Obituary: Herbert Sparks
Thursday 24 December 1992
THE DEATH at the age of 86 of Herbert Sparks marks the end of that golden age of post-war British detection, when trilby-hatted men in detachable collars tracked down embittered villains before putting them safely behind bars.
Sparks joined the Metropolitan Police in 1924, and quickly established himself as a highly competent thief-taker with a penchant for painstaking hard work and uncompromising diligence. His 37-year career covered a remarkable period of British criminality, in particular, the pre-war dominance of the racecourse gangs, the black market of the war years, the subsequent rise of such infamous characters as Jack Spot and Billy Hill, culminating with the rise to power of the Kray twins and the Richardson brothers.
As Detective Chief Superintendent in charge of the Flying Squad, Sparks established record arrest figures, yet his most notorious case involved the conviction of a failed safe-cracker with an IQ of 150.
In September 1953 Maples, a store in Tottenham Court Road, was robbed of cash and jewellery worth pounds 34,700. Within a week Sparks had arrested five men, among them one Alfred Hinds. The evidence against Hinds hinged upon forensic science findings that claimed to have discovered traces of fuse and safe lining on his clothing. Lord Goddard sentenced him to 12 years' imprisonment, and awarded him the rather mysterious accolade of 'a most dangerous criminal'.
Alfie Hinds dedicated himself to attaining his liberty by any means at his disposal. From his prison cell he pleaded his innocence via the publication of a pamphlet, and when that failed to achieve the desired effect he escaped.
He escaped in total three times while constantly proclaiming his innocence. Herbert Sparks retired in 1961, published his memoirs in the People newspaper and, as a result, found himself being sued by Hinds for libel. Sparks had merely stated that Hinds was guilty of the Maples robbery, yet the case, now 11 years old, was, in effect, retried in the civil courts.
Despite the Court of Appeal's constant rejection of his case, and the unfavourable summing up of the judge, Mr Justice Edmond Davies, it was ruled that the ex-detective had failed to establish Hinds's guilt. Hinds's final plea to the Court of Appeal was rejected and the law was later altered to make it impossible to resort to the civil court as a means of disputing a criminal conviction.
The subsequent award of pounds 1,300 made to the man described by Sparks as 'the most dangerous and cunning criminal' he had known was an enormous sum in 1964, and it was a blow that Herbert Sparks never forgot.
On Hinds's death in 1991, some 38 years after the Maples robbery, Herbert Sparks wrote ruefully to the Police Pensioners magazine that ex-officers should think twice before publishing their memoirs.
- 1 Isis burns thousands of books and rare manuscripts from Mosul's libraries
- 2 Scarlett Johansson new band 'already hit with legal complaint' from another The Singles
- 3 Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
- 4 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
- 5 'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Liam Gallagher brands Kanye West 'utter s**t' during BRIT Awards performance
Isis burns thousands of books and rare manuscripts from Mosul's libraries
Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
Mohammed Emwazi: Family of man named as 'Jihadi John' described by neighbours as 'normal Muslim family'
Mohammed Emwazi: Nine things we know about man named as Isis militant 'Jihadi John'
Oscars 2015: Birdman beats Boyhood as Eddie Redmayne and Patricia Arquette win big - as it happened
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
Aqsa Mahmood branded a 'disgrace' by her parents after claims she recruited three UK girls flying to Middle East
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...
£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...
£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...
£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...