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Harry Maurice ROBERTS






The Massacre of Braybrook Street
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: To avoid arrest
Number of victims: 3
Date of murder: August 12, 1966
Date of arrest: November 15, 1966
Date of birth: 1936
Victims profile: Police Constable Geoffrey Roger Fox, 41, Detective Sergeant Christopher Tippett Head, 30, and Temporary Detective Constable David Bertram Wombwell, 25
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: London, England, United Kingdom
Status: Sentenced to life in prison on December 12, 1966
photo gallery

House of Lords


opinions 2005


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 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. 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 character of Billy Porter in He Kills Coppers by Jake Arnott is based on Harry Roberts.


Harry Maurice Roberts (born 1936 in Kennington, London, England) is one of the UK's most notorious murderers and longest-serving prisoners.


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 PC Geoffrey Fox, 41, Sgt Christopher Head, 30, and Det Con David Wombwell, 25 in an unmarked "Q" car. When he feared that some handguns were about to be uncovered, Roberts drew one of the guns and shot one of the policemen dead. He then shot a second policeman while one of his accomplices shot dead the third.


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. He was finally captured whilst sleeping in a barn at Blount's Farm near Bishop's Stortford after hiding in the adjacent Matham's Wood.

Roberts was familiar with the area as he had been sent there as a child evacuee earlier in his life. 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.

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."


His murder of the policemen made him a hero in some anarchist circles, and anarchists and football fans since the murders have chanted his name to antagonise the police. Chants like "Harry Roberts is our friend, is our friend, is our friend. Harry Roberts is our friend, he kills coppers" (to the tune of London Bridge is falling down), a chant which originated with groups of young people outside of Shepherd's Bush police station after Roberts had been arrested. His folk-hero status amongst these sub-cultures has led to various artistic representations of Roberts.

The character of Billy Porter in He Kills Coppers by Jake Arnott is based on Harry Roberts, and he features in the lyrics of several songs by the band Chumbawamba, including one in which is name is chanted over and over again ("Harry Roberts, Harry Roberts, Roberts Roberts, Harry Harry") in parody of the Hare Krishna mantra "Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare".


The Massacre of Braybrook Street was the murder of three police officers in London in 1966. It is, excepting terrorist attacks, the worst mass murder of police officers in the history of the United Kingdom. The incident is also known as the Shepherd's Bush Murders.


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.


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 passerby, suspicious of a car driving so fast near the prison, had written down the registration number, PGT 726. Witney, the van's owner, was arrested at his home six hours after the killings.

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 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 cracked on 14 August, admitted what had happened, and named his accomplices.

Duddy had fled to his native Glasgow, but was arrested on 16 August using information obtained from his brother. Roberts, however, using his military experience, hid out in Nathan's Wood, near Bishop's Stortford in Hertfordshire.

A £1,000 reward was offered for information leading to his arrest, causing some indignation among the police because it was substantially less than the reward money offered in many jewellery and fur theft cases. Roberts, who had become Britain's most wanted man, was finally apprehended while he was sleeping in a barn on 15 November after ninety days on the run and one of the largest police manhunts ever seen in Britain.


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 denied all charges. Only Witney testified in his defence, and he said 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 judge, Mr Justice Glyn-Jones, recommended that they serve at least thirty years before becoming eligible for parole. He commented that the killings were "the most heinous crime to have been committed in this country for a generation or more".


The killings caused outrage in Britain, where murder was comparatively rare and murder of police officers much rarer still. There were calls for the recently abolished death penalty to be reintroduced and increasing numbers of police officers, usually unarmed in Britain, were trained to use firearms. The Metropolitan Police Firearms Wing, now CO19, was established later the same year.

Six hundred 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.

John Duddy died in Parkhurst Prison in February 1981. Witney was released in 1991, causing some controversy as he had not served the full thirty years recommended by the judge. He was later murdered.

Roberts is still in prison. In 1999, Home Secretary Jack Straw accepted a Parole Board recommendation to move him to an open prison in preparation for his release and he was transferred to Sudbury Prison in Derbyshire. He was allowed to work unsupervised at an animal sanctuary some thirty miles from the prison, but sometimes failed to turn up.

He was reported to have travelled to London on these occasions and was spotted by two off-duty police officers in the company of known criminals. Given five days' home leave for his 65th birthday, he celebrated at a bar in Sheffield with Kate Kray, widow of gangster Ronnie Kray. In October 2001 he was moved back to a closed prison, accused of smuggling drugs and contraband into prison. He has also admitted to at least 22 escape attempts since 1966.

Though his name has never appeared on the frequently published lists of prisoners on a "whole life tariff", it is expected that he will die in jail. He is currently being held in the medium-security Channings Wood Prison, Devon.

In 2004, lawyers acting for Roberts lodged an appeal in the House of Lords over a ruling which was intent on keeping Roberts incarcerated until his death. Their complaint was that the evidence in the ruling had been kept secret from them and that it was designed to combat terrorism only, but had embroiled Roberts in its regulations. Roberts lost the appeal.

Roberts's infamy has been used by football crowds to taunt police, mainly when police enter a stand to arrest unruly supporters or when police are in particular close proximity to groups of supporters in pubs or on public transport:

Harry Roberts - He's our man;
he shoots policemen, bang, bang, bang.

Harry Roberts is our friend, is our friend, is our friend,

Harry Roberts is our friend, he kills coppers

Let him out to kill some more, kill some more, kill some more

Let him out to kill some more, Harry Roberts

(Sung to the tune of "London Bridge is falling down")

(Also sung to the tune of 'London Bridge': "Harry Roberts is our mate, is our mate...")

Harry Roberts was the inspiration for the character Billy Porter, a petty thief who served in Malaya and murdered three police officers, in Jake Arnott's novel He Kills Coppers.


  • Braddon, Russell, "The Shepherd's Bush Murders" (from book Great Cases of Scotland Yard)

  • Fido, Martin; Keith Skinner (1999). The Official Encyclopedia of Scotland Yard. London: Virgin Books. ISBN 0-7535-0515-0.


'I have served my time'

Tuesday, 12 October 2004

Harry Roberts wants out. After nearly 40 years, even his jailers agree the notorious police killer has paid his debt to society. Yet successive Home Secretaries have kept him behind lock and key. In a rare interview, the 68-year-old tells Jason Bennetto the real reason why he is still inside

Prisoner 231191 is being closely watched by two guards as he strides across the room towards me. After a broad smile and handshake, he takes his allocated seat in the visitors' hall at Channings Wood jail in Devon. Decades of working out in the gym have helped to preserve the 68-year-old inmate, whose only obvious signs of ageing are his drooping eyelids and whitening hair.

The individual before me has two claims to fame. He has spent the past 37 years behind bars - making him one of Britain's longest-serving prisoners - and he is the country's most notorious police killer. But after spending almost four decades behind bars, he feels he has finally paid his debt to society.

In 1966, Harry Roberts and his two fellow robbers were given life sentences for shooting dead three unarmed policemen on a London street. Roberts always knew that he would have to spend most of his life locked up for such a crime.

He had been looking forward to being given parole and released back into the community after the 30-year tariff set by the court expired in 1996. These hopes were shattered when, in 2001, a recommendation for parole was rejected after he was accused of unspecified criminal behaviour.

In an unprecedented move, the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has insisted that the allegations of his wrongdoing must remain a secret to both the accused and his lawyers, in order to protect the safety of an informer. This has led to a series of failed legal challenges against the Home Secretary and the Parole Board, which has raised the prospect of Roberts staying in jail until he dies.

Roberts and his legal team believe he is the victim of a campaign by the Police Federation and the media, who have made the killer's release from prison a highly contentious - and politically damaging - decision for any Home Secretary.

Roberts says he wants to put his past behind him. "I don't want to be Harry Roberts the cop killer. The media talk as if the shootings were yesterday: this keeps alive this image of me as a 30-year-old cop killer. I'm not that person any more. The Home Secretary is just responding to the media hype about me. When does punishment becomes vengeance? I feel my treatment has turned into institutionalised vengeance."

Despite his protests, there are many people, particularly among the relatives of his victims and within the police, who believe this man should never be freed. His crime and the three-month manhunt that followed, with its combination of brutality and suspense, shocked and gripped Sixties Britain.

On the afternoon of 12 August 1966, three police officers - Detective Constable David Wombwell, 25, Detective Sergeant Christopher Head, 30 and PC Geoffrey Fox, 41 - stopped a van in Braybrook Street, Shepherd's Bush in west London. The Standard Vanguard was being driven by Jack Witney, then 36, who was accompanied by fellow armed robbers Harry Roberts, 30 at the time, and John Duddy, a 37-year-old Scot - and an arsenal of loaded guns.

As two of the officers started to search the van, Roberts drew a 9mm Luger pistol and shot DC Wombwell through the left eye, and then shot DS Head in the back as he tried to flee. As the dying officer staggered away Roberts tried to shoot him in the head, but his gun jammed twice.

PC Fox had remained in the police car. Duddy fired a revolver at the officer twice from close range through the passenger window. Both bullets missed, but a third shot hit him in the left temple. The shot caused the policeman's foot to push down on the accelerator and the car jumped forward, running over the body of DS Head and getting stuck there, with smoke pouring from its rear wheels. All three Metropolitan Police officers died from the gunshot wounds.

"It was all over in 30 seconds," recalls Roberts. "Jack [Witney] said, 'Let him have it,' and I just reacted automatically. I went on to autopilot." But he also admits: "I accept if you carry a gun that you know that at some time you will have to use it."

Witney was arrested within three days via a tip-off. He gave the names and addresses of the other two, and Duddy was captured in Glasgow two days later. Roberts went on the run, and it took 96 days before he was caught after one of the biggest manhunts the British police had mounted. Nearly 40 years on, he now believes he has served his time for those terrible events.

Having spent his first 21 years in high-security jails, he is currently held at a low-security Category C training jail. This type of institution has the lowest level of security at a closed jail, where inmates are considered to lack the skills or the desire to escape, so they are deemed a minimal threat to the public.

Channings Wood prison is set in the beautiful South Hams countryside, about four miles from the market town of Newton Abbot. The jail is reached via a twisting hedge-lined road past a signpost for the hedgehog hospital at Prickly Ball Farm. The entrance has views of nearby hills and a field of grazing horses. To gain access, you have to provide photographic identity before going through an airlocked room with automatic doors, monitored by surveillance cameras. There then follows a series of body searches by prison guards, aided by sniffer dogs searching for drugs.

Once inside, the visitors' room resembles a village hall, with tea and cakes for sale from a makeshift canteen. During a two-hour conversation, Roberts, sipping mugs of milky tea, reveals details of his criminal past: the killings, his time spent on the run, and his growing frustration at his chance of freedom seemingly ebbing away. For someone who has spent so long in prison, he does not appear to be institutionalised. Articulate and intelligent, he keeps up with world affairs through reading and watching the TV he has in his cell.

Despite his desire to shed the label of "infamous cop killer", the name of Harry Roberts is still inextricably linked to that savage deed. He's not helped by his case featuring in the recent best-selling novel He Kills Coppers by Jake Arnott - a book he described as "rubbish", and which he said he discarded after reading a few chapters. Football hooligans still use his name to taunt police with chants of "Harry Roberts, he's our friend, he's our friend, he's our friend, he kills coppers... Let him out to kill some more, kill some more..."

He was introduced to crime at an early age. Brought up by his mother, Dorothy, he helped her to act as a fence selling goods on the black market from the family's café in north London. "She was selling on mostly food - tea and sugar - and sometimes ration books. Anything she could get her hands on."

Before long, he was earning good money from his illegal activities, and he ended up in borstal. On leaving jail, he joined the Army for his National Service and was posted to the jungles of Malaya. It was here that he learnt how to kill. "I was a sergeant and we used to go out on ambushes in the jungle. I would fire the first shot and then everyone would blast away," he recalls. He says his men must have killed up to 40 people during the operations, and that he personally killed at least four.

"When I returned to Britain, I took up my old life as a criminal. I teamed up with Witney and we did dozens of armed robberies together - on betting shops, post offices. The most I earned was £1,000 from a single job. Witney was the eldest, the boss: he knew the best places to rob. Duddy joined us later."

Duddy, a long-distance lorry driver, had stayed out of trouble with the police since 1948. He had started drinking heavily and had met up with the other two in a London club. "After the shooting, the pair of them grassed me up and made out that it was all my plan," Roberts says.

After the murders, Roberts hid out for several days in London with his girlfriend, Lilly Perry. Despite public appeals, he went shopping for camping equipment at King's Cross. He revealed that in one extraordinary incident he stood next to his own photograph on a "wanted for murder" poster as a police officer went by.

Using his Army jungle training, he moved to Epping Forest, Essex, were he set up several camps in the woods. The police were swamped with information as more than 6,000 false sightings were reported. "I was only caught because I was stupid. I had been trying to break open a safe at a * * factory and was late getting back to my camp. I had to cross a main road and had a blue holdall with me - no one in the country had a bag like that."

As he crossed the road, he was spotted by an officer with a dog. Although Roberts moved about a mile away to another camp in a disused hangar in Natham's Wood near Bishop's Stortford, he was tracked down hiding in some straw bales and arrested.

It took an Old Bailey jury only 30 minutes to find all three men guilty of the three murders, which were described by the judge, Mr Justice Glyn-Jones, as "the most heinous crime to have been committed in this country for a generation or more". Fortunately for the killers, they escaped the hangman because capital punishment had been abolished a year earlier. Handing down life sentences, the judge recommended that the three serve a minimum of 30 years each. When they began their sentences, the England football team was basking in World Cup glory and Harold Wilson had been re-elected prime minister.

Duddy died in the hospital at Parkhurst Prison in February 1981, and Witney, who was released on licence in 1991, was found dead in 1999 at home in Bristol. He had been bludgeoned with a hammer by his flatmate, a heroin addict. "I couldn't believe it when Witney was released. He was supposed to serve the same as me," Roberts says.

For his first two decades inside, Roberts tried to fight the system, making 22 escape attempts. "It was like a hobby for me. I knew I wasn't coming out for a long time, so I had nothing to lose." In one attempt, his mother smuggled in a pair of bolt cutters in her bra. "We cut through part of the fence, but there wasn't time to finish the job, so we planned to go back the next night. What we didn't know was that there was an informer in the team who grassed us up before I could escape."

On another occasion, while Roberts was at Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight, his mother tried to bring in bolt cutters again, but they were discovered hidden in a toilet. His last attempted escape was in 1976, and from then on he stayed out of trouble, becoming a model prisoner. "I decided that the best way to get out was to stay clean and do my time." He was transferred in 1999 to open prison, from where he was allowed out each day to work unsupervised at the St Bernard's Animal Sanctuary in Alfreton, Derbyshire.

Then, on 1 October 2001, he was recalled to closed prison conditions. He was placed in solitary confinement in Lincoln Prison and told that he was being punished following allegations of involvement in "drug dealing and in bringing in contraband into the prison". The next month, newspapers reported that off-duty police officers had seen Roberts mixing with known criminals in London.

There followed a series of accusations made against him, including taking driving lessons in contravention of his licence and celebrating his birthday at a TGI Friday's restaurant with Kate Kray, the widow of the East End gangster Ronnie Kray, while in Sheffield.

Roberts is very open about mixing with former criminals: he says a regular visitor to see him in prison is one of the men who took part in the so-called Great Train Robbery, in which £2.6m was stolen. "Most of my friends are former criminals - who else do you expect me to know? I've been inside 37 years, and before that I was knocking around with armed robbers. But most of my friends are like me, old-age pensioners."

And that birthday meal? "There was nothing wrong with celebrating my birthday while on release, but I wouldn't eat at that restaurant again, the food was awful." He says he had permission to take the driving lessons, and that the prison service has never mentioned the drug and contraband allegations again.

But, far more seriously for Roberts, it later emerged that there were fresh allegations against him that were considered so sensitive that neither he nor his lawyers were allowed to know what they were, or who made them. Using powers introduced to prevent the disclosure of information relating to national security issues, David Blunkett argued that only the Parole Board should be given the "sensitive material" that contained the allegations against Roberts.

In an unprecedented move, the Parole Board ruled that a special advocate - an independent barrister - rather than Roberts's lawyer should deal with evidence linked to the allegations. An attempt to have this ruling overturned by the Court of Appeal has failed, and Roberts's last chance is to try to have the case heard by the House of Lords in the new year.

If the Parole Board believes the allegations to be true, it is unlikely ever to release Roberts. But, despite their opposition to the advocate system, Roberts and his legal team have agreed for it to go ahead and are still awaiting a date.

His solicitor, Simon Creighton, of the firm Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, says: "How can we possibly defend Mr Roberts if we do not know what he has been accused of, and by whom? The secret evidence could mean that he will never be released. That's a very likely consequence, because he will never be able to address the allegations."

He continues: "Mr Roberts had gone through his period at the open prison with glowing reports. It had all been perfect - until 1 October 2001, when I got a call saying he had been taken out of prison and there was a series of serious allegations.

"I've never really believed in the idea of conspiracy theories until this case. I feel there is a concerted effort to prevent Harry Roberts from ever leaving prison. It's a problem we had with the previous home secretaries - Michael Howard, Jack Straw and now David Blunkett."

The reason for keeping secret the identity of the person making the allegations is apparently a question of personal safety. On this issue, Roberts responds: "People have said that they have to keep the identity of the informer a secret in case I kill him. That's nonsense. I'm not going to go and kill anybody, I'm an old-age pensioner - and what would be the point anyway?"

So what is this top secret information? Only a handful of people know the details, but it is understood to allege that Roberts is still an active criminal and uses underworld contacts and friends to gain money illegally. This could be by running alleged protection rackets and handling stolen goods outside prison.

The Parole Board's refusal to disclose the information has drawn criticism from some surprising places. Terry Waite, the former hostage, and Sir David Ramsbotham, the former Chief Inspector of Prisons, have both spoken out against it. Waite said: "The principles of fairness and justice should be applied equally in a democratic society, however heinous the crime or the criminal."

Unsurprisingly, the prospect of Roberts being released has been greeted with anger by relatives of the dead policemen. The Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, has also pledged to oppose any move to free the killer.

David Wombwell's mother, Daphne van der Scoot, has previously said: "Roberts is an evil man and has been all his life. I wish he had been hanged. David was my only child, and his murder devastated me. It was as if a blanket came down on my life."

DC Wombwell's widow, Gillian, told a newspaper that she could not face the thought of Roberts being released. "Too much care and sympathy goes with the criminal but not enough with the widows and children," she said. "The man is and was a criminal."

In response, Roberts says: "Of course I regret what happened and I wish I could turn the clock back, but I can't. It's something that happened in a few seconds, but has changed so many people's lives."

It has been 37 years since prisoner 231191 was a free man. That's four decades of working out in the gym, writing letters, watching television, reading, wearing a uniform, being told what to do, slopping out, and sitting alone in a cell.

The question remains whether the authorities - and society - believe that 37 years is enough, and whether Roberts is now just a harmless old man.


Jack Straw faces questions over alleged intimidation by police killer Harry Roberts

The Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, is facing calls to explain how one of Britain's most notorious murderers allegedly terrorised a crucial witness from prison.

By John Bingham -

April 20, 2009

Harry Roberts, who was jailed for orchestrating the murders of three policemen in 1966, telephoned Joan Cartwright, 65, almost every day for four years after suspecting she had given evidence which blocked his attempt to gain parole, she has disclosed.

The calls, in which he spoke of tearing "limb from limb" anyone who spoke against him, coincided with a campaign of attacks on animals at the sanctuary which she ran.

Mrs Cartwright and her son, James, raised concerns about Roberts in 2001 while he was working at the sanctuary on day release from an open prison.

She said that her family began to fear for their lives as Roberts made increasing demands of them while speaking of his violent past.

He forced her to pick him up and drive him around in her car and demanded that she cook him breakfast every day, flying into a rage if his egg was not fried to his exacting requirements, she claimed.

Roberts's day release was cancelled abruptly and he was moved away from the open prison after the Cartwrights passed on their concerns to the authorities, using an intermediary for fear of reprisals.

But although the family gave evidence against him to a parole board in secret, he immediately suspected them.

Speaking for the first time after a court order banning publication of her identity was lifted, Mrs Cartwright said that the calls began within minutes of her being told by police that Roberts had been moved away.

"By the time the police had got to the end of the drive, Harry was on the phone spitting blood and spelling out what was going to happen to whoever was responsible," she told the Mail on Sunday.

"He was going to have them torn limb from limb."

Over the following years there were a number of attacks on animals at the sanctuary including a horse slashed with an axe, another blinded with an iron bar, a cat electrocuted, a peacock strangled and a donkey which had to be put down after being beaten.

The family believe that the attacks are connected to the evidence they gave.

Roberts, who has an ongoing application for parole, was jailed for orchestrating the so-called massacre of Braybrook Street in east London 1966 in which three unarmed policemen - Pc Geoffrey Fox, Dc David Wombwell and Det Sgt Christopher Head - were shot.

The killings were described as "the most heinous crime for a generation or more" by a judge at the Old Bailey.

Dominic Grieve, the Tory shadow justice secretary, said that he would write to Mr Straw to demand an explanation for Mrs Cartwight's alleged ordeal.

He said: "If Roberts was able to intimidate her from his cell that is a serious situation and it requires an immediate answer from Jack Straw as to what happened and why."

David Howarth, the Liberal Democrat justice spokesman, said: "Questions need to be asked about why this family received such poor protection from the police against these threats and why these activities didn't result in prosecutions, not just of Harry Roberts but of anybody who might have helped him.

"This is not just a breach of prison security but a failure to protect witnesses."

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice said that the allegations were being considered by the Parole Board reviewing Roberts's custody and said steps had been taken to improve the family's security.

"Protecting the public is paramount," she said.

"All allegations of inappropriate behaviour by prisoners in open conditions are investigated and if credible will lead to the prisoner being returned to a closed prison."



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