The Challoner Defence

Headlines in today’s press suggest that “the Yard is in crisis as PC admits to lying over Plebgate affair”.  I’m not so sure about that, if history is taken into account.  I’ve heard it all before!

In 1963 a Detective Sergeant Harold ‘Tankie’ Challoner was involved in a fit-up of a student named Donald Rooum during a demonstration outside the Greek Embassy.  Rooume was a member of the National Council of Civil Liberties and was doing nothing more threatening than carrying a banner.  But according to Challoner – who greeted him with “You’re f***ing nicked, my beauty.  Boo the Queen, would you?”  and a series of slaps around the head – he had also been carrying a half-brick, which if deemed an offensive weapon could have earned him a couple of years in prison.

Challoner’s arrest of Rooum was supposedly witnessed by three other of his colleagues who also testified that they had seen Challoner search the accused student and find a half-brick in his pocket.  Rooume was charged with carrying an offensive weapon.  However Rooume was not of the same stamp of bottom feeders and flotsam that Challoner was used to dealing with and he refused to sign for the half-brick with his property.  He was held overnight in custody and handed over his clothing to his solicitor at the first hearing the next morning.

Forensic evidence backed the defence, finding no evidence of brick dust on his clothing and surprise, surprise; the half-brick wouldn’t fit into the pocket.  Rooume was acquitted and it doesn’t need me to explain that the proverbial hit the fan with the media fanning the flames primed by the National Council of Civil Liberties.

Challoner was charged together with his three Metropolitan Police co-conspirators with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.  Once the case against Rooume was kicked out, Challoner’s behaviour became bizarre and supposedly his mental condition deteriorated rapidly.  When the four conspirators appeared at the Old Bailey Challoner was found unfit to plead and sent to a mental hospital.  His three co-defendants, who had backed his lies, were sentenced to three years imprisonment.

After a stay at Netherne mental hospital, which Challoner referred to jokingly as his country home, he returned home to a quieter life, working for the firm of solicitors that defended him.  In 1964 an inquiry led by Arthur James QC into why Challoner was allowed to continue to serve as a policeman when he appeared to be affected by mental illness, produced the usual whitewash.  If it hadn’t the serious troubles that plagued the Metropolitan Police in the 1970s might have been nipped in the bud.

Meanwhile in Police Forces all around the UK there has become an often used advice to any Bobby who finds himself in the ordure, known as taking the “Challoner Defence”.  “Tankie” Challoner retired to Cornwall and wrote his memoirs, mostly of his time in the SAS and understandably skimmed over his time in the police.  I wonder what his fellow Met Officers who backed his bizarre behaviour and were rewarded with a three year ‘carpet’, thought while Challoner was relaxing in his ‘country home’?  I am making no further comment about the Plebgate affair because it’s sub judice.  As an oldie I am allowed to say “I don’t believe it”!  The student who was the subject of the fit-up, Donald Rooum is alive and well at 84 years old.  A cartoonist with the Freedom Press he describes himself as a carpet slippered anarchist still turning out cartoons with an ethical stance.  . . . . . . . .  I haven’t been able to find one of his on “Plebgate”


About Jake

Long retired travel writer, author and freelance journalist. Educated at Wolverton Grammar and Greenwich Naval College. Happily married since 1958, with a married son and daughter, a married granddaughter and an adult grandson. Hobbies rock-climbing, dinghy racing and ocean racing. Still regularly working out in the gym.
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