Nothing new, or, Whatever happened to Aiden Diggeden?

16 02 2012

The police are everywhere these days. I see them under the big tree on the way into town trapping those who are careless with their speed. Other favourite spots include stop streets and certain traffic lights that people like to run. Mini busses are favourite prey and in Mutare they even pay a “levy” of around $5 which ensures that they are not pulled over for other infringements. It’s all part of a strategy to self finance the police. Spot fines tend to be inflated as most people are unaware of what they should be so several of my friends carry a schedule of the gazetted fines just in case. My friend Gary was in the local post office in Borrowdale this week having come up to Harare so that June, his wife, could have an operation on her broken leg. He got chatting to a gentlemen in the queue who seemed to know a lot about the subject. He told Gary that the police would even go so far as to release prisoners to do certain “work” and then they police would get some extra income, the prisoner would get a cut and go back to jail.

I mentioned this to Derek who had been in the  (Zimbabwe used to be called Rhodesia) CID (Criminal Investigation Department) of the Rhodesian BSAP (British South Africa Police) for many years. “Oh that’s nothing new” he said. “In the 1960s there was a certain criminal called Aiden Diggeden who was something of a folk hero around here. He was in jail in Bulawayo while there was a wage train robbery and the investigating officer noticed that Diggeden’s fingerprints were at the crime scene. A bit of investigation revealed that one of the prison warders had been letting him out at night to go and commit crimes and they would share the takings”.

Helen, Derek’s wife, was in the same class as Aiden at Chaplin School near Gweru and she said that his career in crime started when his step-father would not give him pocket-money so he would commit petty crime to get himself and his friends sweets. On several occasions her father gave him pocket-money.

Diggeden was a natural athlete and escaped Rhodesia to South Africa where he qualified for the South African Olympic team as a gymnast. An off duty Rhodesian policeman on holiday in South Africa saw him in a press photo under another name so he was extradited back to Rhodesia. He used his athletic prowess on several occasions to escape jail and used to keep fit in his cell by running up the wall and somersaulting back onto his feet.

On a well-known occasion he and another prisoner broke out of the jail on Enterprise road. They had managed to smuggle in some pieces of hacksaw blade and fashioned them into crude tools by inserting the pieces into the end of an old ballpoint pen. This was used to cut through the bars from the outside and Diggeden wrote a letter to Helen to ask her for paints, presumably to hide where they’d been cutting. They also sawed the frame of the door into pieces and put them back so that they were not discovered. Strips of canvas were stolen out of the prison workshop where canvas bags were made and on the night of the escape ladders were fabricated from the canvas and pieces of door frame. The attempt ran into trouble when Diggeden’s accomplice fell and broke a leg so Diggeden picked him up and left him in the chapel and tried to escape along the prison walls wearing canvas shoes also fabricated from canvas scraps to protect his feet from the glass on the wall. By this time the alarm had been raised and Diggeden’s route was blocked. Climbing up to the eves of the prison roof he hung by his hands and moved along to a trapdoor and then swung up into the roof. He was eventually apprehended in a water tank in the roof where he’d been hiding for 3 days.

“Diggeden was eventually deported to the UK where he got into more trouble and was locked up in Wormwood Scrubs” continued Derek. “I also heard that he got involved in crime in Canada and South America. Last I heard he’d committed suicide after getting tired of a life of crime and incarceration, but I am not sure about when or where” Derek concluded.