Riot case: Ernest Kempson

Ernest Kempson record

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

Ernest Kempson, aged 43, hawker, of 4 Taylor's Yard, New Town Street, Luton, was charged that: “On the 19th July 1919 together with divers other persons to the number of one thousand or more, unlawfully and riotously did assemble to disturb the public peace, and then did make a great riot and disturbance to the terror and alarm of His Majesty’s subjects there being, and against the Peace of our sovereign Lord the King, his Crown and dignity.”



Appearing before magistrates in Luton on August 1st, 1919, Kempson was alleged by Inspectors Fred Janes and Herbert Hunt and Sgt John Matsell to have used vile language in inciting the crowd, both in front of the Town Hall and at the Mayor's house.

To Inspector Hunt he said: “You've got your job with the pen. Why didn't you go into the Army? I'll knock your ------ brains out.”

When the crowd were told at the Mayor's house that his Worship was not in, prisoner's comment was: “You can't believe them. If I could have told lies like they can, I could have had their job.” He cheered the inflammatory speeches made by other prisoners, and repeatedly urged the crowd to “Fetch the ------ out!”

Prisoner, when charged, pleaded not guilty and reserved his defence. He had previously remarked, while Inspector Janes was in the witness box, that he would be content if the police could produce one independent witness against him. “Can you find one?” he asked.

“I consider I am an independent witness,” replied the Inspector. “You may be,” was the prisoner's answer, “but you area policeman.”

Kempson was committed to the Assizes in October, bail being refused.



Kempson, who was undefended, told the jury at Beds Assizes that he heard a lot of cheering at the Town Hall and went to see what it was about. He heard prisoner Gore say (this was about 3.40): “Why don't they give the old Workhouse men a treat?” Someone else said: “There's two more minutes to go.” And old man with a stick got up, but he could not speak, and wasn't there more than five minutes.

Then someone said “the hour was up” and suggested they should go to the Mayor's house. Kempson said he went with the crowd and might have been in the middle of the crowd. In the evening he went out again. Prisoner agreed he cheered some of the speakers.

Cross-examined, Kempson agreed that he was a bit excitable and wanted the people to know what he thought of the Chief Constable. He was not at the Town Hall when some other speakers spoke.

Prisoner agreed he got as near the front as he could, but he did not go with any grievance against the Mayor or Corporation. The only thing he cheered was Gore's speech about the old people at the Workhouse.

He denied that he cheered the suggestion that they should go to the Mayor's house, but he went with them. Prisoner denied that he incited the crowd to fetch the Mayor out, or that he said the police could not be believed. He only went there to hear what speech the Mayor was going to give.

Kempson was found guilty of rioting on one count only.

Inspector Janes described the prisoner as an associate of poachers and thieves, and of a violent disposition. He lived with a women who was a convicted thief, living apart from her husband,. He joined the Army in January 1918 and was discharged as medically unfit the following December without going overseas.

His previous convictions were for poaching (2), assaulting the police, common assault (9), street obstruction, wilful damage (4), gaming (2), street betting, using threats (3), obscene language (3), drunk and disorderly (2). At the Beds Assizes in June 1902 he was sentenced to five years penal servitude for rape [committed on April 21st, 1902, when aged 25 against a married woman, separated from her husband].

His Lordship: “Fortunately for you, the evidence does not connect you with the more serious part of this riot. But you have a very bad record indeed, and I cannot give you less than six months hard labour.”