Thursday, 29 November 2012

Scotland Yard - Sir Harold Scott

 True crime classic Penguin greenback.  Scott (1887-1969) was a career civil servant appointed Commissioner of Scotland Yard in 1945.  He continued in office through the coronation of Elizabeth II and then retired in 1953.  A year later the hardback version of this memoir appeared, followed by this Penguin in 1957.

There are accounts of classic murders here - Christie, Heath and Haigh were all brought to justice on Scott's watch, but perhaps more important is the reminder of just how damaged British society was in the immediate aftermath of the war.  Crime boomed as never before and there was a desperate shortage of police officers to try and contain it.  It was not until Scott that such radical innovations as women police constables and police dogs became standard.  Even so, Scott makes it clear that policing in those days was about crime reduction rather than counting arrests.  It was also on his watch that traffic cops came into their own but, amazing as it seems to us now, advice and warnings were prioritised over collecting convictions.  There was more crime and more civil liberty - if only such a concept troubled our modern legislators.

I personally enjoyed the chapters about the river police and horse patrols, both of which predate the Met and were subsequently absorbed into it.  But as a pure period piece, how about this sentence from the Flying Squad chapter?  "The next piece of information the police received was that a certain bookmaker, known as Poofy Len, might be worth their attention."  Poofy Len - ah, those were the days...

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