Obituary: Herbert Sparks

Herbert William Sparks, policeman, born 1906, died 12 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.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Management Trainer

£30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Exciting career opportunity to join East...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Scientist / Research Assistant

£18000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious start-up company b...

Reach Volunteering: Chair of Trustees

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Do you love the Engl...

Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines