Shepherd's Bush murders

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The Shepherd's Bush murders, also known as the Massacre of Braybrook Street, was the murder of three police officers in London by Harry Roberts and two others in 1966.

The officers had stopped to question the three occupants of a car waiting near Wormwood Scrubs prison; Roberts shot dead Temporary Detective Constable David Wombwell and Detective Sergeant Christopher Head, whilst John Duddy, another occupant in the vehicle, shot dead Police Constable Geoffrey Fox.

The three suspects went on the run, initiating a large-scale manhunt. All three were eventually arrested and later sentenced to life imprisonment. Public sympathy for the families of the victims resulted in the establishment of the Police Dependants' Trust to assist the welfare of families of British police officers who have died in the line of duty.


On 12 August 1966, a Metropolitan Police crew of an unmarked Triumph 2000 Q-car, registration number GGW 87C and call sign Foxtrot One One, was patrolling East Acton (although the incident was always reported by the media as occurring in Shepherd's Bush) in west London. Detective Sergeant Christopher Tippett Head, aged 30, and 25-year-old Temporary Detective Constable David Bertram Wombwell were both members of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) based at Shepherd's Bush police station in F Division. Their driver was Police Constable Geoffrey Roger Fox, aged 41, a beat constable who had served for many years in F Division (which covered the Metropolitan Borough of Hammersmith) and frequently acted as a Q-car driver due to his vast local knowledge. All three officers were in plain clothes.

At about 3:15 pm the car turned into Braybrook Street, a residential road on the Old Oak Council Estate bordering Wormwood Scrubs and Wormwood Scrubs prison. The officers spotted a battered blue Standard Vanguard estate van parked in the street with three men sitting inside it. Since escapes were sometimes attempted from the prison with the assistance of getaway vehicles driven by accomplices, the officers decided to question the occupants. It is possible that PC Fox recognised the van's driver, Jack Witney, as a known criminal. The vehicle also had no tax disc, legally required for driving in the United Kingdom.

DS Head and DC Wombwell got out of their car and walked over to the van, where they questioned Witney about the lack of a tax disc. He replied that he had not yet obtained his MOT test certificate, which is required before a tax disc can be issued. DS Head asked Witney for his driving licence and vehicle insurance certificate; noticing that the latter had expired at midday, he told DC Wombwell to write down Witney's details and walked around to the other side of the van. Witney protested that he had been caught for the same offence two weeks before and pleaded to be given a break. However, as he did so his front seat passenger, Harry Roberts, produced a Luger pistol and shot DC Wombwell through the left eye, killing him instantly. DS Head ran back towards his Q-car, but Roberts chased and, after missing with the next shot, shot him in the head. John Duddy, the back seat passenger, also got out, grabbing a .38 Webley Service Revolver from the bag next to him (which also contained a third gun). He ran over to the Q-car and shot PC Fox three times through the window as he tried to reverse towards him and Roberts, who also fired several shots. As he died, Fox's foot jerked down on the accelerator and the car lurched forward over the prone body of DS Head, who was already dying of his wounds.<ref name="I have served my time"> Template:Cite news </ref>


Duddy and Roberts got back into the van and Witney reversed rapidly down a side street and pulled out onto Wulfstan Street before driving away at speed. However, a passer-by, suspicious of a car driving so fast near the prison, had written down the registration plate, PGT 726. Witney, the van's owner, was arrested at his home six hours after the shootings. Following a tip-off, the van was discovered the next day in a lock-up garage rented by Witney under a railway arch in Vauxhall. It contained some spent .38 cartridges and equipment that could be used for stealing cars. Initially Witney pretended that he had sold the van for £15 to an unknown man in a pub earlier in the day, but confessed on 14 August, admitting what had happened, and naming his accomplices.

Duddy had fled to his native Glasgow, but was arrested on 17 August using information obtained from his brother.

Roberts hid out in Epping Forest to avoid the huge manhunt. He used his military training (he had served as a soldier during the Malayan Emergency) to avoid police capture for three months. A £1,000 reward was offered for information leading to his arrest. He was finally captured on 15 November whilst sleeping in a barn at Blount's Farm near Bishop's Stortford after hiding in the adjacent Thorley Wood. Roberts was familiar with the area as he had often visited it as a child with his mother.<ref name="nbk">Template:Cite book</ref>


The three suspects were John Edward 'Jack' Witney, John Duddy and Harry Maurice Roberts. Witney (born 1930) was a known petty criminal with ten convictions for theft. He lived with his wife in a basement flat in Fernhead Road, Paddington. John Duddy (born 1929), originally from Glasgow, was a long-distance lorry driver. He had been in trouble for theft several times when he was younger, but had been straight since 1948. Immediately prior to the offence he had started to drink heavily and had met Roberts and Witney in a club. Harry Maurice Roberts (born 1936) was a career criminal with convictions for attempted store-breaking, larceny and robbery with violence. He was a former soldier who had served in Malaya. He almost certainly opened fire because he thought that the officers were about to search the van and believed he could be sentenced to 15 years imprisonment if he was caught with a firearm.


The trial of Witney and Duddy began at the Old Bailey on 14 November, but was almost immediately adjourned after Roberts's capture so the three men could be tried together. Roberts pleaded guilty to the murders of DS Head and DC Wombwell (but not that of PC Fox), but the other two defendants denied all charges. Only Witney testified in his own defence, saying that he and Duddy were terrified of Roberts. On 12 December 1966, after a trial lasting only six days, the three men were convicted of murder and possession of firearms and sentenced to life imprisonment. The jury took only 30 minutes to reach the verdict. The judge, Mr. Justice Glyn-Jones, recommended that they serve at least thirty years before becoming eligible for parole. He commented that the murders were "the most heinous crime to have been committed in this country for a generation or more".<ref name="sentence"> Template:Cite news</ref>


File:Braybrook Massacre Memorial.JPG
The memorial on Braybrook Street to DS Head, DC Wombwell and PC Fox

The murders caused outrage in the United Kingdom. There were calls for the recently abolished death penalty to be reintroduced and to increase the number of police officers trained to use firearms. (British police officers are routinely unarmed.) The Metropolitan Police Firearms Wing, now known as CO19, was established soon after the incident.

Six hundred Metropolitan Police officers lined the route of the three victims' funeral procession in Shepherd's Bush and a memorial service in Westminster Abbey was attended by Prime Minister Harold Wilson, Leader of the Opposition Edward Heath and many other dignitaries, as well as thousands of police officers from all over the country. More than one thousand members of the public stood in mourning outside the Abbey. Holiday camp owner Billy Butlin donated £250,000 to a new Police Dependants' Trust, and it had soon raised more than £1 million.

In 1988 the Police Memorial Trust established a stone memorial to the three officers at the site of the incident in Braybrook Street.


John Duddy died in Parkhurst prison on 8 February 1981.<ref name="Duddy's fate">"Parkhurst prisoner dies", The Times, 9 February 1981, p. 5.</ref>

Witney was released in 1991, causing some controversy as he had not served the full thirty years recommended by the judge, and was thought to be the first adult to be released early on licence after killing a police officer. He was beaten to death with a hammer by his flatmate, a heroin addict, in August 1999 at his home in Horfield, Bristol.<ref name="I have served my time"/> Police ruled out any connection between his murder and the events of 1966.<ref name="Witney's fate">Patrick McGowan, "Shepherd's Bush police murderer is found dead", Evening Standard, 18 August 1999, p. 7.</ref>

It was reported in February 2009 that Harry Roberts hoped to be freed from prison within months. After serving 42 years, and having already completed the first stage of a parole board hearing, he believed that his release was imminent. Roberts hoped a final hearing would find that, at 72, he was no longer a risk to the public. By this time, he had already served 12 years more than the minimum tariff recommended by his trial judge, who at the time of sentencing told Roberts that it was unlikely that any future Home Secretary would "ever think fit to show mercy by releasing you on licence... This is one of those cases in which the sentence of imprisonment for 'life' may well be treated as meaning exactly what it says."<ref name=sentence /> In July 2009, the parole board determined that Roberts still posed a public risk and should continue to serve time at Littlehey prison in Cambridgeshire. The decision followed newspaper reports that Roberts had orchestrated a five-year campaign of intimidation against an elderly woman who complained about his behaviour when he worked at the same animal sanctuary she did while he was on day release.

See also

  • List of British police officers killed in the line of duty




External links

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