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The Scotland Yard Files.

Paul Begg and Keith Skinner. Headline. 16.99[pounds].

This year Scotland Yard's CID -- The Detective as it used to be called--chalks up a century and a half of preponderantly successful thief-catching--even when the operation involved quite serious self-mutilation. Taking up and progressing skilfully over the tale first spun by Chief Inspector John Prothero's barrister daughter, Margaret, in her History of the Criminal Investigation Department at Scotland Yard (1931), and subsequently elaborated by Belton Cobb (1956-7), and updated by Norman Lucas (1967). Messrs. Begg and Skinner bring things up to the present time. The somewhat glum emergent lesson is plus ca change. There were the Fenians and |infernal machines' (i.e. bombs) in 1883; there is the IRA and bombs in 1992. There was the Great Train Robbery of 1855, in which gold bullion worth 20,000[pounds] was stolen; there was the Great Train Robbery of 1963, in which 2,631,634[pounds] was stolen, There was the historic trial of the detectives for corruption in 1876; there was the Commander Kenneth Drury scandal in 1972. The authors have not disguised the existence of bad apples, but it is upon the many, many more tons of good apples in the Metropolitan barrel that they have rightly concentrated their attention in the main.

The book presents an extremely interesting sociological conspectus, identifying the changing pattern of the policing problem over the decades. The postwar 1914-18 period saw massive changes. It was the General Strike of 1926 that cast the police in the role of tools of the Establishment instead of servants of the public. The 1920s saw the introduction of nightclubs, the growth of drug abuse and the beginnings of organised crime. But now a total change in the character of urban crime has been wrought by the phenomenal growth of the drug culture. The impending menace is exports of Triads -- Wo Sing Wo, Sui Fong and 14K -- from post- 1997 Hong Kong to major British cities.

One or two very minor |offences' -- to be |spent' in a future edition -- need to be taken into consideration. The butcher of Regent Square was Voisin not Voison, and it was Vaquier aka Monsieur J. Wanker, not Vacquier, who dispensed health salts of strychnine for mine host at the Blue Anchor. The author of The Trial of the Detectives is George Dilnot, not Belton Cobb. In a different category of possible error is the unsatisfactory repetition of the hoary legend, for which I have failed to find any evidential justification, that what George Joseph |Brides-in-the-Bath' Smith was playing on the sitting-room harmonium that evening in December 1914 as the ci-devant Margaret Lofty was wilting away in the bath aloft, was |Nearer My God to Thee'. I suspect that post-mortem refinement of being a journalistic canard of the bright farthings of Jack the Ripper ilk.

But, mitigating these trivial misdemeanours, must be the acknowledged fact that this book sets the record straight on a number of disputed points. For instance: that Commissioner Sir Charles Warren resigned not because of his failure to catch the Ripper, but because of a Home Office reprimand for writing a magazine article defending the police without first submitting it to Home Secretary Matthews; that an error of police judgement in all likelihood cost Doreen Marshall her life at the hands of Neville Heath when Sir Harold Scott, persuaded by Assistant Commissioner Ronald Howe, prevented the press from publishing Heath's photograph; that Mr. Justice Brabin's report did not exonerate Timothy Evans in the Christie case. It concluded that Evans had been executed for the wrong murder, that of baby Geraldine. But he had murdered his wife.

The book is peppered with telling vignettes of significant landmark cases, some rewardingly embellished with nuggets of new information. Especial bonnes bouches are the extraordinarily revelatory hitherto unpublished photographs of the Victorian fratricide, Constance Kent, and that of a prime Jack the Ripper suspect, Michael Ostrog.
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Author:Whittington-Egan, Richard
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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