Monday, 2 November 2015

The Ghost Squad

Back in the days when a great number of Scotland Yard detectives were household names and some even had tv series made of their exploits, such as Superintendent Robert Fabian, Police had intelligence gathering squads such as the Special Duties Squad.  Because of their habit of appearing and then disappearing, they became known to the Underworld as "The Ghost Squad."  Set up at the beginning of 1946, under the supervision of Assistant Commissioner Sir Ronald Howe, the new squad was put under the command of DI John Capstick, a dedicated cop known throughout the criminal fraternity as "Charlie Artful."  The only other well known officer in the ranks was DS John Gosling, who rose to the rank of Chief Superintendent.  The squad operated for over three and a half years, until September 1949, and Gosling was the sole officer served with the team throughout it`s tenure.  

    The team mingled with the criminals and their haunts, gathering intelligence, which was immediately passed on and they then melted into the background.  At the time, regulations forbade any officer associating with criminals, and would be subject to disciplinary procedures.  Officers did everything to look as less like cops back then as drug squad cops did in the seventies.  Some were seen by the public as nothing more than down and outs, which was perfect.  Many villains liked to dress the part and show well they were doing, so looking like criminal failures or the dregs of society worked in their favour.  They cultivated informers and had many villains talking to them about their thefts they had done or who was doing what.  A shabby looking fellow in the pub could not be a cop.  So they thought.

    The information gathered brought hundreds of arrests for thefts of every conceivable type of commodity, but one of their biggest cases was the Cricklewood Whisky Robbery on September 19th 1948.  A couple of lorries parked up near a railway embankment in the early hours of the morning, and a number of men left the lorries and disappeared amongst some railway trucks.  Soon they reappeared carrying cases of whisky which were slid down the embankment and were put into the waiting lorries.  The haul was worth £15,000, a huge haul equivalent to £300,000 in today's terms.  But as soon as they finished loading, lights went on and members of the Flying Squad poured out of a nearby yard.  The villains tried to make a fight of it but were outnumbered by the "Heavy Mob" though one lorry took off with some men inside.  It did not get far before The Sweeney had them all in custody.

    The Ghost Squad were responsible for nearly 800 arrests, the solving of over 1,500 crimes and the recovery of more than a quarter of a million pounds worth of stolen goods - five million plus today.  Nowadays, undercover is so much different, with  operatives not just consorting with criminals but with political groups and individuals with claims of some being Agent Provocateurs.  How times have changed.