One month after Manchester writer Jan Needle published his thriller about a Scotland Yard detective investigating the murder of Hitler’s deputy, the Yard’s counter-terrorism command released the real Metropolitan Police report on the case.
With extraordinary timing, Needle’s novel Death Order, published online on August 4 by Endeavour Press, suggested that Detective Superintendent Howard Jones, Scotland Yard’s Interpol liaison officer in 1988, had been ‘ordered off the case’ by the Director of Public Prosecutions.
On September 8, The Independent newspaper revealed that the Metropolitan Police, after consultation with ‘other Government and foreign government departments’, have now released a version of Det Sup Jones’s 1989 report into allegations that Rudolf Hess, the last war crimes prisoner held in Spandau Prison, Berlin, was murdered by two named British secret agents.
The 11-page redacted report states that a former British Army surgeon ‘confidentially imparted’ to Det Sup Jones of the Serious Crimes Squad the names of two suspects passed to him by an informant who was a former member of the Special Air Service ‘training people for undercover or spying operations’.
In the report Howard Jones stated that the British Army’s former Berlin medical centre surgeon Major Hugh Thomas ‘had received information that two assassins had been ordered on behalf of the British Government to kill Hess in order that he should not be released and free to expose secrets concerning the plot to overthrow the Churchill government.’
Jones found not ‘much substance’ in Thomas’s claims of murder but suggested in May 1989 that efforts should be made to trace and interview the alleged killers along with other witnesses to ensure the matter could be ‘comprehensively adjudged’ to have been fully investigated.
Instead the investigation was declared closed six months later by the Director of Public of Prosecutions, Sir Allan Green.
Solicitor general Sir Nicholas Lyell told Parliament in November 1989: ‘The inquiries carried out by Detective Chief Superintendent Jones have produced no cogent evidence to suggest that Rudolf Hess was murdered; nor, on the view of the Director of Public Prosecutions, is there any basis for further investigation.’
The Berlin state prosecutor’s office had opened a murder case after Hess was found on August 17, 1987, apparently hanged in the prison summer house by electrical cable attached to a window frame. Hess’s nurse Abdallah Melaouhi, his trial lawyer Dr Hans Seidl and his son Wolf stated that the 93 year old prisoner was too frail to strangle himself. German police checked the hotel register at the Holiday Inn in Hanover after French reports that British agents had stayed there before and after the death of the last prisoner of Spandau.
Autopsy photographs of the back of the dead man’s neck, taken by Professor Wolfgang Spann of Munich University, showed horizontal ligature marks not typical of a hanging.
A character in the thriller Death Order, says, ‘Scotland Yard thought there was a prima facie case, you know. That Prisoner Number Seven had been murdered. They put a high detective on to it, a chief superintendent, I think, not just anybody. The DPP squashed it, the government. He was ordered off the case.’
A British agent replies, ‘Yes. Chief Superintendent Howard Jones, I know. Like you said just now. Lucky for some.’
Needle’s book gives an account of how men used in secret assassinations in Northern Ireland were flown into Hanover after the Russian government had hinted to Hess’s family that after 43 years of captivity they would agree to the release of the last prisoner of Spandau, officially known as Prisoner Number Seven.
The Times book reviewer said Death Order ‘recalls the golden age of British investigative reporting: hard-hitting, crusading, alarming prescience.’
One prescient paragraph reads:‘They were still there when the warder returned, but that did not matter much, he would be squared. The nurse, Melaouhi, saw them briefly, two unknown men in Yankee clothing, but he was too upset by the death of the old man to realise the significance for a while. By the time the alarm was raised they were gone. In any case, the armed guards – true military thinking, this – were there to secure the prison from imagined dangers from the Berlin streets, and could not quickly get from the watchtowers into the prison gardens, however great the urgency. Because of the old man’s stubbornness in clinging on to life, they did not have time to tidy up the furniture, or to arrange the lamp flex round his neck, or even to unplug it from the wall. They did not worry. They knew that someone else would see to that. Their back-up was extraordinary. The best.
‘Before the remains of Prisoner Number Seven had even been formally pronounced lifeless, they were on their way to Hanover again. They were staying at the Holiday Inn…’
Howard Jones retired from the Metropolitan Police and is now the Conservative council leader of the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames.
Jan Needle said this weekend he based the book on years of research by ‘an informal and international’ group of investigators and historians but had no idea that under the Freedom of Information Act Scotland Yard were about to break their 25-year silence on the Howard Jones Report: ‘I don’t believe much in conspiracy theories, but when I took my first bite at this cherry, under the title of The Butcher’s Bill, HarperCollins offered twenty thousand pounds to anyone who could prove its thesis was untrue. Several conspiracy nuts tried very hard, but the cash was safe, although not having Mr Murdoch behind me now I sure as hell won’t take that risk again. But the book is so full of fascinating, wild, sexy, awful happenings, that to rewrite it a bit, and be asked by Endeavour if they could republish it, has been a joy and a delight. I don’t know exactly which of its elements are facts or lies or lunacies – no one does. But I do know that some of the most screamingly improbable things in it are verifiably completely accurate. If you love history as much as I do, that is more than enough, believe me.’