End of the Racecourse Gangs. Part 5
Stanley George Janes received several commendations while serving in Brighton Borough Police.
On the 15th October 1934 he received a Chief Constable’s commendation together with Constable Patching for the prompt way in which the arrest of a man for larceny (stealing) in West Sussex.
On the 14th October 1936 he received a watch Committee’s Commendation with Detective Sergeant Collyer for the outstanding imitative that he displayed in dealing with a gang of criminals at Lewes racecourse on 8th June 1936.
On the 16th November with detective constable Wilkinson, he received Commendation from the Chairman of Lewes Petty Sessions for the diligence with which he conducted enquiries in the case of a man charged with stealing a tricycle van.
On the 13th July 1950 he received a Judges Commendation from Mr. Justice Hallett at Sussex Assizes for the admirable manner in which he dealt with a case of robbery, especially the witnesses…
Finally, on the 10th September 1951, with Detective Constable Simpson he received a Commendation from the Chairman of the Magistrates for the manner in which he carried out the investigation of a case which led to a number of men being convicted of larceny, (stealing)
He was awarded the police Long Service and Good Conduct Medal on the 15th November 1951and finally retiring on the 30th April 1953. He spent 28 years as a member of Brighton Borough Police and as he says, ‘enjoyed a good and action packed career.’
A letter from Detective Sergeant Collyer: –
Some little time after the event at Lewes Racecourse, Detective Sergeant Collyer wrote to Stanley George Janes with his version of the story; as he saw it and still very fresh in his mind.
The following is word for word just as he wrote; it tells of the reasons that this event at Lewes Racecourse occurred. There no doubt whatsoever, that these officers ended once and for all the ending of the scourge on our racecourses once and for all.
They were very brave to tackle this gang, as the detectives knew that they were all carrying weapons and many had previous convictions for ‘assault on the Police.
Why the gang never attacked the police, I don’t know. Had they done, then they may have escaped and lived to ‘fight another day.’
This final event was greatly helped by the Judge, Mr. Justice Hilbery with his heavy sentencing of the gang.
The letter below is written just as D/Sgt. Collyer wrote it.
He wrote, ‘Gang terrorism broke out on Lewes Racecourse on a perfect summer’s day in June 1936, continued with those bribes and threats of violence so dear to the heart of the gangster,, and ended, probably for the first and last time in this country, behind the locked and guarded doors of an Assize Court.
Whatever thrills may come my way during the rest of my career as a detective officer, nothing will imprint itself more indelibly on my memory than the events of that day and the weeks that followed, until the final scene in court.
Nothing, from the point of view of the experienced detective is quite as dull as the duty he has to do, either on the racecourse in his own area or when, because of his special knowledge of racing crooks and their methods, he is detailed for special duty on a racecourse in some other police district.
It was with that feeling that nothing very exceptional would happen except that the heat would be would be very tiring, that, accompanied detective Janes, a stout companion in my kind of trouble, I went to Lewes Races that oppressively hot June day.
Had I been gifted with ‘second sight’ I might have known something about certain incidents which had previously occurred at the Walthamstow Greyhound Track, and at Liverpool Street station in the heart of London.
That knowledge did not come to me until afterwards, but, to get the incidents of that day in correct perspective, it is necessary to recall what had happened.
It all began when a fellow named Dick Hutton, a really ‘tough guy’ with a livid scar down one side of his face, had an argument (in which certain un-English weapons were used) at Walthamstow with a man named ‘Conkey.’ The fact that ‘Conkey’ belonged to the ‘Chosen Race’ may be deduced from his nickname.
Hutton got the worst of it, ‘licked his wounds’ as these gangsters will and prepared for revenge. The chance he sought came at Liverpool Street Station, but again the result he anticipated was unfavourable.
Coming to the conclusion that ‘Conkey’ and his companions offered too tough a proposition, Hutton decided to deal with ‘Conkey’s’ friends, and that is how the famous ‘Battle of Lewes Racecourse’ came about.
‘Conkey’ had a close friend named Alfie Solomons, a bookmaker. Hutton decided that Solomons must be ‘beaten up’ at Lewes. He knew he was taking a chance because Alfie was in close association with ‘Darby’ Sabini, a man whose name was once enough to cause terror on the racecourses of this country.
Hutton processed of a certain amount of low cunning if no real intelligence began to think bank and thought of a bright idea. Although. There is no need to go into details but Solomons once stood trial in connection with a man named Blitz, who, by the time of the trial was merely the late lamented Blitz, his relatives, that is, but not to the Metropolitan Police.
Hutton had little difficulty in finding a relative of the late Blitz and also roughly about forty gangsters who, in fairness to people who go racing, were not race followers but just ‘Hoxton’ lay-about. New things which the average citizen would never believe often happened in Hoxton and the mob Hutton collected was ripe for any kind of trouble provided the proper fee was forthcoming and it was.
There is little doubt that when that mob, armed with all sorts of weapons which Mr. Justice Hilbery later described as ‘being terrible, ‘ came to Lewes, they expected to find ‘Conkey’ as well as Solomons and other of his friends.
‘Conkey’ was not at the races that day but Solomons was, accompanied by his clerk, Mark Frater, it was, perhaps, extremely unfortunate for Solomons and Frater that detective Janes and I strolled onto that racecourse about half an hour earlier than we had originally intended.
Lewes is one of those courses where there is never a very dense crowd and, at the time we reached it, well before the first race, there were but few racegoers there and the ‘Bookies’ had not begun to state their prices.
As usual we made straight for the Bookmaker’s stands; I always do that because of knowledge of ‘crooked bookmakers,’ gained by years of experience at various courses.
Then I saw that mob strolling down from the direction of the car parks towards the bookmakers. They were led by Hutton and somewhat foolishly were walking in a bunch.
It must be confessed that all but one or two of them were quite unknown to me, but there appearance was enough. “Here”I said to Janes, “comes a fine gang of cut-throats.”
“Yes, “he said, “they look good for anything u to murder, a prophetic remark as the events of the next few minutes were to show.
I decided that it was absolutely necessary to follow them so closely as we were, in police language ‘tailing them.’ We walked along only a pace behind the rear members of the gang. How they didn’t see us there I do not know, except that it became obvious that they were searching for someone in particular and became blind to anything or anyone else.
We had to swerve aside and avert our faces, when one of the gang remarked “it’s no good here boys. Too many ‘Top hats’ about. Now, in the language of these people, ‘Top Hats’ means policemen, so I knew that bad trouble was brewing. They retraced their footsteps and came face to face with Solomon, Frater and one or two of their friends.
At once, Spinks, a member of the gang, said” Here they are boys, get your tools ready.” Then almost as if by magic, the most shocking collection of weapons I have ever seen appeared in the hands of the members of the gang.
Spinks I saw had a hatchet. There were was not a second to waste; I pushed myself forward and seized him. It was not until that moment that the gang realised we were amongst them.
Things happened so quickly after that, that it was impossible to prevent an attack upon Solomons and Frater, but the gang were clearly splitting up into two groups so that both men could be thoroughly beaten up. On the faces of the attackers was a look of utter savagely as they plied their weapons.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw that Hutton had vanished the moment he had got the mob well on with their intended job of maiming and perhaps something worse. It branded him not only as a villain, but as a coward also.
For reasons of evidence Hutton was never arrested but since that day his villain nous countenance has not been seen at either Lewes or Brighton race meetings.
Janes was backing me up splendidly in our efforts to fight our way to the centre of attack upon the two men. As I seized Spinks I saw another of the gang, Blitz, had Frater with his arms pinioned behind whilst others were raining blows down on the defenceless man’s head and face. They were actually hitting, or striking at him with hatchets or bars of iron. Fortunately he went down and they then began to rain kicks on him as he lay semi-conscious on the grass.
It was then that all the members of the gang appeared to realise that we were there. They did not stop to see how many offices were tackling them. It is my firm belief that had they known that Janes and I were alone we should have shared the fate of Solomons and Frater.
“Blow Boys, (run away) they are here” shouted one of the gang. Then we had the greatest stroke of luck any detective could wish for in such circumstances.
In stead of scattering, and so increasing a hundredfold the chances of escape; they went in little groups towards the entrance of the car park.
I detained Spinks with one hand and seized another of the gang with the other. I saw Janes had done the same thing and that one of the men he had claimed was Blitz.
Looking up as we struggled along, I saw officers of the East Sussex Police. “Get hold of these men” I shouted, indicating the disappearing gangsters.
The policeman looked at me as if to say”Who the devil are you,” There was then to be another stroke of luck for law an order, one of the policemen recognised me and gave the word, and then the officers swung into action immediately.
Janes and I got our four captures into the racecourse ‘lock-up’ and ran out to deal with the rest. Some had by then been rounded up by he uniformed officers, but their ‘bag’ was small.
I ran to the car park just in time to get six of them who had climbed into an ultra-smart sports car. They blandly but unsuccessfully assured me that they had just driven onto the course. They joined the rest in the Racecourse ‘lock-up.’
At this time I saw Janes running down the road after other members of the gang who were making at top speed for the town and safety. I saw one little chap named ‘Mack,’ run under the ropes dividing the traffic, an as he did so Janes taking the easier course, jumped them with the result being that he landed on ‘Mack’s back causing him to collapse, with Janes, by no means a lightweight on top of him. He was literally carried to the ‘lock-up.’ And subsequently at the trial caused considerable amusement by describing, in detail, how he was caught. Incidentally he corroborated the officer’s evidence perfectly.
Then, coming up the hill to the course, I saw a luxurious chauffeur driven car. Seated beside a smartly dressed man, who was expostulating in loud tones; was a coal black nigger, who I at once recognised as a member of the gang.
“I don’t know who this man is. He is thoroughly important declared the owner of the car, when I said I was a police officer. I have wondered since if that man ever realised how near he was to being beaten up he must have been.
Well, of the original gang, we managed o round up sixteen, not a bad total when considering the difficulties we had been under at the start.
In the sports car I found a knuckle-duster and a bar of iron, probably a starting handle which had a three inch nail driven through it and then twisted over. Of all the weapons I collected that day, that and the splintered butt of a billiard’s cue with the broken spikes of wood still attached, were, perhaps the worst.
Altogether we collected twenty one weapons, including the hatchet, a piece of wood with a safety razor tied firmly in position, several lengths of solid rubber, an axe and a miscellaneous collection of truncheons and pieces of steel.
Then came the Police Court proceedings, remand and then the final committal for trial at Sussex Assizes.
It was while we were waiting for the Assizes to open that I had the most worrying time of my Police career. I was actually approached with very heavy bribes, one as much as £200, ‘to make a muck of it,’ when giving my evidence, so that the men would get away with it on identity issues. The bribes, were, of course refused.
Then the trial and severe cross examination in the witness box. I do not believe that my testimony was shaken in any of the smallest material particular, neither was that of my colleague Janes.
On the last day a very ugly rumour reached me through an officer of the East Sussex Police. It was to the effect that if the men were sentenced, my life would not be worth two days and that heavy sentences would produce a united demonstration in the dock.
‘I also know that many of the associates of these men were either in the public gallery or else hanging about outside the County Hall at Lewes where the Assize court is situated.
It was not, and I say it all in seriousness, beyond the bounds of possibility that a real attempt would be made to rescue the prisoners as they stood before the Judge.
That I had heard, and what I feared might happen was communicated to Counsel for the Crown and I had had reason to know that the Judge was also advised of the possible scenes, which would have been unparalleled in the history of justice in this Country.
Stringent precautions were taken outside the Court and inside. It was probably the first time that such a Court has really been under a strong guard.
When the Jury returned a verdict of ‘Guilty’ against all the men on the charge of wounding Frater with intent to do him grievous bodily harm, the doors of the court were quickly locked before the records of these men were made known to the Judge. I might add here, that with exception of three of the accused, all the others had previous convictions on numerous occasions. In several instances for offences in which the element of violence was present.
“Crimes of gang violence in this country will meet with no mercy, let that be understood by each one of you, and let it be understood, by your many friends who have congregated at this Assizes to hear your trial and to be about the precincts of this Court – that you sixteen men stand convicted of acting together as a gang to assault and to inflict grievous bodily harm on the man Frater, your common purpose was effected and you did inflict grievous bodily harm on Frater, By the mercy of providence Frater was not killed. I ought to add perhaps, also by the alertness of the police and the prompt execution by the police of their duty. It was certainly not through any mercy that any one of you was disposed to show to your victim. You had armed yourselves with weapons which lie here upon the table and which have been, as I have said, aptly described as villainous instruments to take or use upon any fellow human being.”
Then one by one the men were called forward to the front of the large dock to hear their sentences. As soon as these men were passed, each man was gripped by two stout warders and hurried below.
The sentences ranged from five years Penal Servitude to eighteen months imprisonment, an aggregate of forty three and a half years.
After the sentences had been passed, the doors were unlocked and the news of the sentences spread outside, further word came to me.
I was told that a mob was waiting outside with the firm intention of ‘doing’ me as I came out.
I decided that the best course to adopt was to walk out of the front way and face them. With Janes I walked out and saw a dozen of so hanging about and asked them if they wished to speak to me. ‘You can do it’ I said, referring to their obvious intention, ‘but bear in mind you will go the same way as these who have just ‘gone down.’ Their nerve broke, one said, ‘that’s all right Guvnor’ and they walked away.
Threats were not however to cease. From time to time I received letters threatening me with violence. Some were even sent to my home but I managed to intercept them and destroy tem without my wife knowing of their existence. I also received many verbal threats but the sentences passed at Lewes had had their effect and none of the threats were carried out to execution.
The arrest of so many members of the gang and the nature of the sentences passed, sent a wave of relief through the Country. Licensees who had been intimidated by such men, reputable bookmakers, who had been the victims of robbery and even violence and had been afraid to inform the police and the respectable race going public generally, were delighted.
Since those days at Lewes, the day on the race course and the day those well merited sentences were passed, there has been little violence on the race courses of this Country.
In my years of retirement it will always be a pleasant thing to remember, as I am sure it will be for my colleague, Janes when his active days are over, that we played some part, if only a minor one, in bringing about this bitter state of affairs.
The end of the racecourse gangs
This report (above) from ex Detective Sergeant Walter Collyer sums up what was to be the end of the race course gangs that scourged all the racecourses in the South of England, and probably the North as well. There is no doubt whatsoever, that the two detectives, Collyer and Janes, together with the uniformed officers on duty at Lewes Race Course that day were responsible for ending the race gangs of the 1920’s and 30’s. They were ably assisted by Mr. Justice Hilbery who sentenced this gang to forty three and a half years inside.
They were both awarded Police Commendations, the highest honour within the police service. They both received the Long service and good conduct medals.
Note: – Penal Servitude
This means imprisonment of an offender and then he is subjected to hard labour. It was substituted in 1853 to Transportation. It was completely abolished in 1948. – Taken from Collins Dictionary.