Siege mentality

Like a scene from the 1975 film starring Dustin Hoffman Dog Day Afternoon, the Spaghetti House Siege went from drama to farce.

On 28th September 1975 Nigerian born Franklin Davies with two accomplices raided the Knightsbridge branch of Spaghetti House.

Almost inviting robbery the fledgling restaurant chain would summon the managers of their four branches to pay their week’s takings, a total of £13,000, in cash, to their head office in Knightsbridge.

[D]URING the raid by Davies, one of the waiters escaped and raised the alarm, prompting the robbers to take nine hostages into the basement.

The media were in their element: prime location, multi-ethnic case (many of the staff were Italian); with Davies claiming to be a member of the Black Liberation Army (an organisation which did not exist in Britain), demanding a plane to fly them to Jamaica.

The police managed to get to use a new toy – fibre-optic surveillance. The authorities were not likely to accede to the robber’s demands. After all nine had been murdered in Northern Ireland the previous day, and the IRA had been taking pot shots at the porticos of gentlemen’s clubs in St. James’s, an outrageous assault on the establishment.

The siege lasted six days before they gave up and were arrested, partly due to being given false information that one of Davies’s accomplices as selling information to the newspapers.

They received a total of 57 years for their failed endeavour.


Winston Churchill in top hat at the Siege of Sidney Street

The Siege of Sidney Street wasn’t such an overwhelming success. Home Secretary Winston Churchill ever keen to be seen taking control, especially as it was the first ‘breaking news’ story, played out in front of the media.

A fortnight earlier when the police disturbed a burglary at a jewellers shop in Houndsditch, three officers had been shot dead by one of the burglars.. His body was found the next day, murdered by his accomplices.

Following a tip-off, the police arrived at Sidney Street and having awoken the culprits by throwing stones at their bedroom window, they soon realised that their pistols were not matched in range or power to their adversaries’ arms. Churchill called in the Scots Guards from the Tower of London and Royal Engineers to blow up the house.

One policeman was shot in the chest and following the fire that ensued a fireman was fatally injured by falling masonry, and two bodies were found in the rubble. Seven men were put on trial but were acquitted for lack of evidence. The suspected ringleader Peter the Painter returned to Russia rising to become deputy head of the Cheka, the Soviet Secret Police.

Well-known is the Iranian siege, again in Knightsbridge, when the public first realised that we had an elite army regiment.


The Balcombe Street Siege

The Balcombe Street Siege by political dissidents is not so well known. Again it’s 1975, what was it with that year? Ross McWhirter, one of the twins who had started the Guinness Book of Records, an outspoken opponent of Irish republican movement, had been murdered by the IRA, and within 14 months, 40 bombs had exploded within the M25.

The expensive Scotts Restaurant in Mount Street had had gunshots fired through its windows, the police had been expecting a second attack on the restaurant and had flooded the Mayfair area.

Hailing a cab two policemen gave chase after the gunman’s stolen Ford Cortina. After many miles (hopefully, the cabbie had started the meter) they ended up not far from the terrorist’s original target near Marylebone Station.

Breaking into number 22b Balcolme Street they took the council tenants John and Sheila Matthews hostage and demanded a plane to fly them to Ireland. Negotiating was Peter Imbert, later to be made Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, who after six days persuaded the gang to surrender, with no loss of life.

Rumour at the time had it that the aforementioned use of the SAS had been suggested to the terrorists as a means of extricating them, and this focussed their minds, prompting surrender.

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