The case of the Victorian detective and the mysterious corruption case
PUBLISHED: 13:19 11 December 2011
A TENACIOUS Victorian detective whose career was blighted by a high profile corruption case gets a fair hearing in a new book.
Chief Inspector George Clarke, known as the Chieftain, investigated some of the most high profile crimes of his age between 1864-1877.
Serving with the Metropolitan Police, the former Therfield resident helped convict notorious murderers but also investigated burglary, arson and baby-farming cases.
One investigation saw the Chieftain race across the Atlantic to bring to trial a killer who had already left the UK for New York.
Despite this and many other cases of derring-do he found himself standing on the other side of the bench after becoming embroiled in the first major Met corruption trial.
He shared the dock with other detectives in a notorious horseracing fraud after being denounced from the witness box.
The then head of the plain clothes department was investigating an 1876 bookmaking scam in which punters were invited to make money by placing bets on behalf of a racing expert – who was so good the bookies would not take his custom.
As the net closed in it became clear they had protectors in high places. After the trial three Scotland Yard detectives and a solicitor were arrested for corruption.
Clarke was placed alongside them after the denouncement, but was cleared.
On November 21, 1877 a verdict was reached and every paper in Britain published a court report, including The Royston Crow, which carried the story on Page 3.
The Herts and Cambs Reporter and Royston Crow describes the moment he was acquitted: “Cheers mingled with some few manifestations of disapproval following this announcement. But they were speedily silenced.”
The report also featured extracts from the Daily Telegraph which describes the Chieftain’s composure throughout the trial.
“As the lengthy trial of many witnesses was wearily exhausted, on one face was seen a sign of expectation and hope, and that was the face of Inspector Clarke,” it stated.
Despite the acquittal, George Clarke’s career was left in tatters and he soon retired from the force.
Although Clarke’s previous good work was marred in the minds of contemporaries, the great-great grandson of the formidable copper now aims to set the record straight.
Chris Payne stumbled across the case of his imposing ancestor when he uncovered family correspondence after the death of his father, sparking the idea for a book.
“I googled him to see if there were any stories about George Clarke and the corruption trial came up and it opened a complete can of worms,” he said.
“I didn’t know anything about him and I didn’t think my father knew.
“What I wanted to do was flesh out his career before the trial, and I discovered his contribution to policing.”
Even though his relative may have had a chequered past, retired research scientist Mr Payne, who lives in Cumbria, could not have asked for better subject matter.
The 65-year-old said: “I couldn’t believe my luck, to come across someone so interesting that no one had written a book about.”
Although George Clarke left Therfield for London, he helped his elderly mother with money, and two of his younger brothers left to pursue policing careers in the capital, only to return to Crow Country.
In fact one of his nephews set up photography business Robert H Clarke - which is still trading today.