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 ...”


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The Fall of Scotland Yard Introduction

Fall of Scotland Yard Cover

Book Cover 

Fall of Scotland Yard Title Page

Title Page 


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Fall of Scotland Yard Index Page

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This book has its origins in two television programmes on which we worked as journalists. The first, a Granada TV World in Action, was begun in 1970 and concerned the illegal methods employed by some members of the Metropolitan Police Drug Squad. It was eventually shown on the ITV network (after many difficulties) on 26 November 1973. The second programme, an investigation of the Soho empires of Bernie Silver and James Humphreys and their friendships with a number of senior officers at Scotland Yard (in particular, members of the Flying Squad and the Obscene Publications Squad) was transmitted by London Weekend Television’s The London Programme on 8 June 1975.

As research proceeded for the earlier programme, it became apparent that we were not examining an isolated incident of police malpractice, but the logical conclusion of an ethic of detective work that prevailed among wide sections of the London CID. We looked deeper, and began to realize that a counter-attack against that ethic was already under way, having been launched by the unlikely combination of a petty criminal (who didn't know what he was starting) and a senior police officer of the highest integrity (who did). We followed through the story, and our second programme was produced in full knowledge of this background. But television is an ephemeral form, and we believed it important that the full saga of the fall of Scotland Yard - which was what we were witnessing - should be consigned to the more permanent medium of print.

Many who have helped us in the preparation of this book cannot, unfortunately, be named. They include policemen, civil servants, lawyers and criminals whose anonymity we must respect but whose confidence in us, we hope, is vindicated by what follows. Margaret Masson, who typed a lot, deserves our special thanks, as do Neil Middleton and Geraldine Cook, our editors at Penguins, who have been helpful and immensely patient throughout the complex business of revision.

We alone are responsible for any factual errors that have filtered through the process, and for the opinions expressed in the following pages.






July 1977





Despite its title, this is not another anti-police book. Nor, more obviously, does it belong to that genre of police glorification which is the special preserve of the Fleet Street crime reporters. This is the kind of book that is more often written about the worlds of politics, business or international relations than of the police. Indeed, had the Metropolitan Police appreciated that they too were part of the increasingly open society that Britain was becoming in the 1960s, other books devoted to the politics of law enforcement would have appeared before now, and - who knows - perhaps the events that occasioned this particular book might never have happened.

The ‘fall’ of Scotland Yard took place between 1969 and 1972. As a result of what happened in those years, a score of London detectives went to gaol, hundreds more left the force in disgrace and the old CID hierarchy was savagely restructured. The myth of the London bobby was badly dented and a long-standing tradition of detective work was almost completely destroyed. The effects of that crash reverberate today; though we have chosen to conclude our story with the completion of the trials of fifteen detectives earlier this year, the real story is of course not finished. There are still men high up in the reformed Yard who are lucky to be there.

Since 1969 there have been three major inquiries into the Metropolitan Police, which have produced in turn five major trials of London detectives. The first was the inquiry into the allegations made by The Times about extortion and corruption, which lead to the imprisonment of two South London detectives in 1972. The second was the Lancashire police inquiry into members of the Drug Squad, which eventually resulted in the trial of six Drug Squad detectives, and the gaoling of three of them, in 1973. Finally there was the mammoth investigation by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Gilbert Kelland into allegations of widespread corruption amongst detectives who dealt with the vice world of Soho and Mayfair. This took more than three years to complete, and resulted in the discreet dismissal of more than twenty detectives and the trial of the two most senior Scotland Yard men ever to be brought before the London courts, ex-Commander Wallace Virgo and ex-Commander Kenneth Drury.

These three episodes form the substance of this book. The inquiries and trials have not been picked at random, nor selected simply because they were particularly juicy examples of bent detectives caught and punished. There is an intimate connection between these events. Sometimes the connection derives from the overlapping roles of particular individuals - DCS Moody, for example, who headed the Scotland Yard inquiry into The Times allegations, was four years later one of the main subjects of interest in the Kelland inquiry into Soho corruption. More important, these events played a key part in the power struggle between the old London CID hierarchy and those - usually outside the Met -who sought to break the power of that hierarchy. The best-known moment in that power struggle was the appointment of Robert Mark as the Commissioner in 1972, and our story will reveal more explicitly than hitherto just why the Government took the unprecedented step of appointing a uniformed provincial policeman to the top London job.

Before Mark’s appointment, Scotland Yard’s upper echelons tolerated, where they did not actively encourage, a system of detective work that led to a dangerous collusion between the police and London’s criminals: dangerous, not just because individual detectives were or became corrupt, or even because innocent or relatively inoffensive people were the victims of injustice, but because major criminals had secured for themselves virtual immunity from prosecution. How and why Bernie Silver escaped serious police attention for so long is not an academic question.

It was the Times front-page articles of November 1969 which forced both the authorities and the public at large to consider seriously whether their traditional belief in the virtue of the London police might not be very much misplaced. Although the corrupt and vicious career of Detective Sergeant Harry Challenor had been a sensational cause célèbre in 1963, Challenor conveniently went mad before his trial, and the old regime at the Yard was able to convince the public that he was a singular (and insane) rotten apple rather than the tip of a substantial iceberg. As a result the exhaustive overhaul of London’s CID that Challenor’s case might have provoked was deferred for several years, years in which a large number of London detectives grew fat and dangerous. When the authorities finally had to confront this situation, they found themselves with the task of dealing not only with detective sergeants and detective constables behaving corruptly at street level (in itself no easy task, as we shall show), but with the even greater problem posed by their superiors - up to commander level - who had come up through the same lucrative system themselves and were happy to protect subordinates following in their footsteps.

To tackle this appalling situation, the Government had to turn to law-enforcement agencies outside London - to provincial detectives and to the Customs. Even after Mark took over it is significant that he had to look to East End detectives, led by DCS Albert Wickstead, to handle the West End.

This book has therefore three objectives: to describe the pattern of corruption and malpractice revealed by the events that followed November 1969; to locate these events within the political struggle between the old regime at Scotland Yard and that regime’s enemies outside the Yard; and finally to analyse the methods of detection that destroyed the reputation of Scotland Yard from within. It is too early to say whether or not the Mark reforms and more recent development (such as the appointment of David McNee as Mark’s successor) will fully restore that reputation.


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