Bent Cops

Hammersley & Heath
David Rowland
Old Bailey
Daily Telegraph
Frank Knight
David Rowland
Ray Hovey
David Rowland
Daily Telegraph
Charles Ridge
David Rowland

In 1957 the Brighton Police Force made the news for all the wrong reasons, reinforcing accusations that watch committees no longer possessed the specialist knowledge to supervise their own local police forces. As one of the most famous police corruption cases in history, it raised more questions than it answered about the nature and supervision of policing throughout the country.

THE STORY ‘ Brighton Cops Conspiracy

A Press Conference

On Wednesday 2nd October at a press conference in Brighton Town Hall Chief Constable Charles Ridge, disclosed that at his request Scotland Yard had been called in to investigate ‘certain allegations of irregularities’ in the Brighton Police Force.

Chief Constable Arrested

Three weeks later Ridge was arrested along with Detective- Inspector John Hammersley, Detective – Sergeant Trevor Heath and two members of the public, Anthony Lyons and Samuel Bellson and charged with a variety of corrupt practices. Ridge was eventually acquitted (unlike his subordinates) but in a scathing statement the trial judge then demonstrated that he thought Ridge far from innocent and that without a change in the leadership of the force the judiciary would feel unable to believe evidence from Brighton police.

The Sussex ‘Plague of Rotten Cops’

The trial of the five lasted three weeks and the prosecution case appears to have centred on a group of witnesses who were prepared to admit to their criminal activities and illegal dealings with the accused officers.

Alan Roy Bennett, Company Director

Bennett, who had at least ten aliases, had been a known criminal since 1949 and had served ten prison sentences before coming to Brighton as a chef, opening the Astor club in 1954 (better known as the ‘Bucket of Blood’). In spite of the club’s reputation for violence and criminal activity, it was never raided by the police and this became the basis of the prosecution case. Why had it never attracted police attention?

Mrs Alice Brabiner

Alice claimed in court that she had taken part in an illegal abortion and that Heath had been paid £68 to ‘do what he could to help me’. In other words, to make the whole thing go away.

Ernest Waite, Greengrocer

Waite, who admitted to dealing in stolen property, claimed he had a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ with Hammersley whereby for £200 Waite agreed not to trade in Brighton, but was given a free hand outside the town. Business was good!   Various other witnesses were trundled out, most of them with criminal convictions, and they all attested that their lives had been made bearable by ‘a consideration’.

The Good Cops

Police Constable Frank Knight

P.C. Frank Knight told the court that he had turned down an offer of cash from a superior officer in the C.I.D.. That senior officer was Heath, and he asked Knight if he would ‘like to earn a tenner a week’, adding, ‘ It’s all right, your job won’t fall flat.’ After Knight answered that he was not interested, Heath replied, ‘All right, it’s up to you. I was to get a fiver out of fixing it up but that won’t break me. I have my other fiddles, you know that.’

Detective Sergeant Ray Hovey

Detective Sergeant Ray Hovey also gave evidence for the prosecution. Asked why he did not report his suspicions to Chief Constable Ridge, he replied, ‘I thought to do so might have unpleasant effects on my career. I knew Mr Ridge held Sergeant Heath in very high esteem.’

The Verdicts

The Police Officers

After the jury heard details of their excellent police records and commendations, Hammersley and Heath were both found guilty and both were sentenced to five years imprisonment. Although they had not acted without ‘the nod’ from Ridge, the prosecution found it impossible to substantiate the charges against him. Testimonies from subordinate officers were not sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction against a Chief Constable in the 1950’s, so he retained his freedom. In sentencing Hammersley and Heath, the Judge commented that because Ridge had not given them the professional and moral leadership to which they were entitled, their sentences were less harsh than they might have been.

Chief Constable Charles Ridge

Before allowing Ridge to leave the dock the judge remarked that the conspiracy might in future be used in Brighton to discredit officers and their evidence. Consequently, the force must have a new leader, one ‘who will be a new influence and who will set a different example from that which has lately obtained.’ It was a damning acquittal. The former Chief Constable of Exeter, Albert Rowsell ,was confirmed as the new head of the Brighton force.

On December 20 1957 the Chief Constable of Worcester was suspended and sent to prison the following year. In 1967 the Chief Constable of Southend would follow him. However, both these cases were for straightforward embezzlement. Against Ridge there had been evidence of conspiracy and corruption rather than simple dishonesty, yet he went free, guilty of far worse crimes than those for which his peers were sentenced.


Only two of the Brighton C.I.D. team were examined, the others being left in peace and, apparently, given assurances that there would be no witch-hunt to expose fellow officers.

Most of the prosecution witnesses were professional liars.

Evidence was presented to the court of previous attempts by the accused to influence witnesses and pervert the course of justice.

Some evidence was withheld and declared to be ‘not in the public interest’ or ‘too sensitive to have aired’ and would be a threat to security and operations within the Sussex Police Force’

Rumours of corruption had been flying around for many months before the formal investigation began.

Brighton Police Force

One Brighton policeman on loan to the Metropolitan Police Force is reported to have told colleagues on his return to Brighton that the first question he was asked by his new colleagues was, ‘are you for or against?’

As a general rule, if an incoming officer replied ‘against’, he would be left alone. If, on the other hand, he replied ‘for’, he became at one with a group of officers for whom financial arrangements with the criminal fraternity were a way of life. However, it was generally expected throughout most forces that each and every officer would support his colleagues and keep what he knew or suspected firmly to himself.

One can only guess at the pressures Frank Knight and Ray Hovey came under before and after giving their evidence.

 ‘It took great courage for these two men to appear as witnesses for the prosecution against more senior policemen. They both stood for honesty and integrity and proved as much in one of the highest courts in the land, the Old Bailey.’

David Rowland ‘Bent Cops’

It has been said that the public gets the police force it deserves and that the Brighton force was significantly more corrupt than other forces.

Historical consultant David Rowland

Thanks Ian Swift

Comments about this page

  • I am a very long retired Met Police sergeant.  At the time of this ‘incident’ I was a PC with 5 years experience having served at Bow Street, Grays Inn Road and then West End Central. I was in the lift, which had just stopped at the CID floor when I heard outside a loud and familiar voice – that of Detective Commander Len Burt – talking to his junior, a detective Superintendent – I forget who – about the ‘Brighton case’.  This was the very first police internal enquiry where one force was directed by the Home Secretary to investigate another because of the corruption involved and the scale of public anxiety that had followed its exposure.  The fatuity of the choice of a Scotland Yard detective officer to do this job will be damningly obvious in a moment, it being well known that, at that time, the CID were irreparably corrupt, continuously presenting false evidence and taking large bribes.  I had become aware of this behaviour by high level officers when I was involved (1953) in a notorious robbery case in which the investigating Detective Ch. Inspector pocketed the 5000 pounds stolen from a jeweller and, in return, did nothing to him about an ‘illegal’ diamond in his possession. This behaviour totally destroyed my ambition to become a CID officer.  Now, a couple of years later, I was staggered at this high level, frank admission of CID general and accepted corruption by one senior officer to another (keeping ‘mum‘ was the order of the day!).  The content of the remark I overheard came as no real surprise of itself, but I was enormously impressed by the scale, so openly implied in his comment – and his obvious awareness of its connotations – in the stunning analogy he used!  Among the words he used were the following, “Talk about corruption! ‘They’ (the hierarchy) have only gone and sent Forbes-Leith (an NSY Detective Superintendent) down there. Talk about SENDING A SPIRAL STAIRCASE TO INVESTIGATE A CORKSCREW!” No more need to be said, though much could!

    By john kalber (03/04/2017)
  • Ray hovey was my uncle & a great man reading this makes me proud

    By michael hovey (22/03/2017)
  • My grandfather Alderman Tom Cullen,ex Det. Sergeant,Metropolitan Police and a founder of the Police Federation was a prosecution witness and not a professional liar. On the eve of the trial Ridge visited my granfather and tried to leave an envelope containing money on the mantelpice hoping my grandfather would have a lapse of memory. My grandfather gave the envelope back and refused to back down. Tom Cullen was sure that the jury had been nobbled but Brighton Police would not investigate. My grandfather has served on Brighton Council for many years and was well respected. He was not a freemason, being a catholic.

    By Desmond P Cullen (11/02/2016)
  • I came across this page whilst looking for information on Chief Constable Ridge; In the 1950s my father had the Bristol Garage in Kemp Town and I was often told that he had been one of the original instigators of the inquiry into Brighton Police corruption. The reason for this being that if our garage was called out to a car accident or breakdown, even to one of our own customers, there was always another firm’s breakdown vehicle that had got to the scene first. It later transpired (We had left Brighton in May 1957) that a certain Police officer was tipping off the other firm in return for a ‘backhander’. I suppose this was one of the ‘other fiddles’ referred to in the above article. It was after my father had made a complaint about this that the whole ‘Ridge’ affair kicked off. I also note the offer to one of the PCs to earn a ‘tenner a week’. A PCs pay then was less than £20 a week. I remember the headline in the paper, (Evening Argus I suppose?) when their pay went up, ‘The Thousand Pound Copper’. Copper then was a reference to loose change in the form of an old copper penny, ha’penny, etc as well as to a Policeman.

    By Tim Sargeant (15/01/2014)
  • My father left the Brighton Police and migrated to Australia with the family in early 1960. I asked my mother many times (my father died in 1965) over the years why Dad left, she always replied ” because there was some trouble”. Over fifty years later and having been a member of the NSW Police for 35 years, after reading this story, I realise what the ‘trouble’ probably was. Bob Young former Sgt, NSW Police

    By Bob Young (22/05/2013)

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