Because Hercule Poirot is Belgian he is seen as something of an idiot; he cannot speak English properly and he comes from a country that has never produced ten famous people. Hence the surprise when he solves the mystery. As has been shown [Ballard & Ross, 1964], Christie was a subterranean feminist and Poirot the Belgian stands for the woman who is similarly regarded by conventional wisdom as incapable. (J Thomson, Uncompleted PhD thesis on detective narratives)
MP FOUND MURDERED
The veteran North London MP Terence Wicklow was found dead on Saturday night just outside the front gates of Del Morecambe University. Police are treating the death as suspicious and a murder enquiry has been opened.
Mr Wicklow, aged 55, had represented his North London constituency since he won it in a by-election early in 1967. Although in his early years he had been associated with the centre-left, he had for many years been a pillar of the Labour right, and in recent years had spoken out strongly for the modernisation of the Party, having been one of the first to advocate the abandonment of Clause Four.
Mr Wicklow had extensive business interests, and although in the last couple of years there had been rumours of financial difficulties, he had retained his buoyant optimism.
Mr Wicklow’s body was found after an anonymous telephone call was received by police. It is understood that his skull had been smashed by a blunt instrument.
Inspector Rosemary Stoddart, who is leading the police team investigating the death, said it was definitely being treated as a case of murder.
See obituary page 23.
Terence Wicklow, whose death in suspicious circumstances is reported elsewhere in these pages, first came to prominence in a celebrated by-election in 1967, when he defied the predictions of pollsters by holding on to a working-class constituency in North London at a time when the Wilson government was deeply unpopular.
He was only twenty-six years old and a bright political future was promised for this talented young man. So it was always a matter of some surprise to those who knew and liked him that he did not achieve ministerial office during the 1974‑79 Labour Government. Although ever assiduous in his parliamentary duties, Terence had also found time to build up a wide range of business interests, and it is quite possible that this weighed against him when he was considered for promotion.
Terence never married, although he enjoyed the company of women and had a lively social life. As a close friend remarked yesterday, ‘he was certainly no cloistered monk’.
Terence Wicklow was born in 1940, to a working-class family in the North London area he was later to represent. The poverty of his early years led him to the Labour Party, which he saw as the natural vehicle for social improvement. However, the deprivations of those early years also account for the fact that he was careful to ensure that he was financially provided for in later life.
It is sadly ironic that he should have met his end through violence. Terence Wicklow was a kind, gentle man who hated violence. His consistent support for Amnesty International was widely recognised. That same hatred of violence was manifest in a speech only a few weeks before his death, when he drew attention to the threat to our freedoms posed by ‘aggressive begging’.
He will be sadly missed by his friends on all sides of Parliament.
Jim Robinson MP
* * * * *
Seamus O’Hara, sitting in the University canteen, put down his newspaper and looked over the table covered with spilt coffee and unemptied ash-trays. ‘So someone’s killed our MP,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘Who’d do a thing like that? The poor fools have so little power, it scarcely seems worth the effort killing them.’
Penny Brown, sitting opposite him, smirked and picked up the paper to have a look for herself.
* * * * *
A SAD DAY FOR BRITISH POLITICS
by Steven Sadler
Many people will have been saddened to hear of the death of Terence Wicklow MP. He was a personal friend of mine and I had known him for nearly thirty years. In fact, I canvassed for him when he first stood for Parliament in 1967 and won a by‑election in defiance of all the pundits and psephologists.
I met Terence for the last time only last Saturday. We were on opposite sides of a debate at Del Morecambe University, arguing about the death of socialism. Of course there were a few vigorous thrusts on both sides. Terence was not a man to pull his punches in a scrap, any more than I am. At the end we shook hands and wished each other well.
But this isn’t an obituary of Terence. He had friends and colleagues much more suited to the task than I am. It’s an expression of concern about the state of politics in Britain today, about a situation which is storing up terrible trouble for the years ahead.
I know nothing about how or why Terence Wicklow was murdered. Perhaps it was just an example of the vicious street-crime that is all too common in our cities today. If that is the case, it is a sorry commentary on what decades of prosperity and generous welfare benefits have brought to British society.
But there is an even more terrible possibility. Terence may have been murdered for political motives. Many people may shrug this possibility aside, saying that political assassination is not part of the political tradition of the British people. Our history books have no Abraham Lincoln, no John F Kennedy. But nowadays we are getting a little careless of our traditions. If we are starting to kill our politicians, it may just be the culmination of a long process that has been going on since the fateful sixties.
The conference I attended last weekend was supposed to be of a high academic standard, looking at issues with the cool objectivity for which our universities have always been justly celebrated.
But some of the audience didn’t see things that way. There had been a bitter argument in Terence’s constituency about whether he should be deselected from a seat which he had conscientiously served for over a quarter of a century. Having lost the fight in the proper channels, some of Terence’s opponents tried to drag their quarrel into our conference.
I’ve been studying the British left for many years now. But last Saturday I was genuinely shocked by the visceral hatred that flowed from Terence’s opponents. In over thirty years of political meetings of every sort I have rarely heard personal vilification of that intensity. It is something new in British politics – something very sinister.
Of course I’m not suggesting that any of those who tried to get Terence deselected was in some way responsible for his murder. But when genuine political debate descends to violent and personal abuse, then a climate is created in which it is all too easy for the line between words and deeds to be crossed.
It is perhaps symbolic – if not more than symbolic – that Terence’s murder took place only a few yards from the Kidzphun factory, where the disgraceful scenes of rioting took place a couple of weeks ago.
As many readers will be aware, I flirted with revolutionary ideas in the 1960s. I now think that I, and so many of my generation, were hopelessly naïve. But we were not vicious. We were inspired by Karl Marx’s famous words; ‘The emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself’.
It was not that spirit that animated Ms Jane Summerson. Ms Summerson did not have the patience to let the Kidzphun workers emancipate themselves. She had to intervene on their behalf, and without consulting them turn their peaceful picket into a confrontation with the police.
Impatience breeds violence, and the politics of the left today are all too often the politics of impatience. I am sure Ms Jane Summerson deplores the killing of Terence Wicklow every bit as much as I do. But how about the young people she is supposed to influence, and who are perhaps impressed by her apparent courage and her rebellious spirit? Do they understand exactly where the line must be drawn? If a climate has been created in Britain today where political assassination has come onto the agenda of the left, then the likes of Jane Summerson cannot plead clean hands.
* * * * *
Rosemary Stoddart read Sadler’s article, and as she did so, she could almost hear his voice speaking it. If only she had a mind like that, able to grasp things in such a broad context, draw everything together and express it with such clarity.
She marked the article as one to be cut out and filed in the documentation for the case, and turned to the other papers on her desk. It was only thirty-six hours since the discovery of the body, but already the first stages of the routine had been carried through with a degree of efficiency in which she felt a quiet pride. The forensic reports were now complete, and a team of forty officers had searched the immediate area of the killing. She had herself interviewed the very helpful Mr Kenge from the University, who had given her full information about the conference held on the Saturday afternoon.
Taking a sheet of paper, she began to list methodically the main pieces of information already in her possession.
The police surgeon had been very efficient, and since the body had been found so soon it was possible to fix the time of death as being 9.30 p.m., with only a small margin of doubt. The cause of death had been two blows delivered to the back of the head. It appeared probable that the first blow had been delivered from behind, while Wicklow had been standing, and that the second had been struck as he was lying on the ground. It could well be that the first blow had been sufficient to kill him, but the killer had not wanted to leave any doubt about the matter. There were no indications of any struggle.
The weapon used appeared to have been a cricket bat. It had probably, though not certainly, been taken from the skip full of discarded sporting material which had been standing outside the front gate of the University building for several weeks. After extensive searches, a bat had been found dropped down a drain some thirty yards away from where the corpse had been discovered. Forensic tests had revealed marks on the bat and slight bloodstains which suggested it had probably been the murder weapon. But given the condition it was in after some hours in the drain there were no fingerprints. In any case, since the bat would have been touched by many hands, and since the skip had been open to all comers for some time, fingerprints would have been unreliable evidence.
A search of Wicklow’s clothing revealed little. In the pockets were keys, loose change amounting to around five pounds, a wallet with some fifty pounds in notes and the usual credit cards, plus a House of Commons pass. A scrap of paper with a few scrawled words on it seemed to be Wicklow’s notes for his speech on Saturday afternoon. The only other item of any interest – though it was hard to know of what interest – in the wallet was what appeared to be a small metal spring, a piece of coiled metal, apparently manufactured from a paper-clip. If the motive had been robbery, then whatever had been stolen – jewellery? documents? – had been removed without trace.
All this gave very little indication as to a possible killer. The two blows had required a certain amount of strength; but they could have been delivered by any man – or woman – in reasonably good health. The weapon had been waiting in the skip for weeks. The list of potential suspects was, in theory, endless.
There were no private dwellings in the immediate vicinity of the University entrance; the nearest buildings were the factories on the industrial estate, and none of them had been operating on Saturday night. The buildings immediately adjacent to and opposite the gate were derelict factories. There was no residential accommodation on this site of the University.
Hence there were no witnesses. It was also unlikely that it had been a casual crime. Anyone who had simply hung around the University gates waiting for a passer‑by would have waited a very long time on a Saturday evening. The fact that there had been no attempt to remove Wicklow’s wallet seemed to confirm this.
Wicklow’s car had been found at his home, some five miles away at the ‘nice’ end of the borough; he had apparently come by bus or taxi.. An appeal had been launched for anyone who had seen him, but Rosemary had no great hopes. Few people were likely to recognise their MP if they saw him in the street. The last person to see Wicklow alive had been Roger Kenge, at about 6.15 p.m.
Rosemary felt as though she faced a complete blank wall. The only fruitful line of investigation seemed to involve the conference which had taken place on the Saturday afternoon. If the murder was not a casual street-crime, then the motive was probably political; and since the murder scene was just outside the University, it looked as though any clues would be found in a study of the conference.
Rosemary therefore turned to the one piece of evidence she had not yet studied in detail. Roger Kenge had provided her, most helpfully, with a full list of those attending the conference and a tape of the entire proceedings. There had been about a hundred and fifty people at the conference; all would have to be interviewed in the next few days. But the tape would probably give further indications.
At this stage Rosemary called in Sergeant Whitaker. Whitaker was a surly young man, who made no attempt to hide the fact that he resented working under a woman. Rosemary could only imagine the coarse remarks he and his colleagues indulged in at her expense. But he was far from stupid and had on previous occasions made useful contributions to investigations.
For the next four hours they listened to the tapes, stopping from time to time when either of them wanted to hear a passage for a second time. Since neither of them had the slightest sympathy with socialist politics they found the arguments tedious and repetitive. But Rosemary found it useful to listen to the murder victim speaking at length; it gave her a feel of what sort of a person he was, and helped put some life into what had seemed a very dry enquiry.
John Thomson had asked all speakers from the floor to introduce themselves before speaking, and so it had been quite easy, using the list of participants, to identify all the floor speakers.
When this process was finally completed, Rosemary drew up a short-list of participants whom she wished to see personally.
- John Thomson: he had chaired the conference, and Kenge spoke highly of him. He could undoubtedly help her with the background to the arguments.
- Val Hawdon: she had spoken angrily against Wicklow in the discussion; moreover she was involved in the Kidzphun strike where there had been violence recently.
- Seamus O’Hara: Kenge had noted him as a student ‘militant’; he too had been at the Kidzphun picket. Besides, the very name was suspicious – was there an IRA link?
- Mike Applegarth: he too had spoken critically of Wicklow, and was involved in the Kidzphun strike.
- Frank Drutt: he had said nothing at the conference, but the leaflet he had distributed at the Kidzphun picket had spoken of Wicklow as a ‘traitor’.
- Sue Norman: her attack on Wicklow had been particularly vicious, and she was known to be at the centre of attempts to deselect him.
- Jane Summerson: she had been at the centre of the Kidzphun incident – obviously a violent person. Kenge had told her that there had been some sort of confrontation with Wicklow in the pub before the conference began.
‘Right,’ she said to Whitaker. ‘I’ll see those seven. You can work your way through all the rest. Vaughan and Tunnicliffe can work with you. Not too much depth at this stage; we can always go back. Don’t frighten any one; just find out if they saw anything suspicious. And ask them if they have an alibi for ten o’clock on Saturday night.’
‘Fine, Inspector,’ replied Whitaker. Nobody else said ‘inspector’ quite like Whitaker. The three syllables seemed to be a highly condensed version of ‘I-normally-call-a-senior-officer-“sir”-but-I-don’t-quite-know-what-to-call-you-because-you’re-a-woman-and-it-would-be-a-lot-better-if-they-didn’t-have-women-in-the-force-but-you’re-the-boss-so-I’ll-have-to-call-you-“inspector”’.
* * * * *
When Stoddart had phoned to arrange a time to visit Val Hawdon, she had been told in a rather weary voice that ‘any time was convenient’. The Kidzphun strike was over and Val was on the dole.
On the Monday morning after the conference the striking women had assembled in a church hall near the factory. There they were confronted by Mike Applegarth, who told them that he had new proposals for them. Rowsell had now agreed to withdraw all the proposals for new working procedures and wage rates. The factory could reopen on the old terms. He went on for some time about how this was a victory, and he praised at length the women’s courage and determination.
Almost as an afterthought he added that there was one outstanding problem. Rowsell was not prepared to withdraw Val Hawdon’s dismissal. Mike insisted that this was quite unacceptable to NUTMEG. However, he said, it should be pursued through the appropriate tribunals rather than by further strike action.
Val demanded to speak. She said that her job was not important; what did matter was the preservation of trade-union organisation. If a shop steward could be sacked, if the union could be pushed aside, then all the gains that had just been made could be reversed.
But the women were tired after over seven weeks on strike. Christmas was coming and they weren’t sure how they would pay for it. Moreover, ever since Sunday rumours had been circulating. Val had denounced Wicklow and threatened him only hours before his death. Val was under investigation by the police. Nobody believed Val was a murderer, and, to be honest, nobody cared much about Wicklow’s death. But somehow Val’s credibility had been shaken. The strikers accepted Mike’s recommendation and returned to work. Only Val and five others voted against.
So on Tuesday afternoon Val was quite free of other commitments and available to see Inspector Stoddart.
Val lived in a small terrace house about a mile from the Kidzphun factory. Rosemary had met Val briefly during the Kidzphun picketing, though whenever possible she had tried to negotiate with Mike Applegarth, and she didn’t really feel she knew her. When she knocked at the front door, Val welcomed her and led her into the front room, where everything was spotlessly tidy. On the mantelpiece stood a large photograph of a man whom Rosemary assumed was Val’s husband or lover.
Val offered Rosemary a cup of tea, but Rosemary declined, afraid that some exotic Caribbean brew might upset her stomach.
‘I’m here,’ she said, speaking slightly slower than usual to ensure that she was understood, ‘as part of the investigation into the death of Terence Wicklow. I hope you may be able to help me.’
‘I do hope so,’ said Val, ‘it was a terrible thing to happen. I had my disagreements with Mr Wicklow, and I’ve said so often enough. In fact, I’ve said hard words about him that I regret now. We’re all God’s creatures, and it’s a terrible thing to kill a human being.’
Rosemary decided to steer clear of any theological discussion; Val was probably a Rastafarian, or something of the sort.
‘How long have you lived in this country, Mrs Hawdon?’
‘I was born here.’
‘Do you have British citizenship?’
‘It is usually the case that one has it, if one is born here.’
‘How long have you worked at Kidzphun?’
‘And you’re currently on strike?’
‘No. The strike ended this morning.’
‘Why did you attend the conference at the University last Saturday?’
‘Well, I suppose first and foremost because we wanted to get a collection for the strikers; we thought the sort of ladies and gentlemen attending might be sympathetic. But they weren’t, really. I should have known. University people are awfully mean. My friend Jane tried to get some collections going there, but she never got much.
‘But I think I might have gone along, even if I hadn’t been on strike. It’s an interesting subject. I’ve been a Labour Party member for twenty-five years. But I don’t know where they’re going to nowadays. You can’t tell them apart from the Tories.’
‘I gather you made a speech critical of Mr Wicklow.’
‘I did. I feel a bit bad about it now, but of course there was no way I could know it was to be his last day on this earth.’
‘It was a violent speech.’
‘Violent. No. My bark’s worse than my bite – much worse. That’s how people talk in trade‑union meetings. They come straight out with it, say what they mean, perhaps a bit more than they mean. But they don’t intend any harm by it.’
‘But you felt that Mr Wicklow hadn’t given you very much support in your strike?’
Val looked round the room, as though trying to weigh her words carefully. ‘He didn’t give us any support at all. Not a word, not a halfpenny. Some of the women were surprised. They said Labour’s the party of the trade unions, it takes our money in the political levy, it ought to back us when we’re on strike.
‘But I’ve known Mr Wicklow a long time. I didn’t expect anything. I’ll be charitable. I’ll suppose he was a sincere man. I’ll suppose he thought he was doing the right thing. In any case, it’s wrong to think ill of the dead.’
‘So you didn’t feel bitter towards him.’
‘Oh, you know, we all have our feelings. The Bible tells us we mustn’t hate anyone, that it’s as bad to hate as it is to kill. But I know I’m not perfect. I’ve felt words of anger in my heart.’
Rosemary was keen to avoid the interview turning either to theology or to psychotherapy. So she asked:
‘And where were you on Saturday night? At about ten o’clock?’
For the first time, Val looked uncomfortable. She hesitated, seeming to grope inside her skull for an answer to what was apparently a very simple question.
Eventually she replied. ‘I was here. All evening.’
‘Was anyone with you? Your… your husband?’
‘Len died three years ago – in a road accident. I live with my youngest son Robert.’
‘And was he here on Saturday night?’
‘So nobody can vouch for your whereabouts?’
‘It would be very useful if someone could vouch for you.’
‘I’m sure it would be very useful indeed. But I was here, all on my own. God is my only alibi.’
‘Well,’ said Rosemary, rising to her feet, ‘thank-you very much for your assistance. There are no more questions at the moment. But we may need to speak to you again.’
‘I’m sure I’ll be very glad to give any assistance I can.’
* * * * *
Rosemary Stoddart had arranged to meet Jane in her office at Del Morecambe University on Wednesday at eleven thirty. She made her way to the tower block and climbed into the lift, pressing the button for the eighth floor. The lift bumped and creaked so much that she was in serious doubt whether she would ever reach her destination, but eventually she got there. She made her way down an ill-lit corridor and found herself outside Jane’s office. She knocked and entered.
She was not at all impressed by the sight that met her inside. The office was small and looked as though it had not been cleaned for some time. Jane’s desk was several inches deep in books and documents, and there were piles of paper all over the floor. On the wall was a poster urging non-payment of the poll tax which Jane had never got round to taking down.
The only free chair in the room was a straight-backed one moulded in vomit‑green plastic. Jane waved Rosemary to sit down in it, just as though she were a student come for advice on how to get through her examinations with minimal effort.
Rosemary explained that she was simply conducting a routine investigation into the death of Terence Wicklow. Jane should not worry that she was in any way under suspicion; it was simply that since the murder had come so shortly after the conference, they were trying to interview everyone who had attended the conference in order to see if any leads emerged.
‘Of course’, she added, feeling sure that Jane distrusted her as much as she distrusted Jane, ‘we have as yet no reason to believe that the murder was in fact in any way connected to the conference. It may have been a casual street-crime, or perhaps connected with some of Mr Wicklow’s personal or business dealings.’
‘Of course,’ said Jane, ‘I don’t think I can help much, but I’ll be happy to answer any questions I can.’
‘Fine,’ said Rosemary. ‘You attended the conference. Did anything happen that you would describe as being in any way suspicious or unusual?’
‘No,’ said Jane, ‘I can’t recall anything that was at all out of the usual. I was a bit disappointed by the level of discussion; it didn’t really get down to the issues seriously, but there was nothing suspicious in the sense you mean.’
‘There were a number of attacks on Mr Wicklow by speakers from the floor.’
‘Yes, but that was to be expected. There were quite a lot of people there who were well to the left of Wicklow politically. It’s hardly surprising they wanted to have their say and make their point of view felt.’
‘But in some cases,’ Rosemary insisted, ‘there was real anger and even venom.’
‘I don’t know your experience of left-wing politics,’ replied Jane, ‘there’s a lot of anger and venom about. Last Saturday was nothing unusual in that respect.’
‘How about Miss Norman’s contribution? That was surely a bit extreme. Even the chair seemed to think that was excessive.’
‘I don’t know the details of the situation in the local Labour Party. I think there is quite high feeling. Personally I think the chair was wrong to try and exclude the discussion. That only made things worse.’
‘Are you a friend of Miss Norman’s?’
Jane paused, as though wondering how to phrase her answer. ‘We’ve known each other for many years. But we haven’t seen a lot of each other recently.’
‘How about Mr Wicklow? Did you know him?’
This time Jane not only paused, but looked distinctly uneasy. For the first time Rosemary felt that she might be getting somewhere. Eventually Jane replied, trying to sound calmer than she obviously felt: ‘We had met, several times. I’ve lived in this area for over twenty-five years. I’ve been involved in a variety of political causes. Obviously I’ve bumped into the local MP from time to time.’
‘And what did you feel about him?’
Again Jane paused, looking more and more as though she wished she had never begun the interview. ‘I tended to disagree with his political stance quite a lot of the time.’ She adopted a more aggressive tone. ‘My sympathies have always been with the left of the Labour Party. But I don’t think I owe an explanation of my political views to the police. This is still a democracy. And my personal feelings have nothing to do with it.’
‘Nothing is irrelevant to a murder enquiry,’ Rosemary responded tartly. ‘Did you have any feelings of hostility to Mr Wicklow?’
‘I didn’t like him much,’ said Jane, ‘and I certainly didn’t break down and cry when I heard he was dead. But before you ask, I didn’t kill him.’
‘Nobody is suggesting you did. Please don’t get excited about things. There are just one or two more points. Did you see Mr Wicklow on Saturday afternoon?’
‘He was on the platform for three hours,’ growled Jane. ‘I’d have had to be blind not to see him.’
‘Indeed, but did you speak?’
Again Jane went quiet, obviously thinking how to put matters. Eventually she said: ‘Yes, I did. We met in the Goose before the conference started. We exchanged a few words.’
‘He asked if he could take me out to dinner. I declined the invitation – without thanks.’
‘As I said, Inspector, this is still just about a democracy; a lady has the right to refuse to have dinner with a … with an MP if she wishes.’
‘Of course. And did you see Mr Wicklow at any time after the end of the conference?’
Yet another pause. ‘Yes, in the Goose. He came in, but it was very full, and he left again almost immediately.’
‘Was he alone?’
‘No, he was with Mr Kenge, the head of this department. I expect you’ll be interviewing him. I’m sure he’ll give you an answer to all your questions.’
‘Indeed. And who were you with?’
‘I was with Sue Norman, Mike Applegarth and John Thomson. I’m sure they’re all on your list to be interviewed.’
‘I expect they are,’ said Rosemary. She didn’t like some jumped-up lecturer telling her her job. ‘Did any of you speak to Mr Wicklow – or go after him?’
‘We did not. None of us wanted anything to do with him.’
Rosemary scrawled a few notes in her note-book. ‘Just one further question. Where were you between nine and ten o’clock on Saturday night?’
Again Jane paused. Rosemary scrutinised her face, seeking a trace of guilt. But if Jane was embarrassed, she was disguising it very effectively as irritation. ‘I was in a village near Harlow.’
‘And what were you doing there?’
‘I was at the Purple Heifer. It’s a pub.’
‘You’re very fond of pubs, Miss Summerson.’
‘I was quite sober,’ growled Jane. ‘I don’t drive drunk. And it’s a bit late to breathalyse me anyway.’
‘And what were you doing at the Purple Heifer? Apart from not drinking?’
‘I was meeting a friend.’
‘Could you tell me your friend’s name?’
‘No,’ said Jane, ‘I couldn’t. As I understand it I’m not under caution and I’m not obliged to answer any questions. I’ve told you all I know that is possibly relevant to Wicklow’s murder and now I shall have to ask you to respect my privacy – and that of my friend. And since I have to teach in a few minutes, I have to ask you to leave.’
Rosemary was always profoundly irritated by people who knew their legal rights; the public were supposed to obey the law, not use it to their own advantage. She blamed The Bill for the fact that so many people tried to stand up to the police and get the better of them. But she could see that there was nothing more to be gained, so she thanked Jane and left.
* * * * *
Rosemary had offered to visit Frank Drutt in his home. But he had declined, saying that he preferred to come in to the station. Perhaps he didn’t think that the Inspector would be very interested in his substantial collection of Nazi memorabilia. Perhaps he thought the two large pictures of the Führer in full military regalia which adorned his living-room wall might not make the most appropriate impression. Perhaps he underestimated the Inspector’s tolerance. Or perhaps he just wanted the exercise. But he promised to be at the station at 2.00 p.m. And like an Italian train, he arrived dead on time.
Rosemary led him into the interview room and explained that this was a purely informal discussion.
‘Make it as formal as you like,’ he said. ‘I’ve nothing to hide. Everyone knows my views. I’ve stood for Parliament twice, so my opinions aren’t a secret.’ This was not quite true. As regular customers of the George the Fourth could testify, Frank believed the Holocaust had never happened and had been invented by wealthy Jews. He had not, however, included this particular article of belief in any of his four election manifestos.
‘I see, ‘said Rosemary, ‘and you stood against Terence Wicklow?’
‘So you were hostile to his politics?’
‘Of course. I wouldn’t have stood against him if I’d agreed with him.’
‘And you put out a leaflet the other week where you called him a traitor.’
‘Oh that,’ said Frank, looking a little embarrassed. ‘It was only in passing. The main thing was that Val Hawdon woman. They come here, take jobs that our own people ought to have, and then they don’t even want to do them. If they’re so keen to live in our country, then they should accept our standards. She wouldn’t get wages like that in Jamaica. All we ask is a fair deal for our own people. Rights for whites.’
‘Fine,’ said Rosemary, ‘there’s no problem with that, but where does Mr Wicklow come into the picture?’
‘To tell you the truth, it’s not so much Wicklow. I have the impression he’d be a half-way decent bloke if he was left to himself. But of course the Labour Party wants an open door. Let them all in, millions and millions of them.’
Rosemary tried to steer the discussion back to Terence Wicklow. ‘So you had no particular grudge against Mr Wicklow?’
‘Not as a person, no. In fact, when I had dealings with Mr Wicklow face to face, he was a gentleman.’
‘So you knew him personally, did you?’ Rosemary asked.
‘Only recently,’ said Frank. ‘I went to his surgery about three months ago. I wanted to see if he could get my brother’s case reopened. They keep reopening all these IRA cases – Guildford Six, Birmingham Four. They keep getting off. So why shouldn’t they have a new investigation into who killed Dave?’
‘Dave was your brother?’ Rosemary asked. ‘I’m afraid I’m not familiar with the case.’
‘I’m not surprised,’ snarled Frank. ‘The police never showed much interest. If he’d been black, like that tart who was killed in the fire, they’d have been all over the place, asking questions. But my brother was born in Britain, they never took any notice. Treated it just like a burglary. Send a copper round, ask a couple of questions, then goodbye, claim it off the insurance. We’re too busy acting nursemaids to the darkies.’
‘When did this happen?’
‘1968. The reds killed him. So I went to see Mr Wicklow at his surgery, to see if we could reopen the case. I thought he’d tell me to forget it. But he took an interest straightaway. He asked me all the details, and took a note of them. And I got quite a nice letter from him later. But of course he didn’t dare follow it up. His party would jump on him if they knew he was helping a patriot.’
‘And why were you at the conference at the University? It’s not really your part of the political spectrum.’
‘I like to keep an eye on the reds, see what they’re up to. But also I thought I might get a chance to chase up Wicklow, push him to do something about the enquiry about Dave.’
‘And did you?’
‘No, he was too busy. And now I’ll have to start the whole thing from scratch.’
Rosemary thought to herself that he appeared to have a strong motive not to kill Wicklow, though the leaflet showed him to be lacking in both tact and consistency.. She resolved to see if she could dig up any files on the Dave Drutt killing.
‘One final question,’ she said, ‘where were you on Saturday night between nine and ten o’clock?’
There was no hesitation here. ‘Down the George the Fourth. That’s where I am every Saturday night.’
‘And could somebody confirm that?’
‘Yes, I should think so. I should think so. Just about thirty of them. Thirty of them, that’s all.’
* * * * *
For Jane the atmosphere at Del Morecambe was almost unbreathable. Although all staff who had been at the conference had been subjected to routine interviews, it was known that Jane had been the object of Inspector Stoddart’s special intentions. Few if any of those who knew her actually believed that she was a murderer. Despite her foul mouth and her erratic moods, the thought that she could actually have killed a human being was implausible.
But there was also a strong sense that there was no smoke without fire. Even Jane’s close friends tended to avoid her. They would not actually cut her dead, but if they passed her in the corridor they would nod and keep on walking; if she sat next to them in the staff common room they would suddenly discover an urgent appointment and leave. Jane rapidly learned not to bother trying; she kept herself to herself, gave her classes and went home. It was the liberals who were the worst, she thought, the ones who generally fancied themselves as having progressive views. They were always the first to drop you.
Seamus O’Hara, who had also been summoned to an interrogation from Inspector Stoddart, was the only one she could turn to with any expectation that he might understand what she was going through. O’Hara knew his own alibi could be established, but he was always willing to listen to Jane moan; they spent many half hours together in the canteen.
However, as she rapidly discovered, Seamus tended towards a conspiracy theory of history. He was convinced that Wicklow had been murdered on the orders of the British state, perhaps to make a martyr of him, or to provide a means of launching a witch-hunt against the left. ‘I mean, it can’t be because of anything he’d done, because he’d never done anything. He didn’t have any principles he wouldn’t have sold for a fiver. But they could do without him because they knew as well as we do that he was complete garbage. And they could use him as a means of discrediting the left. Violent picketer Ms Jane Summerson. IRA-supporter Seamus O’Hara. Strike leader Val Hawdon. Or any other poor sod who hasn’t got an alibi.’
While Jane tended to distrust this sort of analysis, she had a feeling that Seamus could well be right this time. Unfortunately this conclusion simply tended to leave her all the more depressed.
* * * * *
Sue Norman had also opted to come in to the police station to be interviewed. Rosemary saw her later on Wednesday afternoon, and recognised her at once as the short plump woman she had seen at the Kidzphun picket. Yet another trouble-maker, taking her politics onto the streets instead of slipping them discreetly into the ballot-box. She gave Sue the standard introduction about how she was not a suspect and the interview was merely designed to give the police additional information. This was supposed to reassure the interviewee.
Sue, however, simply snapped: ‘I should hope not. If you make any accusations against me, I shall ask for my solicitor immediately.’
Rosemary, already deeply irritated by this woman, suppressed her anger and said quietly: ‘I’m quite sure that won’t be necessary. I just want to ask you a few questions about the conference you attended on the Saturday afternoon of the murder.’
‘Why?’ snarled Sue. ‘There was no murder at the conference. Nothing illegal happened there. As I understand it, the murder happened four or five hours after the end of the conference.’
‘Nonetheless,’ said Rosemary, concealing her growing impatience, ‘we have to investigate anything that might have a bearing on the death.’
‘So why,’ said Sue, ‘aren’t you investigating who he was screwing the night before, or the night before that, because it probably wasn’t the same? Why aren’t you investigating the people he owed money to, the people he’d fiddled money out of, the people he was trying to extort from? Talk to his former secretary that he sacked because she wouldn’t indulge in a bit of s-and-m. Or the constituent he tried to rape when he was supposed to be helping her not to be deported. There were a lot of people who had good reasons for wanting to see Terence Wicklow dead.’
She paused. ‘And there’s also a pretty good chance that Wicklow died as a result of his – shall we say – eccentric sexual proclivities. Maybe you should look into that.’
‘You seem to know a lot about Mr Wicklow,’ said Rosemary.
‘I do indeed,’ said Sue. ‘I’ve spent the last three years trying to compile a dossier to prove why that man wasn’t fit to be an MP. I wanted to expose him publicly, wreck his career, and drive him out of public life in complete humiliation. I was shattered when I heard that he was dead and that all my efforts had been wasted.’
‘A couple of further questions, Mrs… Miss…Norman.’
‘Ms Norman. What did you do after the conference?
‘I went to the pub with Mike Applegarth, Jane Summerson, and John Thomson. As I expect your files tell you, we’ve known each other a long time. We were students together.’
‘Did you stay long?’
‘Jane and I stayed a little over an hour. Mike and John both left earlier. They had other commitments and could only stay for a quick drink.’
Rosemary looked interested and absorbed this new item of information ‘Did they say where they were going?’
‘No. They were under no obligation to.’
‘And where were you between 9.00 and 10.00 p.m. on the Saturday of the murder?’
‘Where? At home? With friends? Can anyone give you an alibi?’.
‘As I understand it, Wicklow was killed in the street outside the University. To the best of my knowledge there are no television sets on view there. So I couldn’t have been killing him and watching television at the same time. If you want any more information you’ll have to wait till my solicitor arrives. And he’s fishing in Scotland for the next fortnight. I’m leaving.’
As she walked to the door Rosemary reflected that she still thought Jane Summerson was the most ghastly woman in the world, but Sue Norman was making a good race of it.
But no sooner had Sue left than the phone rang. It was the Chief Superintendent. He wanted a complete report on the progress of the case, and stressed that he was under pressure from the highest quarters. ‘This government is going to fight an election on law and order. It can’t let its opponents be murdered on the streets of London. We need a quick result. If you can’t provide one, then you’d better start brushing up on your traffic signals.’
* * * * *
Next day Seamus O’Hara was brought in for questioning. When asked where he had been at the presumed time of Wicklow’s murder, he answered in a surly fashion that he had been with friends in a pub. It took four or five questions to discover what pub it had been and he refused absolutely to name any of the so-called ‘friends’.
Rosemary then asked him about the reports of the speech he had made at the ‘Death of Socialism’ conference. Nothing could have been better calculated to produce a vehement response. He had attended a public conference, organised by a reputable academic institution, with distinguished personalities on the platform. At that meeting he had raised criticisms of the Labour Party’s attitude to the Northern Ireland question, questions that had frequently been raised by Labour MPs and left journalists. Why, then, was he under surveillance? Did this not show that Britain was well on the way to becoming a police state?
Not surprisingly, Rosemary did not regard this as an answer to the question. She again asked if it was true that he had expressed violent hatred of Terence Wicklow? Very calmly, Seamus looked her in the eye and asked if she felt violent hatred for Irish Republicans. When Rosemary snapped that she was doing the questioning, Seamus said very slowly: ‘I don’t doubt you’ve often wished Gerry Adams dead and in hell. But I wouldn’t for one minute presume that you’ve ever tried to kill an IRA man. They give jobs like that to the SAS, not to Policewoman Plod – you wouldn’t be up to it.’
After this there was little possibility of meaningful dialogue. Rosemary demanded that Seamus get back to the subject. He pointed out, with a politeness so studied as to be insolent, that the subject was the murder of Terence Wicklow. It was Rosemary who had changed the subject to questioning his legitimate political views, to which he thought he had every right in a free society ‘as I suppose you fondly imagine it is’.
Rosemary’s immediate response was to detain Seamus under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, put him in a cell and get a couple of her brawnier colleagues to beat him until he confessed. However, she was aware that in the long run these methods had not been very successful for her colleagues. Moreover, she realised that, despite his French Resistance‑style refusal to name his friends, he had named the pub he claimed to have spent the evening in. It would not be difficult to check with the landlord and bar staff. Her superiors would hardly be impressed if she took further measures without first checking out this fairly simple information. So despite everything, Rosemary had no alternative but to leave him alone – for the time being.
* * * * *
After this Rosemary felt exhausted, but the indefatigable Whitaker was there with his report. Ninety-seven conference attenders had been interviewed; thirty-four remained to be located. Nothing of any great significance had come out of the interviews, and virtually everyone had a satisfactory account of where they had been between nine and ten on the Saturday evening. These were all being checked. He beamed at Rosemary as though expecting congratulations on his thoroughness and efficiency, but he was out of luck.
‘There’s just one problem, inspector,’ he added. ‘Several people mentioned being accosted by an American woman. Tall, late twenties. Apparently she was asking really weird questions. About politics. As though she knew a lot, and yet actually revealing she didn’t know much. She was going round before the conference and in the Goose afterwards.
‘Now as far as I can work out, it seems she’s called Lisa Schwarz. The University asked everyone booking in advance to give their address, which has helped us enormously. Mr Kenge’s secretary is extremely efficient. But when we checked this address, it simply doesn’t exist. There’s no such number in the road. So I think we ought to add this lady to the list of those requiring further investigation.’
* * * * *
It was late on Thursday evening when Rosemary finally got home. She walked in to her flat, and as usual received effusive greetings from Galore. Somebody loved her, if only a cat. But then, one could hardly expect too much love if one spent one’s time accusing people of murder.
She thought back over the two final interviews she had conducted during the day. First she had seen Mike Applegarth, who had managed to steer her through the minefield of the internal disputes in the local Labour Party.
Apparently he had known Sue for a good many years, and he was able to explain her rather odd and aggressive behaviour. He was somewhat sceptical of the more lurid accusations she had been making about Wicklow, and pointed out that there had been stories linking Sue to Wicklow a few years back.
However, he did concede that Wicklow had a very bad reputation with respect to his personal life, as well as confirming Sue’s claims of possible financial impropriety, though he tended to regard the suggestions of blackmail as being somewhat fantastic.
But while quite happy to retail a few stories of Sue’s excitable behaviour, he simply refused to entertain any suggestion that she might have been involved in the murder. Certainly she was prone to violent and colourful language, but actual violence was utterly alien to her.
Asked about his own savage attack on Wicklow at the conference, Mike grinned. He explained – in confidence, of course – that his contribution to the meeting had been designed to regain the confidence of the Kidzphun strikers, who were beginning to become a little disillusioned with the very limited assistance they were getting from the union.
He also made a few ironic remarks about Val Hawdon, whom he obviously perceived as a bit of a nuisance, always pestering him to come and stand on a picket line when he had important work to do in his office. But as soon as the suggestion was made that Val might have some connection with the murder, he expressed complete horror.
Finally she had asked him about his own actions on the night of the murder, more as a formality than anything else. To her surprise, he had seemed a little cagey. He had simply said that he was on union business, and that if she needed an alibi, she should contact Jimmy Hale, the General Secretary of NUTMEG.
All this had been simplicity itself beside the interview with John Thomson. The very affable Roger Kenge had warned her that Thomson was a ‘little highly strung’. That had been a massive understatement. He had initially refused to be interviewed at all, and only after Rosemary had resorted to what were in effect veiled threats did he seem to recognise that it would only make things worse for himself if he did not co‑operate.
Rosemary had visited him in his office in the University. Books, journals, students’ essays and miscellaneous sheets of paper lay everywhere, while numerous paper‑clips in varying stages of demolition lay all over his desk. As she attempted to get information from him, he continued to twist at a paper‑clip, tormenting it to destruction as though killing a baby snake before it had any chance to grow larger.
In effect, he told her virtually nothing. He had known of Terence Wicklow since the 1960s, had crossed his path on a number of occasions, but couldn’t say he knew the man. He had invited him to speak at the conference because of a newspaper article he had read, but he had bitterly regretted the decision. Wicklow’s speech had been at a very low theoretical level, and had contributed to the fact that the conference had been such a failure. But he also spoke bitterly of Sue, Mike and the Kidzphun strikers, all of whom had helped to turn the conference into a shambles.
Rosemary had little sympathy with academics, but she could see that here was a deeply wounded man, who was bitterly resentful of the way the conference had failed to advance his career as he had hoped that it would.
But when asked about his own actions on the night of the murder, John too seemed to curl up. He said he had had an ‘appointment’, but refused point-blank to elaborate on this..
Now Rosemary put a rather disconsolate Galore back on the floor, and seated herself at the table with a large sheet of paper. On it she listed her chief suspects:
- Val Hawdon
- Mike Applegarth
- Sue Norman
- Seamus O’Hara
- Jane Summerson
- John Thomson
- Frank Drutt
- Lisa Schwarz
Whitaker had already been sent to check out the alibis of Drutt and O’Hara. It appeared that their accounts were correct, and that they could not possibly have been outside the University at the time of the murder. Rosemary drew a careful line through the two names, leaving only six.
Mike Applegarth had always seemed an unlikely murderer. After her interview with him, Rosemary had made a phone call to Jimmy Hale at NUTMEG headquarters. His response had been less than one hundred per cent helpful. He said that as long as no charges were being made against Mike, he was not prepared to make any comment about his whereabouts on the night of the murder. However, he had added, in his dry Scottish accent, that ‘if an alibi were required, it would likely be forthcoming – very likely, indeed’. Rosemary did not feel quite confident enough to draw a line through Mike’s name, but she drew a large pair of brackets around it. For the time being there were five.
Sue Norman obviously looked like the prime suspect. She had publicly stated that she would welcome Wicklow’s death and in her interview had confirmed that she loathed and detested the man. Her arrogant manner and her blatant refusal to provide an alibi had obviously served to make her a target for suspicion.
John Thomson was a very different case. The man was obviously frightened. He was also bitter, resentful, full of hatred; Roger Kenge had told her of his various career failures – the missed promotions, the permanently unfinished thesis. He was apparently a poor lecturer, who had been unable to translate his obvious academic ability into a language which his students could grasp. But that did not make him a killer.
What kept him high on the list were two points. Firstly his refusal to give even any clues as to an alibi, despite the fact that he was driven by fear rather than arrogance. And secondly the paper‑clips. As she had observed in his office, Thomson had a compulsive habit of rolling up paper‑clips and turning them into little spring-like objects. It was precisely such an object that had been found in Wicklow’s pocket. Congratulating herself on acute detection skills, Rosemary put a large tick against John’s name.
Val Hawdon too must stay on the list. Again the question of the missing alibi loomed up. And of course she was a known agitator, involved in a long strike and some disorderly picketing. She was sure that the Val’s militancy could be in some way explained by the resentful attitude that so many black people seemed to have. (Though when she had mentioned this to Whitaker, he had pointed out from his experience of policing the picket that the majority of women on strike were white.) Moreover Val had a strong motive for hating Wicklow.
Lisa Schwarz she did not take very seriously; this was just Whitaker trying to make himself seem important. But enquiries were being made in the USA.
Finally there was the wretched Summerson woman. Rosemary knew of her record for violence at the picket. Roger Kenge had told her of the incident at the meeting, when Wicklow’s name was first broached as a conference speaker. Again there was no proper alibi. Whitaker had been sent to check out the pub in Harlow, but had returned with nothing conclusive either way. Yet in Rosemary’s estimation Jane was a pathetic, dowdy menopausal woman who would scarcely have had the wit to organise a murder, though she had sturdy shoulders and was undoubtedly physically capable of it. But there was no doubt that she too must stay on the list.
Then there were all the other ‘victims’ that Sue Norman had spoken of. Undoubtedly she had exaggerated for her own petty political purposes, but it was also true that a man like Wicklow must have made many enemies in his career. Perhaps the conference was a red herring.
For two hours Rosemary wrestled with the problem, scribbling frantically on sheets of paper, then screwing them up furiously and hurling them to the floor.
Eventually she gave up, resolved to sleep on it. She turned on Capital Gold. Gladys Knight: The Way We Were. Rosemary was not a nostalgic woman, but the tune seemed to stress the emptiness in her life. She remembered the dinner with Steven Sadler, only a few weeks ago, the wine, the fine food and above all the conversation. Sadler’s knowledge, his analytic ability, had impressed her in a way no other man had ever done. For weeks she had waited for another invitation, until the Wicklow murder had pushed him half out of her mind. A man like that would make short work of a case like this. He would see the connections, the contradictions that had escaped her.
Suddenly the answer was blindingly obvious. She would kill two birds with one stone; advance her enquiry and create the perfect excuse for renewing her acquaintance with Sadler without seeming pushy. Although it was nearly eleven o’clock, she did not hesitate. She went to the phone and dialled the number she had long known by heart, while never daring to use it.