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The God of requited love and the policeman

Following on from last weeks post The Angel of Christian Charity I left you with a teaser. In different circumstances the area of Piccadilly Circus and the famous statue that's located there could have looked very different today.


I also posed a question. Could you name a member, serving or otherwise of the Metropolitan Police' Criminal Investigation Department? I must admit up until recently I could only name one, Jack Slipper, "Slipper of the Yard", not a very original title as we'll see, but the man credited with tracking down the Great Train Robbers and locating the runaway Ronnie Biggs.

I recently doubled my knowledge while reading a book about a bungled robbery on a Fitzrovia Jewelry shop in the 1950s. I'd learnt about the robbery while researching an audio tour of the area called Finding Fitzrovia . I'd wanted to include it in the tour, but was unable to fit it in so that the locations and the narrative flowed nicely, so regrettably had to leave it out. When I saw the book, which went into much more depth about the investigation I had to have it and found it a real page turner. This is how I came across another member of the CID, one that predated Jack Slipper by twenty or so years, Robert (Bob) Fabian



Robert Honey Fabian (bet he kept that middle name a secret from his colleagues) was born in Lewisham, south London in 1901. Bob had little formal education and after elementary school, trained as an engineering draughtsman. Like so many lads in the First World War, he enlisted when underage but he was found out and remained in the UK. He did work in drawing offices afterwards, a respectable position with good prospects and most probably a job for life. Fabian obviously had a talent for technical drawing, but found the work and the daily Drawing Office routine deadly boring. and so he applied to the Metropolitan Police. Having been accepted, he was posted to Vine Street Police station as a uniformed constable.


In 1924 he graduated to plain clothes duties, as CID work was called in those days, working in the heart of Soho and the West End he came into contact with many of the colourful characters of London’s underworld at the time. He worked his way through the ranks and by 1939 Fabian was a Detective Inspector in charge of the Vice Squad at Vine Street.


During 1939 and into 1940 the New Irish Republican Army (IRA) was carrying out their S-Plan, designed to cripple UK infrastructure and sabotage defence installations. On 15 January 1939 the IRA formally declared war on Britain. There were large numbers of explosions throughout that year, which had varying success from the aggressors’ viewpoint and some of the devices failed to detonate, mainly through incompetence on the part of the bomb-makers. The worst atrocity occurred in Coventry, just days before war broke out with Germany, when a device left in the basket of a parked bicycle exploded, killing five civilians and injuring 70 more.

On 25 June 1939 the IRA targeted the statue of Eros (that's not actually correct. See The Angel of Christian Charity) in Piccadilly Circus. Two bombs, sticks of gelignite wrapped up to look like brown paper parcels were left, one by the statue the other on the corner of Glasshouse Street.


Vine Street Police Station (Yellow) Explosion (Red) Unexploded bomb (Blue)

Fabian was sitting in his office working his way through a mound of paperwork when a loud explosion shook the windows at the Vine Street station and sent a wave of hot air rushing through the street. Dashing down the stairs and out onto the street, Fabian rushed towards the circus and quickly sizing the situation up located the second and larger bomb. Unwrapping the parcel he laid out the sticks of gelignite separately, to lessen the chance of a chain reaction if one exploded, and then cut out the fuse with a pocket knife. Had he failed to undertake this rather heroic action the second bomb would have definitely devastated the iconic statue. For this exploit he was later awarded the King’s Police Medal for gallantry in 1940. Apparently, once the area had been secured by a uniformed cordon, Fabian sauntered back to his office and continued with his paperwork.

Several weeks later, Fabian received a handwritten note left for him at the front desk of Vine Street nick. On it was the name of a London pub (possibly the Fitzroy Tavern in Fitzrovia) a date and a time. No stranger to this type of note, Fabian assumed it was the location to meet one of his informants. At the appointed time he turned up at the pub. As he opened the door of the bar, he was taken aback to be confronted by many of London’s most infamous underworld figures. Some of them he had even obtained convictions against in the past.

He stood there not knowing what to think when two of the men rushed towards him. Next moment, a glass of whisky and a cigar had been pushed into his hands, and the assembled men were clustering round clamouring to congratulate him! During the evening he was presented with a bronze medal. On it were engraved the words To Robert Fabian for Heroism – from the boys.


As I'm reading all this, there's something at the back of my mind about the phrase Fabian of the Yard. A little research shows it to have been an early TV police procedural that first aired in 1954 and ran to thirty six episodes all based on the memoirs of Bob Fabian who had retired from the force in 1949. Fabian was played in the series by actor Bruce Seton.






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