The Conspiracy Theorist

BOOK: The Conspiracy Theorist
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The Conspiracy Theorist

A Becket Novel




Mark Raven



Third Edition


is a work of fiction.
The names,
characters, incidents and even most of the places are fictional.
History is a fiction most of the
So any resemblance to
persons, quick or dead, actual events or organisations is therefore entirely


rights are reserved.
No part of
this work may be used or reproduced without the written permission of the


design © Henry Alexander 2014


enemy is on many counts the projection of the self; both the ideal and the
unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him.

Richard Hofstadter,
The Paranoid Style in American Politics.

Chapter One

Nobody knew him, the dead man.
Not the fishermen who found him nor the
young constable who cycled across from West Thorney with his helmet clipped to
the back of his bicycle.
The body
had been in the water for some time and a good part of it was rotted away.
The hands were gone, as was the head.
Either the fish had done for them, they
said, or the poor chap had been batted about in the Channel long enough to lose
them of his own accord.
No one
No one knew how far the dead
man had drifted or where he had come from.
The currents were unpredictable and it wasn’t the first time
that someone had been washed up on
It wouldn’t be the last either, they

It was the summer of 1957, June 9
to be precise.

Later, someone suggested that the man
had been murdered, decapitated and his hands cut off for good measure.
Whatever, in those days long before DNA
profiling, the lack of teeth and fingerprints made positive identification
virtually impossible.

The corpse was dressed in a Pirelli
two-piece diving suit and had Admiralty issue swim-fins on the feet.
So people started saying the dead man
was a Navy frogman by the name of Crabb, who had gone missing in the Solent the
year before.
Crabb’s wife was
brought down to identify the body, but she couldn’t be sure it was her husband—it
was a while since she had set eyes upon him.
Then they tried his girlfriend who said it definitely wasn’t
Crabb: he had brown hairs on his legs, she said, not black.
Finally the authorities tried one of
the dead man’s colleagues, another diver, who confirmed it was Crabb after all.
Some say he was under considerable pressure
to do so.

So who was this Crabb?
And why were people, powerful people,
so interested in him?

Commander (Special Branch) Lionel
‘Buster’ Crabb, RNVR, GM, OBE was an experienced frogman, decorated in the
Second World War while serving in Naval Intelligence.
(Later they made a film about his exploits starring Laurence
It was called
The Silent Enemy.
After the war Crabb served in Palestine—then
a British protectorate of course—fighting Irgun, the Zionist terrorist
In 1955 it was said he was
recruited by MI6, the British overseas secret service.
In the same year, Crabb and another
diver were sent undercover—or underwater as it turned out—to inspect
the hull of the cruiser
, the
first in a class of post-war Soviet ships.
Crabb and his colleague found out what had been long
suspected: the Russians built better ships than the Royal Navy.
Useful intelligence
at a time when the British government was busily flushing the National Debt
down the toilet that was the Polaris nuclear deterrent.

Then in April 1956 Nikita Khrushchev
visited Britain.
The Soviet leader
was due to meet Prime Minister Macmillan and other British top brass.
Of course, Khrushchev’s room at
Claridge’s was bugged by MI5, the domestic intelligence service.
Khrushchev was too canny to give much
away and, much to the frustration of the
himself to discussing his appearance with his valet.
So the attention of the Boy Scouts turned to the ship
Khrushchev had arrived on.

The cruiser
was docked in Portsmouth Harbour with two other
Soviet destroyers alongside.
Unbeknown to anyone else officially, Soviet or British, MI6 decided it
would be a good idea to send a frogman down to examine the hull of the Soviet
ship for sonar and mine equipment.
They chose for the task one Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabb, who travelled to
Portsmouth with his MI6 handler and checked into the Sally Port Hotel on April 18

The next day Crabb disappeared.
As did all his clothes and any record
of him staying at the hotel—the relevant page having been torn from the
The Soviet Union lodged
a formal complaint that a frogman had been seen diving around the
An MI6 internal inquiry, conducted
in camera
of course, but leaked like everything else to the
Russians and, more importantly, to the Americans, concluded that Crabb was on
an unauthorised mission.
convenient rogue agent theory.

When, fourteen months later, Crabb’s
body was found on the shoreline of Pilsey Island, the press had a field day and
came up with the sort of theories that sold newspapers. Crabb had been captured
by the Soviets, they said, interrogated, killed, decapitated and then dumped;
Crabb was working for the Russians and had trained their frogmen; Crabb was a
Soviet Spy all along, his real name being one Lev Lvovich Korablov, a Commander
in the Black Sea fleet.
And so

The usual conspiracy theories.

Whatever the truth, it was clear that
the dear old amateurish Brits had blundered yet again, and MI6 got itself a
severe bollocking—not least from MI5 who were meant to be the ones doing
the spying at home—and a new Director for good measure.
Some say the knock-on effect put British
espionage back several decades and slowed down the search for the so-called
‘fifth man’—the mole at the heart of our intelligence services.


was the first occasion that a body was washed up on Pilsey Island.
(The first relevant to this story anyway.)
The second was in the summer of
It would be a case that taught
me that history is never quite finished with us.
At least as long as that history is held in the memories of
those who experienced it.

This time, the disappearance at sea was
written up in the UK government’s
Digest of the Marine Accident Investigation Branch
(2013) and would read as

a 35 foot rigged sloop—the only one in her class—with a 3.9-ton
external lead keel.
Her new owner,
a foreign national, took possession of the craft at Hayling Island and planned
to sail her single-handed to his berth at Shoreham-on-Sea.
The skipper, although inexperienced in
British waters, was keen to make this journey alone.
Despite some concerns expressed by the previous owner, who
offered to accompany him on the journey to show him the ropes, the yacht was
seen to clear the Chichester Bar at low water in good time to catch the
eastbound tide…

At this point in the narrative, speculation takes over.
Nothing is known about the rest of the
passage except the reasonable assumption that she ran into some problems in the
Looe Channel.
Her speed made good
would have been in the order of 4 to 5 knots depending on the tide.
The weather was westerly force 5 to 6,
and the visibility reported by other crafts was good.
However, no one saw the
run aground on the landward side east of the Mixon Beacon.

No ‘May Day’ or other distress signal was sent.
No other vessel reported a collision or
any other indication of a yacht in distress.
Inspection of the recovered wreckage showed no sign of fire
or explosion.
The body of the
skipper, when recovered four days later, showed no signs of trauma and was not
wearing a life jacket.

A black substance on both sails and hull was identified as
crude oil.
The cause of her loss
is a mystery.
The balance of
probability supports the hypothesis, however, that she was probably in
collision with another vessel for reasons that cannot, at present, be


two events, two missing sailors,
dead bodies, separated
by almost six decades.
The first I
had vaguely heard about over the years, a notorious spy scandal at the height
of the Cold War.
The second I had
the misfortune to find out about all by myself.

Chapter Two

me the case began one warm summer evening in August.
I was working late in my office completing an evidence
review for a brief that had been fast-tracked to court the following day.
It was a rush job and one that I was
for, but somehow I couldn’t
I had the windows
open and, far below in the mews, I could hear people making their way to the
pub, their voices carrying up to me in hope and expectation.
I remember half-listening to them,
thinking I could murder a pint, as I took a call on my mobile.

The caller said his name was Marchant,
Simeon Marchant, and he was ringing from London.
On the phone, he sounded as old as Methuselah and about as
much fun.
He told me
he’d been given my number by a fellow
at his club.
An ex-colleague of mine who said Becket’s
your man if something had not been investigated thoroughly enough.
I didn’t inquire as to which kind soul had
made the recommendation.
Instead I
asked, ‘
case would that be?’

‘Oh, this blessed missing sailor,’ he
‘If you can call him

He began to explain.
He sounded irritated.
Very irritated.
So irritated, in fact, he had started
to irritate me.
Evidently he
thought I should have known whom or what he was going on about.
But I didn’t and it was late, and I had
work to do, so I suggested he came into my office in Canterbury the following

He was disappointed.

‘I thought you could come up to Town,
Mr Becket,’ he said.
Despite a slight
stutter, it was a voice full of authority.
Generally speaking, I’m not that good with authority, so I told
him I had another appointment the next day and, besides, there was a fast train
from St Pancras every hour.

‘Well, it will need to be f-first
thing,’ he said, his stutter getting worse.
‘We really can’t afford to h-hang about.’
Simeon Marchant sounded like a man who
was used to getting his own way.
I informed him of my office address, and that I would be there at 9 am sharp in
the morning.
And I put the phone
down on him and got back to work.

The next day, nine o’clock came and
I waited patiently—not
a quality I'm particularly known for—but the phone did not ring.
No one sent his
no one rescheduled or postponed
The slow train would get Marchant in just
before ten, so I gave him till half past before repairing to the golf
course—the other appointment in my diary that day.

‘It is not unusual for clients to
decide I cannot help them,’ I said as we stood on the first tee.
‘But generally they come to that
conclusion after meeting me first.’


thought no more of Simeon Marchant—it turned out to be his real
name—until a week or so later.

This time the person on the telephone
was a woman, her voice as chilly as the tundra on a winter Sunday.

‘Who is this please?’ she asked.

‘You're through to Tom Becket.’

‘And may I ask who you are, Mr Becket?’

‘You may,’ I said.
‘But how about you tell me who
are first?’

There was a lengthy pause.
Unable to think of a suitable put-down,
she said, ‘Jenny Forbes-Marchant.
Jenny Forbes-Marchant.’

‘Well, Mrs Jenny Forbes-Marchant, I am Mr
Thomas A. Becket—one ‘T’ as in the martyr and the ‘A’ stands for Aloysius,
if you’re interested.
I'm a legal
investigator based in Canterbury.
You will find my address in the Yellow Pages.
I don’t have a website.
How can I help exactly?’

There was a sharp intake of breath at
the other end.
It travelled across
several thousand miles of permafrost to reach me.
But it no longer sounded like anger.
She could even have been crying.
It’s hard to tell on the phone.
My voice became softer, of its own

‘Mrs Forbes-Marchant?’

‘My father had your number on his phone
and I wondered who you were,’ she said in a small voice.
‘I’ve been ringing around all his

I recalled the phone call from the week
The client who never
showed up: Simeon Marchant.

‘Is something wrong?’ I asked.

‘I’m afraid he has ... passed away.
Rather suddenly in fact.’

‘Passed away?’

‘Well, he was killed.’
She cleared her throat.
‘Mugged, actually.
His heart gave way they said.’

It crossed my mind that Mr Marchant had
been on his way to see me when this happened.
The sobbing continued at the other end.
In such instances, it’s best to keep
the questions as simple and factual as possible.

‘When was this, Mrs Forbes-Marchant?’

‘Last Tuesday morning at about seven
Heaven knows what he was doing down the
Euston Road,’ she sighed.
club is on Pall Mall.’

‘Your father had an appointment to see me,
Mrs Forbes-Marchant.
The fast
train to Canterbury goes from St Pancras.’

‘What on earth was he seeing you about?’

‘I don’t know.
He never saw me.
We only spoke on the phone.
Briefly at that.’

She sighed again.
Even at a distance, I could tell Mrs
Forbes-Marchant had a wide range of expressions.

‘Oh, I quite understand you can’t tell me,’
she said.
‘Client confidentiality
and all that.’

‘There’s really nothing to tell
We hadn’t even met.’

‘I see,’ she said.
Her voice had become suddenly brisk and
business-like as if someone had just walked into the room and she was aware of
being overheard.
‘Well, thank you
for your time, Mr—er—Becket.’

And she rang off.

I hate that, don’t you?
When someone pauses midway through your
I hate that little ‘er’.
You always get the feeling that they
your name, but somehow can’t sully
themselves by repeating it until, that is, they are ambushed by social
convention and the irksome demands of sentence construction.
That was what had happened to Mrs
Forbes-Marchant and her

It was partly because she had managed
to annoy me, and partly that I disapprove of unfinished business that I decided
to find out more about my missing client, Mr Simeon Marchant.
With a name like that, I thought, it
cannot be too difficult.


stared at the screen, rubbing my chin.
It seemed an appropriate response.
The face that stared back from the recent press coverage and minor
obituaries was of Sir Simeon Marchant, CB, CBE, a retired Royal Navy officer,
submariner and lecturer at Greenwich Naval College.
It was a face that had ‘first seen action as a raw recruit’
in 1944 and retired from active service after the Falklands conflict.
‘A long and distinguished career which
continued into his seventies by passing on his skills to a future generation
officers at Greenwich,’ said the

‘Only recently’, the obituary went on,
‘well into his ninth decade had he given up active sailing.’

I scanned the rest, my attention drawn
to the two photographs at the top of the page:
the first of a young man ‘up at Cambridge’; the second, the
lined and unsmiling face of a person who looked like he had several bones to
pick with the world.
I liked that
It seemed uncompromising and
opinionated with it.
I bet there
were few dull moments in the general vicinity of Sir Simeon, and found myself
regretting that we had not met.

That he was on his way to see me
I had no doubt
He was attacked on the south side of
Euston Road, which probably meant—if his club was on Pall Mall— he
got the number 91 bus from Trafalgar Square.
I wondered why Sir Simeon had not used the underground.
He would have been better getting
the slower train to Canterbury East from Charing Cross.
On such decisions, it seems, our
lives—and deaths— are decided.

reported that no one had witnessed the actual incident, but a
number of hooded youths were observed running away from the scene of the
One of them had dropped a
mobile phone into a litterbin.
This was probably the phone that had since been recovered and returned
to Mrs Jenny Forbes-Marchant.

Sir Simeon’s daughter was not mentioned
in the article, which majored instead on what it termed ‘the senseless now
endemic violence on the streets of our capital at a time when the number of Bobbies
on the beat is being cut’.
newspapers, these single events are always indicative of something much larger;
some grand narrative, something that manages to detract from the individual
tragedy and to diminish the grief faced by the immediate family.

After reading about Sir Simeon for an hour
or so, I decided I had done quite enough work for the day.
It was late afternoon and the sun had dipped
considerately behind the cathedral, so I popped across the road for a pint.


office is above the chambers of Hunt and Carstairs LLP.
In fact, I lease the whole of the third
floor from them.
In common with
many a wise legal partnership, Hunt and Carstairs—Hunt more than
Carstairs, I suspect—sensibly purchased the building before the last property
is a thin three-storey mews just within the City Walls, probably unfit for
human habitation but adequate as an office.
More importantly, it is close to several decent pubs.
A good address on headed paper, a cobbled
street, a brass name plate outside to impress clients, and for T.A. Becket, Legal
Investigator, a very reasonable rent indeed.

The arrangement suits both parties.
Anthony Carstairs QC uses me from time
to time for cases he is working on.
Being a lawyer by training helps as, in theory at least, I understand
what Anthony is looking for—what works in court—and how not to mess
up the evidence in the manner of your average plod.
Often I’m asked to look for signs of conspiracy or
cock-up—defence lawyers aren’t fussy—on the part of the police,
which is my specialism.
For my
part, I get the association with an upmarket law firm and access to a garret
overlooking the pantiled roofs of the city, complete with stained glass
window—St Michael slaying the dragon—and antique office furniture
straight out of Dickens or Conan-Doyle.

I like my office.
But the next day, instead of going there,
I walked along the city wall to the East station and caught the slow train up
to Victoria.

I have retired twice in my career: once
from the Royal Air Force where I was a Warrant Officer in the RAF Regiment; the
second time, two years before from the Metropolitan Police Service.
The first occasion was pretty much a
disaster—as it turned out—bouncing from one middle-ranking job into
One of the things I
promised myself when I left the Met was to spend some of the next few years
doing things that I wanted to do.
This included playing golf, painting bad seascapes and sundry other
leisure activities suitable for a man in his fifties.
But it also meant pursuing cases I was interested in.
Sometimes these were
pro bono
investigations put my way by
Hunt and Carstairs; others were the
of cases that
in previous jobs the bosses had told me to ignore.
This might be because they could upset people in positions
of power.
Or they might be in that
category we used to label in the Met ‘TFD’—too fucking
difficult—the one where there was no evidence of wrongdoing and no one was
really bothered whether you found some or not.

BOOK: The Conspiracy Theorist
11.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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