Mark Sanderson’s Snow Hill has been acclaimed by Jake Arnott as a ‘compelling journey into the dark heart of the Square Mile.’ As the paperback appears from HarperCollins, Sanderson gives Crime Time a particular insight…

The germ of this story was told to me by the son of a cop stationed at Snow Hill in the 1930s. An inspector took to doping the cocoa of constables in his care so that he could have sex with them. One evening he misjudged the dose with the result that a young man tragically died. The inspector went home and hanged himself. For a while, around Smithfield, Snow Hill became a slang term for limp-wristed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, despite extensive research, I was unable to find any evidence to corroborate the story.

However, following the original publication of this novel, I received a letter from Mr D Potton of Diss, Norfolk which revealed that his father, Harold Charles Potton, joined the City of London Police on 18 July 1927 and served for 27 years until he retired in April 1954. For the last eight years of his service Harold Potton was "Housekeeper" at Snow Hill and his wife was "Matron". They lived in the police station with their two children. The letter continued:

A few weeks ago I discussed the book with an old friend who was a senior officer in the force and enlisted in the mid-1950s. He instantly recalled the rumours that occasionally floated around the station about the subject. Since then he has had a meeting with another retired senior officer of the force and between them they have discovered the following:

In 1936 an Inspector Webster, who was the person in charge of the Force Training Centre at Snow Hill, was convicted at the Central Criminal Court for some sort of indecency against police constables. He purchased chloroform from a chemist in Newgate Street under the pretext of putting down dangerous dogs brought to the station. He then drugged the constables and, while they were asleep in their rooms, an assault took place. A sentence of 18 months imprisonment was imposed and he was dismissed from the force. None of this reached the press. It is understood that on leaving prison he joined the army and served with distinction.

Mr Webster’s story proves once again that fact is stranger than fiction.

Snow Hill is published by HarperCollins

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