Stanley Gibbons, Pickles the Dog and the missing World Cup trophy

Here's a general knowledge question: what links the leading stamp dealer Stanley Gibbons, a used car salesman, the original Jules Rimet World Cup trophy, and a black and white mongrel dog named Pickles?

The answer involves a theft, a whodunit mystery which had the public and media gripped, and a Tutankhamun-like curse which may have claimed the lives of two people as well as Pickles.

Our story begins on March 19, 1966 - four weeks before that year's football World Cup was due to kick off on English soil.

Normally, the Football Association would keep the tournament's prize, the Jules Rimet trophy, under lock and key at its headquarters in Lancaster Gate.

That year, however, somebody had a bright idea: to bring together the entirely unrelated passions of football and stamp collecting in a proud exhibition to mark England's hosting of the tournament.

Stanley Gibbons' stamp company received permission to place the trophy in the Stampex exhibition under one condition: that it would be under guard at all times.

The Jules Rimet World Cup trophy,
stolen in 1966... and 1983...

Stamp collectors are known for their diligence and Stanley Gibbons duly obliged, guaranteeing round-the-clock security with two uniformed offices and two plain-clothes officers on guard during the day.

The Jules Rimet trophy would be exhibited alongside £3m worth of rare stamps, under the noses of the football authorities and under meticulous security - what could possibly go wrong?

In addition, the trophy was insured for £30,000 - despite its official value being only £3,000.

What went wrong was a collision of two factors… The first was the choice of venue for the exhibition: Westminster Central Hall, near Westminster Abbey in London.

On Sundays, the Central Hall was used for Methodist services with a service scheduled for March 20, just one day after the Jules Rimet trophy went on display.

To allow for the Christian service, Stanley Gibbons' security was duly - and very unwisely - relaxed.

This is when the second factor emerged: a used car salesman named Edward Betchley, also a petty thief and former soldier with previous convictions of theft and receiving stolen goods...

Betchley's role in events wouldn't be discovered until later. But, when the guards did their noon check of the Central Hall after the Methodist service, they were sure of one thing...

Somebody had forced open the Jules Rimet trophy's display case and the trophy plinth was empty. The thieves had apparently entered and exited by forcing open the Central Hall's rear doors - stealing the £3,000 trophy and completely ignoring the £3m worth of stamps in the process…

When the Methodist minister was informed, his first words, apparently, were: "Good God…"

Scotland Yard took control of the case and gave it over to the Flying Squad, a unit normally dedicated to investigating commercial armed robberies.

Police interviewed the guards who hadn't seen or heard anything suspicious - except for one, who had seen a strange man in a telephone box when he had visited the lavatory on the first floor. Some of the churchgoers also reported seeing a strange man, but gave a different description.

Things had apparently hit a dead end. That is until the next day (March 21) when Joe Mears, the Chairman of the Football Association, received an anonymous phone call…

An unknown man at the other end, calling himself "Jackson", told Mears that a parcel would be delivered to his home. Sure enough, Mears received it the next day: a parcel containing the removable lining from the top of the Trophy, with a ransom note demanding £15,000.

Pickles: a hero on a par with Bobby

The letter demanded that the FA place a coded advert in the Personals Column of The Evening News - and not alert the police, or else the thieves would melt the trophy. If they complied, the trophy would be returned to them by Friday.

Undaunted, Mears still contacted the police. Detective Inspector Charles Buggy of the Flying Squad, having read the letter, told Mears to go ahead and place the advert.

Meanwhile, the Flying Squad arranged with a bank to create bundles of false ransom payment, with real money at the top and bottom.

When Jackson next phoned, he spoke to DI Buggy who posed as Joe Mear's assistant "McPhee." Although nervous, Jackson agreed to meet "McPhee" at Battersea Park, and swap the cash for the trophy…

DI Buggy drove to the park, followed by a number of unmarked Flying Squad vehicles. There he met Jackson, who failed to spot  that most of the "ransom money" was in fact scrap paper.

Buggy insisted that he see the Trophy before handing over the money, and Jackson agreed.

All was going to plan, until Jackson noticed the Flying Squad van and got nervous. The pair reached a traffic light at Kennington Park Road when he told Buggy to stop: "I'm going to get the trophy" he claimed.

As he walked away, a police van stopped Jackson, and he darted around a corner. Buggy convinced Jackson to get back in the car, but he later jumped out again while the car was still moving and again ran away.

In scenes perhaps better suited to an episode of Starsky & Hutch, DI Buggy pursued Jackson - first in the car and then on foot - before capturing him in a back garden, revealing that he was a police officer and arresting him.

At the police station, Jackson was recognised by staff as being the convicted thief and used car salesman Edward Betchley.

Betchley denied stealing the cup, and claimed to be a middleman for a mysterious figure known only as "The Pole" who had supposedly offered Betchley £500 for his involvement. But the game was up...

The dog who won the World Cup

The Flying Squad's sting had been a success, but the Jules Rimet trophy had yet to be found. That is, until March 27, when local man David Corbett was walking his dog, Pickles.

While out and about in Norwood, South East London, Pickles began to sniff at a parcel wrapped in string and old newspaper, lying under the hedge of Corbett's house.

"I thought it was a bomb", Corbett was later quoted as saying. "There was a lot of IRA action at the time."

Nevertheless, Corbett opened the package and immediately recognised what was inside. He then took it to Cannon Row Police Station. At first, the police suspected that Corbett may have been involved in the theft, but fortunately he had an alibi...

The curse of the Jules Rimet World Cup Trophy

Police retained the trophy as evidence until April, before returning it back to the FA in time for the 1966 World Cup. In terms of the tournament, the rest is history.

Nevertheless, this didn't stop speculation that the trophy was cursed. First, Joe Mears died within weeks of the trophy's recovery. His death was caused by angina following the stress of the trophy hunt.

Three years later, in 1969, Edward Betchley - after being sentenced to two years, convicted of demanding money with menaces with intent to steal - died of emphysema.

The third casualty was Pickles himself who, up to that point, had been enjoying celebrity status including television and movie appearances. Pickles sadly died after choking on his own dog collar while chasing a cat in 1967.

David Corbett: from fame to obscurity and back again

Since then, David Corbett's life has been punctuated by sudden bursts of fame concurrent with the World Cup every four years, at which times he is at the mercy of the media, and foreign television crews on his doorstep.

"The FA have never really acknowledged me until this year," he said in 2006. "All of a sudden they gave me tickets to the Hungary match at Old Trafford."

Meanwhile, as the for the Jules Rimet Trophy, it was received by Brazil in perpetuity in 1970. And then stolen again in 1983, never to be seen again…


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