Scotland Yard launches a furious search for career criminal Harry Roberts after three police officers are gunned down in London
The Shepherd’s Bush Murders
B arely two weeks after England won the greatest prize in football – the FIFA World Cup – the triumphant mood was broken by a triple murder in West London. The killing of three policemen, in broad daylight, prompted unfeigned outrage. Two of the perpetrators were quickly apprehended, but the third seemed to vanish, sparking the largest manhunt Britain had seen for many years.
Harry Roberts, a convicted armed robber and ex-soldier, was sitting in a car with two accomplices, John Witney and John Duddy, near Wormwood Scrubs prison in Shepherd’s Bush, when three plainclothed police officers arrived. The crooks’ car had no tax disc – a legal requirement – and its proximity to the prison had aroused the coppers’ suspicions.
As temporary Detective Constable David Wombwell questioned Witney on the missing tax disc, Roberts shot the policeman in the head. He proceeded to chase a second officer, Detective Sergeant Christopher Head, to his car before shooting him. Duddy then got out of the van, shooting the third policeman, Constable Geoffrey Fox, as he tried to escape.
The three criminals fled the scene in their car, but a passerby noticed their erratic driving and noted their vehicle’s registration number. Police arrested Witney, who owned the vehicle, two days later, and he admitted his role in the shootings and named his accomplices. Duddy was arrested in Glasgow two days after that, but Roberts vanished.
The search for Roberts was one of the largest Scotland Yard had ever undertaken – posters were distributed across the country and a £1,000 reward for information was offered. At the time, the murders were called the “most heinous crime in a generation”, and it marked the first time that three police officers had been killed in one incident since 1910.
Roberts was apprehended three months later – he had been found camping out in some woods in Hertfordshire. There were calls for the death penalty, suspended since 1965, to be reintroduced in this case; instead he was given a life sentence with a recommended minimum of 30 years, He was released in 2014, after 48 years behind bars, making him one of the UK’s longestserving prisoners.
The three victims were all police officers: ( l-r), Geoffrey Fox, David Wombwell and Christopher Head As well as posters, Roberts’ mother appealed for her son to hand himself in Police found Roberts’ heavily camouflaged tent in woods near Bishop’s Stortford