The Cricket Crimes Team (CCT) - better known as the "Test Squad" - was formed in 1975 in response to the growing number of cricket related offences taking place in the capital. Its work is still shrouded in mystery, with very few outsiders ever entering the inner sanctum of the unit ...
... until now.
PDCC has gained an exclusive interview with the former Head of Operations Tudor Lodge.
|Cricket crime has always been rife. WG Grace was well known for selling cricket jumpers that had "fallen off the back of a tram."|
Things are a little quieter these days for Tudor Lodge, who now spends his days pruning roses in the garden of his Surrey home. It wasn't always thus.
"Policing was a bit different in those days. We gave the crooks a wallop first and asked questions later. The Sweeney was actually based on us, except that they toned it down a bit for the telly. You'd throw some villainous pitch inspector across a heavy roller and get stuck in with your fists. You can't do it now; you'd be up before the Chief Constable before you knew it, but we got results. There were no bent scoreboard operators plying their filthy trade for long back then."
Lodge has seen it all. After joining the force as a ruddy faced young Constable in 1957 he quickly rose through the ranks to be the first Commanding Officer of the CCT.
"Cricket crime was rife in the sixties and seventies but nobody did anything about it until we came along," recalls Lodge. "You had London gangs like the Krays and the Cowdreys who thought they were untouchable. They operated a protection racket where they would intimidate groundsmen into paying them wads of cash or else their pitches would be 'accidentally' dug up or the pavilion would burn down."
"The Met didn't have the inside knowledge to know what was going on, or how to deal with it. That's why we were recruited. Me and my men knew Wisden backwards and could handle fast bowling with just our truncheons. There were no helmets in those days. We didn't like people abusing the game, and if that meant breaking a few jaws along the way then so be it."
|Officers from the Cricket Crimes Team regularly go undercover to infiltrate organised gangs intent on trafficking tea ladies.|
The Test Squad soon had the gang leaders behind bars and could turn their attention to other miscreants.
"Cricket has always attracted a criminal element. Still does. In those days you had a trade in counterfeit goods like fake linseed oil, or knock-off rubber grips. Then you had the armed robbers. They would work out where a lorry containing a shipment of top-of-the range bails would be and ambush it. It was all going on. Kidnapped selectors, nobbled Night-watchmen, tea-ladies on the game ... everything."
One of the squad's biggest challenges came in 1979 with the notorious case of the so-called 'Umpire Ripper'.
In September 1979 the mutilated body of Middlesex League umpire Charlie Buckley was found in an alleyway near to Teddington Cricket Ground. His white coat was soaked in blood, and a stump had been rammed down his throat so hard that it had come out the other end. Police initially thought it had been a tragic accident, or perhaps a drinking game gone wrong, but when another dead official - Norman Yashley of Tring - was found three weeks later, behind the bins at Isleworth CC, alarm bells began to ring.
The Test Squad was called in and soon realised that they had a possible serial killer on their hands. Further bodies were found: 61 year old widower Keith Goose, and Malcolm Filcher, 64, from Brentford.
|The first victim. Charlie Buckley photographed just days before his murder.|
"As the bodies began piling up we saw a pattern begin to emerge," recalls Lodge today. "Each of the deceased was a working umpire, each had been killed by a stump and each was known as a 'not outer'. We knew we had to catch the killer fast or else there would be a very real danger of the Middlesex and District League having to be abandoned due to a lack of officials."
In May 1980 Maurice Pissworthy from Reading joined the roll call of the slain, his battered body found in waste ground at Uxbridge. He had been celebrating a fellow umpire's birthday on a pub crawl but had become detached from the group after stopping off at an all night chemists for a styptic pencil.
In those pre computer days the team was struggling to make progress with the case when suddenly a breakthrough came from an unexpected quarter.
On the morning of June 7th 1980 a package arrived at CCT HQ containing a cassette tape. Lodge remembers it as the pivotal moment of the investigation.
"My number two DC Nigel 'Nipper' Knowles put the tape in the machine and pressed 'play'. This voice emerged; gloating about what he'd done and goading us for not catching him sooner. It made us determined to get him banged up once and for all."
|The killer's cassette should have led to his capture but was unfortunately taped over with a Dr. Hook album for the CCT Christmas party.|
"At the rate I'm goin', I should be in Wisden. I think it's five to now, isn't it? Well, I'll keep on going for quite a while yet. No good looking for fingerprints I'm wearing gloves."
But the killer's luck was about to run out. The Ripper had indeed been wearing gloves, and fibres from them had been found on a bloodied light meter recovered from one of the murder scenes.
The tiny threads were examined in the Met's forensic laboratory with conclusive results. They belonged to a pair of Woolworth's own brand wicket-keeping gloves; a cheap, unpopular make that brought instant humiliation to anyone seen wearing them.
"We felt strongly that the Ripper was most probably a keeper with a grudge; someone who had been on the wrong end of some rough decisions and who had been laughed at for his low quality equipment. That's a dangerous combination in any language."
Lodge visited his contacts to see if anyone fitted the bill. One name kept coming up: 33-year-old Greenford Park Second X1 keeper Carl Boam, known as 'Woolies Carl' due to the paucity of his kit.
Boam had a reputation for over-appealing and poor quality sledging. His keeping was also well below average, and his appeals had been regularly turned down in matches umpired by the victims: Buckley, Yashley, Goose, Filcher and Pissworthy. These rejected appeals had put Boam's place in the team in serious jeopardy.
|'Woolies' Carl Boam.|
"He wasn't scoring runs and his keeping was falling apart - like his rubbish gloves - and he was feeling the heat. There was a real possibility that he was heading for the Thirds and that would signal the end of his ambitions to play for Middlesex. He was a desperate man. We knew if one more appeal for caught behind was turned down then there would be another official on the slab. Somebody's husband, somebody's son. We had to act quickly."
Lodge found out where Boam was next scheduled to play: Hayes End vs. Greenford Park Seconds., 14th July 1980.
"I'd never gone undercover before but I knew that it was the best way we had of catching him red-handed. I spoke to the umpires who were due to stand in that match and explained the situation to them. Me and my CCT colleague 'Nipper' Knowles donned the outfits and strode out to the middle."
Greenford won the toss and batted first. For an agonising couple of hours Lodge and 'Nipper' concentrated hard on no-balls, wides and the sundry everyday tasks of a top-flight umpire.
"One false signal and our cover would have been blown," said Lodge. "It was just our luck to get some tricky calls to make. I was in the process of timing out one Greenford batsman when I realised that I was using my Police issue pocket watch. It could have been fatal to the whole operation. Then I had to resist the temptation of arresting the Hayes End off spinner because of an obscene gesture he gave to 'Nipper' when he called him for throwing."
|Forensic advances meant that this Panda was quickly eliminated from the Ripper investigation.|
After setting a more than reasonable target of 231 in 40 overs ("I fired out Boam LBW for nothing, just to wind him up" laughed Lodge) Greenford Seconds took the field. And it didn't take long for Boam to start appealing for everything.
Tudor Lodge recalls it vividly. "I was sickened by Boam's antics behind the stumps. Everything that ended up in his gloves - and there wasn't that much, most of it ended up on the floor - he appealed for, even if it had missed the bat by miles. Then, out of the blue, the Hayes End opener nicked a wide one and Boam took off and pouched a brilliant one-handed diving catch. I looked him in the eye and said 'not out'. I knew then that Boam was mentally preparing himself to kill me ... as were the rest of the team, to be fair."
Lodge and 'Nipper' kept their cool and kept their hands firmly in their pockets.
"We gave Greenford Park nothing. Boam was livid. Hayes End won by 10 wickets with overs to spare. I said out loud 'well played Hayes End, I'm going to be in that disused cemetery over there if anyone needs me'."
With the trap set Lodge - still in his whites - headed for the graveyard to wait for his date with the Ripper, armed with nothing more than his whistle and a set of handcuffs.
|Sid Bentley (left, with son Barry) in happier times.|
But things did not go as planned.
"I still miss 'Nipper' to this day," said a misty eyed Lodge, recalling his late friend. "I suppose I shouldn't have assumed that the Ripper would be just interested in me."
After spending 24 hours in the cemetery Lodge returned to CCT HQ only to be told that Nigel 'Nipper' Knowles had become the sixth victim of Britain's worst cricket killer. Nipper had accepted the invitation to go for a pint with the losing team. Two hours later he was dead; brutally stabbed by the Ripper's weapon of choice: a stump.
"Thing is, it wasn't even Boam. He was completely innocent. It was the bloke who Nipper had no-balled for chucking, Sid Bentley. Apparently he'd had a grudge for years about having been banned in the sixties for having a bent arm. Then in late 1978 he got a knock on the head when fielding at short leg and it had affected the balance of his brain. He'd turned to drink and became very unpredictable. Bentley had never forgiven those umpires who'd called him in the past and now he was out for revenge. When 'Nipper' gave that no-ball against him he signed his own death warrant."
Bentley had borrowed Boam's gloves on each occasion, telling the keeper that his wife needed them as they couldn't afford oven gloves and she had a job cooking meat pies in an orphanage.
|The Binks Mat Gang. Tudor Lodge: "Amateurs. A bunch of clowns "|
Boam obliged because he was an orphan himself and he also believed that any encrusted gravy might stiffen up his flimsy Woolworths mittens.
At his trial Bentley pleaded insanity and was sent to the specialist bowling correctional wing of Broadmoor Hospital which housed some of the most dangerous chuckers around.
"I visited him there once after the trial. I had a couple of other unsolved umpire murders I thought he might be able to help me with. It was a terrifying place. There were psychopathic and deranged people everywhere; all of whom had terrible bowling actions. Most of them can never be released and, sadly, very few will be able to bowl a legitimate over again."
Even with the Umpire Ripper safely banged up the Test Squad could not afford to relax. Other sensational cases soon came their way, such as the Binks Mat Robbery.
"Getting Jimmy Binks his rug back was a good result. An armed gang had been targeting ex Yorkshire players and would stop at nothing to get high quality household goods. If we hadn't stopped them in time then know knows where it might have ended. We found out subsequently that they had made a hit list of items they wanted: Brian Close's waste paper bin and Ray Illingworth's tea towels were both on it. They would have stopped at nothing, except perhaps at Dickie Bird's collection of pullovers. There are still some things that there is no market for."
|The CCT even has to ensure the enforcement of the smoking ban in pavilions.|
The work of the CCT has diversified in recent years as changes in technology lead to a new type of criminal.
"These days your cricket villains are a bit different. They are clued-up, computer savvy and use new technology to get what they want."
"Scorecard fraud has become rife. There are gangs of crooked printers falsifying scorecards left, right and centre. Players pay money upfront to get their 20s and 30s changed into centuries. It is threatening the very heart of the game. You have very average batsman claiming career averages of over a hundred and producing fake scorecards or, in some cases, bogus Wisdens to prove it"
"There are fresh challenges facing CCT now," added Lodge, who retired in 2008. "The nature of crime has changed. It's a sign of the times that we get umpires posing as teenagers in the ECB chat room trying to get LBW legislation made easier. Then you might get an email from some Nigerian grounds man claiming to be holding £10,000,000 in a bucket of sawdust that you won in some non-existent lottery. It's never ending."
"I feel sorry for my successor. Policing has changed in a big way. I'm not saying we were corrupt but we helped each other out. Lord's Stewards used to get a bit carried away sometimes if one of the members was persistently not wearing a proper jacket or undoing their top button. They would take them down to the cellar and ... well, lets just say this, some of the worst offenders often used to fall down the stairs. The members would complain to us about the rough treatment but we made sure that nothing came of it. I still get to smoke my pipe in the Long Room even now."