Harold Challenor

Last updated

Harold Gordon "Tanky" Challenor, MM (16 March 1922 – 28 August 2008) was a wartime member of the SAS, decorated for his part in Operation Speedwell. After the war, he joined the Metropolitan Police, spending much of his career in Criminal Investigation Department (CID). In 1963, when holding the rank of Detective Sergeant, he was charged with corruption offences and was subsequently found to have been suffering from mental health problems and deemed not to be fit to stand trial. He was sent to a secure hospital, and on his release, he joined the firm of solicitors which had defended him. A public enquiry was held into his actions and why his health problems had not been noticed by his superiors.


War service

During the Second World War, Challenor served as a member of the Royal Army Medical Corps in North Africa and Italy between 1942 and 1944 before joining 62 Commando, which later formed part of the Special Air Service, as a lance-corporal. He later described himself as "the most aggressive medical orderly the Commandos ever had". [1] He received the nickname of "Tanky" after losing his commando beret and having to borrow one from the Tank Corps.

From 7 September 1943, he took part in Operation Speedwell in which he helped derail three trains behind enemy lines. Following the operation, Challenor was twice captured but managed to escape each time, eventually reaching safety. He was one of only two out of the six soldiers involved in the operation to survive.

Challenor was awarded the Military Medal on 9 November 1944. [2]

The citation read:

This N.C.O. was dropped by parachute near Borgo val di Taro, north of Spezia, on the 7th Sept 43. The total detachment consisted of 2 officers and 4 O.R.. After landing the detachment split, L/Cpl. Challenor accompanying one officer. This small detachment succeeded in derailing two trains on the Spezia - Parma line on night 14th of September at a point north of Pontremoli. Again, on the night 18th September a third train was derailed south of Villafranca. Having no further explosives, the detachment started to return to our lines. During this time, the enemy were continually searching for escaped P.W. and on 27 December the officer was captured. L/Cpl Challenor continued southwards alone; he was captured north of Chieti, but succeeded in escaping later from Aquila P.W. camp. He continued south and on 5 April 44 was again captured while attempting to pass through enemy lines; on the 7th April he again escaped and reached our lines. Throughout the seven months spent behind enemy lines, this N.C.O. displayed the highest courage and determination. [3]

In later service, Challoner began to show a propensity for violence towards prisoners. In describing an occasion when he was in charge of some captive Gestapo officers, he recalled that "[o]ne of them made the mistake of smiling at me. The gaze I returned had him backing away. Then I took them out one by one and exercised them with some stiff fisticuffs." [1] He was already showing signs of delusions at this stage of his career. Challenor eventually reached the rank of company quartermaster sergeant before completing his military service in 1947.

Police service

Challenor joined the Metropolitan Police in 1951. During his police career, he served in the CID and the Flying Squad before eventually moving to West End Central Police Station in Mayfair in 1962, from here he was involved in policing the Soho area of London. At one point, he had a record of over 100 arrests in seven months and he eventually totalled 600 arrests and received 18 commendations. By the end of his career, Challoner's modus operandi included punching a suspect from Barbados while singing "Bongo, bongo, bongo, I don't want to leave the Congo". [1] Various of his accused claimed to have been beaten up or have had evidence planted on them but, at first, this did not prevent conviction.

The Challenor Case

However, Challenor met his match on 11 July 1963 when he arrested Donald Rooum, a cartoonist for Peace News , who was demonstrating outside Claridge's hotel against Queen Frederika of Greece. He told Rooum: "You're fucking nicked, my beauty. Boo the Queen, would you?" and hit him on the head. [1] Going through Rooum's possessions, Challenor added a half-brick, saying, "There you are, me old darling. Carrying an offensive weapon. You can get two years for that." [4] Rooum, a member of the National Council for Civil Liberties who had read about forensic science, handed his clothes to his solicitor for testing. No brick dust or appropriate wear and tear were found and Rooum was acquitted, although other people Challenor arrested at the demonstration were still convicted on his evidence.

By the time Challenor appeared at the Old Bailey in 1964, charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, he was deemed to be unfit to plead and was sent to Netherne mental hospital with a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. Since then, it has been suggested that he might have been suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder. [4] Three other detectives (David Oakley, Frank Battes and Keith Goldsmith) [5] were sentenced to three years in prison.

The case of Challenor was raised in parliament on several occasions. A statutory inquiry headed by Arthur James was eventually set up - the first such under the Police Act 1964. It was considered by some to be a whitewash and to have allowed police corruption to continue within the Metropolitan Police unabated. [6] In the report, Challenor's mental illness was blamed for the false arrests rather than a systemic policy of framing suspects. The lack of a follow-up prosecution of Challenor after he was discharged from hospital was also criticised as establishment corruption. [7] Because of this, "doing a Challenor" became a police slang expression for avoiding punishment and prosecution through retiring sick from the force. [8] "According to Mary Grigg's The Challenor Case, a total of twenty-six innocent men were charged during Challenor's corrupt activities. Of these thirteen were imprisoned spending a total of thirteen years in gaol. On his release from the hospital, Challoner worked for the firm of solicitors which had defended him during his trial." [6]

In film and literature

In 1966, BBC's Wednesday Play television series included Clive Exton's The Boneyard whose main character - a psychotic police officer - was based on Challenor. Challenor was the subject of the novel The Strange Affair by Bernard Toms and of the 1968 film of the same name. He also was the model for Inspector Truscott in the play Loot by Joe Orton, which was also adapted for a film version. Challenor himself produced a memoir in 1990 entitled SAS and the Met. It was co-written with Alfred Draper. In the Swedish Novel "The Abominable Man" by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, Challenor is mentioned in passing in regard to a crime being investigated that appears to have been committed by "a madman." The person murdered is compared to Challenor as being a very bad policeman.


  1. 1 2 3 4 The Daily Telegraph obituary
  2. "No. 36785". The London Gazette (Supplement). 7 November 1944. p. 5131.
  3. "Recommendations for Honours and Awards (Army)—Image details—Challenor, Harold Gordon". Documents Online. The National Archives . Retrieved 22 September 2008.. A near verbatim transcript is also included in the obituary published in The Times
  4. 1 2 The Times obituary
  5. Against the Bomb: The British Peace Movement, 1958-1965 by Taylor, Richard K. S., Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1988, p.268
  6. 1 2 Morton (2008)
  7. Parliamentary question by Arthur Lewis 20 December 1971
  8. Barber(2003)

Related Research Articles

Commando Soldier or operative of an elite light infantry or special operations force; commando unit

A commando is a combatant, or operative of an elite light infantry or special operations force using dedicated operation techniques.

The Commando Order was issued by the OKW, the high command of the German armed forces, on 18 October 1942. This order stated that all Allied commandos encountered in Europe and Africa should be killed immediately without trial, even if in proper uniforms or if they attempted to surrender. Any commando or small group of commandos or a similar unit, agents, and saboteurs not in proper uniforms who fell into the hands of the German forces by some means other than direct combat, were to be handed over immediately to the Sicherheitsdienst for execution.

Operation Basalt

Operation Basalt was a small British raid conducted during World War II on Sark during the German occupation of the Channel Islands.

Operation Loyton

Operation Loyton was the codename given to a Special Air Service (SAS) mission in the Vosges department of France during the Second World War.

Iranian Embassy siege Siege that took place from 30 April to 5 May 1980

The Iranian Embassy siege took place from 30 April to 5 May 1980, after a group of six armed men stormed the Iranian embassy on Prince's Gate in South Kensington, London. The gunmen, Iranian Arabs campaigning for sovereignty of Khuzestan Province, took 26 people hostage, including embassy staff, several visitors, and a police officer who had been guarding the embassy. They demanded the release of prisoners in Khuzestan and their own safe passage out of the United Kingdom. The British government quickly decided that safe passage would not be granted and a siege ensued. Subsequently, police negotiators secured the release of five hostages in exchange for minor concessions, such as the broadcasting of the hostage-takers' demands on British television.

Donald Rooum was an English anarchist cartoonist and writer. He had a long association with Freedom Press who have published seven volumes of his Wildcat cartoons.

New Zealand Special Air Service

The New Zealand Special Air Service, abbreviated as 1 NZSAS Regt, was formed on 7 July 1955 and is the special forces unit of the New Zealand Army, closely modelled on the British Special Air Service (SAS). It traces its origins to the Second World War and the famous Long Range Desert Group that New Zealanders served with.

Paddy Mayne Irish rugby union player, lawyer, boxer, and soldier

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Blair "Paddy" Mayne, was a British Army soldier from Newtownards, capped for Ireland and the British Lions at rugby union, lawyer, amateur boxer and a founding member of the Special Air Service (SAS).

Sir David Carol MacDonnell Mather, known as Carol Mather, was a 20th Century British soldier and politician.

Angelo Fusco

Angelo Fusco is a former volunteer in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) who escaped during his 1981 trial for killing a Special Air Service (SAS) officer in 1980.

Paul "Dingus" Magee is a former volunteer in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) who escaped during his 1981 trial for killing a member of the Special Air Service (SAS) in 1980. After serving a prison sentence in the Republic of Ireland, Magee fled to England where he was imprisoned after killing a policeman in 1992. He was repatriated to the Republic of Ireland as part of the Northern Ireland peace process before being released from prison in 1999, and subsequently avoided extradition back to Northern Ireland to serve his sentence for killing the member of the SAS.

During World War II, Operation Speedwell was an early Special Air Service raid against Italian rail targets near Genoa starting on 7 September 1943. The fourteen-man group split into a number of smaller units to destroy track and ambush trains. The surviving raiders returned to friendly lines by foot after up to seven months behind enemy lines, some after time in captivity.

Sir James Starritt KCVO, often known as Jim Starritt, was a British police officer in the London Metropolitan Police.

Operation Houndsworth

Operation Houndsworth was the codename for a British Special Air Service operation during the Second World War. The operation carried out by 'A' Squadron, 1st Special Air Service between 6 June and 6 September 1944, was centred on Dijon in the Burgundy region of France. Their objective was to disrupt German lines of communication, coordinate the activities of the French Resistance and prevent German reinforcements moving to the Normandy beachheads, especially the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich.

John "Johnny" Wiseman, MC was a British Army officer and Second World War Special Air Service (SAS) veteran, where he saw action in the long range desert raiding parties of the North African Campaign, then in front line support of the invasion of Sicily and Italy during which he was awarded the Military Cross, followed by commando operations deep behind German lines following the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944.

John Thomas "Mac" McAleese, MM was a Scottish soldier who took part in several late 20th century conflicts with the British Army's Royal Engineers and the Special Air Service Regiment, including the storming of the Iranian Embassy in London during a hostage taking siege incident in May 1980.

The 1st Special Air Service Brigade was a fictional brigade during the Second World War. It was first formed in Cairo in 1941, as part of a deception by Brigadier Dudley Clarke, to play on Italian fears of airborne attacks. Clarke used documents, photographs, news reports and even fake SAS soldiers to plant information about the brigade – he even named the Cairo-based deception department, 'A' Force, to bolster evidence of their existence.

Bob Lilley (British Army soldier) British Army soldier

Ernest Thomas "Bob" Lilley M.M., B.E.M. was a British Army soldier. A founding member of the British Special Air Service Regiment, he formerly served with the Coldstream Guards. Lilley was one of the first four men selected by Colonel David Stirling to comprise L Detachment 1st S.A.S. in Middle East Headquarters at Cairo in 1940. He took part in many operations behind enemy lines in Libya against Italian and German forces during World War 2.

The 69 Commando ; also known as Very Able Troopers 69 is an elite multi-tasking special forces unit of the Royal Malaysia Police. The VAT 69 is based at Ulu Kinta, Perak and together with Special Actions Unit, they are part of Pasukan Gerakan Khas [PGK; ]. The mission of 69 Commando is to conduct high-risk tasks such as counter-terrorism, hostage rescue, intelligence gathering and counter-insurgency within the borders of Malaysia.

Operations Wallace and Hardy

Operations Wallace and Hardy also known separately as Operation Wallace and Operation Hardy were the codenames for two British Special Air Service operations during the Second World War that took place from 27 July to 19 September 1944. Initially two sets of operations by 2nd Special Air Service, they were eventually amalgamated into one. Their objective was to disrupt German lines of communication, coordinate the activities of the French Resistance and prevent German reinforcements moving to the Normandy beachheads.


Further reading