24 Hours in Police Custody – Channel 4’s fly-on-the-wall series that’s been filming inside Luton police station since 2014 – is back.
And its new series starts with a case of police corruption. Below is the full story behind how the on-camera discovery unfolded…
There was something about the victim from the moment he stepped into the enquiry office at the station. Clean-shaven, smart suit, a nervous look on his face. He came in to report that he was being blackmailed – and we immediately took an interest in him.
That morning as he left his house for work, he found a ransom demand on the windscreen of his car. The blackmailer had observed him using the services of a prostitute in the back of a camper van parked up on an industrial estate. The letter demanded that he leave £1,000 in a lay-by on the outskirts of Luton by midday – or his wife would be told.
Genuinely afraid that he couldn’t handle the situation, he drove straight to the police station to ask for help. Detectives from across the force quickly came up with a plan – the lay-by was placed under surveillance, both with eyes on the ground and remotely. The businessman was asked to provide £1,000 and the money was dropped off.
Checks were also run on whether anyone had been trying to access details of the victim’s home address. We waited and waited. I started to become suspicious when the noon deadline passed and the money wasn’t collected. Why was that? Had the victim been followed to the police station? Could the blackmailer know the area was under surveillance?
I had a routine meeting with the Chief Constable at Bedfordshire Police HQ. Colleagues who had gone ahead to cover the operation from that location called and reported a palpable sense of nervousness.
So I rang the Chief Constable and said, ‘I’ve got a feeling this is an inside job. Are we dealing with a police officer here?’ The fact he didn’t say, ‘What on earth are you talking about?’ confirmed to me that we might be dealing with a bent copper. Meanwhile, the background checks revealed that someone had, indeed, been searching for details of the victim’s personal life and that those searches had been made on a police computer.
We weren’t there for the arrest that evening for operational reasons – the suspect was working at a top-secret surveillance facility – but the moment was captured on the body cameras of the officers present.
The irony was that the man arrested – DC Gareth Suffling – was part of the undercover surveillance team monitoring the lay-by. The money hadn’t been collected because he knew it was under observation.
The news was broken to the Luton CID officers the following day. He had worked with them and we’d previously filmed him there. We knew those officers would feel a huge sense of betrayal and, because of the ‘fixed-rig’ cameras (we have about 80 dotted throughout the station), the viewer also gets to see this exact moment for themselves, in all its intensity.
Monday’s episode of #24hoursinpolicecustody will be hard to watch a colleague who I thought was a friend throw his life away
In fact, I find this moment of revelation even more powerful than the pure drama of the arrest. You see the human pain of officers trying desperately to process the information. How did he dupe them? Why exactly did he do it and what lasting damage will it do to their profession? And it doesn’t get any more devastatingly personal than that.
DS Tom Hamm
The corrupt cop’s boss at Luton CID
Gareth Suffling was with me for about 18 months; I would supervise his investigations, but he was one of those you didn’t need to be on the back of. He knew what needed to be done.
I would say he was one of the best detectives I ever worked with, which is what makes all of this so difficult to understand.
When we found out he’d been arrested, it was just utter disbelief. Everyone liked and respected him. And he loses everything for £1,000, which was probably half his monthly salary.
I honestly presumed it was a mistake. Because Gareth had gone to a specialist [surveillance] unit, I thought maybe this is something that allows him to go under cover in the criminal world and blend in. So you’re going through all these scenarios and all the possibilities for why it might not be him.
He’d won a commendation for his work on a child sex case. As the result of his diligence on the investigation, the offender got 19 years in prison. And that was one of his qualities. He was such a victim-focused detective.
A copy of the ransom note was found in Suffling’s house (Channel 4)
What also defies any logic is why, as an experienced detective, he was so sloppy in covering his tracks. [When police searched his home, they found a torn-up copy of the ransom letter (above), photographs of the prostitute and, later, when examining his internet search history found entries such as ‘How to Make Crime Pay’ and ‘Five Best Paying Illegal Jobs’.]
He’s gone to the prostitute’s van, he’s taken pictures, he’s put together a package including directions of where to drop that money – this has been well thought out and well planned.
How was he able to plan it so well and to cover his tracks so badly? Was it greed? Was it arrogance? I can only assume he thinks the victim will pay the money rather than risk his family finding out. But none of it makes any sense.
I didn’t know his wife but I do feel for her. As far as I’m aware, they’re still together and she’s standing by him. The ramifications are so great. His wife, his daughter, his mum, his dad, his sisters, his brother…
It’s tough for us as well: with austerity cuts we’re really under the cosh and it’s just so demoralising when you see one of your own do that.