During the Second World War, just under two thousand British citizens were detained without charge, trial, or term set, under Regulation 18B of the wartime Defence Regulations. Most of these detentions took place in the summer of 1940, soon after Winston Churchill became Prime Minister, when belief in the existence of a dangerous Fifth Column was widespread. Churchill, at first an enthusiast for vigorous use of the powers of executive detention, later came to lament the use of a power which was, in his words, `in the highest degree odious'.
This book provides the first comprehensive study of Regulation 18B and its precursor in the First World War, Regulation 14B. Based on extensive use of primary sources, it describes the complex history of wartime executive detention: the purposes which it served, the administrative procedures and safeguards employed, the conflicts between the Home Office and the Security Service which surrounded its use, the part played by individuals, by Parliament, and by the courts in restraining abuse of executive power, and the effect of detention upon the lives of individuals concerned, very few of whom constituted any threat to national security. Much of what was done was kept secret at the time, and even today the authorities continue to refuse access to many of the papers which have escaped deliberate destruction. This study is the first to attempt to penetrate the veil of secrecy and tell the story of the gravest invasion of civil liberty which has occurred in Britain this century.
`Brian Simpson has written a comprehensive and meticulously researched book ... Simpson is an academic lawyer, and he writes in a precise, objective style. But, by the end, to his credit, his book has become an impassioned plea for an "open" style of government ... the detailed disclosures of In the Highest Degree Odious stretch far beyond its historically limited context.'
Nicholas Mosley, The Daily Telegraph
`This impressive book delves into the murky muddle which suffused the activities of the secret services during the Second World War ... meticulous ... the importance of this book, beyond its historical record, is its timeliness.'
`Lively and entertaining ... he has succeeded in rending the veil of secrecy in a commendably large number of places ... [he] presents the arguments on both sides with exemplary fairness ... "Not all problems have solutions," Simpson writes, "and this is surely true of this particular problem." He has illuminated it brilliantly. This is the sort of book that could give academic lawyers - and academic publishers - a good name.'
`Professor Simpson has done a thorough job ... He is witty and sarcastic about jailers and jailed alike, and his conclusion, no doubt the right one, is that the war was entirely unaffected by 18B. All the misery, the suffering, the vast expense, not to speak of the permanent dent in any British justice, was for nothing ... fifty years on, his scholarly book is in the highest degree welcome.'
Diana Mosley, London Evening Standard
'A detailed and fascinating narrative ... Professor Simpson has told a tale of great exemplary interest, based upon distinguished and pertinacious scholarship. We are all in his debt.
The Cambridge Law Journal
`a fascinating account of this period in British history ... Much of the book contains previously unpublished material and gives a fascinating insight into the daily life of those held and their thoughts on their detention.'
`by his remorseless researches, Simpson has managed to uncover and piece together the outlines of an extraordinary story, which deserves to become a classic of legal history ... he excels in unravelling complex case histories, and in describing them with lucidity and passion.'
`His case is so powerfully and so well-stated that it leaves a feeling of great unease.'
'excellent study ... In the Highest Degree Odious does provide the most informative, detached and sceptical account of the security background to the crisis of 1940 and why fascists as well as aliens became the scapegoat during the fifth column scare.'
Intelligence and National Security Review
`Brian Simpson ... has pursued its story with zeal, brio, skill and tenacity ... It is extraordinary that a work so packed with legal argument, microscopic research and administrative analysis should be engrossing, exciting and entirely readable; a war-time drama of (supposed) subversives, spies and spy-catchers, replete with heroes, villains and a cast of thousands.'
Geoffrey Best, Times Literary Supplement
`His meticulous search through public and private records and recollections ... enables Simpson to make his thesis three-dimensional ... Simpson's material furnished an awful warning ... Brian Simpson is entitled to credit for playing Ezekiel to the bones he has disinterred. We need to watch them anxiously as they dance.'
London Review of Books
`interesting and scholarly book'
`it is a tribute to his detachment that he is so critical of Britain's program of wartime detention ... As a work of modern legal and political history, In the Highest Degree Odious is a superb achievement. To its wealth of illuminating detail, which somehow does not slow the narrative, its breadth and scope and the vividness and penetration of its account of British political and official life, I cannot do justice in a review but I hope I have succeeded
in imparting something of the book's Hogarthian, even Swiftian, flavor. It is that rare combination: a work of exhaustive scholarship, and a splendid read'
Richard Posner, University of Michigan Law Review
`a meticulous and highly readable account - a valuable contribution to the social and political history of Britain at war'
'This is a detailed and eloquent historical sketch that makes compelling reading.'
David Schiff, London School of Economics, Public Law
'Brian Simpson's book is a great achievement, a work of prodigious scholarship ... carries great authority because of the detail without which it would have had to rely on generalizations, inevitably open to critical scepticism ... the value of his book lies in his analysis and in his insights. It is a series of case studies, a source book for public lawyers, an investigation of administrative activity, an examination of judicial manoevrings, and a
commentary on the workings of a nation under stress.'
John Griffith, London School of Economics and Political Science, Journal of Law and Society (1993)
`an absorbing and gripping account of the history of Defence Regulation 18B ... He ... writes engagingly and wittily in a style which makes for relaxed and enjoyable reading ... Brian Simpson, I suspect, relishes the sheer excitement of academic detective work deriving from "leading cases" which has occupied his attention in recent years. He is, after all, very good at it'
`scathing indictment of Britain's administration of the WW Regulation 18B ... Because of the importance of its subject and because Simpson has done so well in supporting his thesis of the untrustworthiness of both elected officials and civil servants, this book deserves a wide audience'
`a comprehensive history of this unhappy episode in British history ... Simpson has produced an admirable history of this instrument of constitutional dictatorship'
American Historical Journal
'Detention without trial in wartime Britain is this fascinating book's cagey issue.'