Life in the quiet backwater of the busy London suburb was never the same again after August 12, 1966 as it became a place of violence and death
On that hot sunny afternoon housewives chatted in their front gardens and children, on holiday from school, played on the tree-lined pavements of the west London Street Braybrook Street, East Acton, with its white terraced houses and Victorian porches, overlooking a rare area of grassland, was a quiet backwater in a noisy, busy London suburb which contained the forbidding Wormwood Scrubs jail.
It was as though time had passed it by ... but after August 12, 1966, nothing in Braybrook Street would be the same again. It would go down in criminal history as a place of violence and death. Today, nearly five decades later, people still put flowers on the pavement every August, and remember...
But on that Friday afternoon everything had started calm, predictable, even humdrum. A blue Standard Vanguard saloon car was parked halfway down the street, but there was nothing odd about that — drivers often pulled into the quiet of Braybrook Street for a snack or a nap.
Who could have guessed that the Massacre of Braybrook Street was about to begin?
Sitting in the Vanguard were three small-time crooks, John Duddy, 37, John Witney, a year younger, and the hard man of the team, 30-year-old Harry Roberts.
They had been cruising the streets of East Acton looking for a car to steal — the Vanguard was getting tatty and did not fit with their image of themselves as big-time criminals. What they wanted was a big powerful limo to use in a robbery they were planning for the following week. In the back of the Vanguard were the tools of their trade — false number plates, stocking masks, and a canvas bag containing three loaded revolvers.
Parked in Braybrook Street, they discussed their next move and Roberts, in the back with the guns, suggested lying in the sun on the grass of a nearby common and Witney agreed. He was not anxious to go home. His wife thought he was at work but in fact he had been out of a job for nearly two months. Harry Roberts was the boss of the team and the only one with an appetite for violence. He had learned guerrilla warfare in the army in Malaya and had recently served a four-year stretch. He vowed that he would do anything to avoid being jailed again and was seldom without a gun.
"I only feel relaxed when I'm tooled up," he would say. He had obtained the guns for the forthcoming robbery and kept them in pristine condition.
Before the crooks had made a decision about how to spend their afternoon, a green Triumph saloon drove slowly down Braybrook Street and the three men inside scrutinised the Vanguard and its occupants with some interest.
Police car Foxtrot Eleven with a plain-clothes crew, was on route to London's West End when something about the Vanguard attracted the attention of Detective Sergeant Christopher Head.
He told the driver, Police Constable Geoffrey Fox, to pull up in front of the car. Then, with Detective Constable David Wombwell, Sergeant Head approached the driver's window. He asked the driver for his car documents, but Witney could not produce them. As Detective Wombwell began to write details in his notebook, Sergeant Head walked slowly round the car checking its condition.
This seemed to unsettle the men inside. "Can't you give us a break?" Witney asked. "I was done for not having a licence a fortnight ago." As Wombwell stooped into the window to reply, Harry Roberts snatched a gun out of its canvas bag and shot the policemen in the face. As he staggered and fell into the gutter, Roberts told Duddy to "grab a gun and get the driver."
The two armed men climbed out of the car determined to gun the policemen down. Head ran back towards the police car, apparently intending to radio for help, but a fusillade of shots sent him crouching behind the car, where Roberts found him and calmly shot him in the back.
In the meantime Duddy had