An Interview with Inspector Ian Rutledge, March 1920.
Interviewer: Inspector Rutledge, you come from a different background than most policemen today–middle class family, father a solicitor, mother an accomplished pianist, yourself university educated. What interested you in police work rather than following your father into the law?
Ian Rutledge: I’d thought I’d settled on becoming an architect—the influence of my godfather, David Trevor. His son Ross and I were close and I spent many weekends with them in London or in their Scottish hunting lodge. Building something seemed permanent and useful. Then a remark my father made when I was ten, I think, changed that. He said the law was created so that everyone could expect a fair and impartial justice. There was a murder trial later that summer, and I asked who spoke for the dead man. He told me that no one did, the man was dead. The police gathered evidence, made an arrest, the killer was brought to trial, and if found guilty, punished. That struck me as odd—why shouldn’t the dead man have a voice in what caused his death? My father replied that the law wasn’t set up that way. By the time I’d come down from university, I realized that I wanted to be that voice. It’s how I approach my cases.
Interviewer: Many of your colleagues came up through the ranks, without benefit of university education. Does this present a problem as the Yard expects more training of its officers?
Rutledge: There has been some, yes. (Interviewer’s note: This appears to be an understatement.) It wasn’t that long ago when people expected a policeman to knock at the tradesmen’s entrance, not the front door of a house. But perceptions have changed, and we’ve grown more professional. We all start as a constable, the man who has walked the streets and knows all the people on his watch. He brings this experience to the table, and it’s a good system. But crime isn’t always a simple matter of greed or anger getting the best of someone. It can move quickly out of a local man’s grasp, and the Yard must step in with a broader perspective. I was recently in Northumberland where a local case spread to several other areas because the facts had been blurred or lost over time. This is where training and education come in to provide a broader picture. And this is where the local man must accept a new approach. This is the future of the Yard, but it isn’t always comfortable in the work day. Use your instinct, your head and your observations, Sergeant Gibson at the Yard told me once, and he’s right. These matter. But you must also bring outside experience to the mix.
Interviewer: Chief Superintendent Bowles is involved with this new view?
Rutledge: (Dryly.) I would say that Chief Superintendent Bowles is daily aware of how times are changing for the Yard.
Interviewer: You spent four years in the trenches—1914-1918. And came home unscathed. On the surface. What do you think saved you there, and what has it brought you in terms of your duties at the Yard?
Rutledge: I don’t think anyone came back from that war unscathed. Some of us have scars that aren’t visible. And they’re as raw as the lost arm, the blinded eye, the gassed lungs. Harder to treat, because those who are scarred in the mind can’t turn to anyone for help. Shell shock is considered cowardice, lack of moral fiber. So such men fight it on their own. Some lose that battle.
Interviewer: You lost your fiancée, I understand, because of the war.
Rutledge: (Interviewer’s note: voice terse.) I released her from the engagement. I was no longer the man she had wanted to marry in 1914. And so I set her free. She’s since married and lives in Canada.
Interviewer: Will you tell us about Hamish MacLeod?
Rutledge: (Interviewer: guardedly) He was one of so many young Scots I led into battle, knowing that most of them wouldn’t come back. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. But it had to be done, and I was the one who had to do it, then live with it. End of story. But it doesn’t stop their faces from coming back to me.
Interviewer: I understood that Corporal MacLeod was more personal than that.
Rutledge: He was a good soldier. So many of the Scots are, by nature and nurture. I learned to trust his judgment, and I learned to respect his opinions. Standing elbow to elbow with the dead all around you erases a good many barriers of class and rank. You just want to stay alive another hour, another day. We talked when we couldn’t sleep. I got to know him well. And I had to make an example of him for refusing to lead his men back across No Man’s Land that day. Not because he was afraid, but because he knew it was useless, we were going nowhere. The sergeants were dead, the corporals were trying to keep order, and he spoke in front of his men. He left me no choice. (Afterthought) That was probably his intention.
Interviewer: Hamish MacLeod saved your life, all the same.
Rutledge: When the salient blew up, his body covered mine. Yes. I thought he’d saved me to keep me from finding the same peace he’d found. Part of that’s true.. I hear him, I don’t see him, I feel him, I know he’s there, and yet, he’s dead in France, and I don’t believe in ghosts.
Interviewer: You’ve met a number of interesting women in your cases. Do any of them stand out in your mind?
Rutledge: I don’t want to talk about Olivia Marlowe—you know her as the poet O. A. Manning. She’s dead, leave her in peace. All right, yes, her poetry still runs through my head at times. I read her volumes in the trenches. She had something to say to a soldier. I didn’t know then that she was a woman, or that she’d never been to France. Her half-brother Nicholas was there, and she drew on his letters.
Interviewer: What about the young woman in Westmorland? Elizabeth Fraser.
Rutledge: We were both looking for something—peace, a little happiness. There was nothing in the long term for either of us. The isolation in Urskdale made it seem more than it was. And damn it, I nearly got her killed!
Interviewer: Any words you want to say about Meredith Channing?
Rutledge: She’s a friend of friends, and she and I worked well together on a case. She served in France, and she probably knows more about me that I’d like, because of that. Our paths seem to cross uncomfortably often, probably because we move in the same circles.
Interviewer: Tell me something about your cases.
Rutledge: (Short laugh) Before the war I was considered one of the new bright lights. Quick promotion, that sort of thing. And I worked for it. When I was promoted to Inspector I was told I’d developed good instincts, and I’d had a good understanding of people. That helped. And war honed that understanding, you see. You don’t live cheek by jowl with men every day for months on end without learning what makes them what they are beneath the surface. The difference is, I’ve killed. With my own hands. It’s an admission no policeman wants to make. Now that I’m back, Chief Superintendent Bowles prefers to use me outside London. It’s actually more challenging, because I’m often at a scene I don’t know from experience, and I have to build up my local knowledge with or without the help of the policemen on the spot. They’re human, they have their own problems with the Yard coming in and taking over. But the fact is, they keep their patch safe most of the time, and that’s to their credit. I walk away when the case is finished. They stay and face the aftermath of murder.
Interviewer: Have you always got your man—or woman? Is there any case in particular you’d like to discuss here?
Rutledge: You do your best to bring in the killer. However hard it is for those around you, or those left behind. It’s what I’m sent to do. I sometimes take more away that I intended. Mainly because there are so many reminders of the war. But you accept what you are dealt and work with it. Here’s a list of cases you might find interesting. I’d rather not discuss them publicly.