Jack Slipper

Policeman who pursued Ronnie Biggs

Saturday 27 August 2005 00:00

One of the last high-profile officers of Scotland Yard, Jack Slipper - "Slipper of the Yard" - will be better remembered for his failure to retrieve the train robber Ronnie Biggs from Brazil rather than the many successful cases in which, in one way or the other, he was involved.

As a detective sergeant, Slipper had been part of the team that had arrested Ronnie Biggs after the Great Train Robbery of 1963 - a case which Slipper would say was his favourite - and 11 years later flew to Brazil with reporters in tow to try to retrieve Biggs following his successful escape from Wandsworth, scaling a 30-foot wall with a rope ladder and dropping on to the roof of a furniture van outside. The Daily Express had learned that Biggs was in hiding in Rio and informed the police. The mission ended in failure as the Brazilian officials dithered over whether they should allow Slipper to take Biggs back to England. In the event Biggs's girlfriend was found to be pregnant and this tilted the scales in favour of allowing him to remain in Brazil.

Slipper returned empty-handed and was quick to take umbrage at anyone who suggested the fault lay with him. In 1990 he received £50,000 in libel damages from the BBC over their programme The Great Paper Chase; his action had been financed by Sir James Goldsmith. As is often the case, hunter and hunted had a great deal of respect for, and spoke well of, each other. Much later Slipper returned to Brazil to see Biggs and, over the years, the pair exchanged mutual good wishes.

Before joining the Metropolitan Police in 1951 at the relatively ripe age of 27, Slipper had served for five years in the RAF, mainly in what was then Rhodesia, and had been apprenticed as an electrician. After his initial police training Slipper was posted to Brentford, Middlesex, in those days a sleepy suburb with little crime. After three months he was completely bored and was about to send in his papers when he was transferred to the much livelier Chelsea.

He became a detective constable, moving to Acton and learning that an essential tool of police investigation is the informant or grass, who must be carefully tended. He always believed his future lay in detective work and was naturally delighted when he was invited to join the Flying Squad, then very much an élite force within a force and under the direction of Commander Ernie Millen. The tall, gap-toothed Slipper, with his raincoat and pencil moustache, became a quintessential officer of his time.

He had been promoted to detective inspector by the time of the murder of three police officers in Shepherd's Bush in August 1966 and worked on the case under the legendary Tommy Butler, travelling to Glasgow to bring back one of the men, John Duddy, who had been arrested there. The conviction of the three men involved was the case that Slipper would say was the one that had given him the most satisfaction. In 1973 he became Detective Chief Superintendent in Charge of Operations on the Flying Squad. He was immediately involved in a joint operation with the Glasgow police that resulted in seven men convicted for the murder of a security guard and the imposition of sentences totalling 118 years after what was then the longest trial in Scottish history.

Slipper was on the fringes of many high-profile cases of the time and, if he was not a leading player in the case of Bertie Smalls, who became the first "supergrass", he certainly was in that of Smalls's successor, Maurice O'Mahoney ("King Squealer") who in 1974 also gave up dozens of his former colleagues. Like Biggs, O'Mahoney admired Slipper, describing him as "as a truly great copper who did a marvellous job in even getting to Biggs' South American front door".

In April 1975 he headed the investigation into the raid on the Bank of America in Davies Street, Mayfair, in which up to £12m was estimated to have been stolen from safe deposit boxes. Later he served as head of "Q" Division based at Wembley. With the exposure of some corrupt officers in the Flying Squad, the then Commissioner Sir Robert Mark initiated a scheme of "interchange" in which long-serving CID officers were transferred back to the uniformed branch. Slipper was one who fell foul of the scheme and after years of plain-clothes work found himself, much to his distaste, in uniform at Ruislip. He served loyally but unhappily until he retired in 1979.

In 1981 he wrote his memoirs, unsurprisingly called Slipper of the Yard, which were a great success both in the UK and in America. After his retirement he enjoyed a second career as a security adviser.

In his younger days he boxed and played soccer and represented the police in tug-of-war matches. Later he became a better-than-good golfer, in retirement playing in numerous charity tournaments and also for the Vagrants, the ex-CID officers golfing society. In 2004 he was awarded the Lord Willis Award at Scotland Yard for his contribution to CID work.

James Morton

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