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
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
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
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".
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.
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
and Duddy were actually looking for
a car to steal and use in a robbery.
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
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,
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
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
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
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.
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.
owner Billy Butlin donated £250,000
to a new Police Dependants' Trust,
and it had soon raised more than £1
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
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.
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
Roberts - He's our man;
he shoots policemen, bang, bang,
Roberts is our friend, is our
friend, is our friend,
Roberts is our friend, he kills
out to kill some more, kill some
more, kill some more
out to kill some more, Harry
(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
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.
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
'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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
By John Bingham - Telegraph.co.uk
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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."