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 ...”
KGB Romeo Spy Part 2 - Exposed
This is the story of John Alexander Symonds life. The draft book was circulated to about 200 publishing houses and several showed an interest in offering it to the public.
Unfortunately the D-Notice Committee made objections to some of the contents on the grounds of National Security and so the book was never published.
The book is now published in its entirety on this website for the first time.
INDEX to my Biography
In November 1969 I was a highly rated officer in the Metropolitan Police and I was going places. I had spent ten years in the force and risen to the rank of detective sergeant. I wasn’t a meteor but I was on the way up at a time of slow promotion. I had made hundreds of arrests. My evidence had helped convict many career criminals. I had won commendations. I had developed several first-class informants, including trusted members of south London’s most powerful underworld clan, the Richardsons. I was respected by my colleagues as a significant thief-taker and was tipped by my superiors to reach very high rank.
But on the evening of 28 November 1969 my world fell apart.
I had advance warning of what was about to hit me when I took a call from a journalist on the Daily Express. He told me that on the front page of the overnight edition of The Times there were banner headlines alleging that I was corrupt. He said the Express was running a ‘spoiler’, to steal the thunder of the Thunderer, and would I comment. I calmly said ‘no’ but inside I was shocked. Even so, I managed to ask the Express man to read out what The Times was saying. It was devastating stuff but I could not take it all in. There was no alternative but to drive to one of the all-night newspaper stalls that used to exist on Fleet Street and get a copy. I bought one and I went back to my car and read the entire story. I was relieved to see that only part of it was about me, but that part alone was more than enough to bring my career to a screeching halt. The headline made my heart race: ‘London policemen in bribe allegations. Tapes reveal planted evidence’.
I skimmed through several paragraphs about Robson and Harris, both of whom I knew but did not work with, until I reached a section containing what were claimed to be extracts from conversations between me and a small-time professional criminal, to whom The Times had given the pseudonym Michael Smith. It seems that two of its journalists, Garry Lloyd and Julian Mounter, had been working with this villain for a month, in order to test his claims that he was being leeched off by even more policemen than the three named in this article. The reporters had been watching ‘Smith’ as he met his alleged extortioners in pub car parks and other south London locales. They had photographed these meetings and also tape-recorded these encounters. One of these supposedly wicked men was myself although, even this article acknowledged that I appeared to be less malign than my two colleagues from Scotland Yard. It said that I had met Smith by myself and that I told him, in the manner of a friendly uncle, how to deal with the other two detectives who had allegedly fitted him up with a stick of gelignite and were demanding information from him in exchange for lifting the threat.
I could scarcely believe this. Yes, I believed that I might have said all these things - or something like them - to the man they called Smith but whom I knew to be Michael Perry. But I was furious to see myself accused of accepting money from him, which I never had. I was also appalled at the fact that I had been tape-recorded. It wasn’t so much what I had said, but the way I had said it.
On the full tapes I could be heard repeatedly saying 'f' and 'c' words. Nowadays - thirty years later - you hear these words all the time, even in mixed company. They are used every night on television and radio, in plays and documentaries, even in regular print. Everywhere’s full of it. But in those days, using such words wasn’t really acceptable, so what worried me most of all at this point was that, if ever my mother and my children listened to the tapes, they would hear me swearing. I always tried to avoid using bad language but, after ten years of incessant dealing with crooks and villains like Perry, I was used to talking down to them. ‘Effing and blinding’ was one way to do it.
So I was only swearing to put this dirty little ratbag of an eighteen times convicted thief at his ease, and to make him feel there was common ground between us, so he would feel relaxed, maybe let drop information about his current crimes and future schemes, and incidentally, betray his confederates, or - far better - criminals much bigger than he was. Of course, what I would say to him as we sat in a private car beside a south London pub would not read so well in a middle-class drawing rooms or a gentlemen’s club or in the office of (my ultimate boss) the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, or, heaven forbid, before a jury at the Old Bailey.
But concerns about the indelicacy of my language were only a fleeting luxury for me at 11 o’clock that Friday night, with the nation’s most influential newspaper baying for my blood, and all hell sure to break out in a few hours when The Times landed on the doormats of the great and good. I had urgent work to do.
Chucking my copy on the passenger seat, I drove straight down to Camberwell Police Station. There was no-one else around except for a couple of night-duty uniformed officers, who had no idea what was in tomorrow’s papers. I went straight to my office, cleared my desk and emptied my locker. Then I went round all the other CID rooms, digging out any documentation that might help me disprove the Times allegations or that might just land me or my partners in more trouble, if it fell into the hands of any adversaries bent on sending us to jail. Then I packed everything up into bags and holdalls, put them in the car and drove home, to snatch what sleep I could, before facing a stormy Saturday and the hurricane of the week to come.
I woke up at YY. I was surprised at how calm I felt. My brain was working fairly well and I knew speed was everything. I got straight onto Victor Lissack, the best lawyer for policemen in a fix like mine. He was an energetic solicitor who was well-connected at Scotland Yard, something I thought might come in handy in the tense days ahead. I also knew him personally through our shared interest in police boxing. On that miserable rainy morning he came drove all the way to my home in Orpington, Kent, on the outer reaches of south-east London. I told him I was innocent and I wanted redress. Lissack then mapped out a strategy for a robust defence. He issued a statement on my behalf repudiating all the allegations against me. He then announced that soon we would issue a writ for libel against The Times and its reporters. We also retained a leading QC, Sir Edward Gardiner (who was also a Conservative MP), and, as promised, my statement of claim was served on the newspaper that same day.
Sorting the legal side was fairly easy. Dealing with my police bosses at Scotland Yard was far more tricky. Of course, they were furious with The Times for springing the story on them without warning. Obviously the Commissioner would have preferred it if the newspaper’s editor could have had a quiet word in advance, so that an internal investigation could have been carried out prior to publication. At the time so would I, because the Yard would surely have found a way to discredit the entire story before The Times could put it out on the newstands. Instead, for reasons I now appreciate (having become as cynical as any investigative journalist about the manoeuvres of the British establishment), the newspaper withheld its findings from Scotland Yard until ten o’clock on the eve of publication because it feared that ‘the whole matter could be hushed up and might not have come to light at all’. I can’t say I admire the Times reporters - after all, they started the domino tumble that ended with my going to jail eleven years later - but I have to agree with what Garry Lloyd said at the trial of Robson and Harris: ‘During our inquiry we had knowledge that we were inquiring into a “firm within a firm”. When you are dealing with a firm within a firm you do not know who is the managing director’.
As merely a junior member of this ‘firm’ (the true nature of which I shall explain later) I was grateful for any help its senior partners might now give me. At first things looked good. When The Times did at last tell Scotland Yard chiefs about the dreadful scandal that would ruin their weekend, the job of preparing an interim brief for Commissioner Sir John Waldron fell to Chief Superintendent Fred Lambert. This was mere chance - Lambert happened to be the most senior detective on call at the time - but it was a stroke of luck for me, for I quickly found out that Lambert was straight. That was all I wanted: a straight man to do a straight investigation. Better still, after delivering that first brief, Lambert was told to carry out the full inquiry which, I was sure, would exonerate me.
Of course, I knew that I would have to be suspended from duty for a while, if only for political reasons, to save the face of the Commissioner himself. This duly happened five days after the Times exposé. Robson, Harris and I were all suspended, together with a dozen other detectives that the Times had tape recorded, but still I wasn’t worried. Among the detectives whom Lambert had recruited to his special squad were people who were my friends and neighbours, so I was getting accurate up-to-the-minute information on their progress. Unofficially I knew exactly what was going on, and even officially at one stage I was told that I was ‘out of it’ because there wasn't sufficient evidence to take me to court. Yes, there were a number of tape recordings with me chuntering on about ‘a firm in a firm’ and how I could help this petty criminal if he could help me - the usual silly talk of coppers trying to delude a villain into shopping his confederates - but nothing worthy of putting me on trial. It was this conversation that had caused the Times to include me in with Robson and Harris. Their ‘hard’ approach with threats, together with my ‘soft’ approach with promises, made a potent mix for a huge scandal. Which is what happened.
Indeed, it was looking far better for me than just escaping prosecution. Doubts were emerging about the authenticity of the tapes. Lambert had sent them to be examined by the country’s leading tape expert: the chief engineer at the firm which had manufactured them, EMI. If he had come back and said they were original, intact and unedited, he would have been a leading witness for the prosecution and I would have been hanged, drawn and quartered. But instead, he reported that, in his considered opinion, the tapes had been interfered with. He was adamant, they couldn’t be relied upon because of signs that they had been edited, including crayon marks on the back where mysterious things were occurring, such as sounds which could not have been made by the human voice box: truncated, guttural noises which could only have been produced by slicing through a genuine human sound with an editing razor or a pair of scissors. This meant that, if ever I did face trial, the man from EMI would be a witness in my defence.
So at this stage the police couldn’t find one proper expert to say the tapes were genuine. On the contrary, all the experts said they had been partly faked. And as there was no other evidence against me - nothing from a credible witness to back Perry’s claims that on the tapes I could be heard menacing him for money, or that a rustling noise proved he had passed me crinkly pound notes - I was sure I was off the hook. Indeed, as all my inside sources kept telling me I was in the clear, I held a party to celebrate.
But for Robson and Harris, the case against them was watertight, cast iron, ‘stone bonkers’, as we used to say. They had no chance of getting off. They could have gone to court the day after The Times had exposed them, for all the good any defence could do them. There was no way out, they were completely trapped by what they themselves could be heard saying: making threats, giving information to Perry and his colleagues about some gold medallions that were available for stealing, and threatening to turn him over. Right from day one they were absolutely done for, and their case was bound to be wrapped up pretty quickly. Still, I am a great believer in the old saying, ‘Either we hang together or we hang separately’ - and certainly if the case against them could be made to fall apart on some miraculous technicality, then I too would benefit.
And so we all kept in touch. They both came to my home a couple of times and we also used to meet at the RAC Club in Pall Mall, where Robson was a member. At that time it had the air of an old-fashioned gentlemen’s club but in my experience it was an ‘Old Bill joint’, full of senior crooked police officers, because it was so convenient and handy for Scotland Yard. A quick walk across St James’s Park and you were in a place where you could entertain visitors and impress them, sink into deep leather armchairs, and have shuffling old waiters bringing you another whisky. It was also a place where a lot of deals were done. Where better to meet a bent MP or City gent who wanted to sort out some personal embarrassment that had brought him to the attention of the fraud or vice squads? A lot of these deals were done in the swimming pool or the steam room. That steam room was perfect because, if you had to discuss something very dodgy and corrupt, which could get you sent to prison, you could do so without fear, as you only had a towel around you, and there was no place to hide a tape recorder.
To paranoid guys such as we had become, ensuring we weren’t being taped was a chronic and paramount concern, especially as most of our discussions were about whether the Times tapes could be successfully discredited or even deemed inadmissible. We seemed to be ‘hanging together’ pretty well until one day Robbo Robson came to see me and said, “A terrible thing has happened. Late last night I had a visit from ‘X’, [the Scotland Yard Commander who was Lambert’s immediate boss]. He told me that Harris had been in to see Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dick Chitty (the operational chief of all Scotland Yard detectives), offering to shop us both. He’s saying that he’ll go ‘Queen’s Evidence’ in return for walking out of the whole thing”.
I was stunned. First, I could not believe that Harris would do the dirty on his partner Robson. Second, I could not think of anything that Harris knew about me which could do me damage. “That’s exactly what Chitty asked him!”, said Robbo, “ ‘What do you know about John Symonds?’, so Harris said that he’s been present when you and I were talking about killing Perry, assassinating him. Harris has said that you’re planning to shoot Perry from a block of flats opposite where he lives with his mother’.”
Now I was even more stunned, because it was all bollocks, all tripe. The idea of killing Perry had never crossed my mind. But, if it had, I wouldn’t have told a soul, particularly someone as crude as Harris. I hardly knew the guy, and everyone who did said how dodgy he was. Of course, Robbo knew it was bollocks and he continued with his story.
“Well, Dick Chitty’s on our side, so he laughed and said, ‘You need more than that’, so Harris said, ‘No, it’s true! Symonds was an army officer, he’s a crack shot and he used to shoot in competitions a lot and he’s got a rifle with a night sight, and I looked through this sight and it brought everything up as clear as day. Robson and Symonds are doing it between them. Symonds is going up on the top of this block of flats with a night sniper rifle and pick Perry off through his window. Meanwhile Robson is going to cover Symonds down below with the getaway car’.
“Then Harris tells Chitty, ‘They want me to help out as well. I’m supposed to wait about, watching Perry’s flat, to see when he’s in and tell them. Then Symonds is going to go on the roof and shoot him’.
What a ratbag. He thought he’d had this brilliant idea - to get immunity by turning Queen’s evidence and giving evidence against myself and Robson. He was going to stand up in court and confirm the account given by Perry and the Times, so there wouldn’t be just the tape recording but back-up from Harris telling this cock-and-bull story about me plotting to assassinate Perry. When Dick Chitty heard this, he confronted Robson to see if there was any truth in it. Robson said it was a pack of lies and came straight over to tell me.
A few days later, I had a visit from another detective, Mike Smith. He had known both Freddie Lambert and myself for years and was acting as a middle man. He told me that if I had any thoughts of killing Perry, I should drop them because there was ‘information’ that I was plotting to do this. He refused to name the source of this information but I already knew it was Harris, so I told Mike I was flabbergasted by all this effort to talk me out of something I had never intended to do. “It’s never crossed my mind”, I said, “but between you and me, if I was going to kill anybody, it’s going to be that bastard Harris!”
Whoops! As soon the words left my mouth I knew I shouldn’t have said them because in effect I had just let Lambert know how much I knew about the state of his inquiries. This was a mistake because it may have lent weight to the theory that I really was capable of organizing a conspiracy to murder not just Perry but Harris too. And maybe I had given a crumb of hope to those people - in the police, the press and the law - that wanted to get me locked up. Till now they had no hope because the evidence wasn’t there. But I wasn’t going to lie down. I was the only one fighting because I was innocent, I’m not saying I was an angel, but I was a very practical and highly-thought-of CID officer. I was in the fast track and considered to be going places. I would have been a chief superintendent or much higher but now my future had been swiped away.
Then suddenly I heard some very good news. One of my close friends on Freddie Lambert’s team told me that the inquiry was over, Lambert had cleared me, and I was going to be reinstated. Dear me! At this point I’d never felt so happy in all my life. All the stress and strain was over, and now I was going to be a rich man because I could sue The Times for libel.
But my joy was short-lived, for the next thing I hear, Lambert’s suddenly been taken off the enquiry. All I knew at this stage was that he had upset someone above him in the Scotland Yard hierarchy. Someone in the top brass was not happy with his findings, so the only way to overturn them and change the course of the enquiry was to sack Lambert.
This move had appalling consequences. Lambert never recovered. After that he was a broken man. But for the three of us named in the Times we would have to wait two and a half years before facing the music in court. Yes, after two and a half years, it wasn’t going to be just Robson and Harris on trial at the Old Bailey. It would be me too.
But it wasn’t just the sacking of Lambert that did for me. It was the choice of his replacement. If it had been any run-of-the-mill chief superintendent, someone would merely do the hierarchy’s bidding but without zeal, enthusiasm or commitment, I would still have been all right, because there was no real evidence against me. But that wasn’t what the hierarchy wanted. It wanted me ‘done’ in order to distract from its own corruption, which was a thousand times worse than anything I had been accused of by The Times.
So now, to do its dirty work, the Yard appointed a man whose name alone reeked of corruption to most other coppers who had worked with him. To the public, no doubt, Detective Chief Superintendent William Frederick Moody was a citizen above suspicion. Among his neighbours in the affluent riverside suburb of Molesey he was a suitably well-heeled adornment, though maybe they wondered how a mere policeman could afford such smart new cars. To his brethren in Freemasonry he was a generous donor, though maybe they questioned how he could spare so much for the Masonic charities as well as his own lodge’s ceremonial knees-ups. But to his colleagues in the Metropolitan Police he was a byword for being ‘bent’, on the take, a rotten apple - any of the many clichés in English common usage for being a crooked cop.
Now all of a sudden things start going wrong, Off goes Lambert, in comes Moody, in comes his equally crooked boss Commander Wally Virgo, the enquiry’s changed around, all the statements that cleared me get lost, and the police team that have uncovered there was no continuity of handling in the tapes, try to cover up that fact and create a continuity. All the gaping holes in the Times case which Lambert has exposed are stitched up again until miraculously I’m confronted with a seamless garment that appears to prove I was leeching off Perry.
So why Moody? Why did he have to take over? Why did his bosses appoint him - or rather why did they allow him to appoint himself? Why was it so important for him to hi-jack the entire inquiry? What did he have to hide? What did he have to lose? The answer to the last two questions are: a huge amount of money, and, everything. But to explain all this I must first tell you the terrible truth about Scotland Yard throughout my service. At the time few outsiders would believe it. And even today, after all the scandals which have hit the Metropolitan Police in recent years, it is still difficult to accept just how evil the ‘greatest police force in the world’ had become by the 1950s and ‘60s.
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