Corruption, intimidation, police brutality...
Welcome to Sheffield CID, 1963. Exactly 50 years ago today the South Yorkshire force found itself mired in one of the most shocking scandals in English police history.
The Rhino Whip Affair started with two detectives being sacked for assault and spread to engulf the entire hierarchy of the force. It made national headlines as details emerged of a culture in which cops beat suspects with stolen weapons, tampered with evidence and had their lies covered by top brass.
In one shocking revelation, it was said officers had stripped to the waist to go knuckle to knuckle with those brought in for questioning.
Six senior policemen - including the Chief Constable and the head of the city’s CID unit - were sacked, suspended, retired or resigned as a result.
Even a 12-day tribunal investigating the whole scandal was not without controversy. It had to be interrupted after an anonymous bomb threat.
“I wasn’t in CID at the time,” says Graham Stoor, a South Yorkshire detective who would himself later be arrested on unrelated corruption charges. “But people still talked about it. There have been a lot of bad times for police in South Yorkshire but that was among the worst. The whole force felt implicated.”
So, what exactly was the Rhino Whip Affair? “One of the darkest days in the force’s history,” according to The Star; a scandal which began when three burglary suspects were arrested and only ended after the Home Secretary initiated an investigation into the force.
Those three suspects were Kenneth Hartley, Albert Hartley and Clifford Bowman. They were apprehended on March 14 1963 but, with no apparent evidence to link them to any crime, it was suggested during a meeting of CID that a confession be beaten out of them.
Detectives Derek Millicheap and Derek Streets did just that. While unidentified colleagues planted evidence - a screwdriver and gloves - in the suspects’ van, these two subjected the trio to savage and sustained brutality. Truncheons and fists were used during the assaults in the interview rooms of Water Street Police Station. Streets whipped them repeatedly with a rhino tail.
“The rhino tail was from a collection of offensive weapons handed in to the police at an earlier date,” reported The Star. “The item had been taken by one detective who carried it around with him.”
Streets and Millicheap were dismissed behind closed doors when The Sheffield Telegraph reported the violence. And that would have been that - except both appealed. They said they had been following orders. When top boss Chief Constable Eric Staines refused their right to appeal, the Home Secretary stepped in and set up a public tribunal.
It was during this, over 12 days in September, 1963, at Sheffield Town Hall, the full extent of corruption and brutality was laid bare.
Street and Millicheap gave evidence saying that such assaults were encouraged by senior officers; while it was suggested evidence was regularly planted on suspects. Decisions, it was added, were often taken at The Wheatsheaf pub.
When questioned at the tribunal, Chief Inspector Frederick Rowley admitted: “These things go off fairly frequently. You can’t have kid gloves on when detecting crime.”
Chief Constable Staines denied he knew of the practice but he was, tribunal chairman Commander Willis noted, an “unconvincing witness”. He was implicated as being part of a cover-up.
It meant when the tribunal’s report came out 50 years ago today - November 6, 1963 - both detectives were found guilty of serious assault. They had their sackings upheld.
But the tribunal went further, condemning the entire leadership of the force. It found the use of violence was indeed encouraged from the top, and senior officers were criticised for covering up the truth.
Four top brass were suspended almost immediately. They included Chief Constable Staines and head of CID Detective Chief Superintendent George Carnill, who both retired days later.
The deputy head of the CID was also suspended, and resigned. Detective Rowley was returned to uniform.
It was, noted The Sheffield Telegraph, a conspiracy of violence and silence smashed. Its editor, David Hopkinson, was named journalist of the year for pursuing the scandal.