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Silcott officer will return in triumph: Graham Melvin will receive a hero's welcome when he re-enters the Yard tomorrow, says Peter Victor

WHEN Detective Chief Superintendent Graham Melvin strides into New Scotland Yard tomorrow, he will be the most popular man in the Metropolitan Police. Mr Melvin will receive congratulations, pats on the back, perhaps even an ovation. He returns to work triumphant after being acquitted last week of allegedly trying to frame Winston Silcott for the murder of PC Keith Blakelock during the Broadwater Farm riot.

Mr Melvin is used to plaudits from his peers. In March 1987 when he entered the offices of the serious crimes squad - at that time on the 15th floor of Scotland Yard - his colleagues burst into spontaneous applause. He had just returned from the Old Bailey where Silcott, Engin Raghip and Mark Braithwaite had just been sentenced to life in prison for Blakelock's murder.

Last year, at a Regional Crime Squad dinner, with those convictions collapsed and Mr Melvin facing trial for perjury and alleged conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, 200 colleagues and fellow diners gave him a standing ovation nevertheless.

Colleagues make no secret of their delight that Mr Melvin and his co-defendant, retired Detective Inspector Maxwell Dingle, were cleared last Wednesday of framing Silcott. To them, Mr Melvin's return is a triumph over an unfriendly legal profession, baying black activists and carping journalists. One Scotland Yard source said last week that the decision was 'brilliant', sharing the view of many others that regardless of the appeal court ruling, the world was a safer place with Winston Silcott in jail. More importantly, to their minds one of the Yard's finest detectives had survived a smear campaign.

But there will be others who will not want to catch his eye: those he suspects wanted him and Mr Dingle to be found guilty. There will be others who feel uneasy about unresolved questions: if Mr Melvin and Mr Dingle did not perjure themselves, as an Old Bailey jury decided last week, why did the appeal court decide in September 1991 that the convictions of Silcott, Mr Braithwaite and Mr Raghip were unsafe? More importantly, who did kill PC Blakelock and why are they not in jail?

Mr Melvin returns to work after two-and-a-half years' suspension, exonerated. But there is still the vexed question of the Esda testing on Silcott's final seven-page statement, taken by Mr Melvin and Mr Dingle and the basis of his conviction. The test, which uses sophisticated electrostatic equipment to reveal imprints left by the pressure of a pen on a page resting on top of the one being tested, appeared to show the statement had been tampered with.

The key unanswered question remains: what happened to a missing seventh, crucial page of Silcott's alleged confession? Testing of this page would have been critical in establishing whether the confession was written contemporaneously.

Mr Dingle will provide no answers. He has refused from the outset to comment or co- operate with the Essex Police investigation, launched after Silcott's conviction was overturned in 1991.

Mr Melvin's solicitor said last week that he was declining all media requests for interviews. But although he refuses to comment now, the transcript of his interview with Essex Assistant Chief Constable Geoffrey Markham and Detective Superintendent Geoffrey Payne shows he denied taking the page or fabricating evidence against Silcott. Mr Melvin told the investigators that he was 'flabbergasted' when he was told the key page was missing.

Despite his disillusion with the way senior management appeared to abandon him and his belief that certain elements within the police sought to destroy him, Mr Melvin has always maintained that he wanted to return to the 'cutting edge' of police work.

Born in Halifax in 1941, he joined the Metropolitan Police in 1960 and quickly joined the CID. His talents were spotted early. He was sent on the Bramshill police college course for high-flyers and rapidly promoted.

He has a string of commendations. Only days before the Broadwater Farm riot, he was commended for leadership and professionalism. He has served in the Flying Squad, investigated gangland murders and commanded the investigation into the Brink's-Mat gold bullion case. Before the riot, Mr Melvin was best known for trapping the Stockwell Strangler, who attacked and murdered elderly women in south-east London.

In March 1985, he was promoted to his current rank of Detective Chief Superintendent and transferred to SO1, Scotland Yard's elite International and Organised Crime Squad, where he worked until September 1991 when he was suspended. Three months later he was charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Throughout, his wife, Mavis, a schoolteacher, and their daughter Kirstein, 23, have supported him. Through his interest in golf, Mr Melvin kept in touch with colleagues. He embarked on a keep-fit regime to stay in shape.

Tomorrow he resumes his place in SO1. Only the cream of detectives are promoted to the squad, which handles crimes not only in London but nationally and internationally.

None of his colleagues, past or present, would discuss his return in anything but general terms. They were delighted to have him back but did not wish to comment publicly. One said it was wrong that 'a fine detective and a fine bloke' had been sacrificed to what many see as political expediency, a desire to placate left-wing activists.

Few involved remain unscathed by the aftermath of the Broadwater Farm riots. Not the police, whose public standing was damaged by yet another collapsed investigation. Not the Crown Prosecution Service, which despite a second investigation that yielded the names of up to a dozen suspects, closed the case last month. And not Mr Melvin, who will be remembered not as possibly the finest detective the Yard has produced, but as a brilliant detective whose career was marred by criminal charges.

On the way to his office, Mr Melvin may pause next to the eternal flame that burns in a special glass case in the lobby of Scotland Yard. Also in that case is a heavy, tooled leather volume of inscriptions dedicated to London police officers who have died in the line of duty. PC Blakelock is remembered in that book, a victim of a murderous mob. Yet no one is in jail for his murder.

(Photograph omitted)