The Shepherd’s Bush killings, also known as the Massacre of Braybrook Street, occurred in London in 1966 when Harry Roberts and two other people killed three police officers.
Roberts shot Temporary Detective Constable David Wombwell and Detective Sergeant Christopher Head, and John Duddy, another member of the vehicle, shot and killed Police Constable Geoffrey Fox.
The officers had stopped to interrogate the three occupants of the automobile waiting near Wormwood Scrubs jail.
Three suspects fled the scene, setting off a massive manhunt. All three of them were ultimately detained and given life sentences. The Police Dependants’ Trust was founded in response to public sympathy for the victims’ families and to support the welfare of families of British police officers who have died in the line of duty.
Temporary Detective Constable David Bertram Wombwell, 25, and Detective Sergeant Christopher Tippett Head, 30, worked for the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Police Constable Geoffrey Roger Fox, age 41, was their driver. The three officers were all dressed casually.
The car entered Braybrook Street, a residential street on the Old Oak Council Estate that borders Wormwood Scrubs and Wormwood Scrubs jail, at around 3:15 in the afternoon. Three males were seated inside a beat-up blue Standard Vanguard estate van that was parked on the street when the police arrived.
The officers made the decision to question the occupants since prison escapes occasionally involved the use of getaway cars driven by aides. It’s conceivable that Jack Witney, the van’s driver, was recognized by PC Fox as a known criminal. Additionally, the car lacked a tax disc, which was a requirement for driving in the UK.
After getting out of their car and approaching the van, DS Head and DC Wombwell confronted Witney about the absence of a tax disc. He retorted that he did not yet have his MOT test certificate, which is necessary in order to receive a tax disc. DS Head requested Witney’s driver’s license and proof of car insurance.
Observing that the latter had expired, he instructed DC Wombwell to record Witney’s information before turning around and exiting the van. Witney argued that he had already been arrested for the same offense two weeks prior and begged for leniency.
However, as he was proceeding, Harry Roberts, the passenger in the front seat, pulled out a Luger pistol and shot DC Wombwell in the left eye, instantly killing him.
After missing with the subsequent shot, Roberts pursued DS Head as he turned around to head back toward his Q-car and shot him in the head. John Duddy, the passenger in the back seat, also exited the vehicle and retrieved a.38 Webley Service Revolver from the bag next to him (which also contained a third gun).
As PC Fox attempted to turn around, John Duddy shot him three times through the window.
The Hunt For The Criminals
As Duddy and Roberts re-entered the van, Witney quickly reversed down a side street, drove out onto Wulfstan Street, and then accelerated away. However, a bystander had noted the license plate, PGT 726, after becoming suspicious of a car driving so quickly close to the prison. Six hours after the shootings, Witney, the van’s owner, was taken into custody at his residence.
The van was found the following day in a lock-up garage hired by Witney beneath a railway arch in Vauxhall as a result of a tip-off. There were some used.38 cartridges inside, along with tools for car theft.
At first, Witney lied, saying he had sold the van for £15 to an unidentified individual in a bar earlier that day. However, on August 14, Witney came clean, revealing what had transpired and naming his accomplices.
Duddy had left for his hometown of Glasgow, but was apprehended on August 17 thanks to information from his brother.
To evade the intense manhunt, Roberts took refuge in Epping Forest. For three months, he eluded police capture by using his military training (he had been a soldier during the Malayan Emergency).
A £1,000 reward was put forward for information that resulted in his capture. After hiding in the nearby Thorley Wood, he was finally apprehended on November 15 while dozing off in a barn at Blount’s Farm near Bishop’s Stortford. As a child, Roberts frequently traveled there with his mother, so he was familiar with the area.
The Three Suspects
John Edward “Jack” Witney, John Duddy, and Harry Maurice Roberts were the three suspects. Witney (born in 1930) was a well-known minor offender who had ten theft convictions. He shared a basement apartment with his wife at Fernhead Road, Paddington. John Duddy, a long-distance lorry driver hailing from Glasgow, was born in 1929.
Although he had multiple instances of theft-related difficulties when he was younger, he had remained straight since 1948. He had began drinking heavily just before the offense and had met Roberts and Witney in a club.
Harry Maurice Roberts, a career criminal born in 1936, was convicted of attempted store robbery, theft, and violent robbery. He had previously served as a soldier in Malaya. He most likely opened fire because he felt the authorities were about to search the vehicle and because he knew he faced a 15-year prison sentence if he was found in possession of a gun.
On November 14, Witney and Duddy’s trial at the Old Bailey started, but it was quickly postponed after Roberts was apprehended so the three men could be prosecuted concurrently. The other two accused disputed all allegations, but Roberts admitted to killing DS Head, DC Wombwell, but not PC Fox.
The three men were found guilty of murder and gun possession on December 12, 1966, following a brief six-day trial, and were given life sentences.
The jury reached a decision in under 30 minutes. Prior to becoming eligible for parole, the judge, Mr. Justice Glyn-Jones, advised that they spend at least thirty years. “The most horrible crime to have been committed in our country for a generation or more,” he said of the murders.
Outrage at the killings was felt across Britain. There were calls to reinstate the recently repealed death sentence, and an increasing number of British police officers—who are typically unarmed—were being trained to carry firearms. Soon after the incident, the Metropolitan Police Firearms Wing, today known as CO19, was created.
In Shepherd’s Bush, 600 Metropolitan Police officers lined the route of the funeral procession for the three victims, and thousands of police officers from across the nation attended a memorial service in Westminster Abbey with Prime Minister Harold Wilson, Opposition Leader Edward Heath, and many other dignitaries.
More over a thousand people from the public gathered outside the Abbey to mourn. Owner of a vacation resort Billy Butlin gave a new Police Dependants’ Trust £250,000, and it quickly garnered more than $1 million.
At the scene of the event in Braybrook Street, the Police Memorial Trust erected a stone memorial to the three policemen in 1988.
On February 8th, 1981, John Duddy died in Parkhurst prison.
Witney was freed in 1991, sparking great debate because he had not completed the recommended thirty years in prison. He was also regarded to be the first adult to be released early on a license following the murder of a police officer.
In August 1999, a heroin addict who lived with him in Horfield, Bristol, beat him to death with a hammer. The events of 1966 were not connected in any way to his death, according to police.
Harry Roberts reportedly intended to be released from prison in a few months, according to a report dated February 2009. He thought this would clear the path for his release after 42 years in prison and having already passed the first phase of a parole board hearing.
Roberts hoped that the parole board would order his immediate release if a final hearing determined that, at the age of 72, he was no longer a risk to the public.
The parole board decided in July 2009 that Roberts should continue to spend time at Littlehey prison in Cambridgeshire because he still constituted a risk to the public.
Roberts’ release was authorized by the Parole Board for England and Wales in October 2014, and he was let go from jail on November 11. His release in 2014 caused outrage within the Police Federation of England and Wales, who requested that such a criminal should not be released.
- “The crime that shocked a nation”. BBC News. 23 October 2014.
- Kray, Kate (1999). Natural Born Killers. London: Blake. ISBN978-1-85782-382-0.
- “Harry Roberts: Police killer released from prison”. BBC News. 12 November 2014.
- “Harry Roberts: the man behind the 1966 police murders”. The Guardian. 23 October 2014. Retrieved 4 August 2020.