Friday, 2 January 2015

The Siege of Sidney Street

Late on the night of 16 December 1910, nine Officers of the City of London Police attended a reported break-in at a jewellery shop in Houndsditch. 

They soon came under fire and two Police Officers were killed on the spot with two others later dying of their wounds, along with one of the burglars, apparently shot by accident.

No one was in any doubt who was responsible - the gang of Latvian revolutionaries under the leadership of the mysterious Peter the Painter who had been terrorising the East End for sometime.

A massive manhunt ensued and a £500 reward offered for information leading to the culprits arrest.

Eventually, they were tracked down to a house in Sidney Street and besieged but they refused to surrender and in the fierce firefight that followed the police armed only with shotguns could not compete against the semi-automatic weapons of the revolutionaries and were forced to withdraw and seek shelter.

The Home Secretary Winston Churchill now appeared on the scene and sent for soldiers of the Scots Greys but still they ignored demands to surrender and so artillery was summoned but before it could be used the building that was already on fire collapsed.

On the building however the police found just two men dead.

Five men and two women were later arrested for the murder of the policemen but their trial at the Old Bailey collapsed and six were acquitted and the only woman found guilty later had her conviction quashed on appeal.

Winston Churchill, who'd seen a bullet rip through his top hat was accused of recklessness, a stigma that would remain with him for the rest of his life.

The mysterious Peter the Painter was never positively identified and the Siege of Sidney Street remains one of the great unsolved crimes of British history.

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