In 1940, MI6 requisitioned three luxury mansion houses in Kensington Palace Gardens and opened a clandestine unit, the London Cage. Located in a gated street coined Millionaires’ Row and belonging to the Crown Estate, just a stone’s throw from Kensington Palace, it boasted one of the most exclusive and expensive residences in the capital and unlikeliest of locations to hold German prisoners-of-war. For the neighbours – the Russian Embassy tenanted next door and the wealthy magnates living in the other mansions – there was no inkling of what was going on behind the bravura Victorian façades. To the casual outsider, it masked as another grand residence for a wealthy businessman or foreign royal prince. But inside the London Cage, prisoners who could not be broken under normal conditions of interrogation at any of the other eight ‘cages’ in Britain were subjected to ‘special intelligence treatment’, designed to break their will to resist. As a transit camp, it should have appeared on the wartime lists of the Red Cross. It did not because officially it did not exist. Its Commanding officer Colonel Alexander Scotland, a tough maverick military man and longstanding MI6 officer, set the cage rules. Within six months of opening, it became embroiled in a heated controversy between MI5 and MI6 over the possible use of violence and unorthodox methods during interrogation. Was Scotland a maverick acting alone or with the sanction of MI6? As he crossed its threshold on a daily basis, the words ‘Abandon hope all ye who enter here’ frequently passed his lips – for the prisoners had secrets and he was determined to extract them.
At the end of the war, the London Cage became the most important war crimes investigation unit outside Germany. Many high ranking Nazi war criminals and SS officers passed through its doors after being hunted down by Scotland’s own specialist teams across Europe. Claims of brutality, use of torture and psychological abuse surfaced again – this time very publically – and Scotland faced serious charges that threatened to derail the Prosecution’s case against the war criminals. Then in the 1950s, panic coursed through the corridors of MI5 and the Foreign Office as Scotland was on the verge of publishing his memoirs. A team from Special Branch raided his flat, impounded the manuscript and silenced him with threats of prosecution under the Official Secrets Act. The book was suppressed, heavily redacted by MI5 and a sanitised version finally published in 1957. What ended up on the cutting room floor? In this first objective and fully comprehensive history of the London Cage, Helen Fry opens a window onto the oft controversial life behind closed doors, including the truth behind ‘Cell 14’ and other secrets that the intelligence services sought to suppress for decades.
Helen Fry was raised in North Devon and went on to graduate from the University of Exeter with a degree and Ph.D. She has written over 25 books on the Second World War with particular reference to the 10,000 Germans and Austrians who fought for Britain, and intelligence, espionage and prisoners of war. Her highly acclaimed book The Walls Have Ears: The Greatest Intelligence Operation of WWII was in the top 8 Daily Mail’s Books of the Year in War, and has been optioned for film. It has been the subject of numerous documentaries and continues to receive media attention. H...
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