‘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.’ Frank Williamson
On Saturday, 29 November 1969, The Times ran a story headed, “London policemen in bribe allegations. Tapes reveal planted evidence.” The article alleged that three South London detectives had taken bribes, given false evidence in exchange for money and had “allowed a criminal to pursue his activities”
This story would, eventually, engender three major inquiries into corruption in the Metropolitan Police, producing in turn five major trials of London detectives. These revelations of deep rooted corruption forever tainted the myth of the incorruptible London bobby and a tradition of detective work that reached back to Victorian times, a tradition based on the tolerance, almost encouragement, of close intimacy between detectives and criminals was almost totally destroyed. Nearly 400 detectives left the Met in disgrace and hundreds more returned to uniform. The period became known as “The Fall of Scotland Yard” and the effects of that crash still reverberate today.
The Times journalists, Gary Lloyd and Julian Mounter, had secretly tape-recorded a small-time South London criminal and three detectives in conversations that left no doubt as to the extent of corruption that existed among sections of the Met’s Criminal Investigation Department. The conversations between Detective Sergeant John Symonds and the criminal featured the now infamous
‘… 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?’
It was this ‘Firm in a Firm’ phrase which gave the Times allegations its horrific impact. It implied that there was a whole network of ‘bent’ detectives on the take, who were prepared to do favours to any criminal who could be induced to pay for them. The Times feared that the allegations would be brushed under the carpet if they went straight to the Yard with them, so publication was seen as the only way of ensuring the story came out into the open. The material the newspaper had, including some thirty hours of tape recordings, was duly handed over at Scotland Yard. ‘A little firm in a firm’ was taken as the headline for the Times leader which stated, that the allegations constituted
“The most serious charge that has been brought against the Criminal Investigation Branch of the Metropolitan Police for some years…. It is important in justice to the Metropolitan Police, and in particular to the plain-clothes branch, that the most stringent inquiry should now be made.”
The Metropolitan Police of 1969-1972 was a police force riven by internal power-struggles between its most senior officers and a deep mistrust between the uniform branch and the detectives of the Criminal Investigation Department. Created in 1879 (The Met’s earlier Detective Branch had been disbanded for corruption) the CID enjoyed prestige, had a separate system of promotion, higher rates of pay and its own command structure.
At its apex was the Assistant Commissioner (Crime) at Scotland Yard. Under him were four Area CID commanders also based at the Yard. Under them were twenty three detective chief superintendents, one in each district, controlling a total of 2300 detectives with another 1,000 detectives based in the Yard’s specialist squads answerable to the ACC through their own commanders. The CID operated with no outside control as a force within a force with all the loyalties and codes of a closed, elite body.
The most extraordinary aspect in the Metropolitan CID of this period was that since 1879 there had been no code of conduct for detectives in their relationships with London’s criminals. To know what was going on many detectives decided that they had to mix socially with the criminals they might want to lock up. Over generations a culture of mutual favours grew up between detectives, their informers and criminals; These two latter groups were often interchangeable This culture of mutual obligation in turn led to collusion between wide sections of the CID and London’s criminals with major players securing a virtual immunity from prosecution by providing detectives with information on the “small fry”.
With little supervision a detective could and did operate according to his own rules, confident that the courts would never accept the word of alleged or convicted criminals and that his own senior officers only concern was about maintaining high rates of arrests not by the means by which they were achieved. It is possible to separate those detectives who took the perks that criminals offered and traded favours into “Grass Eaters” and those detectives who aggressively pursued criminals for corrupt payments “Meat Eaters”
The “Meat Eater” could get criminal charges dropped against the guilty or ensure their acquittal for a price. He could ensure the conviction of criminals who wouldn’t pay bribes or who got in the way of the major players who did. He could protect bribe paying criminal gangs by preventing their detection. He could directly participate in setting up armed robberies for a share of the profits. He could establish a protection racket for those trading in pornography and drugs by demanding money and favours from the dealers in return for the privilege of being allowed to operate an illegal business.
Another aspect of the way the CID operated was that since 1879 any allegation of criminal behaviour among police was investigated only by the CID. As most situations of serious corruption involved detectives rather than uniformed officers, this placed the plain-clothes branch in a position of extraordinary privilege.
In 1963 the allegations of systematic perjury, evidence planting and brutality centred around the former SAS war hero Detective Sergeant Harold Challenor had been internally investigated and he had been found to be only a lone bad (and insane) apple. To many outsiders, including many senior officers in provincial constabularies and Home Office civil servants the Yard’s handling of the Challenor case confirmed that the will and capacity of the Met to investigate allegations of corruption made against it was very limited.
In 1969 the concerns surrounding the extent of corruption within the Met made Home Secretary Roy Jenkins to seriously consider a plan to return the entire CID to uniform duties and to draft in a new body drawn from provincial forces. However it was felt that public confidence in the virtue of the Metropolitan Police had to be maintained and the plan was dropped.
At Scotland Yard itself the highest echelons of the Met were riven with cliques; Under the Commissionership of Joseph Simpson graduates of the short lived direct entry “Trenchard Scheme” had been favoured for all senior appointments and they now dominated the highest ranks. Created in 1933 and closed in 1939 graduates of the Special Course of Hendon Police College had been appointed directly at Inspector level. The scheme favoured privately and university educated applicants and these graduates faced deep resentment and ridicule from an overwhelmingly working class force. These “Trenchard Men” were regarded as administrators rather than as operational officers, inexperienced and aloof from the harsh realities of policing.
The Home Office felt the time had come when the Met would benefit from the introduction of senior officers from outside forces. In 1967 against the opposition of Commissioner Joseph Simpson, Robert Mark, Chief Constable of Leicester was appointed Assistant Commissioner. Mark later said of the reception he received from his new Met colleagues
“I was made to feel about as welcome as the representative of a leper colony at a colonial governors garden party”
On the death of Simpson, John Waldron, another “Trenchard man” was appointed as Commissioner. John Waldron was in ill health and was generally regarded as a well meaning mediocrity. Home Secretary James Callaghan made clear that he regarded Waldron as a stop gap and that newly promoted Deputy Commissioner Robert Mark was the favoured successor. However John Waldron refused to retire and remained as Commissioner for four years. Robert Mark remained in post as deputy commissioner although he was effectively excluded from influence by Waldron who was in turn dominated by his fellow “Trenchard Men”.
The attitude of Sir John Waldron and his top Yard officers to the Times allegations was that of disbelief. How could The Times rely on the word of a professional criminal and on tape recordings which might easily have been forged or edited? Worst of all, how could The Times of all papers stoop to denigrating the reputation of Scotland Yard? The inquiry demanded by The Times was established but far from ‘most stringent’, the Met internal inquiry was regarded as a damage limitation exercise. The inquiry was given to Detective Chief Inspector Fred Lambert to conduct but with few resources.
The earlier experience of the Challenor Case had convinced the Home Office that independent oversight of any corruption investigation in the Metropolitan Police would be vital. The Home Secretary James Callaghan contacted Frank Williamson, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary for Crime and offered him the role of independent advisor to the Met inquiry. With his status, an unimpeachable reputation for honesty and his availability – as an Inspector of Constabulary he was not a serving police officer – Williamson was seen as the obvious man for the job.
Williamson accepted the appointment but warned Callaghan that the only effective response to the allegations would be a wholly independent investigation. Callaghan appointed Williamson to “advise” the existing Met internal inquiry but without the agreement of Waldron. The involvement of any outside “Provincial” officer was slap in the face for the Yard hierarchy, but the injection of Frank Williamson was truly explosive.
Frank Williamson was born in Northampton on 24th February 1917. His father was the local Chief Constable. As a boy, 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!’
After being educated at Northampton Grammer School Williamson joined the Manchester City Police in 1936. During WWII Williamson served in the Royal Military Police before rejoining the ManchesterCity force gaining a considerable reputation as a painstaking detective and rising to the rank of Detective Chief Superintendent. In 1961 Williamson was appointed Chief Constable of Carlisle and in 1964 Williamson oversaw the final amalgamation into a single Cumbria constabulary which he headed as Chief Constable.
In 1965 Williamson’s reputation for integrity saw the Home Office send him to Southend to investigate the conduct of its Chief Constable William McConnach; A venal drunken bully later described by Williamson as a “dipsomaniac and megalomaniac in that order ” McConnach had paid for his daughters lavish wedding out of his own force’s budget.
The investigation of the Chief Constable of Southend was conducted with ruthless efficiency and William 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.
In l967 Williamson was appointed to the Home Office Inspectorate of Constabulary as Inspector for Crime. During lectures at detective training schools across Britain Williamson made clear his views on police corruption
“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”
During his career Williamson had developed a deep mistrust of the competence and integrity of the Met CID. Many other senior officers in constabularies across Britain shared his concerns.
“I had served in provincial forces for 30 years, and though I had known wrongdoing, I had never experienced institutionalised wrongdoing, blindness, arrogance and prejudice on anything like the scale accepted as routine in the Met,” Robert Mark
At police conferences and conventions Williamson made no secret of his views and had frequently raised his concerns to Home Office civil servants. However his concerns were never publicly acknowledged and his solution to break up the CID and reform it under the direct control of senior uniform officers was considered politically unworkable.
Williamson 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 but his terms of reference were circumscribed:
‘To advise as to the nature, scope and direction of the inquiry into allegations made by The Times newspaper.’
From the moment Frank Williamson arrived in London he faced open hostility from the highest levels at Scotland Yard. 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 these tiny constabularies could not handle. This had created contempt for any “Provincial” detective. The CID rank & file viewed Williamson as a “Swede”. Their senior officers more politely implied that Williamson may very well have been a distinguished detective in Manchester but that such experience could not be remotely compared to serving in the Met.
No senior officer expressed this attitude more firmly than the Assistant Commissioner (Crime) Peter Brodie.
Peter Brodie was an old Harrovian who had joined the Met in 1934 under the “Trenchard Scheme” another of the privately educated class of senior officer who had graduated from the Special Course at HendonPoliceCollege and had risen to dominate the force’s top ranks. Brodie had been the first Assistant Commissioner (Crime) to have been promoted from within the CID and he felt he knew the everyday problems of his detectives. Brodie’s trust in his officer’s integrity was unquestioning and he simply did not believe that corruption among his 3,000 detectives was a serious problem. Alongside this belief was the fact that he was also engaged in a power struggle with Deputy Commissioner Robert Mark who had began a process of internal reform designed to curb what Mark saw as CID excesses.
Peter Brodie openly regarded Williamson’s appointment to the inquiry as resulting from a misguided mania to clean up the Met which was a symptom of Williamson’s lack of understanding of the complexities of policing London. In Frank Williamson’s opinion Peter Brodie lived in an ivory tower and was loyal to his men to the point of stupidity.
“He accepted the advice of his senior officers; Anything they said was gospel and they were twisting him right, left and centre. They were putting the umbrella up over the dishonest troops in the CID in London. They had nothing worry about because Peter Brodie would say to me “You’ve got it wrong, my chaps wouldn’t do this to me” “
DCI Lambert had started an honest attempt to investigate the Times allegations and was pursuing leads of inquiry involving some 30 detectives across London. Williamson provided Lambert with advice and they developed a close working relationship. Their efforts though faced constant obstruction; Files were removed, witnesses proved unwilling to provide statements. Suspect officers were pre-warned. The inquiry offices telephones were bugged. When Williamson demanded that suspected officers be interviewed Deputy Assistant Commissioner Ray Chitty told him bluntly that no Met officer would be allowed to be interviewed by a mere “Provincial” no matter how high his rank. Despite this opposition Williamson and Lambert continued their inquiries receiving information from criminals, journalists and the wider public.
On 21 May 1970 Commander Wallace Virgo, head of C1 Department and in charge of the Mets specialist crime squads took Lambert off the inquiry and gave him a desk job handling his correspondence, an effective demotion. Virgo’s words to Lambert were chilling
“You have backed the wrong horse. You have backed Frank Williamson against your own senior officers.”
Commander Virgo now appointed Bill Moody as senior investigating officer; The Times inquiry was now in the hands of an Detective Chief Superintendent who, in 1977, was himself to face corruption charges at the Old Bailey and be sent to prison for 12 years. Even as he probed the ‘Firm in a Firm’ allegations Detective Chief Superintendent Bill Moody was, in his other capacity as head of the Obscene Publications Squad; receiving tens of thousands of pounds in bribes from Soho’s porn barons.
Indeed the totally corrupt Bill Moody had merely improved on an earlier protection racket organised by his predecessor as head of the “Dirty Squad”; Wallace Virgo. Bill Moody can accurately be described as the most corrupt officer in the history of the British Police Service.
Moody and his aide Detective Sergeant Cyril Jones (known throughout Soho as Moody’s bagman: DS Jones was later to stand trial with his boss in 1976 and be sent to prison for seven years) ensured that the Times inquiry achieved nothing for not only were the later convictions of two detectives secured on evidence secured by the newspaper itself, but no other detective – except Symonds who jumped bail and escaped abroad – was ever charged.
Although Williamson had no idea of the sheer scale of corruption Moody was up to in Soho as head of Obscene Publications, the many rumours surrounding Moody provoked his disgust: Williamson had a puritanical style of living; Moody lived in style, wearing tailored suits and running two impressive cars: a 2.5-litre petrol-inject Triumph and a 1.5 Lancia which had been bought for Moody by a Soho pornographer. One day in the car park at Scotland Yard Moody walked over to Williamson and pointing at his car, an Austin 1800 two years old, and said, ‘Is that the best you can do?’
Williamson sought out ACC Brodie and after finally managing to see told him about Moody’s expensive cars. Brodie shouted “I am not interested in what cars Moody drives!”
Williamson replied “You bloody well should be!”
By this time Williamsons worst views on the depth and breadth of corruption in the Met CID had been confirmed; The problem be summed up in three short, sharp verdicts on the three sorts of detective he believed to exist in the Met: those who were themselves corrupt, those who knew that others were corrupt but did nothing about it, and those who were too stupid to notice what was going on around them.
Every attempt by Williamson to replace Moody or to bring in selected officers from outside forces had been blocked. Sir John Waldron was “unavailable” to meet with him. Other senior Yard officers followed suit. Robert Mark avoided any contact with Williamson and wouldn’t be seen to provide any support to the inquiry.
Every effort by Williamson to brief the Home Office on the inquiry’s obstruction was countered by Waldron informing them that Williamson’s suspicions of widespread corruption were that a “Provincial” out of his depth in the particular policing environment of London; Williamson had alienated the honest hard working men of the CID by giving undue credence to the malicious allegations and rumours of criminals and naive journalists. Repeated demands by Williamson to meet with the Home Secretary now Conservative Reginald Maudling proved fruitless. In an interview with author James Morton Williamson said
“If I had a dozen good men I could have beaten them. If I’d had 20 senior officers from the provinces I’d have beaten them.”
The impossibility of making any progress on the inquiry had brought Frank Williamson into a mood of deep despair. By the end of 1971 he was so ‘fed up with banging his head against a brick wall’ that he resigned from the police service altogether, eleven years before he might otherwise have been expected to retire. It is generally acknowledged that in doing this Williamson threw away his appointment as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary and a certain knighthood.
Williamson had convinced himself that the Home Office was simply not prepared to instigate the fundamental reforms of the Met which he knew were necessary. What he could not have foreseen was that within four months of his going a series of sensational events were to highlight the very corruption which he knew to exist but which others, including top Home Office officials, were reluctant either to believe or to publicly acknowledge.
The first was the Sunday People revelation on 27th February 1972 that Commander Kenneth Drury of the Flying Squad had gone on holiday with Soho’s best known pornographer. Second; Robert Mark took over as Commissioner on April 1972 and immediately implemented the reforms which Williamson himself had recommended to the Home Office. On 23rd April Mark announced that the autonomy of the CID was over with all detectives on divisions placed under the control of the uniformed commander. A shattered ACC Peter Brodie taken wholly unawares reacted thus
“Nine days later the Assistant Commissioner Crime went into hospital for observation having obviously suffered a long period of excessive strain. He never returned to duty though we were all relieved to hear that there was nothing fundamentally the wrong with” Robert Mark
Mark instigated further reforms; He created a specialist Anti Corruption unit A10; He ordered mass transfers of detectives of all ranks across London; He implemented the systematic interchange between CID and uniform branches. All reforms designed to destroy the closed mentality and corrupt traditions of the “Firm within a Firm”
Finally there was the massive investigation by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Gilbert Kelland into the allegations of systematic corruption in the Obscene Publications Squad. This resulted in the trial of 15 detectives including two of the most senior police officers ever to be prosecuted, ex-Commander Wallace Virgo former head of the Obscene Publications Squad and later C1 Branch and ex-Commander Drury of the Flying Squad; Also in the dock was DCS Bill Moody. 13 of the officers were jailed for a total of 96 years. Wallace Virgo later had his conviction overturned on the grounds that the judges summing up had been unduly harsh.
Frank Williamson subsequently worked as a security advisor to the Co-op and ICI but received no official recognition for his role in fighting the cancer of corruption that had eaten its way into the soul of the Met’s detective branch. Robert Mark wrote in his autobiography
“He was thoroughly disillusioned and depressed by continual disagreement and obstruction by policemen who didn’t share his very high standard of personal and private integrity”
In 1996 Frank Williamson has finally gained the wider recognition he so richly deserved when the BBC series Our Friends in the North covered the events of the Times inquiry. The actor Tony Haygarth portraying the honest upright Chief Constable “Roy Johnson” gave a heartbreaking performance of a man disgusted by the corruption around him and resigning in protest at the obstruction he encountered. Frank Williamson died on 25th December 1998.