John Alexander Symonds
“I'd say: ‘join the KGB and see the world’ - first class. I went to all over the world on these jobs and I had a marvellous time. I stayed in the best hotels, I visited all the best beaches, I've had access to beautiful women, unlimited food, champagne, caviar whatever you like and I had a wonderful time. That was my KGB experience. I don't regret a minute of it ...”
The Fall of Scotland Yard Part 2
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A minority of the members of the Royal Commission had called for fully external, non-police investigations of complaints alleging criminal misconduct. The key principle of law which the special position of policemen investigating policemen was seen to offend is that no man shall be his own judge. One Royal Commissioner, Professor A. L. Goodhart, put the point finely in his dissenting memorandum:
Unfortunately, even though the chief constable may be scrupulously fair, this will not answer the major criticism against the present system, which is that it violates the basic principle that no man shall be a judge in his own cause. It is inevitable that some complainants will feel that it is in the interest of the chief constable that as few as possible of his police officers should be found guilty of wrong doing and that this has influenced his judgement. The fact that the interest is indirect does not affect the point for, as Lord Campbell said in Dines v Grand Junction Canal Co., ‘It is of the last importance that the maxim that no man is to be a judge in his own cause should be held sacred. And that is not to be confined to a cause in which he is a party, but applies to a cause in which he has an interest.’
There were, and are, people who would push this view to its logical conclusion and say that no such investigation should ever be carried out by a policeman, whatever his force. But not even the 1976 Police Act, which at last incorporated an independent, non-police element in the complaints procedure, was to go anywhere near taking the dominant role in such investigations away from the police, or from their chief constables in particular.
But the most extraordinary anomaly in the Met’s handling of complaints was that ever since its reorganization in 1879 any serious allegation of criminal behaviour could be investigated only by the CID. As most situations of potentially serious corruption, such as those described in the Times reports, were bound to involve detectives rather than uniformed officers, this placed the plain-clothes branch in a position of extraordinary privilege. Its entire manpower was little over 3,000 (out of a total force of some 21,000), of whom less than 1,000 were at Scotland Yard. It was thus almost inevitable that any senior officers appointed to investigate the Times allegations would have had at least some working or social contact with either Robson or Harris. This most incestuous of Metropolitan privileges, the right of the CID to investigate criminal complaints against its own members, was to be eliminated only through the Mark reforms of 1972.
The Metropolitan Commissioner himself had, and still retains, another unique legal privilege. Alone among chief constables he answers directly to the Home Secretary, who is the police authority for London. Since its establishment in 1829 the Metropolitan Police has never been answerable to anyone else, except Parliament through the Home Secretary. This has been a point of some grievance to London ratepayers, who contribute massive sums each year to the upkeep of the force. Elsewhere in Britain police forces are subject to the disciplinary control of local police authorities, formerly known as ‘watch committees’ and composed of local worthies.
While it has been shown that these bodies are not immune to corruption themselves, they nevertheless provide a theoretical control over an otherwise unpoliced police force. Certainly the Home Office maintains its own supervision over all the police forces of England and Wales through its Inspectorate of Constabulary, but here again the Met is excepted. Not only is the Met’s lone disciplinary watchdog the Home Office Police Department itself - a group of civil servants who were shown in the late sixties to be quite inadequate to the task of making up for Scotland Yard’s own disciplinary deficiencies - but its force of Inspectors has no authority over the Met whatsoever. The Inspectorate had been set up in 1856, but the Met had always been outside its jurisdiction. In its 1962 report the Royal Commission was particularly disturbed about this anomaly and, in recommending substantial reorganization, it advised that ‘Arrangements should be made to ensure that the Metropolitan force, as well as other forces, receives the advantages of the reorganized inspectorate and the benefits of research and planning.’ The 1964 Police Act, however, made the Met no more answerable to the Inspectors than before. The bad habits of over a century were to remain unchallenged.
In the days following the Times revelations the incumbent Home Secretary, James Callaghan, had to consider what to do about them. He may have been surprised by the impact of the newspaper report on public opinion, especially the widespread call for an independent inquiry. Yet he was probably more familiar with police problems than any other member of Parliament. For nine of his long years in opposition, Callaghan had been Parliamentary spokesman for the Police Federation, the ‘trade union’ for most of Britain’s police officers. Indeed, he had given evidence to the Royal Commission on its behalf. Particularly, he appreciated the importance of maintaining police morale and the need not to undermine gratuitously the standing of the police in the eyes of the public. However, he could not ignore the anomalous legal role of the police in general, and the Met above all, as judge in its own case.
On Monday, 1 December, the Metropolitan Commissioner Sir John Waldron duly received DCS Lambert’s preliminary report. He then visited the Home Office to talk with Sir Phillip Allen, the permanent secretary representing the Home Secretary.
Two days later Lambert made his interim report to Assistant Commissioner Brodie, who instructed him to continue with a full investigation. On Thursday, 4 December, the first sign of practical action was made public. Robson, Harris and Symonds were suspended. In the evening Commander R. C. ‘Dick’ Chitty, the head of Cl Department, took charge of some of the Times tapes and on the Friday he received the remainder. (Scotland Yard had had access to the tapes since the original meeting with the Times representatives a week earlier, but now the newspaper was surrendering them.)
Meantime James Callaghan had given a written Parliamentary answer to the effect that the investigation would be pursued with the utmost rigour. Several days passed, with no indication of any further action from the Home Office, but on Tuesday, 9 December, came the announcement which signalled the beginning of Scotland Yard’s fall from grace. The Home Office issued the following statement: ‘The Home Secretary, at the request of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, has agreed that in view of the wide public interest someone independent should be associated with the investigation, of allegations recently published in The Times about the conduct of police officers.’
Thus, without setting aside the legal favours bestowed on the Met, the Home Secretary appeared to be ensuring that for the first time ever Metropolitan officers suspected of criminal conduct were to be investigated by an outsider. That outsider was Frank Williamson, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary (Crime). Williamson was fifty-two, formerly detective chief superintendent in the Manchester CID. He had gone on to be Chief Constable of Carlisle in 1961, and then of Cumberland, Westmorland and Carlisle in 1964, seeing them through into their amalgamation into one force, Cumbria. That year, l967, he was appointed to the Home Office Inspectorate, largely because of the way in which in 1965 he had carried out the inquiry into the conduct of William McConnach, the Chief Constable of Southend. This was seen by the Home Office as a model investigation,(2) conducted with ruthless efficiency and a lack of sentimentality. McConnach was subsequently tried for stealing as a servant of the Crown and for false pretences. He was found guilty on thirty-two out of thirty-three counts and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment.
With his status, his unimpeachable reputation and his availability - as an Inspector of Constabulary he was not a serving police officer - Williamson was the obvious man for the job. He felt that the only way the Times allegations could be dealt with satisfactorily was through the appointment of a whole team of outside officers to serve directly under him, and it was on this understanding that he accepted the appointment. His terms of reference were, however, discreetly but ominously circumscribed: ‘To advise as to the nature, scope and direction of the inquiry into allegations made by The Times newspaper.’ The key word is ‘advise’, for Williamson’s role as defined by these terms, and as limited by law, was to remain advisory. He was not taking charge of the inquiry. The Met’s jealously protected independence was still being maintained in fact, although the ‘wide public interest’ cited in the Home Office announcement as the reason for Williamson’s involvement would hardly have been appeased had it realized just how circumscribed Williamson’s role was to be. This sleight-of-hand by the Home Office, wise and expedient though it may have seemed at the time, was to prove sadly self-defeating.
The involvement of any outside officer was, in itself, a slap in the face for the Yard hierarchy, but the injection of Frank Williamson was explosive. It placed the Assistant Commissioner (Crime) in an embarrassing personal position. Peter Brodie was a man of unquestioned integrity and some reputation for routing out corruption. As Chief Constable, first of Stirling and Clackmannan and then of Warwickshire, Brodie had pursued corruption when it became apparent with a zeal which some had thought excessive. He had also had the task, as an Inspector of Constabulary himself from 1964 to 1966, of overseeing Williamson’s involvement in the Southend inquiry, on which he had given Williamson strong backing.
Now however, back at the Met as one of its most senior officers and its top detective, Brodie was unable to give Williamson the same degree of support, partly because Williamson’s terms of reference, as well as his writ as an Inspector of Constabulary, did not allow him the carte blanche he wanted, but also because Brodie had immense loyalty to his Scotland Yard team. He had joined the Met in 1934 and was the first Assistant Commissioner (Crime) to have risen from the ranks of the CID. He was an old Harrovian, and to that extent one of the old-style gentleman class of Yard chiefs, but he felt he knew the everyday problems of the lowly detective. He cared about his men’s anxieties, both professional and personal, and he worried particularly about the way a detective’s family suffers should the officer be accused of corruption. But Brodie also assumed that 99 per cent of all policemen were straight. He simply did not believe that corruption among his 13,250 detectives was a serious problem. His trust in them was unquestioning and he only very reluctantly did anything which might impugn their integrity or disrupt their morale.
Nevertheless, within these legal and personal restraints Brodie was formally to ensure that Williamson received all necessary co-operation. On the day his appointment was announced Williamson went to Scotland Yard and met Brodie and other senior officers in the line of command. If Williamson had not guessed beforehand that his reception was unlikely to be friendly, this preliminary gathering indicated the scale of his difficulties. Williamson let these high-ranking detectives know that he was willing to act in the advisory role to which he was limited, but only if he was kept informed of all developments in the inquiry as they happened and, secondly, that his advice was always very seriously considered.
The first of these stipulations should have been willingly embraced, for it need not have caused any delay or dislocation in the pursuit of the investigation. But the second, that his advice should always be seriously considered, indicated to the Yard men that, even though legally Williamson was tied down, he still intended to take control of the inquiry. That they could not accept. However, they also knew that he had one line of action they could not control. The Home Office had made it publicly clear that Williamson at any time could go direct to the Commissioner, Sir John Waldron, and equally directly to the Home Secretary himself, to keep them ‘constantly informed of any developments’. So if anything appeared to be going wrong with the conduct of the inquiry, or more bluntly, if he did not have his way, Williamson could by-pass the lot of them.
It was predictable that Williamson would find himself in this hostile atmosphere so soon, for his difficulties arose from those very qualities and principles which had recommended him to the Home Office. At police conferences and conventions over many years he had made no secret of his suspicion of the ability and the behaviour of metropolitan detectives. Both as a provincial officer and as an Inspector of Constabulary he had long experience of a disabling lack of constructive co-operation and liaison between the Met and their country cousins. He voiced a widespread and deeply felt anxiety that, on many occasions, information considered valuable enough by senior provincial detectives to be handed on to Scotland Yard failed to result in any action. Metropolitan detectives often held the view expressed by Sergeant Symonds that country coppers were swedes - not because they were too stupid to take bribes but because they were not very good detectives. Before the amalgamation in the mid-sixties of many small town and country forces into more sizable units, it had often been necessary to call in the Yard to take over investigations of major crimes which the tiny constabularies could not handle. But Williamson had made his reputation in the Manchester force, which had no such deficiency, and he detested what he saw as the Met’s arrogant and unjustified contempt for provincial detectives. On the contrary, he held a fundamentally low opinion of the standard of metropolitan detection, which he seems to have inherited from his father, who had been Chief Constable of Northampton.(3) As an Inspector of Constabulary he raised these opinions almost to axioms of policy. He felt the time had come when the Metropolitan CID would benefit from the introduction of senior officers from outside police forces to change some of its traditional thinking.
Many senior Yard men chose to interpret Williamson’s views as a mania to clean up the Met, a crusade which was distorted and ill-judged, a symptom of his Plymouth Brethren upbringing and an extreme case of the typical swede’s inferiority complex. They thought that Williamson’s suspicion of Metropolitan mores was simply wrong, a prejudice which poisoned his mind. He failed to win the co-operation he sought from the CID because he refused to take into account the special loyalties and codes of a closed and introverted society. Some felt he deliberately set out to antagonize that fraternity. There is, however, an alternative interpretation of Williamson’s views and the reactions they provoked: that he was absolutely correct, that the Met did need to be cleaned out and that those who least welcomed his involvement in the Times inquiry were those who knew best how right he was.
To give a clear account of Williamson’s views on the specific issue of police corruption, it is worth quoting at length from an interview he gave to Peter Harvey in the Guardian, in January 1973, one year after his premature resignation from the Inspectorate of Constabulary and indeed from the police service as a whole.
‘When a policeman is doing his job, often difficult and frequently dangerous, he should be supported to the full by his senior officers and all law-abiding members of the community. When he breaks the rules, which he knows all too well, he should be dealt with according to the law. Until he does transgress, for God’s sake get off his back. He is doing a vital and responsible job, and he needs your support.’
Williamson went on to say that much of his concern was due to the ‘periodic but very significant’ failure of police departments to deal effectively with allegations of corruption.
‘A high proportion of detectives in this country would be glad to be relieved of the burden of knowing that a dishonest minority exists, and that that minority appears to be able to follow its own devices unchecked and with little fear of detection.’
Williamson was convinced of the ‘absolute integrity’ of most British policemen, but the warning signs undoubtedly existed. Williamson said that he believed a high proportion of serving officers agreed with him.
‘But they don’t declare their concern, for three prime reasons. There is a misguided sense of loyalty to officers who, by their conduct, damage the reputation of the police. Then there is, I suppose, an understandable reluctance to deal with members of one’s own ‘cloth’. And finally, regrettably, a small proportion of senior officers have grown up in a tradition of dishonesty. These men are simply incapable of dealing with these situations.
Only one set of rules can be applied. Information about police corruption must be dealt with in precisely the same way as the police deal with information against other policemen ... speedily, promptly, and with the right amount of determination to see it through to the end. Until the words ‘except police officers’ are written into any statute in this land, policemen must be dealt with in the same way as everyone else.
Obviously, many allegations against policemen come from criminals and for precisely that reason, senior officers will instinctively treat such charges with caution. But it must stop there. Information against policemen must be dealt with promptly and positively.’
These views which Williamson expressed in 1973 were well formed by the time he was asked to advise on the Times inquiry, but if he then had any faith left in the Met’s capacity to clean out its own stable it was soon to be totally' destroyed.
Williamson joined the inquiry ten days after The Times published its story. By this time a certain amount of fact had been established. Much of it was organizational and common knowledge to any senior Yard detective. Who were the officers named and unnamed in the article, and what had they been doing to come into contact with Michael Perry?
In 1967 it had become apparent that several London-based gangs were raiding shops and stores in London, the Home Counties and occasionally further afield, with the aid of skeleton or duplicate keys. They were stealing huge quantities of property, but almost never had to force their entry and very rarely left any incriminating evidence. So on 24 November 1967, in order to combat the gangs’ soaring success rate, it was decided to set up ‘Operation Coathanger’, so named because most of the property stolen was clothing. Coathanger’s commander was Chief Inspector Irvine of Kent Constabulary, who was attached to No. 6 Regional Crime Squad and was working from C9 Department - the Metropolitan and Provincial Police Crime Branch at Scotland Yard. Coathanger operated until 2 July 1968, when it was suspended because the gangs had become less active. Coathanger may well have driven them into inactivity, but they seem only to have been taking a well-earned rest, for by September 1969 they were once again extremely active. In mid-October Operation Coathanger was revived, again with Chief Inspector Irvine leading the team of eleven detectives, mostly from provincial forces but already working in the regional crime squads. Irvine had many other duties and during his frequent absences Detective Inspector Bernard Robson of C9, Coathanger’s most senior detective, seems to have assumed the role of operational commander. In addition to those assigned full-time to Coathanger, other regional crime squad officers drifted into the Squad. One such vagrant was Sergeant Gordon Harris, a Metropolitan policeman who was then attached to No. 6 Regional Crime Squad at Brighton. It is not clear why Harris became involved, but some regional crime squad officers had a roving, almost freelance role and on occasions they chose their own assignments. Harris might have had some useful insights to contribute, since several Coathanger offences had been committed in the Brighton area, yet he still had no official appointment when he assumed the leadership of that section of Coathanger working in South London, especially Peckham.
Robson and Harris had long been familiar with the area, and with each other, since their early sixties days together at Brixton CID under Roy Yorke. At their trial in 1972 Robson and Harris were to receive some glowing testimonials for their Coathanger work. Ian Forbes, by then Deputy Assistant Commissioner but in 1969 Commander of C9 Department and national co-ordinator of the regional crime squads, said that Harris was an outstanding officer while Robson was held in very high esteem as an energetic, thoughtful investigator, of whose conduct no one had ever complained. DCS Moody (who took over the Times inquiry in such unsatisfactory circumstances) said that Harris had received at least ten commendations for catching thieves, while DCI Irvine, as head of Coathanger, said that he had always found Robson ‘efficient and conscientious’. He had been responsible for twenty-two arrests, including that of the key-maker. ‘In most of the events Mr Robson was present and had led the team.’ Nevertheless, it also came out at the trial that the skeleton-key gangs had disposed of £600,000 to £750,000 worth of property from London jobs alone, that not all members of the gang had been arrested and that even in 1972 similar offences were still being committed. At one time the gang’s prolific activities, and the proliferation of duplicate keys, had reached a chaotic climax during which the same premises were being raided on the same night by different Coathanger teams. On one occasion one team of robbers was entering a retail store where they met another on its way out with everything worth taking.
Back in October 1969 Operation Coathanger had accumulated the names and personal details of many thieves who were known to be associated with the duplicate key gangs. Among them was Michael Perry, then twenty-two years old and living in Nunhead Lane, Peckham. A few weeks earlier, on 24 September, detectives from the Warwickshire and Coventry force, assisted by Metropolitan officers, arrested Perry in Peckham. They suspected he had taken part two days earlier in a duplicate key job at a branch of the Nuneaton and Atherstone District Co-operative Society when cigarettes were stolen. Perry was taken to Nuneaton but released on 25 September for lack of evidence. The following day Perry was picked up again and taken to Tower Bridge police station for questioning about the theft of a van containing clothing from a Peckham street. On 27 September Perry was picked out at an identification parade and later charged. After two weeks he was committed for trial at Inner London Quarter Sessions but was released on bail. A further five days passed before Robson, Harris and colleagues called on Perry and found the stolen whisky. There is no doubt that Perry was worthy of Operation Coathanger’s attentions. It was said at the Robson-Harris trial that Perry was ‘at the heart of the skeleton-key offences’. Perry himself admitted that he ‘knew the people’ who used to do things with the Coathanger gang ‘but I had never done any myself’. He stated that he would have been able to give Robson some names - fewer than ten - of people who were doing the jobs and also the names of some five receivers. This was what Robson, in theory, was trying to get out of him, ‘but when I would not give him the names of the receivers he took the money instead’. It was only six days after this meeting that Perry was in touch with The Times.
When Yorke and Lambert first went through the Times material on the night of publication they would have had ready access to the simple organizational information on Coathanger and the legitimate roles of Robson and Harris. It was also easy for them to establish similar facts about Symonds, working from Camberwell. They were also able to identify other officers referred to in the article but not by name.
It is at this point, with the Yard in possession of the Times evidence, that its determination to find out the truth of the allegations already seems to have sagged. Had such well-founded allegations as were brought by The Times against members of the CID been made against a private citizen Scotland Yard would have taken immediate investigative action. Whether the suspect had a criminal record or not, the police would rapidly have armed themselves with a warrant to search his home and place of work. His diary and other papers would have been scrutinized, and his financial details checked. The suspect’s haunts would have been visited, his spending habits researched and any sudden extravagances noted. He would have been subjected to a thorough investigation and protracted questioning before he had any opportunity to dispose of incriminating material. And how much easier for the Yard to surprise one of its own employees, whose whereabouts and rate of pay were known, and who would scarcely have squealed to the National Council for Civil Liberties if he had felt his citizen’s rights were being trampled on! But there is reason to doubt that such instant investigations were carried out over the Times allegations with the zeal considered obligatory on a normal criminal inquiry.
What immediate steps were taken? How much serious investigation was carried out from the moment the Times representatives visited the Yard on the evening of 28 November to the suspension of Robson, Harris and Symonds on 4 December?
For these six days the main effort of the police investigation had gone into discussing the affair and obtaining statements from Perry and the Times team. There seems to have been little effort to take investigatory action in the direction of the officers against whom the allegations had been made, if only to enable them promptly to clear their names. The normal conduct of a criminal inquiry - searching the suspects’ homes, desks, lockers - seems to have been totally neglected. On the night of publication the inquiry officers incarcerated themselves with the Times men, for the apparent purpose of acquiring very lengthy statements of evidence on paper. Meanwhile precious minutes and hours slipped by, during which the Yard might have gathered a lot of evidence of its own. The distrust manifested by The Times in not taking its suspicions to the Yard before going into print was already being justified. The will of the CID to act promptly and firmly against ‘the firm in a firm’ did not seem to exist.
Even by 3 December the Yard inquiry team was still taking formal written statements from the Times reporters. These were essential, but not to the exclusion of all fundamental criminal investigation. The inquirers must have been furious at the way in which The Times had gathered its evidence, and also angry at the way the information in its possession had been withheld until there was no way of stopping publication. That decision to publish had probably made all normal ‘action’ quite futile. But, however aggrieved senior Yard men may have felt about The Times’ behaviour, their paramount aim should have been immediate action against the suspect detectives, irrespective of any affection for them as long-standing colleagues or humane concern for the feelings of their families. The reputation of the Yard itself was at stake. But instead, the guiding principles of a large section of the inquiry team, in those early days and later on, would appear to have been: investigate the investigators - those press men must be telling lies.
Both Lloyd and Mounter were to find that this Yard attitude was practised in a particularly offensive way on them. At The Times a suite of offices on the top floor was made available to the investigating detectives. They repaid the hospitality by interrogating Lloyd and Mounter in separate rooms for eight hours a day over three weeks. The reporters felt they were being treated as criminal conspirators. In succeeding weeks and months they received anonymous phone calls, containing sentiments such as ‘We’ll get you for this.’ On one occasion Mounter was trailed on and off tube trains right across London. Meanwhile it seemed that the tapes were being investigated on the assumption that they must have been forgeries. Every effort was being made to prove them so. They were being tested repeatedly and at substantial expense in ways which went well beyond the basic requirements of the investigation at this stage. When the bill came in for the services of one expert it was for £1,500, and in 1972 at the trial of Robson and Harris it is significant that he was called as a witness for the defence.
Lloyd and Mounter became even more suspicious when, not long after their original report was published, a long-running British television police series featured a fictional story about a couple of journalists who set out to prove that some quite innocent policemen were corrupt. The journalists were portrayed as seedy and scruffy and themselves verging on corrupt. Although this broadcast was no doubt coincidental, Mounter and Lloyd felt that they were the victims of an unremitting campaign to show they were prepared to connive in perjury. Had that campaign succeeded the two reporters would have been ruined professionally and might well have been sent to prison themselves.
Another strange aspect of the Metropolitan Police inquiry in its early days was the fact that only limited disciplinary action was being taken. By this time a very thorough study of the transcripts and the recordings themselves must have been made. From this it would have been immediately apparent who one of the other officers, referred to in The Times, though not by name, really was. According to the article he was ‘a senior police officer ... said to have operated for years a sophisticated system using two scrap-metal dealers as middlemen. The alleged activities of this officer are well known to South London’s petty thieves.’ Though he was later to be demoted, he was not even suspended during this crucial stage of the inquiry. Indeed, he was left in a position of authority at his station when it was bound to be an information-gathering centre for the whole inquiry.
It was into an operation of this calibre that Frank Williamson came when he took up his ‘advisory’ role. Soon after his meeting on 9 December with the CID hierarchy he was provided with an office on the fourth floor of New Scotland Yard, and the services of a sergeant for general office duties. The Yard’s inquiry team, headed by DCS Lambert, had its offices on the second floor, in the midst of the very department - Cl - which, as was later to emerge, had most to cover up. The distance between these two ends of the inquiry and the curiosity of neighbours were bound to lead to the interception of crucial papers, for already the investigation was touching on the activities of many more detectives than those who had been suspended. Important documents had already gone missing. Others, including the diaries and notebooks of the suspect officers, had not even been gathered. Williamson himself instigated their seizure on 11 December - almost two weeks after The Times published its story. But Williamson had arrived too late, for some important personal documents were never found.
Williamson rapidly set about pulling together his own inquiry team, which he had been granted in return for agreeing to advise the inquiry as a whole. It was not just a matter of provincial pride or indeed of his own meticulous standards. It had become clear to him that by itself his appointment could achieve nothing. He needed arms and legs. By now it was also clear that many lines of inquiry were related to events which had taken place outside the Metropolitan Police district, and therefore the involvement of provincial officers should have been unchallengeable. The Home Office had given him a free hand, so he sought the services of officers he knew and trusted from their work for him in Manchester and Cumbria. By mid-December 1969 he had been joined at Scotland Yard by Detective Chief Superintendent Charles Naan (Mid-Anglia), Detective Superintendent Huddart (Cumbria), Detective Chief Inspector Wright (Manchester and Salford) and Detective Inspector Powell (Birmingham). In February 1970 Detective Sergeant Sheratt (Manchester and Falford) was to arrive in support.
They were all to be caught up in Williamson’s battles with Scotland Yard’s old guard. Certain Metropolitan officers continued to fight against Williamson’s zeal. Indeed, one Deputy Assistant Commissioner made it very clear to Williamson that he would not allow provincial officers to investigate any members of the Met, or even interview them.
Williamson was forced to counter-attack. He argued that, since the activities of the entire Coathanger team had to be examined, provincial officers had to be involved. Only two out of eleven Coathanger officers were from the Met - and one of those was Robson. The others came from Leicester and Rutland, Thames Valley, Sussex, Kent, Gloucester and the City of London. Who was to question these officers, if not other provincial detectives? The Yard could hardly rebut this argument and reluctantly acquiesced in the secondment of Williamson’s team - but only on a strictly swede-to-swede basis. This highly charged demarcation dispute was central to the course of the inquiry and was to break out time and time again.
The importance of the provincial dimension had been brought home to Williamson even before his chosen aides had arrived. Immediately on reading the Times article a Warwickshire and Coventry detective reported to his Chief Constable that he had been uneasy about the way in which Michael Perry had been arrested in Peckham, on suspicion of having taken part in the Nuneaton Co-op raid, as far back as the 24 September. Perry had not been the only suspect arrested, but the other had escaped in altogether strange circumstances, the investigation of which was later also to be handled in an unusual way. After Perry had been taken to Nuneaton for questioning he made a series of allegations there against DS Symonds of Camberwell which, the Warwickshire detective now realized, matched what Symonds himself was quoted as saying in the Times article more than two months later. Symonds was offering to get Perry out of his Nuneaton trouble for: £200. Perry thought this was too much and that £25 would have been quite enough.
Although Perry had spilled this tale to his Nuneaton inquisitors, they had failed to pass his allegations on to the Metropolitan Commissioner. Why they did not is a matter for speculation. Perhaps they did not believe Perry. Perhaps they shared the provincial detective’s traditional wariness of the Metropolitan CID which was reflected in the attitude of Frank Williamson. But whether they believed Perry or not, they seem to have assumed that nothing would be done about what he had said, even had it been handed on to the Met. As no action had been taken then in September, Perry went ahead and appears to have paid Symonds £150 of his demand in October and November.
Following the Times revelations, a report was sent from the Warwickshire force to Scotland Yard on 6 December. But even then the Yard’s inquiry team did nothing about it until Williamson stimulated DCS Lambert and DCS Moody, who had now found his way on to the team, to head down to ‘the sticks’ on 15 December to talk to the Warwickshire men. It was unfortunate that it was only on that day that the first of Williamson’s aides arrived at the Yard, for the Nuneaton inquiries should have been handled by provincial officers, according to the swede-to-swede demarcation line. Had they been handled properly, the Nuneaton leads would almost certainly have taken the inquiry well beyond the small world of the Coathanger team, perhaps into the even more corrupt activities of the Obscene Publications Squad in Soho. That had to wait, however, for another three years.
Williamson’s team soon had enough to keep it busy with an equally important provincial angle. On 6 January DCS Naan and DCI Wright went to Hertfordshire to interview a certain Douglas Stuart MacDonald, who had been in custody for ten weeks with two other men named Crouch and Hinch. They were all in their early or mid-twenties and all came from the Peckham area. On the night of 18 November they had been picked up for a Coathanger offence on Tina’s, a children’s outfitters in Hemel Hempstead. At 7.55 that evening local uniformed officers, patrolling in their police car, noticed a white Ford transit parked near the shop. As they passed, the van was suddenly driven off, leaving the unfortunate MacDonald stranded. Understandably furious, MacDonald soon let it out that the van might well be found in a few hours’ time in the area of Peckham High Street in London. And indeed it was there that Crouch and Hinch chose to park the van and visit a club called The Westerner. Here they were found by Peckham police officers at 2 a.m. and held until Hertfordshire officers arrived to take them back to Hemel Hempstead. But MacDonald had at least managed to shield a fourth man, still inside the shop when the patrol car had driven up, who was never caught.
Ten weeks later the trio were still admitting only the offence for which they had been arrested, which was a classic Coathanger job: 20 trouser suits, 57 skirts, 110 jumpers, 11 scarves, 3 pairs of pants, 64 dresses, 141 coats - total value £1,879 - and the sum of £7 in cash. There had been no forced entry, so the natural deduction was that they had used a duplicate key. Because the job bore so close a resemblance to many recent Coathanger offences, none other than DI Robson himself had been to interview the suspects. But all three refused to admit any other offences, so Robson left empty-handed.
Hinch was never to budge from this position, but his colleagues were less resilient. When questioned by Naan and Wright, MacDonald confessed that he had taken part in many other Coathanger jobs. Two full days’ interviews at Wandsworth prison (the suspects had all been brought to London) yielded from MacDonald a written statement in which he admitted not just the Hemel Hempstead job but thirty-three other offences, mostly retail store thefts and mostly carried out with duplicate keys. The total value of the property stolen on this robbery spree, stretching from 1967 to 1969, was over £47,500. At his trial on 4 March 1970 MacDonald duly admitted all these offences and received a three-year sentence.
During his fulsome admissions MacDonald had also told Naan and Wright of corrupt conduct by eight Metropolitan officers, and he committed some of their names to paper in his written statement. Williamson naturally wanted his two men to follow up these devastating allegations, but he rightly guessed that this would only re-open the demarcation dispute. Lambert and Moody of the Yard inquiry team were apparently uneasy because this would mean that the provincial officers would be directly investigating allegations against Metropolitan officers. It was jointly decided to refer the matter upwards, and on 9 January Commander Chitty of Cl Department was brought into the discussion. He felt that the MacDonald allegations should be treated as an entirely fresh complaint, and possibly should not be dealt with by any of the officers already engaged in the Times inquiry, be they from the Yard or the provinces. Williamson countered by saying that the officer who was involved most often in MacDonald’s allegations was none other than Detective Sergeant Symonds, the man who was so colourfully prominent in the original Times allegations. As Williamson and Chitty could not agree, it was decided to go higher still. Deputy Assistant Commissioner John du Rose stated that under no circumstances were Naan and Wright to pursue the MacDonald allegations, as Williamson was suggesting. Williamson then went even higher to Peter Brodie, the Assistant Commissioner (Crime), and in an exasperated mood said that there would be no work at all for his senior provincial officers if they were to be excluded from even these lines of inquiry. It was only then that Brodie, in the presence of du Rose, agreed to Williamson’s request, but this was all of five days after he had made his original request to Lambert and Moody.
(2) Unlike the inquiry into the Brighton police in the late 1950s, which had been conducted by Metropolitan officers. The feeling in the Home Office about the inquiry being mounted over the Times allegations was that the senior officers did not want ‘another Brighton’.
(3) As a youngster, Williamson was visiting his father’s office one day when the Chief Constable was instructing a senior detective on how to handle an investigation that required a visit to London. Instead of advising the customary course of enlisting the aid of Metropolitan detectives Williamson Snr said, ‘You go to London Mr Blake, and take two sergeants with you, and you make the inquiries yourself. Because if you do not make them yourself, they won’t be made.’
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