Stories from the book, 'The Police in Lewes.' Part 14

Lewes Victoria Hospital
West Street Police Station circa 2001
Rainbow, 179 High Street, Lewes

These stories have been extracted from a very nice little book called ‘The Police in Lewes.’ It covers the period from the late 1940’s through to the 1970’s. It has been written well and makes for a very easy read, being able to pick it up for just a few minutes and not lose the gist of the dozen of very interesting stories. It has been compiled by Peter Stoner.

A memory that stuck in one policeman’s mind was of West Street. On this day he happened to be a patient at the Lewes Victoria Hospital with appendicitis. After the operation he had three visitors, on this occasion, all policemen including a woman police officer. The woman officer was there at the behest of a prisoner who was ill in bed. The ward had been arranged in such a way that the officer who had had the operation bed was next to the prisoner’s. Two of the officer’s visitors told the officer to keep an eye on him during the night, as he was due in court the following morning. Someone will come in the morning to take him to court, alright, they laughed as they left the ward. Having only just had his operation, he wasn’t sure what he was expected to do, on top of that he wasn’t even on duty. Supposing the prisoner decided to make a run for it; he was in no condition to chase after him.

‘I’m the burglar luv’

On one occasion the beat officer at Glynde was cycling in the Beddingham Lane area when he came upon a man carrying  quite a large suitcase which on closer inspection contained valuable items. When he was questioned he said that he had found them. The officer didn’t believe him and he was arrested and taken to the police station. He was interviewed by the CID. It later transpired that he had broken into a house of a wholesale greengrocer who was trading in Brighton. During a number of interviews the man admitted 224 offences of burglary and theft. The prisoner admitted that these offences had been committed over a period of just four months. He had been out of prison for just 4 months.

The man was a Londoner and he admitted that the majority of these offences had been committed in the ‘Home Counties.’ However, he did admit that he had committed some in the Lewes area. One of these offences that he admitted was one he had committed during an afternoon at the Rainbow Public House next to the old County Hall. He said he got in via a fanlight window in the covered side passage  – and on this particular burglary he had used a young boy as an assistant  The CID were convinced that had the beat officer not come across him then he would he been picked up and got back to London. During the interviews the CID had with the prisoner they asked him if he had had any ‘near misses,’ he said ‘yes, only once when a young lady had arrived at the house,’ She asked me who I was?  ‘I said the first thing that came into my head and that was ‘I’m the burglar luv, and then I just walked off.’

One of the first of this particular burglar’s crimes after leaving prison about 4 months earlier was to break into an ice cream factory. He said that he had done this because while he was in prison, he had got really annoyed by the sound of the Ice-cream van’s chimes in the road close to his prison cell.

A handy Pye

‘Malcolm’ one of the Lewes policeman recalled a crime that eventually resulted in a major CID operation being mounted at a local village in the Lewes sub-division. This operation was some years after the theft of a ‘Van Dyke’ painting during a burglary at a house in this village. The burglary was effected silently when the offender placed a piece of heavily greased sacking over a small pane of glass before breaking it. The burglars then made off with the painting and nothing was heard about it for a number of years. One day, the elderly lady occupier received a message from the burglars stating that the painting would be returned to her on payment of £10,000 in cash. They also said that if she contacted the police in any way then the painting would be destroyed. Enclosed with the message, just as verification was a very small piece of the canvas together with a piece of the frame. The elderly lady informed the police straight away and the then the small pieces of canvas and wood were authenticated.

An operation was set up and the burglars were led to believe that the elderly lady would pay the money to get her painting back. She got instructions as to where and when the cash was to be passed over to them. The cash was to be left on the doorstep of the victim’s house which happened to be right on the junction of the High street with the road leading to the next village. On the day of the operation all available personnel from the sub-division with were spread around the district in unmarked cars and all vehicles entering the zone were checked by radio with Headquarters. This was a really good plan to catch these people, as far as the police were concerned they had got everything in place now to catch the persons responsible.

The elderly lady’s home was a three story Victorian house. ‘Malcolm’ was cited on the third floor of the house looking down on the road junction, but he had no view of the pavement around the house itself. On the opposite side of the road, directly overlooking the victim’s front door was a row of cottages. The cottage had neat front gardens with a low hedge bordering the road. There was an officer together with a handy Pye ‘Cambridge’ portable radio. (It weighed about 25 pounds and was the about the size of a small overnight case!)  They were installed in one of the cottages and he was in radio contact with ‘Malcolm’ and the officers who were lying in wait in the victim’s house. They spoke and checked in frequently during the time they were waiting.  

After some time a vehicle passed through the crossroads and Malcolm could see a man lying on the floor of the vehicle behind the front seats. A radio check of this number plate revealed a known and recently paroled burglar from Brighton. All eyes were down as night fell and there being no moon or street lights, those in the house were virtually enveloped in velvet blackness. The victim placed a package of photocopied money in pink plastic bank bags on her door step, and then shut the door again. It was then back to waiting, this was a tough and boring job at this time. Sometime later there was a thumping and banging on the elderly lady’s front door and at the same time someone was yelling.  It was a CID officer. He had watched as a man dressed in dark clothing had sidled up to the front door and retrieved the bag of ‘money. The CID officer had apparently pressed the button on the ‘Handy’ Cambridge radio but the set had completely discharged and the battery was flat. He then shouted out as loud as he could ‘Go, Go, Go’ in time honoured fashion, but of course no one responded because the radio wasn’t working. Once the CID officer, who had the radio realised the battery was flat he dashed out from his observation point and across the road to warn the team inside. Unfortunately in the dark he forgot about the low hedge outside the cottage and took a ‘right purler’ and sprawled headlong onto the roadway. Where he hurt himself in the process.

In the end, the burglar and his associate were arrested and the painting was recovered. The CID man’s mishap was apparently not reported in the evidence and it was officially reported that ‘it had all gone like clockwork.’

This is the first time it has been made ‘public.’   

Written and researched by David Rowland. (October 2015.)

With grateful thanks to the officers at Lewes Police Station. The stories have been taken from the book, ‘The Police in Lewes’                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          


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