Harry Maurice Roberts (born 1936) is one of the UK’s most notorious murderers and longest-serving prison inmates. He was the instigator of the Massacre of Braybrook Street, a triple-murder of policemen in 1966.
Roberts was with two other petty criminals in Braybrook Street, East Acton, London, when his car was pulled over by three policemen in an unmarked “Q” car. When he feared that some handguns were about to be uncovered by the policeman, Roberts drew one of the guns and shot one of the policeman dead. He then shot a second policeman while one of his accomplices shot dead the third policeman.
Roberts hid out in Thorley wood 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. He was finally captured whilst sleeping in a barn.
At this time there were lots of false sightings of Roberts, but the local people who saw him decided that he couldn’t possibly be Roberts, and consequently he evaded capture for several months.
Convicted of three murders, Roberts was sent to prison on a 30-year tarriff. He made many escape attempts but remains imprisoned a decade after the expiry of his minimum term.
The Crime Scene
On 12 August 1966, the crew of unmarked Metropolitan Police Triumph 2000 Q-car 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, 30, and Temporary Detective Constable David Bertram Wombwell, 25, were both members of F Division Criminal Investigation Department (CID) based at Shepherd’s Bush police station.
Their driver was Police Constable Geoffrey Roger Fox, 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 p.m. 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 Britain.
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 certificate, which is required before a tax disc can be issued.
DS Head asked for his driving licence and 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 the police car, but Roberts ran after him and, after missing him with the next shot, shot him in the head. John Duddy, the back seat passenger, also got out, grabbing a .38 Colt 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.
Roberts, Witney and Duddy were actually looking for a car to steal and use in a robbery.
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 policemen were about to search the van and believed he would get fifteen years if he was caught with a firearm.
John Edward ‘Jack’ 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 in Scotland, was a long-distance lorry driver. He had been in trouble for theft several times when he was younger, but had been going straight since 1948. Recently he had started to drink heavily and had met Roberts and Witney in a club.
Trial and Appeals
Convicted of three murders, Roberts was sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommended minimum of 30 years. He made many escape attempts but remains imprisoned more than a decade after the expiry of his minimum term in 1996. In 2005 he made an appeal over the use of secret evidence to keep him in jail, failed in the House of Lords.
In 2001 he had been transferred to an open prison in what was thought to be a prelude to his release. However Roberts was alleged to have been involved in drug dealing, bringing contraband into prison and other activities. Secret evidence was used in the parole hearing which subsequently denied his parole request.
In September 2006, 70-year-old Roberts applied for a judicial review over apparent delays by the parole board in reaching a decision to free him by the end of the year. In December 2006, he was turned down for parole.
On 29 June 2007, he was given leave to seek a High Court judicial review over his failed parole bid, with the judge saying his case, “was of great public interest.”
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