Shropshire Star

How corruption of police squad let justice down

Officers who rode roughshod over the law wrecked the good work of their colleagues and left a lasting stain on the force.

The Birmingham Six are released in 1991

Serious Crime Squad – three now chilling words that still stain and undermine the good work and, at times, heroics of our police.

Disbanded in 1989, the hard-bitten West Midlands squad were damned by allegations of wringing confessions through bullying, falsifying statements, denying those detained access to solicitors and generally riding roughshod over rules and regulations.

The stories that followed the squad’s shame read like a script from 1970s’ cop drama The Sweeney. Lead characters in that show, Detective Inspector Jack Regan and DS George Carter, were not questioned and castigated for the strong-arm tactics they employed, those they collared were not freed because the pair bent and broke rules.

Members of the Serious Crime Squad were, and many of their most high-profile successes were later exposed as injustices, the victims freed, exonerated, and compensated. Around 40 convictions failed in the 1980s because of likely malpractice.

The Birmingham Six’s wrongful conviction for the 1974 pub bombings will go down as the squad’s darkest hour, but many more fell victim to its cavalier approach to police codes and conduct.

Contrary to popular belief, the Bilston-based Regional Crime Squad, which worked in tandem with the SCS as a sister organisation, investigated the Bridgewater Four, wrongly jailed for the 1978 killing of paperboy Carl Bridgewater in Stourbridge.

I interviewed a recipient of Serious Crime Squad interview techniques. He alleged a plastic bag was placed over his head and described the relentless grilling as terrifying.

We now know there was something rotten within the SCS, disbanded by Chief Constable Geoffrey Dear amid allegations of endemic misconduct.

West Midlands Chief Constable Geoffrey Dear

And the first stench of something terribly wrong was detected by an unnamed senior Wolverhampton solicitor.

On gathering information on the squad’s many ills, I discovered an intriguing Hansard record of a January 25, 1989, House of Commons debate. Claire Short, then MP for Ladywood, Birmingham, told the House: “A solicitor in Wolverhampton told me of a case he had handled in the Dudley Green Court and of another one in Stafford Crown Court. Three people were involved in each case. They all made supposed confessions, which they denied. As soon as he heard of a new forensic test, the solicitor obtained the approval of the court to obtain the original statements. Until that time he had been given only photocopies. The test can only be made with the originals that contain the imprints.

“There was a delay of six weeks before the papers were handed over.

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