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Ronald Henry MARWOOD





Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Gang fight - Alcohol
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: December 14, 1958
Date of arrest: January 27, 1959 (surrenders)
Date of birth: 1933
Victim profile: Police constable Raymond Henry Summers, 23
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: London, England, United Kingdom
Status: Executed by hanging at Pentonville Prison on May 8, 1959

Ronald Marwood was a 25-year-old scaffolder who's idea of celebrating his first wedding anniversary, on 14th December 1958, was by consuming ten pints of brown ale. Late that evening he was in the Seven Sisters Road, Holloway, when he became involved in a gang fight. A police constable, 23-year-old Raymond Henry Summers, tried to break up the fight but was stabbed to death while trying to separate the two gangs.

Eleven of the brawling youths were eventually arrested and charged.

Marwood was picked up and released after he denied being involved. Not able to live with such a terrible thing on his conscience, on 27th January 1959 he walked into a police station and admitted to the killing.

At his trial at the Old Bailey in March 1959 he told the court that he only intended to push the police officer away completely forgetting that his hand was holding a knife. The defence maintained that the charge should be one of manslaughter but this was not accepted and he was found guilty of capital murder. He was hanged at Pentonville Prison on 8th May 1959.



Policeman Killed In Gang Fight

Ronald Marwood had something to celebrate. DECEMBER 14th, 1958, was the 25-year-old London scaffolder’s first wedding anniversary, but his wife didn’t feel well enough to go out that night. “So go and have a drink with the boys,” she told him.

Ten pints of brown ale later he became involved in a fight between two gangs outside a dance-hall in Holloway’s Seven Sisters Road.

PC Raymond Summers, 23, patrolling the street alone, strode into the midst of the affray to separate the brawlers. Moments later a knife flashed behind him, and the six-foot-four constable fell to the pavement mortally wounded.

Eleven youths were charged with causing the affray, but Marwood was released after questioning. He said he’d been involved in a fight in Finsbury Park that night, but knew nothing of the brawl in which PC Summers was killed.

Subsequent inquiries revealed that he was lying, but he had disappeared when the police went to his home to question him further. A hunt was launched, newspapers published his photograph, and on January 27th, 1959, Marwood walked into the Caledonian Road police station.

“I did stab the copper that night,” he admitted. Then he went on to claim that when he saw a friend “being pushed along by a copper, I walked up to the policeman. As I got up to him, he half turned round and said words to the effect of ‘Go away’ or ‘Clear off.’

“He struck me with his fist in the region of the shoulder. I remember I had my hands in my overcoat pockets. I pulled out my hand, intending to push him away. I must have had my hand on the knife in my right-hand pocket. I struck out, with the intention of pushing him away from me. I remember striking him with the knife, and the policeman fell. I ran away and kept on running.”

PC Summers had been stabbed in the back with a 10-inch stiletto, and Marwood was charged with capital murder.

At his trial he claimed the police “put down things” he did not say in his statement, but the jury didn’t believe him. He was convicted, sentenced to death, and went to the gallows at Pentonville Prison on May 8th, 1959.


Ronald Marwood – 1959 murder of a police officer

Many people would associate the name of Marwood with the word hangman rather than with the words hanged man.  Both are correct however.  William Marwood was Britain’s principal hangman from 1874 – 1883 and Ronald Henry Marwood was hanged on the 8th of May 1959.  He was one of 29 men hanged in England and Wales after the passing of the 1957 Homicide Act which differentiated murders into capital and non-capital.  A further three men were executed in Scotland in this period.

Ronald Marwood was a 25 year old scaffolder who lived in Huntingdon Street, Islington London who had been convicted of the capital murder of 23 year old Police Constable Raymond Henry Summers during a gang fight outside Gray’s dance hall in Seven Sister’s Road in Holloway, North London on the night of Sunday the 14th of December 1958.

It is claimed that Marwood had drunk ten pints of beer on what was his first wedding anniversary, having gone out alone as his wife preferred to stay in and watch television.

The fight had broken out between two groups of Teddy Boys armed with a chopper, knives, knuckle dusters and broken bottles.  Constable Summers happened on the scene and began to intervene to stop the fighting.  He took hold of one of Marwood’s friends, Michael David Bloom and was then attacked by Marwood.  In a statement, Marwood claimed that he had been hit by one of the youths with a chopper and felt dizzy and sick.  He then saw Constable Summers with Bloom and approached them from behind.  He claimed that as he got to them Constable Summers told him to “go away” or clear off” and punched him.  He related that he had his hands in his pockets and that he struck out at the policeman with his hand.  This hand unfortunately held an underwater swimmer’s knife and the blow caused Summers to collapse and die at the scene.  Marwood said he then ran away and threw the knife over a garden wall.  He claimed that he had not intended to use the knife and only intended to push the policeman away from his friend.  He further claimed that he did not realise that he had the knife in his hand. 

Police arrested a number of the youths in connection with the disturbance and eleven came to trial in February 1959.  Nine pleaded guilty to unlawful assembly with intent to disturb the peace and possession of offensive weapons.  One was convicted only on the unlawful assembly charge and one only on the possession charge.  They received prison sentences of between 6 and 15 months.

Ronald Marwood was questioned by police on the Monday morning but released.  It was reported that he had a telephone conversation with Mick Bloom on the Monday evening and told him that he was frightened and wanted to stay out of the way.  To this end he left his wife and went on the run.

On the evening of January the 27th he went to Caledonian Road Police station with his father and under caution, confessed to the murder, telling the detectives “I did stab the copper that night.  I will never know why I did it. I have been puzzling over in my mind during the last few weeks why I did it, but there seems no answer.” He was therefore arrested.

Following committal proceedings at the North London Court Marwood was remanded in custody to stand trial at the Central Criminal Court.  His trial opened at the Old Bailey before Mr. Justice Gorman on Wednesday the 18th of March 1959.  The prosecution was led by Mr. Christmas Humphreys and his defence by Neil Lawson and Mr M Levene.

Marwood was charged with the murder of a police officer in the execution of his duty to which he pleaded not guilty.  This was a capital crime under the 1957 Homicide Act.  In evidence he told the court that he and Mick Bloom had been drinking heavily on the Sunday evening, firstly in Spanish Patriot’s pub and then later at the Double R Club, before going with some others to Gray’s Dancing Academy.  As they arrived there some young men came out and one of them attacked Marwood with the chopper injuring his hand.  He later said he saw the policeman talking to Bloom and went up to them.  He claimed the constable told him to clear off and punched him to which he responded by punching back.  His barrister, Neil Lawson QC asked him if he had anything in his hand when he did so to which Marwood replied “No sir”.  Marwood suggested to the court that the statement he had made at Caledonian Road Police station was made up by the police and that he had signed it without reading it after being there for 10 hours.  This was denied by Det Supt Robert Fenwick.  Evidence was given of Marwood’s previous good character and of his successful two years of National Service.  His Discharge Book was quoted as saying “He is a thoroughly reliable man has undoubted ability”  Summing up his barristers told the court that the only evidence linking Marwood to the crime was his alleged confession. The defence invited them to find Marwood guilty of manslaughter if they thought that the Crown had proven that he was indeed the person who had stabbed the constable, if he had done so in a drunken and befuddled state.

The jury deliberated for 2 ½ hours before reaching a verdict of guilty to capital murder.  They would no doubt have found the principal plank of his defence - that he didn’t realise that he had the knife in his hand and had no intention of killing Constable Summers, rather less than credible.  To convict they had to find both the actus rea (guilty act) and mens rea (guilty mind) proven.  To this end they had his confession, alleged phone conversation the night afterwards with Bloom and the fact that he was carrying a knife.  In the Teddy Boy culture of the day that may have seemed quite normal behaviour to London’s youths but it was hardly likely to go down well with a jury because it can be taken to show premeditation to an act of violence.  It is not known what weight, if any, they gave to the amount of alcohol he claimed to have consumed, nor to the effect of the injury he received at the dance hall.  After the guilty verdict had been delivered Mr. Justice Gorman sentenced Marwood “to suffer death in the manner authorised by law.”  These were the words of the death sentence after 1957 and made no reference to hanging.

Marwood was taken to Pentonville prison and his legal team lodged an appeal.  This was heard by the Lord Chief Justice, Hubert Parker, Mr. Justice Donovan sitting with Mr. Justice Salmon on the 20th of April.  The appeal was dismissed.  The execution was then set for Friday the 8th of May.

The Labour MP for Islington South West, Mr Albert Evans had got up a petition for a reprieve signed by 150 MP’s (mostly Labour) which he presented to the Home Secretary.

On the 7th of May the Home Secretary, Richard Austen Butler, announced that there would be no reprieve.  Butler also wrote to Albert Evans telling him that Marwood had had a full trial and that having carefully examined the case he could find no reason to recommend a reprieve.

Thursday morning saw an attempt by Marwood’s family to get the Attorney General to intervene on his behalf. They presented a document requesting his fiat to appeal to the House of Lords but this was ruled to be out of time as it should have been presented within seven days of the Appeal Court decision.  On the Thursday evening there was a noisy demonstration within Pentonville by other prisoners lasting around 30 minutes.  Burning materials were seen being pushed out of cell windows.  Some 500 demonstrators had assembled outside the prison on Thursday evening and this grew to an

estimated at 1000 by the Friday morning.  Some had banners inscribed with “Save Marwood” and “hanging is no deterrent”.  Mounted police were used to disperse protestors and several arrests were made.

Inside Pentonville Harry Allen assisted by Harry Robinson carried out the execution at 9am. 

Marwood’s case became a rallying cause for the liberal left.

On Sunday the 10th of May, Cannon Collins gave a sermon in St. Paul’s Cathedral in which he said that the Homicide Act of 1957 should be amended.  He told the congregation that “Surely the offence against Christian principle committed on Friday morning must make us do more than wring our hands in despair.”  “In a democracy we are all guilty.  In our determination to abolish the death penalty we must see that all that can be done is done to safeguard police and prison officers in the exercise of their duty.  It should be the state’s duty to treat generously the dependents of victims of murder.”

The 12th of May saw Sidney Silverman, the left wing MP for Nelson and Colne and a noted abolitionist introduce a motion in the Commons to abolish capital punishment in the wake of Marwood’s hanging and the anomalies of the 1957 Act.  Another MP, Mr. E L Mallalieu drew up a motion to disallow the use at trial of confessions made by a person to the police unless they were made in the presence of a magistrate.

Although not related to her fiancée’s murder, sadly 21 year old Sheila McKenzie who had been engaged to Constable Summers collapsed and died in a night club in September 1959.


Marwood was hanged because he murdered a police officer but had he murdered another youth or a member of the public intervening to stop the gang fight he would only have been guilty of non-capital murder and sentenced to life in prison, unless he had used a gun.  Was this fair and just? 

A month after Marwood’s death, 19 year old Terrence Cooney stabbed Allan Johnson at the Woodward Hall in Barking in the course of a similar gang fight.  Cooney was a member of the “Dagenham Boys” gang and Johnson was a member of “The Canning Town Boys”.  Cooney got a life sentence although did not spend the rest of his life behind bars. 

With special thanks to Monty Dart for her help in researching this article.



Ronald Henry Marwood


The victim

Police constable, 23-year-old Raymond Henry Summers.



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