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The Sweeney & the Dirty Squads: Police corruption and sleaze 70’s style

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We all remember the cult 1970’s show The Sweeney, with Jack Regan, George Carter and Haskins, played by John Thaw, Dennis Waterman and Garfield Morgan respectively, don’t we? We rooted for these men episode-to-episode, as they fought ‘heavy’ criminals, knowing that while they cut corners to nick the faces, at heart they were fighting for the cause of good.

But having accessed Metropolitan Police files under Freedom of Information for the first time while looking into police corruption in the elite squads of the force in the same period, it became clear that motives were often not so valiant.

The key squads in question, the Flying Squad (the Sweeney) and the Obscene Publications Squad (the Dirty Squad) were riddled with bent coppers in the early 1970’s when Sir Robert Mark became Commissioner of the Met Police in 1972, and vowed to sweep the Met’s CID, what he called ‘the most routinely corrupt organisation in London’, clean. Fifty officers would be prosecuted, while 478 took early retirement.

The head of the Flying Squad, Commander Ken Drury, was one of the very senior officers at the centre of that sleaze. At a 1971 dinner in a swanky London hotel held in honour of the astronauts who had reached the moon first in 1969, Drury was heard to boast, ‘If I told my blokes to go to the moon, they’d do it. And if, when they got up there, they couldn’t find the moon, they’d f***ing well plant one there.’

Drury fraternised, accepted cash, favours, a holiday and hospitality from hardened criminals involved in Soho’s prostitution and pornography- so many meals in expensive restaurants, that his friend and associate Jimmy Humphreys, one of Soho’s big pornographers and a hardened lag with a sideline in menacing intimidation, sent Drury a new rowing machine to work off some of the excess flab those meals had caused. And where did Humphreys send it? Down to ‘the Factory’ -the Flying Squad’s office at Scotland Yard, of course.

And Drury also framed innocent men on at least one occasion- three men served years in prison for an armed robbery in which a post office worker was shot dead in Luton in 1969. Drury used his full bag of dirty tricks on that case, which the miscarriage campaigner and writer Ludovic Kennedy did a great deal to expose. In the police files, we can see for the first time how Drury tried to lay the ground to protect himself if that case was re-investigated by the Met’s anti-corruption unit looking into his Soho misdeeds in the early-mid 1970’s.

It was Drury’s holiday with Humphreys and their wives in Cyprus which led to the corruption unravelling in public, when the Sunday People began an investigation. This led to the exposure of numerous bent cops in the Dirty Squad, the remit of which was to remove obscene publications from public sale and close down porn shops and distribution networks. In actual fact, the head of the Dirty Squad, Det. Superintendent ‘Wicked’ Bill Moody- he had this nickname for good reason, as hardened criminals were frightened of him, and one of his officers later said that he thought Moody was actually insane.

Moody had close connections with the Syndicate, run by ‘Big Frank’ Mifsud and Bernie Silver, which ruled Soho at the time. The Met Police estimated that in 1971, the Syndicate was turning over an astonishing £100,000 a week, an absolute fortune then, from poncing, pimping, flat-farming, porn and protection rackets. Moody and his squad were meant to close down porn shops, but in actual fact Moody was selling porn shop ‘licenses’ to hardened gangsters for £8,000-10,000 a pop.

It was institutional corruption, allowed to fester in these elite squads, and also the drugs squad in the same period, as they had a greater level of autonomy than other units. The sleazy pole was also greased along by Commander Wally Virgo, overseer of all the elite Scotland Yard squads. Acquitted on a technicality on appeal- unlike Drury and Moody and other officers from the squads who received substantial sentences- Virgo, in his trilby, was a quieter, but powerful, cog in the machine.

They were different times, but the roots of corruption never change. The 1970’s saw being brazenly bent often accepted, if not always expected. There were honest coppers working away, but the bad apples wove a rotten tapestry, which had been building in the Met Police since at least the 1920’s, and especially since the late 1940’s.

By Neil Root

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