The story of Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad, as told by detective-turned-author Dick Kirby
PUBLISHED: 12:00 04 August 2020 | UPDATED: 15:08 05 August 2020
Birthdays are often a time to reflect; both on years passed, and all those still to come.
The birthday of Barking-born Dick Kirby, celebrated on Sunday, was certainly that.
As the former Scotland Yard detective turned 77, surrounded by grandchildren and bubbly, he would have been forgiven for taking a moment to consider how he got here.
This latest milestone happens to be nestled between the release of Dick’s 19th and 20th books respectively; an impressive feat, given that he wasn’t a published author until the age of 58.
With the candles barely blown out from Sunday’s celebrations, Dick sat down to talk about his latest book, Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad, and about how he has managed to cram two successful careers into one lifetime.
Born in 1943, he spent the first 21 years of his life in Barking. Married with two children as he approached 24 — “working in a dead-end job” — Dick applied to join the police force on something of a whim.
Drawn by the lure of a profession where success could be achieved by having “some sort of education and common sense”, Dick became a police officer in 1967.
He then moved to Upminster in 1969, staying there until 1983. Moves to Elm Park and Cranham followed, before Dick and his family relocated to Suffolk in 2000.
Dick’s ability saw him recruited for the Serious Crime Squad and the Flying Squad; his performance in both saw him commended on 40 occasions by police commissioners, judges and magistrates, each of whom praised his “courage, determination and detective ability”.
The Serious Crime Squad was formed in 1971 as a “follow-on to enquiries into the Kray brothers and the Richardson brothers”, with Dick honing his craft in the unit between 1975 and 1979.
He then enjoyed two stints with The Flying Squad — who deal specifically with armed robbery — 1981-1983 and again from 1985-1991.
Dick speaks effusively about this time: “I was never apprehensive about anything we had to do. I had total confidence in my fellow officers.”
Both experiences gave him a unique vantage point into the Reserve Squad which forms the subject of his latest book.
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Formed in 1906, the colloquially-known Murder Squad deployed top detectives to murder investigations deemed beyond the expertise of local constabulary officers.
This, the author says, created a tense relationship: “Some chief constables disliked the idea of Scotland Yard interfering in their area.”
Though he was never a member, Dick — once commissioned to write the book — was able to combine his inherent understanding of the force with the testimony of his many contacts.
These contacts helped tell one of the book’s most memorable stories, pertaining to the investigation of notorious mass murderer Dr Bodkin Adams.
Squad members Herbert (Bert) Hannam and Charlie Hewett were sent to Eastbourne to aid the investigation into Adams, who had allegedly killed more than 160 patients.
When the pair arrived through the back door of Eastbourne police station, they were greeted by the sight of its chief constable atop a horse, having his picture taken for the force’s Christmas cards.
The horse, in Dick’s words, proceeded to leave “a steaming pile of faeces” on the floor. Sensing an opportunity, the local chief said: “There you are, Hannam — that’s what my horse thinks of Scotland Yard officers!”
Not to be outdone, Hannam returned: “Oh, I’m so glad you spoke, sir — for a moment, I thought you’d fallen off your horse!”
This uneasy union did not stop the Murder Squad from helping to resolve complex investigations; Dick’s book outlines many of its success stories, such as the seemingly “unsolvable” murder of a peer’s butler and that of the housekeeper who worked for King George II of Greece.
Dick reflects on how the squad has changed: “When we think back to 1906 when the Murder Squad was formed, there was nothing like we have now in terms of forensics.”
Dick retired from the force 27 years ago.
Though evidently still young enough to pursue another path, his subsequent success must be admired.
He published his first book — Rough Justice: Memoirs of a Flying Squad Detective — in 2001.
This latest offering is book number 19; book 20 — The Racetrack Gangs — is out in October, with ‘Terror in the Streets’ to follow next May.
Visit dickkirby.com/books or amazon.co.uk.
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