Catching out criminals a passion for former inspector
lthough constantly in our media, crimes of fraud are not exclusive to SA, as amply illustrated by Peter Viner, a retired British policeman who spoke at the U3A meeting at Don Powis Hall in Settlers Park last Thursday.
Viner, who retired from his post as assistant chief inspector in the British Special Branch, began his long and illustrious career as a bobby on the beat in the south of England in 1968 at a small police station in Henley on Thames.
“I seemed to have a good eye for crime,” he told the audience. “I was a good thief-taker.
“When you’re working night shift the hour between 2am and 3am is the worst,” he said. “You
Acan walk around the town and not see a single car, and all you can think about is a nice warm bed. But on this night my friend, also a young constable named Billy Greenall, was heading toward the bakery for a coffee when he saw a car and hailed it down. On speaking with the driver, Grenall decided to get a look in the boot of the car.
“Reluctantly the driver did what he was asked and opened the boot of his car and there was a body. That doesn’t happen very often,” he said.
When the Thames Valley Police was amalgamated from several police stations in the Thames area of London, they formed specialised squads, one of which was the Fraud Squad.
As Viner had begun taking the first year of an accounting degree (“which I found boring”) before joining the police, at 22 years old, it was just Viner and a sergeant assigned to the unit.
His first case was in Reading, where he got involved in a “Cray Brothers” type fraud. The company he was investigating purchased goods from suppliers and paid immediately and even in advance, thereby earning the reputation of being a good credit risk.
“They built trust and then go for the big one; where they order a sizeable amount of goods and then disappear. On investigation, the company was bogus, and the addresses and telephone numbers fictitious. I had to travel to London to take statements.”
After investigation, the man was finally found and given four years’ imprisonment.
His next case was in Oxford where complaints had been received regarding an employment agency based in Morocco that was taking £30 from each client to set them up with a job overseas but not actually finding people employment.
“When I returned to the office I told my boss I needed to go to Morocco,” Viner said. At the time the old guard did not allow young police constables to go overseas and Viner knew that his chances were limited but, to his surprise, he was allowed to follow the leads he had established.
“This was my first time overseas,” said Viner. But it was a difficult time to leave his heavily pregnant wife, Jackie. It might have been a small relief when the Moroccan police told him he had no permission to investigate in Morocco and that he should return on the next flight. However, it turned out that further talks were necessary and, as they were under way the local police invited him to a club where they wheeled in several young girls and asked him to choose one for the night.
Viner declined and the police seemed to understand. The next night they invited him out again, apologising for their mistake. This time a row of young boys were paraded before him. Viner did not partake of that offer either.
Viner’s informative talk was littered with amusing anecdotes and his clear, friendly voice carried with it the authority of someone who has experienced working on some of the UK’s biggest fraud cases.
He will be back to talk about his career after he was appointed as a detective sergeant, so don’t miss his next U3A visit.