Riot case: Charles Keen

Charles Keen record

  • Assizes record courtesy of Mr John Gillespie, grandson of Insp Fred Janes.

Charles Keen, aged 40, straw hat blocker, of 73 Highbury Road, Luton, was charged that: “On the 19th July, 1919, together with divers other persons to the number of one thousand or more riotously and routously did assemble and gather together to disturb the public peace, and then unlawfully riotously routously and tumultuously did make a great noise riot tumult and disturbance to the great terror and disturbance of His Majesty’s subjects there being and residing passing and repassing and then there unlawfully riotously routously and tumultuously did assault beat wound and ill treat Fireman H. Bates whilst in the execution of his duty, against the peace of our Sovereign Lord the King and his Crown and Dignity.”



When he appeared before magistrates on August 2nd, 1919, Keen was said to have been in the crowd outside the Town Hall early on the Sunday morning. He had his coat and waistcoat off, and several times deliberately threw stones and other things at the firemen in Upper George Street. He was not the only person doing this, and the firemen had to turn the hose on the crowd toi beat them back.

A stone hit Sgt Arthur Clark on the helmet and another hit one of the firemen. The sergeant said that bottles, pieces of plate glass and bit of iron and wood were also thrown, and matters were very serious indeed.

Corroborative evidence was given by Sgt Edmund Janes, who said that several firemen had to retire for medical attention. He was struck on the foot by a large bottle and in the stomach by a stone.

The court was told that prisoner had worked at Messrs Dillingham's for some years and returned there when he came out of the Army.

The Town Clerk: “Do you know that although he is a pieceworker, his employers paid his rent for him all the time he was away, which is a most unusual action to take for a pieceworker?”

Sgt Janes said said he did not know this, but some of the soldiers had undoubtedly been well treated by their employers.”

Chief Officer Andrew, of the Fire Brigade, said a man with his coat off was throwing stones, and was such a nuisance that witness gave him a good “sousing”. One missile thrown by prisoner struck Fireman Bates, whose considerably damaged helmet was produced. Bates was rendered unconscious and had to be taken to a doctor.

Later, Chief Officer Andrew was at Messrs Dillingham's premises for another purpose. There he saw prisoner and informed the police.

Fireman Bates said he was in Upper George Street about an hour before he was laid out. Stones and other things were thrown all that time. He received one blow on the elbow, and another on the helmet, which made him unconscious.

Pc David Riches corroborated as to prisoner being there in his shirt sleeves, one of a dozen who kept running out from the crowd, threw at the firemen and then got back into the crowd. Witness saw Keen throw a bottle which hit Chief Officer Andrew on the helmet. Parts of the broken bottle fell on witness and cut his hand.

Dr William Archibald said Fireman Bates became delirious after arriving at the police station, and for some time was in a precarious position. Chief Officer Andrew had many bruises.

The Clerk (Mr William Austin) remarked: “He might have killed either of these men.”

Keen was committed for trial and bail refused. Mr Barber (defending) pressed the application for bail, and in reply Mr Tomson said the Bench were afraid this man would run away, but this was a very serious charge; it might almost be said to amount to attempted murder. Bail would not be given in this case.



At the Assizes, Sgt Clark said that some days after the riots he saw the prisoner at the Dillingham's factory, asked for his name and address and told him he would probably be in trouble over the Saturday. Prisoner said nothing in reply to that.

Sgt Janes corroborated as to prisoner being in his shirt sleeves and throwing bottles, stones, wood and iron at the firemen. He was at it more than an hour, and a number of firemen were injured during that time.

In answer to Mr Stimson (defending), Sgt Janes said he had known the prisoner some years, and had always looked on him as a quiet man. “Do you say Keen struck you with missiles?” asked Mr Stimson. Witness: “No, I don't say that, but during the time he was throwing I was hit three times.”

Chief Officer Andrew said that at one time there was a rain of missiles, and at other times only a few. A man in shirt sleeves threw a missile which hit Fireman Bates and rendered him unconscious. Witness thought the missile was a bottle.

At that time the windows of Mr Clark's [chemist] shop had been smashed open. To keep this particular assailant quiet, witness gave his a good sousing of water. Later, witness had occasion to go to Messrs Dillingham's, and there recognised prisoner as being the man in the shirt sleeves.

Fireman Horace Bates said he was struck more than once by missiles, and was eventually rendered unconscious.

Pc Riches, who assisted the firemen in Upper George Street, said prisoner hit Chief Officer Andrew on the helmet with a bottle, and a piece of glass fell on his own hands, cutting both. Prisoner was continually throwing bricks, stones and other missiles.

Dr William Archibald said that Bates, when brought to the police station for attention, had received several blows on the back of the head and neck, and subsequently became delirious. For some time his condition was precarious. Chief Officer Andrew had also been badly knocked about.

In the case again Keen, Mr Hollis Walker (prosecuting) said that although the riff-raff of the town probably caused the most damage, undoubtedly some people of hitherto irreproachable character were carried away by the excitement and joined in the stoning of the police and firemen.

It was known that not only was this done, but that some of the ammunition came from near to where prisoner admitted he was standing, and where materials had been accumulated for a concrete building. It was wiser for respectable people to stay away from such scenes, for by their presence they hampered and impeded those who were trying to stem the trouble and encouraged and assisted those who were causing it.

Keen denied he was ever in shirt sleeves and throwing missiles at the firemen, and the defence set up by Mr Stimson was one of mistaken identity. Prisoner was found not guilty on all counts and discharged.