A crisis in the custody suite – seventh (and final) part

Posted by Guessedworker on Thursday, 11 January 2018 15:32.

A cautionary tale for policemen

Bennett found Boulder in the atrium hall of the hospital, sitting with a plastic cup of black coffee and a white DI from Notting Hill named Liz Dakin.  The news on Holly was 50% burns, 50% chance of pulling through.  The next 12 to 24 hours would decide if the damage to his internal organs was too extensive.

According to Dakin the first fire appliance arrived at the scene literally within seconds of the fireball erupting at the back of the property.  The emergency call was timed four minutes earlier at 01.40 hrs.  Someone had waited for the appliance to arrive before bricking Holly’s window and following up with a petrol bomb.  The first officers arrived six minutes later.  A sweep was conducted to no effect.

“Whoever did it wanted the fire put-out before it had a chance to take hold,” said Boulder.

“But not before it had a chance to maim or kill John Holly.  Is everyone else from the building OK?” asked Bennett.

“All evacuated safely,” Dakin told him, “We have to conclude that the attacker’s intent was to minimise danger to the others sleeping in the building, even at risk to himself.  There was just the one intended victim.  It’s most unusual.”

“It sounds most professional to me.  Aside from the brick and the petrol bomb has he left any evidence?” Bennett asked?

“Forensics are in.  Maybe some DNA will survive on the bottle fragments, but it’s a long-shot.  They’ll check on the way in to the rear of the property and out again.  The ground was reasonably soft.  There will be soil transfer.  There should be at least a partial boot-imprint … a few fibres.  He had to hop over a six foot high wall and two adjoining fences to access the ground outside the victim’s flat.”

“CCTV in the area?”

“There’s always a chance.  But it’s pretty much residential,” she said, “From that wall he could turn right and at the next cross-roads walk totally unrecorded for three or four hundred yards in any direction he liked.  If he was meticulous, he could probably get the best part of half-a-mile and still not be caught on any camera.”

“What about the voice on the emergency call?” asked Bennett.

“Haven’t heard it yet.  I expect it will be Cortana or some other virtual interface.  Interviews of the other residents and door-to-door will be starting in a couple of hours.  Uniform could do a finger-tip search of the immediate surroundings, I suppose ... bins and skips in the area checked in case he dumped his lighter.  Might turn up something but, y’know, there again.  There will definitely be a local appeal, though.  Forensics on the victim’s laptop and phone will be done … re-done, sorry.  Family and friend interviews … workplace.”

“That was a club in the Fulham Road, apparently.  Barman, but only part-time.” said Boulder.

“Oh OK, thanks.  So we’ll build up a victim profile.  Whatever you and DS Boulder can give us, please do.”

“When you got here, guv, I was just explainin’ to DI Dakin that it’s political,” Boulder announced.

“Yeah, that’s interesting,” said Dakin.

“Well, this attack would be a helluva coincidence otherwise,” Bennett said, grimacing at the unlikelihood, “but, obviously, we need to eliminate any other possibilities.  Can we make that the immediate focus of your investigation?”

Dakin nodded.

“Anything concrete you can get on the offender profile will help our investigation,” Bennett continued, “I’ll copy you our files to bring you up to speed.  We’ll lead, obviously.  But we could certainly use the additional hands if you have them.”

“A case of wild horses, I’d say,” Dakin retorted.

Bennett left to drive to the crime scene before returning home to wash and change.  He had hardly come through the door when his mobile rang.  It was Sgt Dutta.

“Good morning, sir,” he said, “I thought you should know that your Mr Ghosh called early this morning to report a missing person.  Name of Devesh Badhari.”

“Missing for how long?”

“Thirty-six hours he said, sir.”

“Ask Carlie Thompson to meet me at Ghosh’s address in one hour.”

“He’s not at that address, sir,” Dutta responded, “He’s seen the news this morning.  He says he is too afraid to stay there.  He was going to another address when he rang.  He said he would ring later when he can speak to you or one of the others.  He said he was turning off his phone in case he could be traced.”

“Traced?  He thinks he’s dealing with people who have the power to do that?  OK, I’ll be about an hour, sergeant.  If he telephones again before I arrive will you route the call to DI Thompson or one of her team.”

George Weg had been wide awake, miserable and worrying until the not-so-small hours.  But eventually even the cold, unforgiving surroundings of a cell in Paddington Police Station were forgotten and sleep took hold.  How galling then that at about 9.00 am the inspection port slid open momentarily.  The latch snapped back and the door opened wide.  “Gersz Weg,” said a voice from the unknown, “George to his friends.  It’s your friends we are going to talk about.” 

Weg looked up from his bunk and saw a dark-haired, serious-looking man, well over over six foot, early middle-ages.  “Where’s my lawyer.  I want my lawyer,” came the reply.

“We do not operate here under Code C.  My name is Walker.  I hold the rank of detective inspector with S015.  I have Bronze Community officer status.  Do you understand what that means?”

The big thing about Bonfire was that, if not exactly an open-source scandal site where anyone could post more or less anything about politicians, it was as close to that as UK libel law allowed.  Free media, it called itself.  It ran a Rumour Box, to which anyone could indeed anonymously mail more or less anything about politicians.  The site managers had proven themselves extremely adept at picking genuine scandals from the daily flood of dross.  How it managed this was an open secret.  It maintained an unknown number of well-connected “secret agents” in each of the mainstream Parties, to whom it fed the better quality rumours about the opposition.  Surviving candidates were then subjected to rigorous fact-checking (aka, snooping), leading finally to a public airing.  Ten years on from its launch, Bonfire was both a victor of various attacks through the courts and an unmissable staple of Westminster life.

The Parties liked this not one whit, of course.  But none of them could be sure that, if they rooted out the agents in their midst, the others would really do likewise.  Party politics was just too catty and devoid of trust to make such cooperation possible.  Charley loved it.  But then Charley was an agent himself.

Given his position at the Home Office, and assuming that Bonfire took his anonymous mail seriously, he could look forward to the Labour and Lib-Dem agents traipsing along to get his opinion.  But then, given the sheer volume of wild gossip and innuendo in the village, it was equally likely that half the opposition would do the same.

It was his Labour shadow, Alex Duffy, who caught up with him first, as they were coming away from a political breakfast with the American Ambassador at Clarridges – a round of outreach meetings with ministers and their shadows that the Ambassador was using to soften the uniformly negative British opinions of the incumbent back home.  With the re-shuffle so close, however, Donald Trump was of vastly less interest than Maxwell and Scott-Walters.  Did Charley think there was anything in the rumour?  Had he witnessed any, er … anything at all?  Well, of course, he had his reply worked out and ready to roll out.

First, the calculated disclaimer:

“Look, old man,” he said to Duffy, “it’s just not right for me to get involved in this.  I have always got on very well with Chris.  Smashing guy.  Effective minister.  But it’s no secret that I’m not Donna’s greatest fan.  We’ve clashed on Brexit and we’ve clashed on immigration.  I told her during the referendum campaign that the only reason she opposes Brexit is because she wants high-levels of immigration to maintain her ministerial profile.  Well, you know, vigorous political contestation is part and parcel of our public lives.  But there is a clear line when it comes to private matters.  We all still have to work together.  Donna and I have to work together, and you won’t catch me speculating on private matters which I, in any case, know absolutely nothing about.”

Then the subtle steer:

“But ... I suppose it wouldn’t hurt just to say that, er, with all these cases you can always … you know ... get a bit of a steer from the nature of the denials of the parties involved.  It’s one thing to be very hurt and angry about the distress caused, particularly to family members.  That’s the response of an innocent party.  But almost anything else leaves the question open to some extent.  So, for example, a denial that sets out to assure people that the relationship between the pair has always been entirely above-board and professional … that’s pretty dodgy.  That’s an attempt to shape the contours of the debate, should evidence promptly emerge of a late-night tryst in some out-of-the-way bar.  That’s always the liar’s fear, you see … that an outright refutation will itself be refuted in the most embarrassing and irrefutable way.”

“Right … right!” Duffy responded, “Great stuff, Charley.  You’re a diamond.”

“Well,” said Charley, “best to forget about the while thing, alright?”  Fat chance of that, of course.

A small interview room.  Grey walls, grey table, two grey men in grey suits opposite him, no recording machine.  Not one visible, anyway.  Walker’s fellow interrogator had not troubled to introduce himself, which told Weg that he was not police.  Probably MI5, then.  Cue the empty threats and blackmail.

It was the policeman Walker who spoke first,  “So you understand, we are not primarily interested in you except for what you can tell us.  If you are completely honest and open with us, and answer our questions satisfactorily, you will be home in Finchley with your parents this very morning?

“And does this spirit of openness extend to you? Will you be explaining why this is really happening,” Weg said, “Not that I don’t already know.”

“What do you know?” Walker enquired.

Weg thought he had it all worked out.  “Counter Terrorism Command has a new head.  Or is it National Coordinator.  I forget.  Anyway, he’s a Muslim, brought in to sanitise the security services’ action against Islamic extremism and terror … basically, to present an identifiable face to British Muslims, so they don’t feel that the British state is hostile to them.  I totally get that.  It’s why you are going after these National Action kiddies.  Trying to pretend they are a terror group when everyone knows they are stupid, uncouth wannabees and bedroom Nazis.

“And they’re not going to be enough, are they?  British Muslims, like Muslims everywhere, are as anti-Semitic as it gets, and the only way that the new man will really convince them that the state is acting fairly towards them is if he can point to some sort of action against Jews.  So your man has ordered a hunt for Jewish traitors and Mossad agents.  It started last Autumn in the the FCO.  Now it’s come to us.  We all know, you see.  You are the unsecret policemen.”

The grey men did not stir outwardly, though the the three words “cocky”, “little” and “bastard”, in that order, ran through both their minds.  “Is this to be the subject matter of a forthcoming “WegMail”, I think you call them?” asked Walker, derisively.

“I’m working on it,” replied Weg.

“When you’re not producing WegMail, what exactly do you do as a researcher in the Justice Ministry?” asked the one with no name.

“We generate background, basically,” Weg explained, with a casual shrug, “And before you ask, “we” is me, one other junior, Anthony Abeiku, and Nick Wells, the senior researcher.  At one time there was a couple more.  But then there was the departmental cull in the first wave of Osborne cuts, so ...”

“Background?” enquired Nameless.

“Primary, secondary, and non-law sources for authority, case law, and supporting argument,” Weg explained, “I and the other junior search for it and pass our findings up to Nick.  He’ll then communicate the findings, usually with some commentary, to the client, if that’s internal ministry personnel or a government law officer.  But sometimes he’ll write a full accompanying opinion if the requesting party is external, say the CPS or the Home Office or the Law Commission, or maybe the Judicial Office.”

“Do your two colleagues know that you spend work-time on a private political project?” Nameless asked, “They’re not on the private mail-list you maintain on the portable PC you take in to the office.  But then they’re not Jewish, are they?  Sixty-one names across every law-related government department and agency, and every one of them, so far as we can tell, a Jew like you.”

“I don’t neglect my work duties,” said Weg, defensive now, “I’m not doing anything wrong.  I hardly ever search the legal archives for my own material.  I just write, well ... informed speculations.  For the intellectual exercise, basically.”

“We’ve read them,” said Nameless, “They display a very narrow range of concerns.  Immigration and multiculturalism, anti-Semitism, anti-racism, hate-speech law, the holocaust.”

“I’d say peace, justice, equality, and human dignity,” Weg insisted.

“You left out the gravy, didn’t you?” said Walker, “One hundred dollars a pop.  Paid by a shell operation posing as a charitable fund which happens to bank offshore.”

That looked to have finally penetrated Weg’s carapace of self-confidence.  Walker pressed the point home. “Oh yes, we know about that.  And we have examined your bank records.  It’s only a few thousand quid, but it’s undeclared income, George.  I suppose you felt you couldn’t declare it.  Well, we can overlook that if you cooperate with us.”

“Come on, George,” added Nameless, “we’ve got you for fourteen whole days, if necessary.  If everything you’re doing is basically OK, talk to us about it.  That’s all you have to do.”

Tony Eilam left the fragrant Viv Brooks bed at 11.00 am. He had his phone turned on again by 11.10 am.  There was an angry message waiting for him from Bennett, “Where the hell are you?  Find out if Prakash Ghosh is still in London.  Ask everyone who knows him where he could be.  Don’t fuck about.  Get on with it.”

It only took an hour of sitting at that table quite alone for Weg to change his mind.  Now he was talking again, and talking a lot; which he did with an impressive fluidity and precision.  One could be mistaken for thinking he was even enjoying it.

“There are people, you see … clever, powerful, connected people ...” he was saying, “who have given up on the current political attempt to strengthen and supplement the concepts around hate speech, and move the whole debate on.”

“What attempt is that, precisely?” asked Nameless.

“The writing of a Model Law on tolerance … a positive law for tolerance ... and its promotion to governments, chiefly the European Commission and Parliament, through the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation.  The ECTR just hasn’t developed in a useful way.  It’s really only peopled by a few former Yugoslav states, the Turks, Cypriots, Russians, Germans.  The president is Tony Blair.  I mean, Tony Blair!  Then the European Union itself is starting to be seen as a liability.  Brexit will work, and the world will change.  The ECTR is going nowhere.  So do those of us who believe in a world of diversity, justice and human dignity ...”

“You’re talking, basically, about your fellow Jews, aren’t you?” said Walker.

Weg ignored him, “... do we want our aims and objectives to be tied to a declining political project?  That question only produces more, and more general, questions.  Is the traditional solution of a straightforward frontal attack on political opinion by committed activists plus informal action by individuals in positions of influence … OK, often Jewish activists, Jewish leaders … ever going to get us any further?  I mean ever.  Is the sheer predictability of Jewish activism … the appearance in some politician’s office of yet another delegation from a Jewish group ... proving counter-productive?  I mean no one ever rings a Jewish organisation and says, “Come and talk to me.”  Even more worrying, are the memes of reactionaries and racists … memes one encounters on-line all the time ... are they pre-conditioning perceptions of Jewish activism.  Is cynicism towards Jewish motives growing?  If we accept that there is a problem with Jewish activism in its present form, what would it realistically take to construct a viable alternative to promote those aims and objectives?

“These are timely and legitimate questions.  One proposed answer to that last one is (a) the facts on the ground … the growth of populism and extremism ... would have to be presented in a way that would force government opinion into line, and (b) as a double-lock, the response of government could not be left to chance, but would have to be finessed from within.

“And a test-model of that … a national model ...” Weg concluded with an amiable grin, “is being created now.  As we speak.”

The PM herself had telephoned Charley.  The sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach arrived with her second sentence.  Grateful thanks were offered for all the fine work he had done but … that bloody but!  It was the end of the grand political highway for Charley Tout, Minister for the Police and Fire Services.  In fact, three of the five junior Home Office posts were changing hands.  His successor was a woman, naturally, and a BAME, naturally.  Completely unsuited, naturally.  But the diversity ideology was holy writ in Westminster just now.  It trumped just about everything else.  Chris Maxwell, however, had survived; and, immensely annoyingly, so had Scott-Walters.  Far from ruining their ministerial careers, he had only succeeded in ruining his own.

He rang Mark Brick first.  Did the whips office do for him after all?

“No Charley, you idiot,” Brick replied, “I think you were probably in with a shout right up to the last minute.  But there was this arson attack.  Haven’t you read about it?  It’s in all the London editions.  Well, Chris Maxwell did, and he messaged Downing Street - and Downing Street messaged us - that the young man who is fighting for his life is the subject of the very story which you, a minister of the Crown, leaked to the Mail.  Politically, it’s a hand-grenade with the pin pulled, Charley.  It’s going to explode and the PM has to distance herself from it.  You know that.”

Charley knew that.  He hadn’t had time to look at the papers yet.  He didn’t know about the fire in Ladbroke Grove.  He was mortified and, for once in his political life, he had no more chess moves in him.  He even managed to ask a couple of sensible questions about the event before returning to self-justification.  “Honestly,” he pleaded, “I couldn’t have known things would go this far.”

Brick had no sympathy.  “You had the simplest brief in the entire government,” he said, “It doesn’t require the minister to be immensely knowledgeable or diplomatic or even hard-working.  It just requires him or her to stand around at NCCP receptions like a bloody statue.  How could you fuck it up!”

Although he had proved to be quite happy … very happy ... to talk about the rationale behind the “test-model” … the programme of activism in train at the Justice Ministry and in the Home Office … Weg had become very uncooperative when the questions switched to the identity of the prime movers and organisers.

The policeman Walker spoke next, “You didn’t create the Tagrium account that has been used to fund the programme.  You didn’t think up the idea of a private mailing list of Jewish sympathisers in government machine.  So who did, George?”

Weg busied himself with not making eye contact.

Walker continued, “The curating of the list … keeping it on your own phone … was very sloppy from a security perspective, George.  Very lazy and complacent.  I suppose you thought nobody would ever take an interest in what you are doing.  You thought you were bullet-proof, right?”

Weg was still silent.

“We understand that you are only a bit-part player in this,” Nameless cut in, “You just circulate your, er, intellectual exercises to your contacts … answer any questions that come back.  And that’s it, isn’t it?  You write engagingly, by the way.  The reportage style is clever.  Very accessible without ever being obviously Jewish in perspective.

“But we are confident that we can tie your material to other papers and communications, a lot of it restricted-circulation.  You have wide-ranging powers of access.  You have signed the Official Secrets Act, and you have broken it.  Do you understand?  We could crucify you for that alone.  But we don’t have to.  We just need you to be honest and upfront with us about it.  Then we can talk about the “who” ... to go with the “why” you have already freely explained.

“You do know, George, that at some point during the next 14 days you are going to have to talk about the “who”.  You go back to your cell and you think very hard about that.  We’ll talk later.  Rely on it.”

Charley didn’t want to be clearing his desk when his triumphant replacement arrived.  He said a somewhat formal farewell to the redoubtable Samuella and bestowed a modest bouquet of flowers upon her.  She smiled thinly at him, as if he was toxic, which perhaps he was.  Before he left the building he nipped upstairs to the Home Secretary’s floor to say a fonder farewell to Jessica Chen.  Actually, he thought he might ask for her phone number.  She was not there.  Her desk was cleared.

“Don’t you know?” said the woman at the next desk. “Some security people came yesterday and escorted her out of the building.  We haven’t heard a word from or about her since.  We’re all very concerned.  What can it mean?”

“I have no idea,” Charley replied.  Well, what else could he say?

“It’s all rather distressing,” the woman continued, “Jessica used to talk about her mother’s people in northern China- they are Jews, you know - and how they were victimised for generations by the authorities.  I wonder what’s going through her mind now.”

DC Korkmaz’s search of the NDEDIU archive had produced two videos, both of demos in Trafalgar Square.  It was all academic now, of course.  But Bennett had been sent them anyway.  He played the 140MB file from the 2014 demo first.  He could not, however, see any problems in the demonstration itself, which was good-humoured.  There were a couple of glimpses only of Ghosh – apparently the only Indian present – standing quite close to the camera and perfectly quietly, not obviously connected to any of the other demonstrators around him.  Several of them were, to put it mildly, quite anxious to pose as absurdly as possible for the camera, which was to be expected given this particular constituency.  It got a bit much, to be honest.  But then Ghosh rushed forward from out of shot and the picture frame went haywire.  It was all under control again less than a minute later, with him already cuffed and being led away by officers.  None of the other demonstrators seemed to have participated; and while there was some pleading with the officers, at no time had there been a serious attempt to recover Ghosh to the crowd.

The 2016 video was larger, and so was the demo.  But, again, it seemed to be good-tempered apart from the one incident involving the police horse towards the end.  That happened when some of the demonstrators attempted to leave the Square and march down Whitehall.  This was some distance from the steps in front of the National Gallery where the camera operator was positioned, and little was clearly recorded.  Ghosh himself was never identifiable.  As there was no arrest there was no investigation, and so nobody gathered the other available video evidence from the location.

Two possibilities, Bennett thought, assuming that Ghosh was the culprit in these incidents.  Either he was trying on both occasions, with not much guile and to very little effect, to provoke mayhem, or he just couldn’t keep his own aggressive behaviour under control.  The latter seemed the more likely.

For once, Walker need not introduce himself with his customary Bronze mantra.  Breadwardine welcomed him into his office, shaking his hand warmly.  “A lot of water under the bridge since the Stockwell days,” he said, “But you’ve obviously done pretty well for yourself.”

Walker beamed back.  “Good to see you again, sir.  Pity we only seem to meet under negative circumstances.”

“Indeed so.  This is a bad do all round.  I assume SO15 is taking over the Holly investigation,” said Breadwardine.

“Yes, I am afraid so, sir.”

“I expected it for some time,” said Breadwardine, which was true enough, “I don’t suppose you can tell me anything from your side?  Nothing sensitive, of course.  It’s just so frustrating to be left standing here with nothing, you know?”

Walker knew.  But he shrugged.  “Very little I can say.  It’s connected to an investigation elsewhere in government.  We had already become interested in extending that to the Justice Ministry and the Home Office when the perfectly innocent actions of a CPS lawyer suddenly kicked things off for us.  I understand you know her.  She came here with ACC Crabtree.”

“Ah yes, Miss Bailey or some such,” said Breadwardine.

“That’s the one,” Walker confirmed, “Well, she had just been transferred to WASSO at the Little France building … you know, the Justice Ministry.  So, in fact she wasn’t working in her old hate crimes department at the time.  But because of the personnel cuts her old position was not filled.  The usual story.  Added to that her old boss was on extended maternity leave, I understand.  It was all a typical mess, quite frankly, and Ms Bailey … Ojjey-Bailey ... found herself being asked to handle some Southwark Bridge through-put in addition to her new responsibilities.  When ACC Crabtree referred the Holly statement to Southwark Bridge for assessment, they sent it on to her.  Well, it was a big, complex statement.  She just had too much on her hands, and so she asked a junior researcher at Justice to have a look at it and give her a steer.  It’s what he did next, and for whom, that forced us to become involved.”

“Well, that makes sense,” said Breadwardine, “because when she came to the station she obviously hadn’t formulated any kind of opinion.  Quiet as a mouse the whole time she was here.”

The more Bennett thought about it the more he became convinced that this was all down to one angry man.  The slight, clever, gay Indian boy who fought for his political principles did not really exist.  Prakash Ghosh, if that was even his real name, was another person entirely.  OK, CaTTH was real enough.  The ghost “Stephen” and the mysterious pair who worked with him had to be real too, and likely Israeli state operatives.  The mysterious, solitary payment from the shell trust in the Cayman Islands was indicative of something along those lines at the very least, as was CaTTH’s noticeable switch from reporting homophobia to reporting anti-Semitism.  But there was no actual proof that Badhari was a living, breathing person at all, beyond some mild comments on-line that were from the same computer Ghosh was using.  Eilam had not managed to even speak to him, never mind interview him.  Ghosh had yet to re-contact the station to allow Carlie Thompson’s MP team to do its work and find him.

No, this was all coming down to two questions.  Was Ghosh the arsonist, or “Stephen”, or whoever he represented?  If it was Ghosh, was he acting on his own behalf or was he someone’s asset?

Bennett snatched up his phone to tell Breadwardine he was requesting an all ports.  “That won’t be necessary, Ian,” came the response, “You had better come to my office right away.”

Bennett skipped upstairs and knocked on the office door before entering.  Breadwardine had a visitor.  “Ah, Ian, this is DI Walker of SO15.  He has something of importance you need to hear.”

“This is just a courtesy, you understand, sir” said the visitor, “A decision has been taken within my Command to close your investigation into the Holly case.”

“Oh, Jesus Christ!” exploded Bennett, “What the fuck for?  I’m not having it”

“You have no choice in the matter.  You don’t need me to remind you of that.  Your files will go into quarantine, and my collection team is downstairs now.  Another team is on the way to Notting Hill.  We will also confiscate the files of the duty solicitor who attended Mr Holly’s interview here and the files of Mr Ghosh’s solicitor.  We are aware that ACC Crabtree and a Miss Anique Ojjey-Bailey at the CPS became involved, and we are in contact with both of them.  Are you aware of anyone else who may be in possession of data relevant to the enquiry.”

“Questioning under caution is it?  No fucking comment then,” Bennett seethed.

Breadwardine, worrying what Bennett might say next, cut in with his most emolient tone, “Erm … of course we are keen to help.  But I think it’s just the computers, mobile phones, hard drives and … ah ... what-have-you belonging to Mr Holly and to Mr Ghosh which were despatched to Wembley for forensic examination.”

“Thank you, sir,”  Walker said, “We are already in contact with DCC.  We know the position with those devices.  Well, gentlemen, that is all I have to say, if you will excuse me.”

But Bennett stood fast between him and the office door, and he wouldn’t let him past.  “Just a minute,” said Bennett, placing a palm against Walker’s chest, “you think that the person who committed an extremely violent and serious offence which may have been intended to result in the death of a young man … you think this is a person whom it is in the national interest to protect, yes?  Am I to conclude that he is a state operative?”

“Of course not,” Walker replied, icily calm, “But it is known who all the persons involved were.  Be assured that representations will be made through other channels.”

“Representations?  What’s that mean?  I’ve got a young man at Chelsea and Westminster with 50% burns, wrecked lungs, and years of skin grafts ahead of him, and you’re going to make representations?  Fuck off!”

Walker looked away, and sighed philosophically.  When he looked back again, he just said, “Welcome to the world as it is and not as an honest copper would like it to be, DCI Bennett.”

He brushed past him and out of the door.

Bennett remained standing there, like a statue.  Breadwardine sighed too, opened the bottom right-hand drawer of his desk and pulled out a bottle of Scotch and two tumblers.

“You were right all along,” Bennett said. “Whatever we managed to do ... however far we got ... nothing was ever going to come of it, was it?  John Holly will never see justice.”

“Ah, justice.  The allegedly blind lady of whom I see less and less with each passing year.  Least of all here, in our corner of London.”

“True enough,” said Bennett, sipping from his glass, “How did that happen?”

“Politics and politicians, of course.  As I know from my own all too painful experience.  You must have wondered, Ian, why I only hold the rank of Chief Inspector.  The truth is I did make Chief Super back in the early 90s.  But I was censured and demoted in the aftermath of Lawrence.”

“Lawrence?  You were caught up in that?” Bennett said, “How, if you don’t mind my asking.”

“Oh, I was only a peripheral actor quite early in the life of the thing.  Myself and two other senior officers had been called in for a review of the initial handling and shaping of the investigation.  We found ourselves examining the perfectly reasonable actions of local officers whose professionalism and knowledge of their patch I saw no reason to question. They were telling us that the murder, though undoubtedly unplanned and opportunistic, was initially suspected to be drugs-related and not simply mad and racist.  There were informants to be leant on.  There was some talk of gaining a confession.  There were officers who knew the prime suspect’s family well.  They thought – wrongly, as it turned out - they could convince them that if their son turned himself in and confessed to an unpremeditated killing it would serve him a great deal better than trying to tough it out.

“But right from the get-go the whole affair was politicised.  The investigating officers were quite shockingly and freely traduced by people with a very obvious agenda.  A certain narrative emerged from that quarter and found its way into the press.  It was advanced by a storm of abuse and accusation against anyone who attempted to put forward an alternative.  The investigating officers rapidly found the ground cut away beneath their feet.  Their fellow officers began to distance themselves from them.  They, in turn, began to focus solely on saving themselves.  Some stupid things … very stupid things ... were done.

“Of course, in such a febrile atmosphere it was quite impossible for us to fairly assess anything.  Everywhere one turned one was confronted by another hanging jury of local and national politicians, the hard left, black activists, campaigning liberal lawyers, race hucksters, the national media circus, scavenging celebrities …  We ceased to review anything at all.  There was only one permissable outcome, which was to apply some terrible existential guilt to everyone concerned.  It was a reign of terror without the guillotine.  We had to make a choice to turn our face against the officers and what they believed, or risk our careers.”

“But you risked your career?” asked Bennett.

“I wouldn’t put it quite like that,” Breadwardine replied, “More a case of being a little too tardy when the self-appointed champions of the sans culottes shouted ‘jump’.  Eventually, the insatiable appetite for putting policemen in the tumbrils reached down to me.  I had, you see, prevaricated over putting my name to the final report.  I was toying with the possibility of issuing my own memorandum for circulation with it.  In the end higher powers saved me the bother and aborted the review.  I was punished for my political naivety.  It was dealt with swiftly and out of public view, for which small mercy I suppose I should be thankful.  But here I am, retiring in three months on a chief inspector’s pension.”

Bennett nodded slowly, and then said, “To be honest, I think I’m on my way, too.  I’ve got to talk to Anne about it.  But this latest business, y’know ...  I’ve had my fill.”

Breadwardine did not attempt to dissuade his DCI.  “Eventually, all integrity flees modern policing.  But you have plenty of time to make a good career outside the service, Ian,” he said, “You will succeed.”

“Well, we’ll see.  And what about you, sir?  What will you do in your retirement?”

“Oh, I fondly tell myself I might have a memoir in me.  There is a story to tell.  There are injustices to be exposed, lies and distortions to be corrected, fashions to be ridiculed, politics to be dissented from, human weakness and corruption to be identified, power to be interrogated, fundamental principles to be upheld ... and my own mistakes and shortcomings to be apologised for.  Sometime, someone has to tell the truth, no?”

Bennett raised his glass.  “Well, here’s to that,” he said, and downed the last of the golden liquid.

Prakash Ghosh no longer, he waited for the train from Kolkata international airport to Krishnanagar, his home city.  He had changed in an airport toilet cubicle into the very clothes he had left in, seven years earlier.  He didn’t want to look out-of-place.  He wanted to give himself to the Bengali life surrounding him, and to be unknowable amongst it all.

Little by little the tension of his former life left him, and the certainty of his successful flight from London sunk in.  That last phone call to Peckham Police just before boarding was a stroke of genius.  Now he was out of their grasp for good.  Bengal beamed at him from every corner.  The Bengali sun drenched him with its heat and filled his eyes with its golden light.  Bengali air filled his lungs.  Best of all, there were Bengali people and only Bengali people all about him, looking as he looked and speaking as he loved to speak.  He was home, a sacred place.  He was going back to the life of old he had left in a rush of blood.  His father, his older brother and his three younger brothers were all here, and he needed now to make his peace with them.

What he would do after that he had no idea.  Whatever it was, it wouldn’t be for long; perhaps a year, perhaps two.  He had already made up his mind to go back to the European world, or the Europeanised world; and start a new life there. Canada, perhaps, or possibly Australia.  He was unknown to the authorities in both.  He just had to make up his mind about who and what he was going to be.  Reinvention was, after all, his principal talent.  But no matter what, he thought, he would always be, at heart, a political animal, and a Bengali political animal at that.

John Holly, utterly unrecognisable and heavily sedated, lay in a burn-bed in one of the HDU wards on the fifth floor of the hospital.  His parents were seated in grim, uncomprehending silence at the bedside, having only arrived from their home in the south-west of France an hour or so earlier.  The specialist had told them in a phone conversation during the journey that their son was out of immediate danger.  But, she said, he is at the beginning of a long, long road, treatment-wise; and he and they will have to be strong for a long time.

As they sat there, a nurse approached Holly senior and said something to him.  He turned half-round towards the nurses station, rose, and walked out to where a stranger was waiting.  The stranger was holding a bundle of papers - thirty-four pages to be precise - which he pressed onto him, cupping both hands around the hand with which he had just grasped the bundle.  “Without this,” the stranger said, “you ain’t gonna hear nuffin about why this ‘appened to your son, ‘cuz the security boys have come in and impounded everythin’.  Everythin’ but this, which I copied first.  Whatever your son tells you about these last few days, I want you to believe it.  I do.”

They shook hands.  The older man returned to his son’s bedside.  The other walked away and out into a world he was just beginning to understand.



Posted by Al Ross on Sat, 20 Jan 2018 00:58 | #

You might have injected a little topical NHS humour , say, an octogenarian exiting a hospital room and saying excitedly to his waiting wife, ” Great news. I’m now at the top of the list for a vasectomy.”

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