RICHARD HOBAN’S first childhood memory is of a rare family shopping trip to Leeds when he was around two years old.
He was being carried in his father’s arms through Central Arcade when it became apparent that a robbery was underway in a jewellery store. As the thief made his escape, Richard was thrust towards his mother while his father, Det Chief Supt Dennis Hoban, then head of Leeds CID, gave chase and apprehended the culprit.
“That was my father all over,” says Richard, now aged 64 and a retired deputy headmaster. “He was totally and utterly in love with his job and put it in front of his family – working 16 to 18 hours a day, seven days a week and never taking a holiday, despite his poor health.”
The life and career of Dennis Hoban, who died in 1978 at the age of 56, has been thrust into the spotlight following the publication of a new book by criminologist and writer Jane Carter Woodrow.
Although Between Two Worlds is ostensibly a work of fiction, it has Det Hoban as its central character and portrays, says his son, a very accurate picture of his life and work in the city’s criminal underworld of the 1960s.
“Dad was a Leeds lad and loved the city with a passion. He left school at the age of 14 and made a huge amount of progress in the police force with no qualifications.
“He had the most fantastic powers of observation and communication and had a great record of arrests.”
Richard and his brother David had an unusual childhood but one they accepted without complaint as they knew no other way of life. “The things a normal family would do were alien to us such as going to the cinema, or a football match, or playing cricket in the park. Instead my brother and I were privileged to go to places that little boys didn’t usually go to.
“We had rides in the backs of police cars and visits to the cells under the town hall – we just took it for granted.
“Although he loved his family he couldn’t bear not to be at the centre of things. For years my brother and I thought there had to be a murder on Christmas Day.
“When we were older we realised he’d probably asked one of his colleagues to ring him on the pretext of a serious case so he could escape from the house and get back to Brotherton House, the headquarters of Leeds City Police.”
The boys were pressed into service from a very early age, taking telephone messages from their father’s network of informers or ‘snouts’. “We were in the telephone directory and dad had no qualms about anyone ringing up at any time of the day or night,” says Richard.
“From the age of eight we would often answer the phone and be asked to take a message from someone offering information for money.”
Det Hoban, who had a phenomenal clear-up rate, courted the media in a way that would probably raise eyebrows today. “My dad wouldn’t have been so successful if he hadn’t used the media and journalists,” says Richard.
“He had a good relationship with the crime reporters from The Yorkshire Post and the Yorkshire Evening Post and was often interviewed on Calendar and Look North; he really appreciated the work the journalists did.”
The feeling was obviously mutual as, following his death, local journalists donated a trophy in his memory; The Dennis Hoban Trophy was awarded each year for outstanding detective work and was recognised as the most prestigious award in the West Yorkshire force.
Carter Woodrow’s book portrays a man who enjoyed the finer things in life. He was a snappy dresser and liked to drive around in a Daimler.
“Dad had lots of friends among the Jewish community in Leeds and they’d make him beautiful suits,” says Richard.
The author offers her own insight. “DCS Hoban modelled himself on the great American detectives like Dan Mathews in Highway Patrol, always wore a fedora and when he wasn’t wearing one of his hand-made suits liked off-the-peg Aquascutum.”
He loved his cars and his Daimler, which he used as his police car, complete with flashing light, bore testament to the many times his driving wasn’t quite up to the mark and he would proudly point out the provenance of the damage.
Carter Woodrow’s interest in Det Hoban was piqued while carrying out research for a previous book After Evil about Neil Jackson, the son of the Yorkshire Ripper’s second victim Emily Jackson, who was 17 when his mother was murdered.
DCS Hoban was one of the first to recognise the fact that there was a serial killer at large and some say the Ripper would have been caught much sooner if it hadn’t been for his death in 1978.
“While I was working on my book I came across DCS Hoban and the things I read about him were so unusual that the more I read the more I wanted to know about him,” she says.
“He was full of humanity and he cared about his victims, When he locked up criminals in Armley and he knew they had families he would take them money or a bag of groceries. And at Christmas he would take his sons around with some of their own toys for the children.”
Richard says his father was a popular man. “He was so well liked that when he died hundreds of people lined the route of the cortege from our house in St Anne’s Lane, Kirkstall, to Rawdon Crematorium and the memorial service at St Anne’s Cathedral was packed with hundreds more waiting outside.”
In fact, he was so popular, even among the criminal fraternity, that an In Memoriam notice appeared in The Yorkshire Post after his death which stated “To the copper we were proud to be nicked by”.
It was complications due to his diabetes led to Det Hoban’s premature death. “He wasn’t a good diabetic”, says Richard. “He would forget to eat and then find his vision going ‘squiggly’ which meant his blood sugar was dangerously low and he needed to eat chocolate or sugar to stave off an attack.”
“The criminals appreciated that dad had a job to do and that they might carry out nine jobs and get caught on the 10th – that was what they did for a living,” he says.
“He led by example and he wouldn’t ask his men to do anything he wasn’t prepared to do himself. One day he took a phone call from a blackmailer who had placed a bomb in Woolworths.
“He raced down there, found it in the gents’ toilet but was told the bomb squad were two hours away and the bomb was due to go off. Armed with a pair of pliers and a very rudimentary knowledge of electronics he took a gamble, pulled out one of the wires and defused the bomb – my mother went wild when she realised how much danger he had placed himself in, but that was him all over.”
• Between Two Worlds is an e-book from Amazon and can be found by entering “Detective Hoban” in the site’s search engine.