Friday 12 October 2018

Jailbirds I Have Known (2)

The second of my three criminal acquaintances is former Tory MP Keith Best.

When I first met him, Best was an ambitious and hyper-active young Brighton-based barrister and TA artillery officer.  In the late 1970s he was nursing the safe seat of Brighton Pavilion, on the wrong-headed assumption that the incumbent (the Tory grandee Julian Amery, brother of the hanged traitor John), would soon retire.  In the meantime he had to fight the mandatory no-hoper seat and was duly selected for Anglesey (Ynys Mon, if you must) in the sure knowledge he'd lose.  Unfortunately for his Brighton plans, in 1979 he won it on a three-way split with Labour and the Welsh Nats.  Never mind, he thought: I'll lose it next time for sure Meanwhile, let's enjoy the gig - and he threw himself into foreign affairs interests, travelling extensively on parliamentary boondoggles (as well as continuing to be active in Brighton ... and Westminster ... and Anglesey ... like I said, he was hyperactive).

Then along comes the 'Falklands Election' of 1983 and, wouldn't you just know it? - he gets re-elected in Wales!  Damn!  That wasn't the plan at all.  Still, there are always those overseas boondoggles, eh, Mr Q?

And then came the era of the big 'Sid' privatisations.  Stagging was all the rage, and when the BT flotation came along, Best didn't just stag it, he made multiple applications for shares - a criminal offence.  But not just multiple bids: he made them all in different variations of his own name!   It didn't need much detective work to run him to ground.  He was caught, convicted, gaoled (briefly), and had to resign from everything he held dear: the Bar, his Commission, his seat - the lot.

But here's the thing.  He wasn't any kind of Alan B'Stard whatsoever.  At one point I had a lot of contact with Best, and would have unhesitatingly classified him as a good chap.  He was very much on the 'social conscience' wing of the party, which doesn't always sit easily with hacking away for a safe Tory seat: but he didn't hide or compromise his views.  Hyperactivity aside (which can be a bit of a syndrome), he was level-headed and fairly sage - certainly thoughtful.  I've chatted with him for many a long hour over a drink or two in a German pub, and he's the sort of fellow I'd reckon you'd go to for his views if you had a problem.

So where does he get off on blatant, nay suicidal multiple share applications?  I've pondered this one long and hard.   

One possible explanation is a blown gasket - to hell with it, I'm never gonna get that safe seat, nor any ministerial promotion: let's throw caution to the winds!  But that cap never really fitted: like most young and ambitious politicians, he was playing a long game (he was well in with the whips - hence the boondoggles - and reliable in the lobbies) with time on his side.  The nearest I can come up with is that he fell into a kind of entitlement trap:  everyone does multiple applications and makes a fast, victimless buck - why shouldn't I?  Remember that around this time, in lieu of a recommended pay-rise (which the privately-wealthy Thatch decided wasn't on), MPs were explicitly told by their whips to get a copy of the John Lewis catalogue and fill their boots on expenses, no questions asked.

Not a very satisfactory explanation, actually, but it's all I can come up with.  He never explained himself to me, anyway - and it's hardly a topic you press someone on.  (Come on, Keith - what sort of loony are you?)

And since his time in the slammer?   He's gone for the Profumo path to redemption, quietly working away - with characteristic commitment and energy - in leadership roles for several charities, see wiki for details.

A strange story indeed.  Human beings, eh?


PS: there won't be a separate post on Jaibird 3 because nobody will have heard of him.  I'll add something BTL in comments over the weekend on him ...
UPDATE:  done - in comment #5


Electro-Kevin said...

I knew a couple who got done for multiple share applications (Sid) but those were pre-internet days. You really did stand a chance of getting away with such stuff then.

Being struck off must have been the hardest bit but he knew he wasn't going from barrister to barista. Charidee is a pretty good screw nowadays.

Bill Quango MP said...

I had a boss. Straightest die in the company. Always by the book. On the level.
Known for his honesty throughout the industry. Tough.Demanding. But respected by all.
Reminded me of George Marshall, Roosevelt's chief of staff. When Roosevelt called him 'George' at a conference once, and insisted he call the President by his first name, he excused himself. Sent a note into the room to Franklin that said that if he called him George ever again, he would have to resign.And he would only call his chief, "Mr President" Then came back in. Where he was refereed to for the rest of the meeting, and evermore, as General Marshall.
The point being Marshall did not want to fall under Roosevelt's considerable charm.He had a job to do. And that meant he had to be objective and free to speak his mind.

This guy reminded me of that. As those of us under him thought him a great leader. Those above, a useful, diligent, but awkward bugger. Who was never invited to weddings or non work events. And probably wouldn't have attended anyway.

so it was a surprise when, he, having discovered a VAT fraud going on by the finance director, asked for a cut.
Instead of handing him in, he took the bribe.

I remember the day he came to work in a band new Porsche. Just after cutbacks had been announced and us minions having to keep our cars for an extra year.
And his missus, who also worked at the firm, suddenly had a Mercedes sport.

As ever, it all unwound. It was so bad it actually bankrupted the company in the end. As it wasn't just Vat. It was embezzlement.

He managed to keep his job in the buyout. And, oddly, managed to escape any censure or criminal proceedings. He claimed no knowledge and the really guilty had done an oversea runner with all the cash.

But his credibility was gone. And trust and truth, his big thing, was lost forever.

I guess the same thing applied as with your man. He just felt he should have more. And here was a way to get it.25 years service and only a £65k salary and BMW 3 series to show for it!

{I only knew he was directly involved by accident. I had asked him a question about his future. "what's going to happen to you?" Meaning..ill you keep your job in this bailout. Usually the man in his post at his level is first out. As the buying up/bailing out company will already have a senior, senior exec.

His reply was such an out of character, accusatory and defensive response. Angry. Frightened and and a little unhinged, it was a few minutes before I realised he thought I was talking about the recent police visit. Not his own job security. He alternated between nonsensical verbiage. Obfuscating commentary. And sly attempts to discover what I knew and how much of a threat was I to him.

The pair of us had done full blown criminal proceedings investigations together for years. For thieves and fraudsters. And his behaviour had all the classic guilt signs, that he had once taught me to watch out for.

Strange how this happens.

Anonymous said...


I got called to a job. An ex copper now head of security (better than that, but I have to be careful here) reported a crime to me.

Umpteen antique (high value) clock mechanisms stolen from within cases.

- No obvious signs of entry into the building (an inside job)

- clumsy damage to the casings around the key holes but no damage inside (keys were used)

Searching questions from me... the guy was sweating like a pig (no pun.) He showed all the signs of guilt. He admitted to me that he had a lock-up and had that look of instant regret. I nicked him. I feared he would empty the lock-up if I didn't.

I took the risk hoping that I would be backed up and a S.18 search taken out. Silly boy.

Funny that on release the guy shook my hand in a double handed grasp as if to say "How on earth did you know ?"

But I lost. And so did the force.

Anonymous said...

From BQs story there was some serious money involved, like the IT dirctor I knew of who was getting a cut from the software suppliers, on contracts worth millions. But what makes a man risk a career for a few dishonest quid?

I had a colleague in the 80s, fellow programmer. In those happy days we had four pay rises a year, flexible hours, cheap mortgage and insurance, free lunches and sports centre, best salaries for a hundred miles around. He got sacked for fiddling his timesheets - for a few extra hours a week. Crazy. Poor bugger didn't tell his wife either - until she rang up and found he'd been going to the library every day for the last month.

Nick Drew said...

Jailbird 3 - was a different kettle of fish. We'll call him Mike. When I first met Mike, in the Army, he was an NCO. Mike was enormously competent in technical matters, endlessly energetic, and possessed of a degree of initiative seldom encountered. Sir? Yes, Sarnt'Major. That field exercise we're running next month. I've got this mate in the Army Air Corps - would you like a couple of choppers for the week?

Now that's unusual, I can tell you**.

Anyhow, Mike wasn't one to suffer fools. A bit of a problem, because the army has its full quota. And while it's fine, nay, positively part of the job description, for an NCO to vent forcibly at the fools under his tutelage, punching up can be more of a problem++. And punching up, not just metaphorically but physically, is a real issue. (So's punching down. Strictly sideways, when it's called for.)

So, apparently (I wasn't there) when Mike was a corporal, he did indeed let fly at someone senior, and was busted - and jailed - for his pains. That's the way it goes. He went on to become a WO2, then commissioned from the ranks, so it didn't hinder him all that much. I worked with him on many occasions and he was an exceptionally good bloke for the things he was good at. But I can tell you that, when he became an officer, his ultimate prospects were just a bit limited vs what they might have been. It was amazing how, whenever some potential posting or promotion came up, someone would say: you know he decked old Sergeant Smith once ...

** You'd maybe imagine the forces are bursting with people of initiative. Well, there's absolutely no shortage of it. But it's not remotely universal, even amongst officers: a high percentage at all levels have joined because they like to be told what to do.

++ I punched up (metaphorically) twice in my army career. On both occasions, in cold blood and with careful forethought. It has to be a knockout blow.

Dick the Prick said...

Nothing quite so sensational for me but I had a chum at university - well, a chum of a chum but we got on really well and always went for a pint together if we bumped into each other. It was around finals time - I think after as we were all winding down. I asked him what he was gonna do - he got a decent grade in chemistry and he told me he was going to the klink for a couple of years for making amphetamine in the college lab. Jaw hit floor - poor bugger.

Electro-Kevin said...

Well he hadn't even broken good before breaking bad there, Dick !

How would you feel as his parent ?

Dick the Prick said...

@EK - bloody devastated. I think he was offered £5k for one night's work and it all went tits up. He was like one of the public school drug dealers in 'Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' - kind of oblivious to it all. Daft sod.

Steven_L said...

When I lived in Brighton I stayed in the same small youth hostel over some of the winter months with a young Italian bloke who ended up in the slammer for selling MDMA. He even did time in one of those detention centres where the try to deport people from. We're still in touch. He even came to Scotland one Hogmanay with his rather beautiful Spanish girlfriend, who he is still with a good few years later.

He got big into crypto and blockchain and I get the impression he was in early enough to make some money off it. His missus is a dentist and they both run a property investment company too with him doing the day to day stuff and renovations.

He looks like a much younger, better looking version of Johnny Depp. You win some, you lose some.