The End of the Racecourse Gangs. Part 3

Chip Chop iron hatchet with ash handle
Lewes racecourse
!936 was a very warm summer

David Rowland

The Trial

The Witnesses

Detective Sergeant Walter Collyer of the Brighton Borough Police Force was the first witness and he gave evidence bearing out Counsel’s opening statement. He said he had no doubt whatsoever that it was Spinks who called out ‘here they come boys, get your tools ready.’ And he added that he did not see any gang member who didn’t have some sort of implement with them. They produced the weapons from their pockets. Spinks had a hatchet and Spring had a truncheon. They circled around Solomon, made a rush at him and several blows were struck a him. He was, in fact, injured, but managed to run away. The gang immediately rushed at Frater, who was following Solomon. Blitz took hold of him by the arms and held him from behind, while Spinks struck him a blow on the back of his head with the hatchet and shouted’ let him have it, boys.’ Frater, who was wearing a bowler hat, which was smashed in, then collapsed. Immediately he was ‘dropped’, said the officer, several of these gang members tried to rush at him and kick him and do anything they could to him.

The witness added that he had no doubt whatsoever that all the prisoners were members of the gang who took parting the affray. When the shout went up, ‘they are here boys; blow the witness caught Spinks within a few yards of the place where the affray took place. He then arrested Kilby who was about ten yards away. Witness said that on the course he saw a Standard saloon sports car, in which Bond was at the wheel, also in the car and seated were Gardiner, Illingworth, with the two Bennise brothers. Bond was at the driving wheel with Gardiner seated next to him and the other three in the back. The witness recognised them as having been concerned in the affray. He told them he was going to take them all into custody and none of them made any reply.

I instructed Bond to start the car up, said the witness and drive to the ‘lock-up,’ He started the car up and put it into gear and before I knew what he was doing he started to drive in the opposite direction on the road leading back to Lewes. Inspector Stripp and I shouted to them to ‘stop’. I took hold of the steering wheel and pulled it around in the opposite direction. Bond then said’ All right govnor, I’m sorry.’

Other officers arrived then and he then saw Spring crouching down behind anther car. Spring was arrested by Inspector Stripp. Mack was at the stage being chased by detective Janes and he was brought in to the lock up shortly afterwards.

Detective Sergeant Collyer then identified the various implements that were exhibited in Court and which he said were found within a very short radius of the spot where the affray took place. One he called a ‘jemmy’ or ‘case opener.’

The Judge: People in Courts of Law have depreciated people calling them ‘Jemmies’ and say they are ‘case-openers.’

Mr. Cassels, for the defence, said this particular ‘case-opener’ might have been for use with a car; upon it were the words ‘Dunlop, made in England.’

Another exhibit was the butt end of a billiards cue, with a broken and jagged end, and yet another short iron bar with a 2’’ nail driven through the top. The witness said that when he cautioned and charged prisoners with frequenting with intent to commit a felony, Spinks said, ’I expected assault and the effect of the other replies was either ‘yes’ or ‘I understand.’

In cross-examination by Mr. Cassels, the witness said that there were few people on the racecourse at this time of the affray and he had not the slightest doubt about these sixteen men being concerned in the occurrence. It would be quite untrue to say hat when he arrested Spinks he (witness) had the hatchet still in his hand. The witness, in answer to a question said that he knew nothing about Gardiner’s bookmaker’s bag, and he did not know that it was in the possession of the police.

At Mr. Cassels request, a bookmaker’s bag was brought into court and then held up for the Judge’s inspection. Across the front of the bag, and in large letters were the words ‘Bert Ellis,’ Mr. Cassels: Do you know that Gardiner makes a book under the name of Bob Cotton? The Judge: Is this why the bag is marked ‘Bert Ellis’, (loud laughter) The Officer, holding a loft the bag, turned it around and examined it closely and then disclosed the name ‘Bob Cotton’ which was on the other side, this prompted the Judge to make the remark, amid huge laughter: you are ‘Bob Cotton’ on one side and’ Bob Ellis’ on the other.’

The witness said, that he did not know that Tyler and Spring had come to the Lewes Races together with two men named respectively Arbuckle and Clark. Mr Cassels; were Arbuckle and Clark brought to the police station for being concerned in this affray. Witness answered ‘yes, they were’ Why were they not charged? Answer, ‘I have no idea.’ Were any more brought in and not charged? Answer ‘No.’ Did you know that Arbuckle and Clark had been in the company of Tyler and Spring had arrived at Lewes Racecourse together?’ ‘No,

Mr Cassels said ‘This was over very quickly, was it?’ Yes, ‘it called for quick action.’

In further cross examination the witness denied that he caught hold of one of the men and said’ you will do.’ The witness also denied that these men were all the time protesting that they had nothing to do with the affair, – until 16th June. Mr. Cassels: On the 8th June hey were not told they had been acting in a gang for the purpose of wounding Frater. Witness; ‘No,’ Then in reply to further questions, witness said he had known Solomon and Frater for some time as race followers. He did not know that Spring had any bookmaker’s tickets in his possession.’

Mr. Eric Neve then examined the next witness, Detective Constable Stanley Janes of Brighton Police. The witness said that’ the man who shouted ‘it’s no good here boys, there’s too many ‘top hats’ her was not in custody. He was a man who had a very noticeable scar right down one side of his face.’ Mr. Neve: The police did not get him, in any event.’ No, they didn’t.’

Later Counsel asked the witness if he had noticed anything remarkable about these men, when they were charged.’ Witness replied by saying that he noticed that practically all of them had holes in their trouser pockets. He found the piece of steel tubing where Hain and Mack had been sitting and they both had holes in their trouser pockets.


In cross-examination by Mr. Cassels, the witness said that the whole thing happened so rapidly.

Inspector Harry Stripp of the West Sussex Police, stationed at Littlehampton, who said he was in uniform when he saw the detectives following the men, who were running away. He then saw Frater lying on the ground and ran up to him. The witness found he was bleeding most profusely from a wound to the back of his head. As he moved off, the witness found a piece of rubber, the improvised baton and a large hammer. Witness went to the motor car already referred to and stopped it. Bond, who was driving. ‘I have only just got here and I have taken the wrong turning. The witness held them until other officers arrived. Then said you are members of that gang and I shall hold you here. Someone in the back then shouted out’ not us, we have only just got here.’ On searching the car he found the piece of iron (produced) at the rear off wheel of the car. In cross-examination by Mr. Cassels, the witness said he could say definitely that these accused men were present at the assault. He saw nobody handle or drop the piece of iron. Also he was not sure whether it was T. Bennis or Boniface in the car.

The next witness was Dr. Herbert Vallance, Medical Superintendent of Lewes Victoria hospital, he said that when admitted, Frater was in a half dazed condition. There was a bruised wound with irregular edges, about one and a half inches long, on the left side of the head, and witness thought it was caused by a ‘blunt edged instrument with an irregular edge. He was shown the hatchet and the witness remarked, ‘that is the very type of thing which could have done it.

Cross-examined by Mr. Cassels; ‘It was extremely unlikely that the wound could have been caused by the man falling onto a stone or piece of glass.

The following witness was PC James Lynch, West Sussex Police and stationed at Chichester. He said that he saw Blitz pinioning the arms of Frater while Spinks struck Frater on the head with a hatchet. When they ran away, witness gave chase and arrested Blitz. In cross-examination the witness stated that he did not hear Blitz say, on the way to the lock-up “why am I being arrested?’ and witness did not answer, only by saying ’you’ll see,’

PC Douglas James Anderson, of the West Sussex Police and stationed at Bognor, corroborated, and said he joined in the chase and arrested Kilby about 60 yards away from the scene of the assault. Cross examined by Mr. Cassels said’ Detective Sergeant Collyer has said in evidence that he arrested Kilby, do you think you could have mad a mistake?’

No, he said, adamantly. Mr. Cassels,’ who was it, then that you did arrest? Was it somebody who maybe was subsequently was released? – ‘No sir, he replied.

Douglas George Clayton, a lorry driver of no. 1, Trevor Gardens, Beddingham, who attended on a subpoena, said he saw one man kick another man on the side of his head and then hit him with something wrapped up in paper. The witness then called a constable’s attention to an iron bar wrapped up in paper. The witness recognised Spring as one of the men in this gang, because he struck the witness as being rather out of the ordinary.

The Judge then spoke, saying that the witness could not say who did the kicking.

The next witness, Pc William Groves of West Sussex Police and stationed at Durrington said that he saw two cars come out of the car park, the men in one of them jumped out and ran. The witness joined in the chase and saw a man disappearing into some nearby bushes, where he found him lying on the ground. This man was Churchill. Before the witness touched or spoke to him, Churchill said ‘all right matey, I am just resting.’ The witness then said ‘come along and rest with me. (Loud laughter in the courtroom.)

Mr. Flowers, who was conducting this witness said, did you take him along with you to rest at the lock-up?” The witness: “yes Sir, (more laughter in court) he continues “I then went back and arrested Bond.”

PC Reginald Gillis from East Sussex Police and stationed at Glynde said that he was acting on the instructions of the detective sergeant’s instructions; he arrested Spring, who was standing near another car, and after that, Gardiner. Mr. Cassels stood up and asked PC Gillis, “Do you know a man named Arbuckle of one called Clark?” Witness replied “No Sis,” Mr. Cassels, “Do you know the two men who were arrested, but not detained?” The Witness,” I heard so.”

Soon after this, the Judge called a halt to proceedings for the day, saying “This case is adjourned until 10.30am tomorrow. The trial had all but ended during the middle of the afternoon of Wednesday 29th July 1936.

Special Thanks to Ted Janes


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