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.


This entry was posted in Crime, History, Life on Mars, Policing, Society and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Life on Mars Part I: A Firm in a Firm

  1. Pingback: John Symonds and his book – Romeo Spy | cathy fox blog

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