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Corruption

STEALTH … Between The Covers

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StealthLondon in 1967 seems to have been an exciting place to live. A play by a budding writer called Alan Aykbourne received its West End premier, Jimi Hendrix was setting fire to perfectly serviceable Fender Strats, The House of Commons passed the Sexual Offences Act decriminalising male homosexuality and Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell featured in a murder-suicide in their Islington flat. This is the backdrop as Hugh Fraser’s violent anti-heroine Rina Walker returns to her murderous ways in Stealth, the fourth novel of a successful series.

I am new to Ms Walker’s world, but soon learned that a brutal childhood deep in poverty, where attack was frequently the best form of defence, and a later upbringing embedded in the world of London gangsters, has shaped her view of life. Although parliament had decreed that chaps could sleep with chaps, provided both were willing, there was little public approval for chapesses having the same latitude, and so Rina’s love affair with girlfriend Lizzie is accepted but not flaunted.

Lizzie has been set up by Rina as proprietor of a Soho club, more or less legit, but with a multitude of blind eyes which fail to focus on minor breaches of the moral code. When a young tart is found in a club back room, battered to death with a hammer, Rina not only takes offence but wreaks summary revenge. The killer, a bare-knuckle fighter called Dave Priest, is not only thumped by his latest opponent on the cobblestoned back yard of a dingy pub, but becomes the latest victim of what might be called Rina’s Law when she kills him and artfully arranges his corpse to look as if he had slipped on the stairs.

Rina is locked into a world where she is forever repaying favours, or earning them and taking rain checks for a later day. One of her debts is to a grim and sordid gang boss who, in turn, owes a favour to a homicidal maniac currently a patient in Broadmoor. This particular penance involves her bumping off a perfectly innocent builder who has had the temerity to offer the maniac’s wife a new life in the dreamy suburbs of Romford. Rina is not totally without moral scruples, although if you blink you will miss them as they whizz past your eye line at the speed of light. She tries to scam her employer by staging the death of the honest builder, but she is found out in a complex sting involving shadowy operatives of military intelligence.

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Is Rina fazed by the step-up in class from bumping off Essex builders to the complex world of international intrigue, Cold War deception and men in expensive suits who never, ever are who they say they are? No, not for one moment. Whether downing large whiskies in backstreet pubs, or sipping chateau-bottled claret in expensive hotel suites, our Rina is equal to the task, be it on home turf or in the romantically sleazy cafes and bars of Istanbul.

The list of fine actors who have turned their hand to crime fiction is extremely short, not to say minuscule. Even more invisible, except via an electron microscope, is the catalogue of crime writing actors who play languid toffs. I yield to no-one in my admiration for Hugh Fraser in his roles as Captain Hastings and – my absolute favourite – his insouciant Duke of Wellington in Sharpe. The difference between Fraser’s screen persona and the world of Rina Walker could not be more extreme.

To cut to the chase, does Stealth work? It does, and triumphantly so. Fraser might be just a tad too young to have experienced the Soho of the mid 1960s, but if the scene setting isn’t from personal recollection, he has certainly done his homework. My only slight criticism is that I found that the constant mood/time/product placement via contemporary pop song titles began to grate after a while. There is a touch of “with one bound she was free” about Rina Walker, and you  would certainly think twice about taking her home to meet mummy and daddy in Virginia Water, but under the capable direction of Hugh Fraser her adventures provide an enjoyably violent and escapist crime read. Stealth is out on 8th October and is brought to us by Urbane Publications.

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BEHIND THE BADGE IN RIVER CITY … A True Crime exposé

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Young DonApril 6, 1961, I was sworn in as a brand new police officer in a ceremony held in the office of Ray Smith, the city auditor, in City Hall. I was nervous, proud of myself for passing all the tests, not least of all surviving an interview with the shrink, and now I stood with my hand up, swearing to serve the citizens in an honorable manner.”

Thus begins a memoir by Don DuPay, (pictured left as a rookie patrolman) He served the people of Portland, Oregon faithfully and well all through the turbulent sixties and seventies, but his time with the police was not to end with a gold watch and choruses of “For he’s a jolly good fellow..” from his fellow officers. Although Don’s book is full of insights into his years of policing Portland, the case which effectively ended his career is worth a detailed look. In 1975, DuPay had investigated the death of a  black youth called Zebedee Manning. The fifteen year-old was found in his bedroom, laid out with his arms and hands folded across a sawn-off .22 rifle that lay on his chest. The eyes were shut and he could see the boy had been shot at point blank range directly through the centre of his forehead. Manning (below, photographed at the funeral home) was already in a full tail spin down through a spiral of drug abuse, petty criminality and despair.

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Dupay was certain that the Manning crime scene had been set up – unconvincingly – by someone who was keen to have the death recorded as a suicide. He was shocked when he was told by a senior officer that Manning’s death was just that:

“It’s over, DuPay. Go work on something else. He’s just another nigger dope dealer who cashed in his chips – so what?”

Angered and astonished by the callous dismissal of a young boy’s life and death, DuPay resolved to work the case on his own. DuPay knew that the boy’s bedroom had not witnessed a suicide, but something more sinister. There were four key pieces of evidence which were screaming “murder!” to Dupay, if to no-one else.
(1) Who shoots themselves through the forehead, and then manages to rearrange their hands to cradle the weapon?
(2) Downstairs on the kitchen table were four empty glasses and half a bottle of whisky. Manning’s mother, Annie Mae, had been at work and came home, only to discover her son’s body. She insisted that alcohol was never allowed in the house. Who, then, were the drinkers?
(3) There were two bullet holes in Zebedee’s room, one in the wall and one in the ceiling. Was this Zebedee practicing, or could they have come from someone firing the gun to frighten him?
(4) DuPay found three car titles in the boy’s room. These are the American equivalent of UK vehicle registration documents, and were commonly used as collateral in drug dealing.

BTB009Dupay was convinced that Manning had been killed for some infraction or a bad debt in the violent and ruthless world of those who deal in narcotics. But why were senior officers of the Portland Police Bureau determined to bury the case? Why did Dupay arrive at the office the day after the body had been found, and found that all the details had been wiped from the status board listing ongoing and unsolved cases?

There could only be one logical answer, and it sent an icy chill down DuPay’s spine. Zebedee Manning was dead, because he had been involved in some kind of drug scam which involved officers from the PPB. DuPay’s suspicions were as good as confirmed when he was abruptly busted down from the Homicide division to work in the dog-end department of Burglary. DuPay stuck it out for another few years, but his faith and trust had been irrevocably shattered. By April 1978, he’d had enough:

Don“I tossed my badge on the Captain’s desk, telling him that I was sick of the job and tired of the hypocrisy of people like him. I told him my health had been suffering and I hated the work, only because I hated some of the people I was forced to work with. I also hated being told that I could not investigate a particular 1975 ‘suicide’ that I knew to be a murder.”

Don DuPay left the police force and found that his skills and experience were in demand elsewhere, in the private sector. His memoir is brimful of stories of brave men trying to confront villainy on mean and dangerous streets. He writes with disgust of people in power who have traded trust for expediency. He exposes a culture deeply embedded in a police force which viewed the folk on the streets as potential enemies at the worst, and at best time wasters and irrelevant small fry. To this day, no-one has been convicted of the killing of Zebedee Manning.

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BEHIND THE BADGE IN RIVER CITY is available on Amazon.

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THE MURDER OF STEPHEN LAWRENCE

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Some would say that no murder in British history has resonated so loudly – and for so long – as the killing of Stephen Lawrence on the night of 22nd April 1993. While waiting for a bus home on a street in the London suburb of Eltham, Lawrence was surrounded by a gang of white youths and fatally stabbed.

It has become axiomatic in the reporting of murdered black youths to say that they were promising footballers, ambitious musicians or innocent victims in gang warfare, but Stephen Lawrence was a genuinely decent person, with caring and supportive parents. He was working his way through the education system, and had no connection with the debilitating street culture which still condemns many such young men to lives of crime and hopeless underachievement.

Although immediate investigations into Stephen’s murder identified credible and likely suspects, the police who were involved at the time have been forever tainted with accusations of – at best – total incompetence, and – at worst – breathtaking corruption. The young men who were suspected of Stephen’s murder were all part of the criminal underworld in that part of London. Their parents were career criminals, and the grip that such people can have on a community has been seen time and time again, as in the case of the dreadful Sonnex family, whose fiefdom is the south east London district of Deptford.

Jamie Acourt, Neil Acourt and Luke Knight were the initial suspects in the investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, alongside Gary Dobson and David Norris. All were, to differing degrees, the product of their upbringing by adults on the fringes of – if not deeply embedded in – institutionalised criminal behaviour, contempt for the law, and a visceral hatred of anyone outside their own tribal group.

After a bungled, and possibly corrupt, police investigation failed to bring anyone to court, Stephen Lawrence’s parents brought a private prosecution in 1994. Despite top QCs working pro bono, the case failed due to grave doubts about the reliability of the key witness, Duwayne Brooks, who had been with Stephen at the time of his murder.

KillersIn 1997, at the long-delayed inquest into the murder, the five men suspected of the killing refused to co-operate and maintained strict silence. Despite direction to the contrary by the Coroner, the jury returned the verdict that Stephen Lawrence was killed “in a completely unprovoked racist attack by five white youths.” Later that year, The Daily Mail named the five as Stephen’s killers, and invited them to sue for defamation. Needless to say, none of the five took up the challenge. Below, the five suspects run the gauntlet of a furious crowd after the inquest.

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Also in 1997, the Home Secretary Jack Straw ordered an enquiry into the affair, headed by Sir William Macpherson. The findings, in 1999, were sensational. Among other conclusions, Macpherson stated that the original Metropolitan Police Service investigation had been incompetent and that officers had committed fundamental errors, including: failing to give first aid when they reached the scene; failing to follow obvious leads during their investigation; and failing to arrest suspects. Most damning of all was the view that The Metropolitan Police was institutionally racist.

Despite the devastating views of The Macpherson Report, the five suspects continued their criminal lives, occasionally being convicted, serving short sentences, and then returning to their normal lifestyle. It wasn’t until November 2011, eighteen years after Stephen Lawrence had been struck down, that two of the five suspects were brought to court for his killing. In conditions of absolute secrecy and press lockdown, Gary Dobson and David Norris were tried at The Old Bailey. On 3 January 2012, Dobson and Norris were found guilty of Lawrence’s murder. The two were sentenced on 4 January 2012 to detention at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, equivalent to a life sentence for an adult, with minimum terms of 15 years and 2 months for Dobson and 14 years and 3 months for Norris. The relative leniency of the sentences reflects the age of Dobson and Norris (below) at the time of the killing.

Dobson and Norris

And the legacy of that night on a chilly spring evening on a suburban London street, almost a quarter of a century ago? This is from a recent article in The Daily Telegraph.

“Ennobled last year (2013), the Baroness, 60, maintains a relatively high profile as an activist and arbiter on community relations, and has appeared everywhere from the Tate gallery (as the subject of a Turner Prize-winning painting) to the Olympic Games opening ceremony and Desert Island Discs. In public, she comes across as imperturbable, even detached from the fiercely emotional issues that surround her. There is an unmistakeable Britishness about her that speaks both to her generation and the manner in which she was brought up.”

Neville Lawrence, however has fared differently.

“Today, Mr Lawrence lives in Jamaica, a short distance from Stephen’s grave. The only public memorial to the teenager in Britain is a pavement plaque in Eltham, south-east London, close to where he died. It has been repeatedly defaced with eggs, excrement and racist graffiti, and the family decided that Stephen would rest more peacefully in their ancestral homeland.

The distance – physical and otherwise – between the Lawrences now is so great that neither can really say if it was Stephen’s death that ended their marriage. Baroness Lawrence has hinted that it was headed for trouble anyway, but Neville tends to differ.

“Our world began falling apart from the moment the hospital staff told us our son had died,” he has said. “For some reason that I have tried to understand, and can’t, we couldn’t reach out to each other. We stayed together for another six years, but from that day we never physically touched each other again.”

Below – Doreen and Neville Lawrence

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