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Archive for the ‘Crime’ Category

Review: Death Diary: A Year of London Murder, Execution, Terrorism and Treason, by Gary Powell.

death diaryThis less-than-cheerful and macabre title actually belies the light reading which exists between its covers. I say this, because there are 365 stories of between half to a page each. So the reading is easy and can be done in any order without losing any narrative thread. You may be on the train, bus stop, about to switch off the bedside lamp. Whatever: light reading. I love books like this.

The content, as described in the title, comprises one death-related story (mostly murders) for every single day of the year going way back in London’s history.

There are the high profile cases, as you would expect. The execution of Charles I at the Banqueting House; the shooting of WPC Yvonne Fletcher at the Libyan Embassy; the murder by a down-on-his-luck rival of actor William Terriss outside the Adelphi Theatre; the Krays.

But for me it’s the more mundane, everyday tragedies which resonate. The landlady strangled and stabbed by her lodger; the heartbreaking story of a man who killed his own toddlers because he literally could not afford to feed his family – in a book where hangings abound, at least this tortured soul went to an asylum.

A great deal of these accounts fall between the mid 19th and mid 20th centuries. It is noticeable that the motive is so often tied to money – or the lack of it. Grinding poverty, money worries – they existed on a level that we would find difficult to comprehend today. The ultimate state sanction was not sufficient deterrent, clearly. The gallows at Wandsworth, Pentonville and elsewhere were kept rather busy, even to relatively recent times.

There are many stories of a man killing his wife or lover in a domestic, or very occasionally the other way around. As I say, on the face of it, mundane. So the danger is these accounts becoming a bit samey. In Death Diary, author Gary Powell – a retired Met officer of decades standing – skillfully avoids this with matter-of-fact narratives which are never boring and yet neither are they ever sensationalised. It’s a difficult one to explain, perhaps the policeman’s knack of succinctly delivering detail.

An excellent third London book from this author. It includes a short bibliography and “index of offenders” at the end and there’s a generous section of illustrations and photos in the middle. Recommended.


Death Diary: A Year of London Murder, Execution, Terrorism and Treason (288pp) by Gary Powell is published in paperback by Amberley with a cover price of £14.99. An author-signed copy was featured as London Historians monthly book prize for February 2017.

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Mansions of Misery, A Biography of the Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison by Jerry White.

Book review and guest post by LH Member Jane Young

mansions of misery by jerry whiteMy introduction to the work of Jerry White was some time ago as a history student. The superb Rothschild Buildings: Life in an East End Tenement Block 1887-1920 (1980) contributed to two dissertations and later, as a lecturer in social history, it became a perennial staple on the essential reading list.

Mansions of Misery has much in common with Rothschild Buildings in that it is a “microhistory of a small distinctive community” and focuses on individual stories in minutiae, and most entertaining detail. An in depth account of the Marshalsea Prison, the culture of debt, credit and commerce and everyday economy of the commonplace necessities of life and trade in the Capital during the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

A study of people as well as an institution; all human life is here. Through the personal accounts of the debtors the incarcerated are given a voice. The looming threat of the Marshalsea is given a resonance and sense of place now almost unimaginable, permeating life in London across all classes. The story of the Marshalsea is also the story of ordinary Londoners and the telling of it results in a fascinating and beautifully written social history of the metropolis.

The research is thorough; moreover a subject that has the potential to be gloomy is made intriguing and immensely readable. A narrative that naturally requires some explanation of the British legal system of the years the Marshalsea was in operation is well executed in a clear and concise manner. Excellent endnotes add interest for the casual reader and make for an invaluable addition to academic reading lists.

The book reveals the Marshalsea during the times made familiar by Hogarth, Smollet and Dickens from the inside: the living arrangements; the hierarchy; the role of the turnkey; relationships among the prisoners; trades that not only served the Marshalsea but were also dependent upon it; the construction and fabric of the building and changes that took place as it evolved from early beginnings until closure in 1842. Within this is contained a picture of London that makes for compelling reading.


Mansions of Misery, a Biography of the Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison (364 pp) by Prof Jerry White is published by Bodley Head on 6 October 2016 with a cover price of £20.00.

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Clerkenwell Design Week allows the public rare access to the only remaining bits of Clerkenwell House of Detention, also known as the Middlesex House of Detention. They are the underground vaults, here pictured.

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This institution was primarily a remand centre for prisoners awaiting trial at the nearby Middlesex Sessions House (still standing in largely original condition).

The main incident for which this prison is well-known, if at all, was a Fenian bomb attack on 13 December 1867. It became known as the Clerkenwell Outrage. The plan of this attack was to affect the escape of Fenian prisoners, primarily one Michael Blake. In addition to killing 12 bystanders, the attack was a fairly bodgy affair, with the perpetrators having to borrow matches for the purpose from some passing children. The ringleader, Michael Barrett, was found guilty of murder and became the last person to be publicly hanged at the notorious Newgate Prison, on 24 May 1868.

Both prisons were demolished in the years ahead, Clerkenwell in 1890 and Newgate in 1907.

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A guest post by author, historian and journalist, David Long, a member of London Historians. 

Scene: The Tabard Centre, Prioress Street SE1 (2004)

‘Stalk-thin, with the ears of the Big Friendly Giant.’

When police alerted by friends arrived to find Rod Hall murdered in his gated, loft-style apartment, stylishly remodelled from two former classrooms in what had been a Victorian school, his death can fairly be said to have sent shockwaves through literary London.

Whilst by no means a household name, the 53 year-old was a pioneering and highly successful literary agent whose list of clients included the writers of such well known films and television series The Full Monty, Billy Elliot and Men Behaving Badly. He was also credited with creating the first ever dedicated film and TV tie-in department for a major British publisher, thus playing the role of midwife to a host of other productions such as Jeeves & Wooster, Just William, Casualty and Babe.

Tall and skinny – one client described him as looking like an escapee from a Quentin Blake drawing, ‘stalk-thin, with the ears of the Big Friendly Giant’ – Hall was a popular and well regarded figure in the publishing world, making his exceptionally brutal killing on 21 May 2004 all the more shocking.

His body was discovered by two friends who had called round to his flat, a stylish industrial-chic space with oils by Maurice Cockerill and Terry Frost and bespoke furniture which Hall had treated himself to when Billy Elliot received three Academy Award nominations. Inside the friends found the owner’s Siamese cat clearly in great distress, bloody footprints in the shower, and in the second bathroom their friend’s blackened and eviscerated corpse lying collapsed into the bath.

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The Tabard Centre, location of Rod Hall’s flat.

Within hours Hall’s business partner in the Rod Hall Agency had pointed police in the direction of a boyfriend, known to colleagues only as Ozzy, providing them with a partial telephone number and the information that he was a student at Newham College.

The clues led directly to Usman Durrani, a 20 year old part-time security guard from Forest Gate in East London who it soon became apparent had stabbed his lover to death. That said, the precise cause of death has never been ascertained because, with between 30 and 50 knife wounds to his body, it had been established that any one of seven different traumas could conceivably have killed Hall.

What is known, however, is that the two men had engaged in consensual if extreme sex games; that the victim had allowed himself to be bound, gagged and suspended over the bath; and that after killing him Durrani took time to clean up before leaving the Tabard Centre and going home to his wife in Beckton.

He took with him a camera, on which he had filmed the corpse, an expensive Jaeger-LeCoultre watch and various other personal effects – perhaps in order to make the crime scene look like a robbery rather than a straightforward killing. Shortly afterwards, however, Durrani told a friend what he had done, claiming that he had wanted only to hurt Hall rather than to kill him.

Before long Durrani was on a flight to Dubai, during the course of which police turned up at his mother’s home in Forest Gate and confirmed that they wanted to interview him in connection with a murder. With hopes evaporating that he had simply been engaged in a robbery which had gone horribly, horribly wrong, the accused was brought back to London and handed over to the police.

Initially released on bail but then rearrested, Durrani’s mood reportedly shifted quickly from bouncy to catatonic in a manner which the interviewing officers found unsettling. It soon became apparent that he was unwell, suffering the effects of what a psychiatrist who examined him for the prosecution called the ‘toxic brew’ of religion, homosexuality and sadomasochism.

Durrani himself expressed no guilt or regret over what he had done, and at his trial in July 2005 showed very little emotion. He also said very little, except to deny vehemently that he was in any way homosexual and to admit that he was guilty only of manslaughter on what the Guardian called ‘the grounds that he was mentally ill at the time of the killing.’

He was not adjudged to be insane, however, even though when he was referred for psychiatric testing it had been agreed that he fulfilled the criteria for a diagnosis of personality disorder. In court the jury found him guilty of murder, Judge Gerald Gordon ruling that he should serve a minimum term of 12 years, and saying that he had made Hall ‘suffer mentally and physically before his death’

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David Long is a journalist, historian and author of many London history books including Murders of London: in the Steps of the Capital’s Killers (2012, Random House Books). He is also a member of London Historians.

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policelightHere are the speed quiz questions from last Wednesday evening’s History in the Pub: Policing London. See how you go. Answers are in the comments.

  1. What did the first FA Cup Final at Wembley in 1923 become known as?
  2. Which former Prime Minister is commonly credited with founding the Metropolitan Police?
  3. Where in London is the HQ of the Thames River Police, its home since its foundation in 1798?
  4. In which West End square was Yvonne Fletcher shot in 1984?
  5. What did the novelist and magistrate Henry Fielding found in the 18C?
  6. What was the nickname of the possibly mythical Latvian leader of the Houndsditch Murders and the Siege of Sidney Street in 1910/11?
  7. Who was the policeman murdered in the Broadwater Farm riots of 6 October 1985?
  8. The National Police Memorial near Horseguards was unveiled in 2005. What secondary purpose does it serve, as well as being a memorial to police officers?
  9. What was the fictional police station in the ITV Series The Bill?
  10. What year were women police officers first introduced to the Met?
  11. Two major London memorials to national heroes are also linked to disused London police facilities. Name the Heroes.
  12. At what event are the City of London Police the reigning Olympic champions?

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A guest post by LH Member Hannah Renier.

Near the Barbican, where the road splits around St Alban’s Church tower, you’ll find Wood Street Police Station. It’s large, historic, and about to undergo a partial rebuild. About twenty of us took the tour on the Saturday of Open House Weekend.

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We heard about the origins of the City Police as a citizen force from 1285, the struggle to maintain its independence as a City institution, the years when every applicant for the job had to be six feet one in stockinged feet, and the unbroken tradition of separation from royal influence. To this day, there’s no crown on the cap badge. However there have been abundant crises and changes in 730 years, and at Wood Street a small museum holds a fascinating collection of uniforms, old photographs, weapons, records made long before Data Protection, and memorabilia from famous crimes like the Ripper Murders, the Siege of Sidney Street and the Houndsditch Murders. On these last we were all expert, having just re-enacted them. Some of us emerged as heroes, while still more were captured and later found innocent. Others were shot dead but fortunately, revived by tea, cake and laughter. The grand finale was a trip to the gloriously well-fitted Stables to meet Little Dave (the smallest horse in the City force at 16.1 hands) and his equine friend Lulu.

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Lulu

In the museum

In the museum

Continued funding for the City police horses is undecided; they’ll hear, at Wood Street, early in October. Our tour therefore ended on a note of trepidation; but many thanks for the kindness of serving inspectors Peter and Rebecca who gave up half of their Saturday – in uniform – and kept us informed and entertained non-stop.

Houndsditch Murders re-construction.

Houndsditch Murders re-construction.

Houndsditch Murders re-construction. Image: Caroline Derry.

Houndsditch Murders re-construction. Image: Caroline Derry.

Houndsditch Murders re-construction. Image: Caroline Derry.

Houndsditch Murders re-construction. Image: Caroline Derry.

Houndsditch Murders re-construction. Image: Caroline Derry.

Houndsditch Murders re-construction. Image: Caroline Derry.

Houndsditch Murders re-construction. Image: Caroline Derry.

Houndsditch Murders re-construction. Image: Caroline Derry.

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Today we honour the memory of a most courageous and remarkable academic – the archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad – who was murdered in cold blood at the cowardly hands of ISIS in his homeland of Syria. His crime? Refusing to give up the secret locations of Palmyra’s antiquities which he had hidden from their vandalistic intent. One can only wonder at such bravery and dedication. Dedication to his craft. Dedication to the honour of his home town, Palmyra, and to Syria. Dedication to History.

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Khaled al-Asaad, the Director of Antiquities and Museum in Palmyra, in 2002.

As London Historians we have little in common with him in the narrowest sense but everything in common as historians. It’s a je suis Khaled thing. We would urge those in a better position than us to condemn and reject the agenda of ISIS by honouring this man in a meaningful and concrete way. The most appropriate institutions in England to do this should be led, of course, by the British Museum. Other guardians of antiquities such as the Ashmolian and Fitzwilliam museums should join in. They could each name a room after him or at least mount a plaque in his memory. How about the Khaled al-Asaad Annual Lecture? Please add your ideas in Comments, below, and use #HonourKhaled on Twitter.

I’d go further and suggest that this crime of ISIS, which contrasts so starkly al-Asaad’s sacrifice, deserves an even wider and bolder response. Every museum and gallery, every history, classics, antiquities and archaeological faculty and institution – here and elsewhere – should make a gesture in defiance of the ISIS agenda.

From us at London Historians: Khaled al-Asaad, we salute you.

The Murder of Khaled al Asaad.
The Guardian
The Telegraph
The Spectator
BBC News

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