Special Investigation Branch

Detective Chief Inspector George Hatherill OBE Metropolitan Police

It must be pointed out that there are public records in existence, indicating the formation of the Special Investigation Branch, Military Police, Rhine Army 1919 - 1926. The unit was based at the Excelsior Hotel in Cologne, Germany. The hotel still exists and is located near to Cologne Cathedral. Its compliment consisted of one Officer, one WO2 and approximately twenty NCO's. The unit was divided into three sections, each one having a German Policeman or junior detective attached to it.

The functions of the respective sections were:

  • Dealt with traffic accidents, the maintenance of absentee & deserter records.
  • Regular contact with Scotland Yard re the arrests of absentees and deserters in the UK
  • Dealt with complaints against German nationals employed by the military and camp followers.
  • The overcharging for goods in shops and restaurants.
  • Insulting a member of the occupation forces.
  • The unlawful possession of arms, burglary, forgery of military permits and other offences.
  • Investigated immoral women co-habiting with soldiers.
  • Enquiries into the character of a German contemplating marriage to a soldier.
On the 30th October 1919, General Rogers returned to the UK from Germany to take up the appointment of Provost Marshal (PM). In his farewell order he said of the S.I.B., "The Special Investigation Branch have been most efficient and have been the means on many occasions of preventing trouble. Their detective work has led to the confiscation of very large quantities of stolen Government property".


On the 4th November 1939, the then Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Norman Kendal wrote to Monsieur Mondanel, the Inspector General of the Surete National, Paris. The letter was in connection to a communication he had received from the War Office, with regard to the stealing and disposal of large quantities of Ordnance stores in France.

The support required by the British Expeditionary Force necessitated the movement of vast amounts of stores. The Military Police of the day had no training in these matters, leaving certain elements of organised crime, local criminals and deserters, the opportunity to virtually steal at will and to order. Sir Norman asked if he could send a Chief Inspector from Scotland Yard to investigate and meet with the Surete Officer. In the letter Sir Norman said that he could consider sending the Inspector in his official capacity or camouflaged as some one else. A reply dated the 10th November 1939, extended a welcome invitation.

It was at this stage that Sir Norman identified Detective Chief Inspector George Hatherill of Scotland Yard as the visiting officer. It is of interest to note that both Inspector Mondanel and D.C.I. Hatherill were detectives of considerable ability. The former investigated the assassination at Marseilles of King Alexander of Yugoslavia, and D.C.I. Hatherill investigated more than 20 murders including that of John Christie the Rillington Place murderer, and Kenneth Haig the acid bath murderer. He was also the senior investigator in the Great Train Robbery.

On the 12th December 1939, DCI G. Hatherill accompanied by Detective Constable Cyril Charles Nichols (eventually one of the original 19) met with Colonel Kennedy PM (BEF), Major Basset-Wilson APM, and Officers of the French Military Staff in Paris. He was briefed on the ongoing situation and over a period of several days toured the problem areas and met with his French counterparts.

On the 3rd January 1940, D.C.I. Hatherill submitted a very comprehensive 37 page report to his superiors. To show the gravity of the problems, Nantes was highlighted as an example. In November 1939, cargoes recorded were 15 ships carrying 38,500 tons of general stores, mostly food: 16 ships carrying 13,700 tons of petrol: 21 ships carrying transport of an average of 250 vehicles per ship. The number of men employed daily was in the region of 1,300 of labour units and up to 350 French dockers. The military population was about 13,000 and civilian population about 210,000. With the Military Police resources available it was totally impossible to police.

Many recommendations were made including some severe criticism. Hatherill said that as far as being able to co-operate with the French Police in the investigation of more serious crime, there is not a man in the Corps, at that time, who has the slightest idea of this kind of work. He went on to say that he gathered from meetings with the French Police, that it was not much use to expect any effective help from the British authorities in their investigation of these crimes.

Hatherill conceded that these criticisms must be held in context of the seriousness of the problems and bore no relation to the hard work done by the uniformed Military Police, who it must be stressed were never trained in this kind of work. Hatherill concluded that the only practical solution to the problem, is for the Army to have a Corps of Military Police performing overseas duties, trained and instructed, not only in their military duties but also in the prevention, detection and investigation of crime, on the same basis as the civilian police force. He went on to say for example on parallel lines to the Metropolitan Police with its uniform and CID departments. A copy of that report was forwarded to the then Secretary of State for War.

Recommendation was made for the initial unit to comprise of one Major, six Lieutenants, six Warrant Officers and six Sergeants. The War Office however, suggested that unit personnel should be a total of 30, comprising of 5 Warrant Officers and 25 Sergeants.

In a letter dated the 18th January 1940, written by Supt Campion to the Assistant Commissioner Crime, New Scotland Yard, he acknowledged that he was prepared to form the new unit and to this end had identified its officers. He outlined his proposals of one Officer, one WO and one sergeant at each section. Supt Campion outlined the details of a meeting that he attended with DCI Hatherill, Major Lucas of the Adjutant General's office and a General Beck. Campion was somewhat concerned, when thinking that both NSY and the War Office was on common ground, to be informed that it was not the idea of the Provost Marshal to have more than one Major and one Lieutenant in the investigation unit. The PM at the time did not wish that any Commissioned Officers formed any part of an investigative role.

In 1954 George Hatherill was promoted to Commander (Crime) at NSY and was awarded the OBE. His service was extended by one year during which he played a leading role in the investigation of the Great Train Robbery. He was known to his contemporaries as 'Uncle George'. He visited Canada and the USA as a lecturer on police matters. He died on the 17th June 1986 at the age of 87.
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