Flying Squad officers shared out stolen cash as 'culture of corruption' took hold

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A culture of corruption among a group of Scotland Yard's élite Flying Squad detectives, in which hundreds of thousands of pounds of stolen money was siphoned off by officers, has been uncovered by a three-year inquiry.

Five officers have been jailed for up to seven years as part of the corruption investigation, Operation Ethiopia. Details of the inquiry, a series of trials and the use of a corrupt officer who turned supergrass can be disclosed after a court gagging order was lifted yesterday.

The five officers were based at the Flying Squad's Rigg Approach offices in Walthamstow, north-east London.

The man at the heart of the corruption inquiry was Detective Constable Ken Garner, 43, who became a supergrass after being jailed at the Old Bailey in January 2001 for 14 offences of corruption, theft and burglary. His evidence helped the Met's anti-corruption squad expose a closely-knit core of corrupt detectives in the robbery squad.

At Mr Garner's trial, his barrister, Martin Heslop QC, said: "There existed within the Rigg Approach division of the Flying Squad what can only be described as a culture of corruption involving secrecy, camaraderie and dishonesty between the officers."

When the corrupt officers arrested leading criminals, they often siphoned off large amounts of cash from the proceeds of robberies and shared it among their inner circle.

The corruption was "well established and extended from top to bottom and reflected a code of conduct based on team membership and loyalty to that team. You either fell in or your career in it came to an abrupt end," Mr Heslop said.

Mr Garner, the top recruit at Hendon Police College in 1982 with the highest exam marks on record, joined the Flying Squad 10 years later and by the end of his first year had embarked on a spiral of corruption.

He was in a surveillance team that arrested a burglar during a raid on a jeweller's in Brighton. At a de-briefing, Mr Garner was given £200 by a colleague who told him: "There, that is a drink for you."

Mr Garner said he took the cash because he was beginning to be accepted by "good detectives". There followed a string of share-outs. In one, Mr Garner received £15,000 - a 10th of recovered proceeds from a Security Express robbery.

Three of his colleagues were sentenced to seven-year jail terms for that theft: Detective Inspector Frederick May, Detective Constable David Howell and Detective Sergeant Eamonn Harris. Mr Garner was caught by the Met's Complaints Investigation Bureau, CIB3, after he retired in August 1997 because of ill health.

In December 1997, Mr Garner and a former Flying Squad colleague Terence McGuinness were arrested after they burgled a flat in east London and stole 176lb (80kg) of cannabis resin. They had walked into a trap set by the complaints bureau. After their arrest, Mr Garner and McGuinness admitted a series of offences from 1991 to 1996. McGuinness was jailed for nine years, later reduced to seven on appeal. Mr Garner was jailed for six years. He received a substantial discount on his sentence in exchange for giving evidence and has since been released. He is now in the witness protection scheme with a new identity.

Details of the inquiry could only be published after the end of another corruption trial, in which four detectives were acquitted yesterday after Mr Garner, the star witness, was ruled incapable of giving evidence because of his mental health. The prosecution had alleged the officers siphoned off £35,000 after arresting a gang that stole more than £1m from a post office in Romford, Essex, in July 1994. One of the men acquitted was Eamonn Harris, who is still serving his sentence.