Excerpt of Ten Second Staircase by Christopher Fowler
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CRADLE TO GRAVE
PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL
Attachments Supplied: 3458SD, 19904KT
To: Leslie Faraday, Senior Home Office Liaison Officer
From: Raymond Land, Acting Head, PCU, London NW1 3BL
Date: Monday, 17 October
Dear Mr Faraday,
Thank you for your correspondence of 26 September requesting further details
concerning my tenure at the North London Peculiar Crimes Unit.
If I understand you correctly, you wish me to outline the recent problems I have
experienced at this unit from a personal perspective. While I am loath to commit
myself in writing over such a delicate matter, and dislike 'telling tales' on
staff members despite their extreme lack of co-operation over the last few
months, I feel the time has come to unburden myself to someone in a position of
greater authority. In short, Mr Faraday, I can no longer maintain my silence. I
have simply reached the end of my tether.
I appreciate that, as the 'new broom' at HO Special Services Liaison, taking
over from HMCO Liaison DCI Stanley Marsden, you must have a great deal of
background material to study. I shall therefore attempt to save you some work by
summarising our current situation.
The Peculiar Crimes Unit was founded, along with a handful of other specialist
departments, soon after the outbreak of World War II, as part of a government
initiative to ease the burden on London's overstretched Metropolitan Police
Force, by tackling high-profile cases which had the capacity to compound social
problems in urban areas. The crimes falling within its remit were often of a
politically sensitive nature, or could potentially cause social panics and
general public malaise. The division's civilian counterpart at that time was the
Central Therapy Unit, set up to help the bereaved and the homeless cope with the
psychological stress of war. This unit closed after just eleven months because
bombed-out residents continued turning to their neighbours for support rather
than visiting qualified specialists. There was also, if memory serves, an
experimental propaganda division called the Central Information Service (later
to become the COI), which provided positive, uplifting news items to national
newspapers in order to combat hearsay and harmful disinformation spread about
our overseas forces, and to fill the void left by the blanket news blackouts.
The PCU proved more successful than either of these, and remained in operation
through the war.
I am led to believe that the title 'peculiar' was originally meant in the sense
of 'particular,' as the government's plan was that the new unit should handle
those cases deemed uniquely sensitive and a high risk to public morale. To head
this division, several extremely young and inexperienced students were
recruited. One must remember that this was a time of desperation, when most
able-bodied men had been taken into the armed forces, and a great many
experimental ideas were proposed by the Churchill government.
A number of successful prosecutions were brought by the Peculiar Crimes Unit in
the years that followed, with the result that the unit continued its work into
peacetime. The rebuilding of Britain required the suppression of those
prosecutions deemed too negative for public knowledge (a fifty-year embargo
being placed on sensitive war reports), and many cases handled by the PCU at
this time remained sub judice.
In order to provide continuity, the sons and daughters of original staff members
were recruited, so that the founding team was largely replaced with new
employees, but two gentlemen remained in their old positions. I refer, of
course, to Mr Arthur Bryant and Mr John May (see attached file 3458SD). This is
where the problem starts, for both of them, despite their advanced age, are
still here at the unit. They stayed on because the unit granted them a high
degree of autonomy, and their specialist knowledge, plus their refusal to accept
promotion, continuing instead to tackle crime at street level, won them the
allegiance of young incoming staff in the Metropolitan Police Force. In years to
come, as their supporters moved to positions of power, these loyalties proved
useful to the detectives.
Excerpted from Ten Second Staircase by
Christopher Fowler Copyright © 2006 by Christopher Fowler. Excerpted by
permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No
part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in
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