The story of a high-ranking officer in the Metropolitan Police, who successfully investigated a series of arson attacks on synagogues early in his career, is to be published next year.
Dick Kirby, a former inspector turned crime writer, is focusing his next book, Scotland Yard’s Gangbuster, on the career of Commander Bert Wickstead, who was famous for his role in the downfall of some of London’s most notorious criminal syndicates.
“Bert Wickstead, to quote an often used phrase, really was ‘a legend in his own lifetime’,” Mr Kirby said.
“He was an absolutely ruthless detective and he was not prepared to tolerate lawbreaking anywhere he worked. He came in for a great deal of criticism. But he had some fascinating cases.”
One of those was in 1965 when the then-detective inspector was faced with a series of what would today be described as antisemitic hate crimes — a five-month long campaign of attacks against more than a dozen synagogues around London.
The shuls targeted included Brondesbury, Bayswater, Borehamwood, Stanmore, the Spanish & Portuguese and New Southgate.
Inspector Wickstead discovered that they had been carried out by the far-right National Socialist Movement at the instigation of Francoise Jordan, who was married to Colin Jordan, the NSM’s leader.
Born Francoise Dior, she was the niece of fashion designer Christian Dior — and, as Mr Kirby puts it, she was “a fervent admirer of the Nazis and everything to do with Nazism. She was an absolute Jew-hater.
“When you read some of her comments today, they are absolutely gasp-producing.”
Although Inspector Wickstead arrested the actual arsonists in 1965 and they were tried and condemned in 1966, Mrs Jordan was not one of those put on trial at the time although she had once been arrested in France for posting swastikas on the walls of the British embassy.
“But in the end [in 1968] Wickstead got his way and nicked her, and she stood trial,” said Mr Kirby.
As reported by the JC at the time, during the trial Inspector Wickstead testified that Mrs Jordan had told him she would like an Act of Parliament to mandate blowing up synagogues.
The JC also described how, when she was asked if she was responsible for planning and organising the fires, she replied: “I do not start fires. If I say I want something done which should be done and it is done, I am not responsible if I am not there”.
She was sentenced to 18 months in jail, after which she left England, never to return. She died in 1993
Although Commander Wickstead, who himself passed away in 2001, wrote his own memoirs 30 years ago, Mr Kirby said he had left out some of his most controversial cases.
“So I thought it was a book that really needed to be written”, he said. “To show people what detectives were like in those days — and aren’t anymore.”