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.

Sources

  • 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) http://www.oxforddnb.com.ezproxy01.rhul.ac.uk/view/article/94278?docPos=1
  • 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 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/sir-robert-mark-commissioner-of-the-metropolitan-police-who-was-ruthless-in-rooting-out-corruption-2097551.html
  • 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) http://www.oxforddnb.com.ezproxy01.rhul.ac.uk/view/article/102998?docPos=1
  • 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) http://www.oxforddnb.com.ezproxy01.rhul.ac.uk/view/article/68135
  • 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 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/politics-obituaries/8037604/Sir-Robert-Mark.html

 

 

 

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4 Responses to Life on Mars Part IV: Marking the Met

  1. Richard Saxby says:

    My father was Chief Superintendent Cecil Saxby in the article. I have an interesting perspective on the missing 25K and would be able to discuss with the author

    Like

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