The Count of Scotland Yard by Stephen Wade
The Controversial Life and Cases of DCS Herbert Hannam of Scotland Yard
Homage to the Count - at last!
Stephen Wade explains his long-standing interest in a top detective, Bert Hannam, the subject of his new book The Count of Scotland Yard.
Around thirty years ago, in Halifax, I became acquainted with the name ‘Emily Pye.’ It was one of those local stories which are founded on something deeply sad and violent. It was a story of murder. Emily, an old lady who kept a corner shop, had been brutally murdered on her premises. The name lodged in my mind, and years later, when I became a true crime writer and a historian of our dark and criminous past, the name was back in my orbit again, and I found out that the case had brought one of the Yard’s top sleuths: the debonair and charismatic, Bert Hannam.
I discovered that he was known as ‘the Count of Scotland Yard’ – with reference to his looking rather like a toff. But in fact he was more than a stylish, showy character. He did not track down Emily’s killer, but his record does show that he was involved in several remarkable cases, from fraud to murder.
DCS Hannam started life as a pastry-cook, but soon switched to a career in the police. By the Second World War he was a Detective Sergeant and he showed his flexibility by dealing with investigations into thefts in government locations and then he looked into police corruption. The beginnings of his work in murder investigation were in the immediate post-war years, and he worked with and learned from several established chief inspectors. But Hannam really became something of a celebrity when the sensational case of Dr Bodkin Adams, of Eastbourne, brought him into press reports and into the realm of the paparazzi of his day.
Adams was charged with two murders, and the case brought to light the legal and ethical issues related to euthanasia. Here was a family doctor who only worked with the super-rich, and he was in the habit of acquiring a high level of wealthy material and pounds sterling in their wills.
Hannam was the man who led the investigation, which took months, as he gathered evidence from a number of places, domestic and foreign. It was one of the most notorious criminal trials in British history, and he was ably aided by Detective Sergeant Charles Hewett. Adams was acquitted, but struck off by the BMA (later to be reinstated).
As for Bert Hannam, he was soon to retire, and worked in security, but for me, he will always be the dapper man who was called in when there was big trouble. From a writing point of view, it was an unusual biographical project, because he was a very private man, and never wanted to be in the limelight. His grandson and the son of Sergeant Hewett, was very helpful in my process of research, and although I found it hard to uncover much about the detective’s personality, I think that I did succeed in offering the reader more than a simple string of cases and court reports.
Hannam did have many friends, and was highly respected as a tutor and mentor at the Police College; if I had to sum him up, I would define him as a man with real presence: the sort of copper we would like to have on the scene when something horrendous had happened. Writing the book made me want to uncover other detectives who have perhaps been overlooked by the biographers of crime since the war. In those post-war years, up to the 60s, ‘The Yard’ was a phrase that suggested the aristocracy of the police, and indeed, Bert does deserve to be remembered as ‘The Count’ of Scotland Yard.
Stephen Wade's new book The Count of Scotland Yard is available for purchase now.