Scotland Yard’s Gangbuster: Bert Wickstead’s Most Celebrated Cases
£19.99, Pen & Sword True Crime
This is the story of a copper’s fight against organised crime in the 1970s. Those were the days well before CCTV, DNA and disclosure, or indeed the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, or money laundering legislation. Although that world was very different, problems with racism and gangland culture resonate today.
The tales are not without a certain humour. There is an account of how police raided a club and detained 60 people, including the whole audience and the band, which continued to play while in custody. All the main characters have nicknames. One is called kipper because he is two-faced and gutless. (Think about it.)
It is not a story where solicitors have much of a role, though the police seem to have had a certain respect for judges and magistrates. The book mentions a certain JP as the ‘policeman’s friend’. I would like to know more. I am a little surprised by some of the sentences. One villain got two years suspended and a £100 fine for wounding and possession of a shotgun.
It was a world where some cops were very dodgy to say the least, if not corrupt. And curious norms applied. Matrimonial problems were frowned upon by the Met and when police officers did leave their wives, the force decided how much maintenance the officer had to pay.
There is reference to a political sex scandal of the time involving Lord Lambton, who was a politician described as arrogant and stupid and therefore ideal as under-secretary for defence. The day after Lambton resigned he was followed by Earl Jellicoe. The police had found a prostitute’s notebook which contained the word ‘Jellicoe’. Earl Jellicoe, who was leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal, resigned to save a scandal. Only later did it transpire that the Jellicoe in the notebook referred to Jellicoe Hall, which was a community centre in London. Be careful what you admit to!
The 1970s were not that long ago. There have been many changes since then, for better and worse. This book is a vivid and fascinating account of policing some of the era’s most serious crimes, written by an experienced, retired police officer.
David Pickup is a partner at Pickup & Scott Solicitors, Aylesbury