to the vault of the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit following the announcement by the local HSBC branch that they were withdrawing their own safe facilities?

Gaining such local knowledge is fraught with difficulties. Rachel Lichtenstein, a writer with familial links to this district, warns those seeking hidden histories:

On Hatton Garden itself there are over 60 retail jewellery shops. There are hundreds of other small workshops and offices dotted around the area. These places can only be accessed by those in the trade. Dark stairwells lead to tiny rooms above. Security to get into these places is tight. If you are recognized on the CCTV monitor, the first of three steel doors might open; each has to lock shut before the next can be accessed.

Inside these rooms, deals are still often sealed with a handshake and the Yiddish words “Mazel und broche” (luck and blessing). This is the way business has taken place in Hatton Garden for over a century. It is a hidden world that operates according to unspoken laws based on trust. 

Naturally, given the commodities sold, the criminal too has been part of business for over a century. In November 1881, The Times reported that the Hatton Garden post office was robbed of a “mail bag containing the registered letters and packets, among which were large consignments of diamonds for the Continent and elsewhere”. The value of goods lifted was estimated to be £80,000, something in the region of £62 million today.

And this magical place has also played host to the bizarre. A verdict of “suicide while of unsound mind” was returned by the coroner at St Pancras in 1936 on the death of George Gash, a 29-year-old employee of Johnson Matthey and Company, assayers to the Bank of England. Found in an office in Hatton Garden, Gash had shot himself through the brain, twice.

Perhaps some places are cursed more than others. Opened in 1954, the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit suffered an attempted theft by three men involved in the jewellery business in 1957. Armed robbers made-off with £1.5 million worth of gems in 1975, and as recently as 2003 a man who spent many months masquerading as a customer made off with another £1.5 million from the vault. 

Hatton Garden, romancing the stone. Criminality and cosmopolitanism. Blame the foreigner, another English tradition. How disappointing to some that the so-called Pink Panthers or swarthy Slavs don’t appear to have been involved in the Easter bank holiday break-in of 2015. It was our own home-grown shit.

Tom Harper and Kevin Dowling of the Sunday Times were rare amongst their peers with their early observation that the heist of 2015 bore a marked similarity to the theft of £1.5 million (a touchstone number) from a Hatton Garden jeweller over the Christmas bank holiday weekend of 2004. No prosecutions followed, though the latter was believed to have been carried out by a gang operating out of Bethnal Green.

They didn’t hurt anyone. God bless ’em. Probably love their mums too. Like another contemptible concert of criminals from Bethnal Green. Iain Sinclair diagnosed this condition at a funeral cortege twenty years ago:

The point is that no other strata of society has such a sense of tradition, such a memory for previous plantings. Stanley Baker, in his trilby and three-quarter length, cashiered major’s coat, never missed. The East End has its reputation to uphold: sentiment backed by strict discipline. Senior members of the Firm had been shuttling to Maidstone nick to go over points of procedure with the surviving twin. There’d never be another Ronnie Kray. “There’s been nothing to touch it since Churchill,” said Carole McQueen, florist to the fraternity. …

The event, the procession, the crowds (many of whom didn’t know who was being buried or what he stood for), took on the nature of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It meant something because the journalist said it did. It was important to be there because we were there. Ron’s last rites were television, what more could anybody ask? A chance to recall better times; safe to go out at night, singalong pubs, coppers on the beat.

Never hurt anyone. Look at the charge sheet, a motley crew of cockneys in spirit: John Collins (74, Islington), Hugh Doyle (48, Enfield), John Harbinson (42, Benfleet, Essex), Daniel Jones (58, Enfield), William Lincoln (59, Bethnal Green), Terry Perkins (67, Enfield), Brian Reader (76, Dartford),  Brian aka Paul Reader (50, Dartford) and Carl Wood (58, Cheshunt, Herts).

Brian Reader, the grandfather of the gang. A second-hand car dealer living in an £800,000 house in Kent. Is this the same Brian Reader who as a 45-year-old was charged alongside the notorious Kenny Noye with the murder of detective constable John Fordham in 1985? The same Brian Reader who was seen by detective Neil Murphy kicking John as he lay on the ground after being stabbed by Noye 11 times? The same Brian Reader who was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment for his role in laundering proceeds of the £26 million Brinks Mat robbery of 1983? The same Brian Reader who was associated with Tommy Adams of the notorious Adams family? Reader & co are due to appear at Southwark Crown Court for a preliminary hearing on 4 June.

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7 May 2015: Why I Won’t be Voting

Political pundit Iain Dale is pissed off that some people don’t vote. In his “Attitude Column”, the LBC-loudmouth proclaims:

In all likelihood half of you reading this article won’t be bothered to get off your pert little arses and go down to the polling stations on 7th May. And yet you are happy to take part in votes to decide who wins the X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent.

Arrogant arseholes suffer a tendency to equate not voting with voter apathy. In an otherwise sensible article in the Daily Telegraph, James Kirkup argues:

If young people are stupid enough not to vote, stupid enough to listen to a rambling millionaire idiot like Russell Brand who tells them to squander their democratic rights, then they deserved to be shafted by the system. Democracy is a game like any other, kids: if you don’t play, you can’t win.

As middle-age approaches with increased velocity I certainly can’t be accused of being a kid, though I have been accused of behaving like one. But insulting young voters won’t do much to encourage them to participate.

As for the blackmailing bollocks about people laying down their lives so I can vote … Yawn. Surely, the freedom defended is the ability for me to exercise my right to vote. Subtly, yet significantly, different from a compulsion to vote. As with the idea of ID cards, such a view inverts my, albeit woolly, belief that we the people are the source of political authority and legitimacy. Legislators should be holding power to account on our behalf.

Perhaps I should have titled this short blog ” Why I am bothered not to vote”?

Along with young people, I embrace certain social media, such as twitter and e-petitions, to engage with and vent my spleen about the political issues which exercise my increasingly addled brain. Action from below, for want of a better phrase, to my mind allows for more direct political participation than the traditional means of the ballot box.

Holding power to account, notably highlighting the corruption, criminality and incompetence practiced by our cherished corporate and national institutions in the face of a collective historical amnesia, led to me write the Londonlowlife blog. Agree or disagree with me. Don’t accuse me of being apathetic.

Not that I haven’t voted before. My vote was cast for the Tories in the elections of 1997, 2001 and 2005. 2010 marked the first occasion that I didn’t bother to vote. Yes, I was apathetic. 2010 marked the year I stupidly walked away from the contest to secure a full-time teaching post in academia. 2010 also marked the year I started drinking again.

Back in May 2010, I walked past the surprisingly long queue outside the polling station on election day. Besides, I was late for an appointment with one of my barmaid’s to practice her French on me. Shallow? Yes, but she’d just turned twenty and is twelve years my junior. And Philip Hammond, current Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, was duly returned to parliament with 55.9% of the vote (66.45% turnout); a majority of 16,509 votes.

Five years on, who to vote for? Having turned my back on the benefits of experiencing a conventional middle-class up-bringing, some assume I vote Green. The Green’s policy to return utilities, public goods, to public ownership shames “Labour”. I also have long hair and am believed to be fond of the occasional Jamaican cigar. But I’m open-minded about fracking, believe the UK should be expanding its nuclear power energy base, support Trident, and am rather fond of losing money on national hunt racing.

“Labour” is a joke. As with the Lib Dems and Tories, finishing schools for graduate political researchers and policy wonks. Retirement paid by the revolving door post-parliamentary consultancy. Similar sacred truths uttered to camera. BBC Question Time is only for me if someone of the standing of a Galloway or a Starkey is speaking.

The bien pensant  priggishness of Labour and the Lib Dems brings out my inner Farage, while their view of the EU remains too rosy. As for the constitutional complications resulting from a minority Labour administration propped-up by the SNP? And so to the Scot Nationalists. Without doubting the good intentions of Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, they tap into a visceral, tribal instinct at which UKIP too is clever at evoking. Nigel Farage? I’d gladly have a pint with him, but his team and supporters attract the fascists in suits.

Where to but the Tories? No Monster Raving Loonies down here in Runnymede & Weybridge. Besides, a blue rosette stuck to the Smirnoff I’m supping would lead to this bottle’s election if standing for parliament where I live.

The sidelining of Damian Green and Ken Clarke is a measure of the dangerous drift which the Tory party has taken. EU reform is imperative, CAP must be scrapped, yet it is sheer madness for Britain to walk away from the EU without a fight.

On the subject of economics, the Conservative-Liberal coalition is probably the government best-placed to tackle Britain’s deficit with a degree of honesty. Yet, to use a bullshit-bingo phrase beloved of public office scriptwriters, no “lessons have been learned” about the structural instability of unregulated free-market capitalism.

Though the Tories are quite happy to permit the restrictive practices of robber barons such as Enterprise Inns and Punch Taverns, the property giants and racketeers committed to the destruction of the local pub.

But you don’t just vote for the party, you vote for the person. What about Philip Hammond? Philip Hammond may be said to honestly represent the will of this slice of stockbroker Surrey, but he’s not for me. Philip “no votes in defence” Hammond offends my inner right-winger, especially in the face of Comrade Putin’s war-games in Eastern Europe.

Philip Hammond also offends my inner libertarian. My MP abstained in the vote for gay marriage, trotting out the well-worn line that civil partnerships made gay marriage redundant. Squabbles over the meaning of marriage aside, Philip Hammond also abstained in the vote to introduce civil partnerships. My suspicion as to some of Hammond’s views is increased by the knowledge that he voted against equalizing the age of consent and against the repeal of the repellent Section 28.

As one of Britain’s downwardly-mobile men employed in a non-skilled low-paid job , I remain to be convinced as to how my participation in elections “count”. I’ll carry on blogging, twattering and signing petitions. But to those who chide “if you don’t vote, you don’t have a say”, you’re fucking deluded if you think anyone is listening.


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Life on Mars Part III: The Whispering Squad

Do you remember who said “never give a uniformed job to a man who wants to wear one”? Many a sad case: see a young security guard and spot a failed copper. Some, however, fly, like Icarus.

Detective Chief Inspector Vic Kelaher was a Met man through-and-through. Born in 1930, the son of a detective sergeant, his father’s premature death led to his residence at a police orphanage. At 15-years-of-age he went to work as a clerk at Scotland Yard. After a stint of national service, the young Vic claimed his birthright and joined the Met.

Aloof, bright and a highly individual operator, Kelaher was the youngest man in the Met’s history to be promoted to the rank of DCI when he joined the Drug Squad in May 1968. Based at Scotland Yard’s Serious Crimes Branch (C1), under the nominal umbrella of control of the soon-to-be-disgraced Commander Wally Virgo, DCI Kelaher speared the operations of the Drug Squad. A tragic hero in the making. Good cop, bad cop?

Comprising around twenty men, the fieldwork of the Drug Squad was executed by two teams. One of these cadres, led by Detective Sergeant Norman “Nobby” Pilcher, was known as the “Whispering Squad”: covert activity, self-imposed isolation, secrecy.

Nobby Pilcher built his reputation on targeting musicians such as Donovan, Mick Jagger and Brian Jones. Already immortalized as “semolina pilchard” in the Beatles song I am the Walrus, the Whispering Squad went for its biggest scalp in October 1968 when they raided John Lennon’s Marylebone flat.

Sniffer dogs Yogi and Boo-Boo detected cannabis resin. Strange, for Lennon was tipped-off about the impending raid by Daily Mirror journalist Don Shorter. As the flat’s previous tenant had been Jimi Hendrix, Lennon had the premises spotlessly cleaned. The dope was planted, M’Lud. Lennon was fined £150.

Lennon wasn’t the only one. 1969 saw the publication of the first annual report of civil rights group Release, apparently “the Filth” were known to plant drugs on criminals. Perish the thought.

Kelaher, who privately favoured a more liberal approach to softer drugs, wasn’t interested in small-time dealers; those who smoked the occasional joint or dropped an acid tab or two. Welcome to “Swinging London”. Kelaher set out to feel the collars of the cannabis importers and LSD manufacturers. A high-flyer and empire-builder, Kelaher also wished to concentrate UK drug law enforcement within Scotland Yard; an idea his counterparts in Customs and Excise were not too keen on.

The precarious relationship between the Met and Customs was tested further by Kelaher’s influence over Assistant Commissioner (Crime) Peter Brodie, the head of the CID. At Brodie’s behest, the Home Office permitted Met officers to intercept drug smugglers – mainly opportunists – at Heathrow airport. A cynical ploy by the Filth to ratchet-up their arrest rate?

Kelaher’s hand was strengthened further by the Whispering Squad’s relationship with the US Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. The BNDD’s European main European office was based in Paris as Marseilles was a key link in the opium smuggling chain from Turkey to New York. Such were Kelaher’s contacts with the BNDD, all provincial forces were ordered to liaise with the BNDD via Scotland Yard’s Drug Squad.

“Church” and “carrot-crunchers”, traditional enemies of the Met. Their suspicions were soon to be confirmed.

In 1970, the Whispering Squad learned that Ken Lee, a Scouser who’d spent most of his life in the US, arrived in the UK with a gram of LSD worth £450 to sell. Detective Constable Nick Prichard, in mufti, arranged for Lee to sell the acid to BNDD agent John Coleman, under the guise of supplying gear to US troops stationed in West Germany.

Lee detailed agent Coleman a list of his contacts who were in turn arrested. Victory for both the BNDD and the Drug Squad. Lee didn’t too well, he was nicked later for another offence. Bad mistake, he went to Release, then the Home Office. Officials had one word to describe this operation: illegal.

During 1970 the Home Office was also alerted to the practice of “recycling” by the Whispering Squad.

Kevin Healy, a young heroin addict, was recuperating at the Littlemore Hospital, Oxford, when staff discovered that cannabis had been sent to him. The local constabulary were impressed with his knowledge of the London drug scene and called in the Whispering Squad. Meeting DC Prichard at a Leicester Square coffee bar, Healy arranged for the officer to buy 13,152 acid tabs off a dealer. Rendezvousing in South Kensington, the Drug Squad scored one of its biggest single LSD busts.

Already vulnerable, Healy felt let down by the London team. He was now a grass. Despite a £20 payment, he reported to astonished Oxford police officers that he was given 162 tabs (worth £162), by the Whispering Squad. He wanted a bigger cut. Pissed off at his treatment, Release advised him to contact the Sunday Times and Granada’s World in Action team.

Fortunately, for the Whispering Squad, DS Pilcher and DC Prichard spotted the World in Action team trying to film Healy setting a deal up. Three journalists recount:

The response of Scotland Yard when they learned of this was similar to the position of The Times allegations, and was characteristic of the old hierarchy’s defensive attitude in those years. A long drawn-out investigation into the matter seemed more concerned with what charges could be brought against Granada and the Sunday Times for presuming to investigate the police than with evaluating the conduct of the Drug Squad detectives.

Further allegations reached the Home Office that the Whispering Squad allowed certain West Indian pushers in the Notting Hill area a free-hand to operate, so long as they provided bodies with gear. As official payments for these tip-offs were relatively small, Kelaher’s team would give their informants a cut of the haul recovered. In turn, these drugs were sold at a cheaper rate known locally as “police prices”. Recycling.

The Yard could not avoid facing up to the unorthodox behaviour of the Whispering Squad when Customs detained Kelaher on 5 March 1971. Kelaher was observed allowing £5,000 of cannabis delivered at Heathrow to be passed on to an informant, Basil Sands – an American-educated Bahamian with interests in Notting Hill clubs.

Yet Kelaher was neither charged nor suspended from the Met. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Richard Chitty, eager to protect his men in the power struggle between Customs and  the Police “indicated that a prosecution of Kelaher would lead to a further deterioration in the already bad relations between the two institutions.”

Kelaher made a statement to Customs stating that he used his informant to break up an international drug-smuggling operation. A transfer to administrative duties followed, Kelaher’s career was effectively over. Fraud Squad Commander James Crane was appointed to oversee an internal investigation.

5 March 1971 proved to be a turning point for the Whispering Squad. For on that day Kathleen and Janet Salah were arrested by Bulgarian police near the Turkish border. Accompanying the Salahs was 100 kilos of cannabis.

Kathleen and Janet were the English-born wife and daughter of Mohammed Salah, he used to run a clothing business until retirement in 1967. Mohammed’s son and daughter-in-law lived with the family in Stoke Poges.

It was alleged that the Salahs imported £120,000 of cannabis from Lahore in 1970. Jersey police confirmed £100,000 was paid into a bank account.

20 March 1971 was another curiously coincidental day. The date that Kelaher made his statement to Customs, and the date that Pilcher’s team arrested the remaining Salahs at their new homes in Ascot and Langley. The date that precipitated the eventual break-up of the Drug Squad, and the fall of Scotland Yard. Old guard on the defensive.

Little of these events had yet to reach the public eye. Basil Sands, Kelaher’s informant, had yet to have his day in court. Two days prior to start of this trial, Pilcher was given three-days notice to move to Clapham station. That very same day Prichard was promoted to detective sergeant and transferred out of the squad.

What remained of Kelaher’s reputation, and that of his old team, was destroyed when Sands was sentenced to seven years imprisonment on 19 July 1971. Both guilty verdict and sentence showed that neither jury nor judge believed Kelaher’s story about Sands merely being an informant. The following day, Assistant Commissioner Brodie received the Crane report about the activities of the Whispering Squad.

For the first time in the Met’s history, the Yard felt that they had no choice but to invite an external force to investigate the activities of their force. Assistant Chief Constable Harold Prescott of the Lancashire force was appointed to examine the history of the Drug Squad.

Let us not forget the Salahs. Undoubtedly drug dealers, Mohammed received five years imprisonment, his son John a three year stretch, and daughter-in-law Kathy a nine month suspended sentence. Despite this victory for the Met, the Drug Squad’s reputation was tarnished further by revelations in court of irregularities in the official police diaries.

On completion of the Prescott report, completed in March 1972, the findings were sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions. No case was to be heard. However, the following month witnessed the appointment of Sir Robert Mark as Met Commissioner. He ordered a third inquiry into the allegations raised against Kelaher and his team in the Salah trial. A team of World in Action reporters suggest that “it is scarcely credible that under his predecessor Waldron the matter would have been pursued any further after the negative Prescott findings.”

Forty-three-year-old DCI Vic Kelaher and his former team comprising DS George Prichard (30 years), DC Adam Acworth (30), DC Nigel Lilley (31) and WDC Morag McGibbon (33) were all  suspended on basic pay and charged with perverting the course of justice the following November. All except Kelaher were also charged with perjury. Ex-DS Nobby Pilcher (38) had resigned from the Met and was on the high sea en route to Australia. He was swiftly extradited to stand trial with his old colleagues.

The Drug Squad Six appeared at the Old Bailey on 17 September 1973. Defence counsel managed successfully to challenge the inclusion of 33 prospective jurors, for two-thirds of those listed for service were shown to be named on police files. Unusual for the Yard to be so helpful to the defence. In practice, anyone black, young or with long-hair was automatically excluded.

The case for the Crown was that the Salahs (convictions by now quashed) were sent down after official police records were “doctored and monkeyed around with”. Indeed, an examination of Pilcher’s diary showed that in three specific cases factory machine stitching had been replaced by hand-sewn binding.

Ominously, the former boss of the Whispering Squad, Wally Virgo, gave de facto evidence for the defence: “There been so much trouble over diaries … There’s a saying, ‘If they want to, they can always get you on your diary.'”

All six were found not guilty of conspiring to pervert the course of justice. Pilcher, Prichard and Lilley were, however, found guilty of perjury. Although the jury made clear that they thought the offences minor and recommended leniency, the judge disagreed. Turning to Pilcher, Mr Justice Melford Stevenson intoned:

You poisoned the wells of criminal justice and set about it deliberately. What is equally bad is that you have betrayed your comrades in the Metropolitan Police force, which enjoys the respect of the civilized world – what remains of it – and not the least grave aspect of what you have done is to provide material for the crooks, cranks and do-gooders who unite to attack the police whenever the opportunity offers.

Pilcher received four years imprisonment, though he was released in the summer of 1975, while Prichard and Lilley were sentenced to eighteen months apiece; the latter two serving a year only. As for Kelaher, he spent a one-year-spell at St Thomas’s Hospital for a nervous complaint, being discharged from the Met in April 1974 on an ill-health pension.

Drug Squad, compromised. Flying Squad, dodgy. Obscene Publications Squad, bent. How was new Met Commissioner Sir Robert Mark to reform the CID?


  • Barry Cox, John Shirley and Martin Short, The Fall of Scotland Yard (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977).
  • James Morton, Bent Coppers (London: Little, Brown, 1993).
  • Robert Reiner, The Politics of the Police (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 3rd edn., 2000).
  • Alan Travis, “The Night Yogi and Boo-Boo helped Semolina Pilchard Snare a Beatle”, Guardian, 1 August 2005,
  • “Crown says Detectives ‘Doctored’ Records”, The Times, 19 September 1973.
  • “Substitute Pages put in CID Diary, Experts Say”, The Times, 26 September 1973.
  • “Former Drug Squad Chief Cleared by Jury of Conspiracy”, The Times, 15 November 1973.
Posted in Crime, History, Life on Mars, Policing, Society | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Life on Mars Part II: The Dirty Squad

Bermondsey-born Jimmy Humphreys was an enterprising chap. A graduate of Rochester borstal, Wormwood Scrubs and Dartmoor jails, Jimmy capitalized on the capacity for the cunt-struck to be cash-rich in ’60s Soho.

Clubs were Jimmy’s forte. The Queen, at the corner of Berwick and D’Arlaby Streets, proved profitable. He even married barmaid-turned-stripper Rusty. And Jimmy knew how to deal with the formalities. Simple supply and demand. The more you earn, the more you pay.

The Queens was convenient too. Late-entertainer and all-round-smarmy-git Jeremy Beadle recalled cops and crooks doing the business at the the New Hogarth , D’Arlaby Street. Beadle was about, his mother and step-father ran the club: “On a Wednesday someone from West End Central would drop in for a drink and an envelope. It was all very civilized.”

Jimmy and Rusty were a great team. Some say she was the brains behind the business. Rusty knew where the money was. Jimmy needed to turn pornbroker. One obstacle lay in Jimmy and Rusty’s way:  the Met’s Obscene Publications Squad. The Dirty Squad.

Jimmy and Rusty were wide. Christmas is a good time. More mouths to feed. So in late December 1969, Jimmy and Rusty entertained Commander Wally Virgo to dinner at the Criterion, Piccadilly.

Based at New Scotland Yard, Commander Virgo supervised the business of nine elite Metropolitan Police squads. The Dirty Squad was one of them.

Detective Chief Superintendent Bill “the architect” Moody, the head of the Dirty Squad, had refused Jimmy a “licence” to trade dirty books in Soho. Commander Wally “the man upstairs” Virgo arranged a meeting.

Virgo and Moody were clever. Too clever. They used Bernie Silver, a Stoke Newington Jew, running a successful string of adult entertainment services in Soho. Silver’s pedigree included work with the Messina brothers, pimps of ’50s notoriety. Silver also had brains. Along with Maltese-born “Big Frank” Mifsud, they controlled 19 out of 24 strip clubs in Soho. Lawyer-turned-historian James Morton explains:

The arrangement had been worked out so there would be no rivalry and inter-club warfare between them. Say A and B ran the Star Club, B and C owned the Spangled Club, C and the D the Banner Club and D and A the America Club. If, therefore, premises owned by Silver or Mifsud were attacked the other operators would suffer and there was no incentive for anyone to cause trouble in another club.

Following Silver’s efforts, Detective Chief Superintendent Moody and Jimmy Humphreys met for lunch at the Empress Restaurant, Mayfair. Gillray would be proud.

Caution. I fucked up first time round. Undergrad error. Check your sources. Stay switched on. James Morton claims Humphreys paid £14,000 for a licence to sell dirty books from 55 Rupert Street, Soho.

£14,000 is a hell of a load of cash. £1,000 in 1969 is worth £13,190 today, but has the purchasing power of £33,680.

For an asking price of £4,000, the cop granted the crook a licence. Silver paid half and kept the Syndicate sweet. Within a short period of time, Humphreys and Silver set-up pornshops in Soho’s Lisle, Newport and Windmill Streets. Moody received a further £6,000 for these licenses.

There’s no honour among cops, some may say. Virgo was peeved at not receiving his cut of the £10,000 paid to Moody. Not in a position to sack Moody, as Silver suggested, Humphreys and Silver paid Virgo £1,000 compensation. A further £2,000 a month was to be paid to him, with more to come if more licenses were granted. Don’t forget the Christmas bonus: £2,000.

But Jimmy did alright: £216,000 (untaxed) profit over a three-year period, from his porn shops alone.

As for the £14,000. Not a figment of James Morton’s imagination. John Mason, you’ll meet him soon, paid £14,000 to Bill Moody to drop “a particularly embarrassing charge” pending a certain Georgie Vim.

And how did the public come to learn of this protection racket? Via the press. A mere three years after The Times’s  revelations of masonic  Met Police corruption, suggestions of the survival of “a firm in a firm” were stoked by Laurie Manifold’s scoop “Police Chief and the Porn King”, published in the Sunday People on 27 February 1972.

Commander Ken Drury, of the Met’s Flying Squad, and his wife had holidayed in Cyprus. Their hosts and patrons? Rusty and Jimmy. Old friends. Jimmy and Ken became de-facto business partners following the clearing-up of a little mess. Bernie Silver found out that Jimmy had been shagging his mistress. A fit-up was planned. Commander Ken sorted things out for Jimmy. For £1,050.

Even the Yard’s top-brass didn’t believe Commander Ken’s claim that he was in Cyprus hunting train-robber Ronnie Biggs. Commander Ken was suspended. Then He then fell on his truncheon. Resigned. No disciplinary board.

And then for reasons everyone concerned regrets, ex-Commander Ken sold his story to the News of the World for £10,000. Ex-Commander Ken also named Jimmy Humphreys as a grass. Jimmy wasn’t happy. Jimmy’s meticulously maintained diaries detailed meetings with over twenty detectives. Address books too.

How was it thus? How did Scotland Yard’s Dirty Squad find itself running one of the West End’s most lucrative protection rackets?

Supply and demand. Stupid legislation. Spiv’s paradise. The no-man’s land of law and morality. Cops across the country lamented the legalization of off-course cash-betting in 1960. Pills and prostitution prove pitfalls too.

As is such with tits and bums, and more. Demands of the flesh. A demand so strong it fostered an unholy-trinity between property owners, pornographers and policeman. The cash nexus.

Landlords could charge what they wished following the Rent Act of 1957. Soho, a cosmopolitan village at the heart of London’s West End, was ripe for the picking, A property-grab followed the release of plans to 300,000 of square feet of land around nearby Piccadilly Circus into tower blocks. The plan failed, but the scheme, according to The Times, “left a trail of planning blight”.

Waiting to cash-in on the land-grab, landlords let out leases with six months break-clauses. Such terms were ideal for low-overhead operations such as the sex business. Tourists love it dingy. Period-piece peeling-plaster still evident.

The ’60s came two years early. 1959 is the year. The Street Offences Act pushed the working girl off the street into the club or private room. Feeding the wallets of night club and property owners.

1959 also benefited the pornbrokers with the Obscene Publication Act’s subjective smut test:

For the purposes of this Act an article shall be deemed to be obscene if its effect or (where the article comprises two or more distinct items) the effect of any one of its items is, if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons  who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it.

The Dirty Squad, a unit whose officers expanded from five to fourteen men between 1957 and 1972, decided as to whether an item under investigation was “obscene”. The Dirty Squad was a popular team to join. Under Detective Chief Superintendent Bill Moody’s guidance, applicants noted that recruits “sprouted wealth”.

While prosecutions were carried out by the Director for Public Prosecutions or the Met’s Solicitors’ Department, the Dirty Squad had operational autonomy and monopoly on information. In short, the Met were obliged to enforce a stupid law. And a time-consuming one too for the copper involved:

Going by the book, he had to inspect and buy (and be recognized), procure a warrant and authority to search, swoop, itemize the material (possibly tons of it) which he seized, and go to court (if the DPP agreed).

Demand for dirty books was strong. Estimates suggest Soho was home to around 50 porn-shops in the late 1960s. Each shop would turn-over between £2,000 and £10,000 a week.

Under Bill Moody, the Dirty Squad effectively licensed porn in Soho. For around £1,000 a week, the major pornbrokers would trade with impunity. It worked, in a way. Those most generous were guaranteed a decent return. Competitors were kept out of the market, material confiscated. A slice of the salacious snaps were, in turn, sold from policeman to pornographer. John Mason confessed to being given a CID tie so he could visit Holborn nick to purchase impounded porn. In an emergency the code-word “W.H. Smith” or “Rymans” would be uttered. Rozzers on the raid would merely find a stooge at the shop-front. Hardcore long-gone.

Ron “the Dustman” Davey, another porn-merchant, was questioned in 1975 by Met officers investigating the Dirty Squad’s corruption. Davey recalled how he came to know Detective Sergeant Cyril Jones (who later received a seven-year prison sentence) through Moody’s world of masonry:

I have been to numerous of these and in fact Bill introduced me into his lodge. It has been put to me that I booked a coach on the following dates – 6.11.69 to Derry and Toms (12 people); 17.11.69 to Top Rank Suite, Croydon (12 people); 25.9.71 Regent Street. All were masonic functions at which I was a guest. Normally present were Bill Moody, Cyril Jones, 2 other police officers [who Davey names] and our wives. I am quite sure there were many more outings.

Coincidence or conspiracy? Too stupid a question, but  under Wally Virgo and Bill Moody’s command, the Dirty Squad was almost entirely masonic. Frank Andrews was a Detective Constable on the Dirty Squad between 1965 and 1968. He recalled a chat with a colleague about a Masonic Ladies’ Night:

He said words to the effect, “Have you got enough money for the new dress for your wife?” I indicated that I didn’t want any help but he then handed me a brown envelope and said, “Put that towards the cost of the new dress for your wife.” I did not want the money and decided to ditch it in a nearby waste-paper bin. We attended the ladies’ evening as planned. Bill Moody was there with his wife and another sergeant.

A firm in a firm.The Times and the Sunday People. A first. Public confirmation of systematic police corruption. One pornographer, “Big Jeff” Phillips, claimed that the Dirty Squad received £250,000 a year, of which he contributed £15,000. “Big Jeff” also claimed to organize the payment of monies to senior officers into Swiss bank accounts. Allegations which World in Action journalists Barry Cox, John Shirley and Martin Short suggest are plausible.

Detective Chief Superintendent Bill Moody, the chief of the Dirty Squad, was sentenced at the Old Bailey in 1977 to twelve years in prison. Commander Ken Drury of the Flying Squad received eight years’ imprisonment, reduced to five years on appeal given no evidence suggested he corrupted younger officers.

As for Commander Wally Virgo, his twelve year stretch was quashed by the Court of Appeal, “saying that the trial judge had failed to give a proper direction on the corroboration of Humphreys’s evidence.” But Virgo was also responsible for the Drugs Squad.

More shit to follow soon.


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Life on Mars Part I: A Firm in a Firm

Don’t forget always to let me know straight away if you need anything because I know people everywhere. Because I’m in a little firm in a firm. Don’t matter where, anywhere in London, I can get on the phone to someone I know I can trust, that talks the same as me. And if he’s not the right person that can do it, he’ll know the person that can. All right? … That’s the thing, it can work – well, it’s worked for years, hasn’t it?

Words shared in confidence by Detective Sergeant John Symonds of the Met Police in 1969. Words captured by Michael Perry, a small time Peckham crook. A fragment from thirteen tapes. Unlucky for some.

Suspected as a gang member involved in a string of burglaries involving skeleton keys, Perry’s flat was raided by the Met. Twelve bottles of stolen scotch and safebreaking tools were found upon the premises.

According to Perry, Detective Inspector Bernard Robson approached him. Robson hailed from Scotland Yard’s C9 division. All C9 officers were renown “thief-catchers” and dealt with serious crime intelligence. Proffering advice to provincial constabularies dealing with London crooks, C9 was known by its men as “Home and Colonial”.

Given the goods found in Perry’s possession, Inspector Robson suggested that it wouldn’t be helpful if gelignite were to turn up. On payment of £25, regional crime squad Detective Sergeant Harris omitted to tell the court about a previous conviction of Perry’s.

Who cares about twenty-five quid? Remember, we’re back in 1969. Using a raw inflation measure, £25 is worth around £359 today. Yet having that cash in your pocket now would give you the spending power of £700.

On the advice of Joey Pyle, an enforcer with the rare distinction of successful association with both the Kray and Richardson families, Perry approached The Times.

Perry was wired-up and the sting instigated by Garry Lloyd and Julian Mounter was published in The Times on 29 November 1969. Over a two month period, Perry had paid Harris, Perry and Symonds £200 to lose the planted gelignite and a further £50 for information regarding a future police raid.

While The Times handed the tapes to Scotland Yard on the eve of publication, they justified their decision to print on the grounds of not trusting all in the Met. Events confirmed the suspicions of The Times.

Following the time-honoured procedure followed by institutions under threat, the messengers were shot. Lloyd and Mounter spent up to eight hours at-a-time being questioned by the police. The crooked cops in question weren’t initially subject to the usual rules of the game: “The normal conduct of a criminal inquiry – searching the suspects’ homes desks, lockers – seems to have been totally neglected.”

The Times allegations were published on a Saturday. The following Thursday, James Callaghan, Secretary of State for the Home Department, appointed ex-chief constable and Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Frank Williamson to lead the official inquiry into Perry’s allegations.

Williamson, with a reputation for fairness and blunt-speaking, recalled his experience at the Yard in conversation with lawyer-turned-crime historian James Morton:

I saw Callaghan alone and he asked had I read the expose in The Times. “What do you think ought to be done?” I said, “Well, it’s too late now but you should have had an independent inquiry.” Callaghan said, “What do you mean, it’s too late?” I said, “Well, if they were going to do any damage they’ll have done it. Papers and records will have been destroyed and gelignite wrappers will have been thrown away and the whole thing will be blown wide open.” The first thing that happened on the night this was offered to the Yard by The Times everybody  named on the tapes was warned by C1 [the central office of the CID] what was coming.

Detective Sergeant John Symonds was a mason. So was the head of Scotland Yard’s investigation into The Times’s allegations, Detective Chief Superintendent Bill Moody. Coincidental? Unbelievable?

Martin Short, an investigative journalist who submitted evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs about masonry contends:

Freemasonry was the security blanket – the ultimate in comforters – for a network of corrupt cops throughout the metropolis. Their fraternal bonds reassured them that they could rely on each other’s absolute discretion. On that basis the “firm in a firm” provided whatever service was required. It could get criminal charges dropped against the guilty or ensue their acquittal. It could secure the conviction of men who did not pay bribes or got in the way of bigger fish who were paying. It could protect bribe-paying gangs by preventing their detection. It could even supply the direct participation of some policemen in serious crimes such as robbery. This standing conspiracy had several protective layers or shells. First, everyone in it was a policeman. Second, they were all detectives. Third, they were all corrupt. Fourth, most were freemasons. 

Still not convinced? I don’t apologize for this barrage of testimony, as some are apt at smearing those critical of the police with accusations of harbouring an anti-police attitude. Robert Reiner, Emeritus Professor of Criminology in the Law Department at the London School of Economics, remarks of the Met’s behaviour at this time: “The Yard’s initial attempt at investigation only confirmed this with a pattern of obstruction, leaks and disappearing documents.”

To return to Williamson’s own words:

By the time I got there, du Rose [a Deputy Assistant Commissioner at Scotland Yard and ex-head of the murder squad] had got Moody into the inquiry on the pretext he was going to deal with the Warwickshire officers involved in Perry’s tape. Moody was clearly sent in to sabotage it. Du Rose was active in the obstruction of The Times inquiry right from the word go. He was responsible for getting Moody onto it and there was only one reason for that. … Du Rose and I fell out on the very first day I was there. … It wasn’t very long before he put his ticket in and went to National Car Parks. I can’t prove why, but I know why. Because he got the wind up. He realized the game was partially up.

What about the top brass? Following the death of Sir Joseph Simpson in 1968 – the first police constable to reach the rank of Met commissioner – James Callaghan, the Home Secretary, offered the post to Robert Mark, hitherto one of only two provincial commissioners to be appointed to assistant commissioner.

Mark was an outsider and he knew it. More time was needed to familiarize himself with the workings of the Met. He declined the post on the understanding that he would accept a few years later. Sir John Waldron, deputy commissioner, filled the role. For a bit longer than some would have hoped.

In turn, Mark served as deputy commissioner under Waldron. While Mark oversaw disciplinary matters, the Assistant Commissioner (Crime), Peter Brodie, had a say if irregularities were linked to crime.

Frank Williamson and Robert Mark. Two outsiders. Surreptitious meetings took place at the Scilly Isles pub, [the Marquis of Granby?] Esher, near Sandown Park, should the two wish to discuss the corruption inquiry.

Williamson was certainly frustrated by the most senior of police officers, but more by incompetence, even a misplaced sense of loyalty, than direct connivance and corruption. As he elaborated in his measured fashion:

If I’d had Jim Callaghan on my own I think we would have made a dramatic difference to The Times inquiry but not with Brodie and Waldron because Brodie and Waldron were feeding Philip Allen [Home Office permanent secretary] … with what were nothing more than lies which had been fed up to them from the Deputy Assistant Commander level in the CID. 

Robert Mark believed the Home Secretary screwed-up by not appointing, as was within his remit, a chief constable with police powers to direct the investigation. Too late. Fatal. To Williamson again:

I would love to be able to tell you Brodie was bent because it would be a retribution. I cannot. It would be totally irresponsible for me to say I knew he was in any way bent but I can tell you this: he was completely and utterly stupid and he accepted the advice of the senior officers like Du Rose and [Flying Squad head] Millen. Anything they said became gospel and they were twisting him right, left and centre. …

Graeme McLagan, a former BBC current affairs journalist, sums up Frank Williamson’s portrait of the Met police:

First there were the corrupt ones, then there were those who were honest but knew of corruption and did nothing about it, and then there were those so stupid that they failed to realise there was any corruption at all. 

So what happened to our cast of constables? Williamson resigned in 1971 not long before Mark took over as commissioner in the following year. The three cops accused of crooked behaviour had their date in court in 1972. Detective Inspector Robson was sentenced to seven years and Detective Sergeant Harris six years in prison. Detective Sergeant Symonds, infamously recorded as saying”we’ve got more villains in our game than you’ve got in yours” fled the country. Garry Lloyd, one of two journalists who worked on The Times corruption expose, told Michael Gillard and Laurie Flynn in 2002:

Symonds was ordered to disappear by the corrupt elements in Scotland Yard. They had a whip round to send him away to South Africa and Rhodesia. Williamson told me that Symonds was flatly ordered to go because he was threatening to blow the whistle on the whole firm. Williamson knew that it had gone right up the ranks to very, very senior officers and that’s what they’ve always wanted to cover up.

Seven years after he went on the run, Symonds gave himself up and served a two-year prison sentence. Dismissed as a fantasist who railed about corruption by the police and law officers working for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Symonds also claimed to have been a “romeo spy” for the KGB during his time abroad. The latter loony claim was proved to be true by the Soviet defector Colonel Mitrokhin.

As for Detective Chief Superintendent Bill Moody, you’ll learn more about him soon.


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Michael Gillard: An Appreciation of an Indefatigable Investigative Journalist

Hello Michael wherever you are. You have a huge capacity for friendship as well as a huge capacity for hard work, for setting your own targets, for being autotelic, for not doing what you are told all of the time. And that is something we need to recover.

Journalism is an individual responsibility. Freedom of speech is an individual responsibility. Freedom of expression is an individual responsibility. And your courage is I hope contagious, very contagious.

Laurie Flynn delivered this tribute as he collected the Journalist of the Year Award in December 2013, at the British Journalism Awards, on behalf of his friend and colleague Michael Gillard. Gillard no longer appears in public in London. You’ll soon see why.

My previous post “Detective John Fordham and the Curse of Brinks Mat”, tales of murder, masonry and Met Police corruption, comprise the elements of a work of fiction. Grist to the mill of the conspiracy theorists. Unbelievable?

Aesthetics aside, a work of non-fiction stands or falls on its sources. And the main source for my story on the ghosts of Brinks Mat was Michael Gillard and Laurie Flynn’s Untouchables, first published in 2004.

Of fine journalistic pedigree, Gillard’s father, also named Michael, has written under the byline “Slicker” for Private Eye since 1969. Management Today wrote of this column in 2000:

His column is read at every level in the City of London. It is a must-read for those who police the markets – the Bank of England, the Stock Exchange, the Securities & Exchange Commission in Washington. It is read in City coffee shops and in executive dining rooms, where the movers and shakers either laugh or cringe, depending on who Slicker is roasting. The column has become an institution used today by many City professionals to pick up on gossip and to help them separate the good from the bad.

An ethic passed down from father to son. Described as a “Chip off the old block aspiring to the Woodward and Bernstein school of journalism.”

Back in 1999, both Gillard and Flynn, then respectively 32 and 52 years-of-age, and both with a background of working for the British investigative current affairs programme World in Action, won the Scoop of the Year title at the British Press Awards (1998). This accolade was the result of their work for the Guardian exposing how Carlton TV’s The Connection faked a documentary about drug trafficking. Carlton was fined £2 million for this offence.

Gillard and Flynn’s working relationship with the Guardian soon soured.

Following the publication of the Macpherson Report in 1999 into the Met’s, at best, mismanaged investigation into the the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, Gillard and Flynn began to take a closer look at Scotland Yard:

We were looking into the background to three murders in south-east London of private investigator Daniel Morgan [1987], police informant David Norris [1991] and budding architect Stephen Lawrence [1993]. At first blush, these savage killings by axe, gun and knife respectively seemed unconnected, and the Met was desperate to keep it that way. But the more we probed, the more it was apparent that a common denominator was the cover up of police corruption.

How did the Met respond? In August 2000 Commander Andy Hayman, the head of the Met’s Complaints Investigation Bureau, wrote to Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger besmirching the reputations of Gillard and Flynn:

The Hayman letter and other behind-the-scenes lobbying led to an order to stop investigating the police, even in our own time – an instruction we declined because we found it both ludicrous and unethical. Unpublished stories piled up on the stench of corruption around the Morgan, Norris and Lawrence murders, so in March 2001 we resigned from what we then called the Yardian to write Untouchables.

Remember Andy “Dodgy Geezer” Hayman of phone-hacking fame? Promoted to assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police responsible for specialist operations in 2005, he was criticized by the Independent Police Complaints Commission “for failing to tell the Commissioner that [Jean Charles] de Menzes was not a suicide bomber, even though he had briefed reporters to that effect.” Hayman also supervised the original police inquiry into phone-hacking by the press.

Two years later, Hayman resigned from the Met after an investigation was launched into his expenses. £21,ooo had been spent over a two-year period on his corporate and ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) credit cards – more than the Met’s entire senior management team. He went on to write a column for The Times  on security and terrorism.

Hayman’s contract with News International was terminated in 2011 when the phone-hacking scandal erupted. Revelations of long lunches included a dinner with the editor and deputy of the News of the World during his inquiry into phone hacking. A Home Office Select Committee declared his conduct “both unprofessional and inappropriate”.

But back to Gillard and Flynn. When questioned during a court case in 2013 as to the reliability and verification of his sources, Gillard replied:

the sources that you have taken me through between 1999 and 2004 … were individuals … that clearly I’ve kept for a long period of time, and informed the book that I published that has now been passed up. The information in that book [Untouchables] came from those sources. They have repeatedly proved themselves to be correct and reliable. I’ve written a book in probably one of the most litigious areas in UK libel law, police corruption, without complaint. I’ve regarded them as reliable at the time, they have proved themselves to be reliable, the book is evidence of that. 

Why was Michael Gillard in court? In an article for the Sunday Times in 2010, Gillard alleged that David Hunt was the head of a “notorious crime syndicate” seeking to cash-in on a share of a £20 million government regeneration fund for the forthcoming Olympic Games. Hunt’s “criminal network is allegedly so vast that Scotland Yard regards him as ‘too big’ to take on. His involvement in the land triggered a violent turf war and a large-scale police corruption inquiry.”

Employing the services of Hugh Tomlinson QC, chairman of wannabee press-muzzlers Hacked Off, Hunt sued for libel.

And the Met? As Gillard’s contacts have for long included police officers wishing to blow the lid on corruption, both the Met and the now redundant Serious Organized Crime Agency sued the Sunday Times for breach of confidence. Our officers of the law fortunately lost their case.

And fortunately, both the Met and SOCA went on, at the eleventh hour, to assist the Sunday Times with their libel defence. Mr Justice Simon ruled:

On the basis of the information of Mr Gillard received from sources he was entitled to treat as reliable and knowledgeable, as well as the information contained in documents … I am satisfied that it was reasonable for him to describe the Claimant as a violent and dangerous criminal and the head of an organized crime group implicated in murder, drug trafficking and fraud.

For further corroboration, an article published by the Independent in early 2014 revealed a leaked police report written in 2002 identifying 42 serving and 19 former police officers with corrupt links to gangs such as Hunt’s.

Hunt, known as the “Long Fella” remains a free man. He appears still to be a man of influence. Three months after his libel defeat, Hunt received a million pound loan from a company owned by pornographer and West Ham boss David Sullivan.

Michael Gillard does’t make public appearances in London.

So if you think I may have been gilding the lily with my stories on police corruption, don’t take my word for it. But heed the words of Mr Justice Simon on Michael Gillard:

During the course of many hours of cross-examination about his journalistic methods, both generally and in relation to the writing of the Article, he came across as extremely self-confident, but also thoughtful about the role of investigative journalism, and clear and persuasive in his views about the proper treatment of the information he discovered. … His evidence was both lucid and entirely credible … I was left with the distinct impression that, if he said that information had come from a source, it had; and that he conscientiously evaluated its weight. I am also satisfied that he did not uncritically accept anything he was told by, or read, from a source: rather the contrary.

And have a drink with me and toast his hard-won words. You may be glad he’s not with you. Laurie Flynn should know:

Michael really has a tremendous capacity for hard work, tremendous empathy and social skills, a tremendous capacity to drink me under the table and to drink the table under the table.


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