Riot case: George Heley

George Heley record

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

George Heley, aged 22, sailor, of 25 Gloucester Road, Luton, was charged that: “On the 19th July, 1919, together with other divers other evil disposed 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 of His Majesty’s subjects there being and residing passing and repassing and then and there unlawfully riotously routously and tumultuously did assault beat wound and ill treat Police Constable Alfred Ellingham whilst in the execution of his duty, against the peace of our Sovereign Lord the King, his Crown and dignity.”



He appeared before magistrates in Luton on July 29th, 1919, having been brought back from Chatham, Kent, with an extensively bandaged head that required medical attention before he appeared in court. He was remanded in custody.

Pc Alec Field said that when prisoner was handed over by the Chatham police, he said: “I was there on Saturday, and a 'civvy' hit me on the head with a bottle.”

Pc Alfred Ellingham stated that while the police were trying to keep the mob from forcing the entrance of the Town Hall on the Saturday night, he received two violent blows from the prisoner.

Prisoner: “I know nothing about that man at all. I didn't know I struck him.”

Later prisoner said he was a sick man, and had been brought straight from a sick bed. For this reason he asked to be let out till tomorrow.

Chief Constable Griffin: “The doctor is in attendance, and will see to him.” Prisoner: “I was brought from a bed, not a bench.” The Chief Constable: “The doctor has already treated him.”

In court again the following day, Heley was said to have been in sailor's uniform when he as seen by Pc William Wright trying to rush the Town Hall steps. Pc Wright, Pc Ellingham and other officers tried to stop him, and he then struck Pc Ellingham in the jaw, and said: “I will kill you”.

Pc Sidney Gardner said he received a heavy blow in the stomach from prisoner, who also struck Pc Wright. Witness saw prisoner on other occasions, generally in front of the crowd and urging them on.

Pc Thomas Simpkins said he was deliberately kicked in the lower part of the body by prisoner, who was one of the ringleaders.

Deputy Chief Special Constable Charles Robinson said prisoner had what appeared to be the seat of a broken chair, and with this he smashed some of the glass in the Town Hall windows that had not been smashed up till that time, and also tried to break the frames.

Accord to Dr William Archibald, Pc Ellingham was rendered unfit for duty for two days, and only fit for light work for the rest of a week. Pc Simpkins was in a collapsed state and in great pain. He was still only fit for light duty. Pc Gardner was violently sick after admission.

Prisoner was committed for trial on three charges, and no application for bail was made.



Pc William Wright said prisoner was among those trying to rush the Town Hall at 10.15pm. He threatened to kill a policeman, and straightway struck Pc Ellingham on the jaw.

Cross-examined by Capt Loseby, Pc Wright said he saw the peace procession in the afternoon, and Heley was in the naval contingent. Said Capt Loseby: “Suppose I could prove to you that Heley was not dressed as you say, you must have made a mistake?” Witness: “I've made no mistake.”

Pc Ellingham said he received two violent blows on the jaw from prisoner, who had been pulled off the steps several times. Witness was certain this was the man.

Pc Gardner said he was struck violently in the stomach by prisoner. They were then at the bottom of the Town Hall steps. Witness saw prisoner several times during the night, urging the people to make rushes on the Town Hall He also saw prisoner strike Pc Wright, but was too busy to see whether the constable was hit or not.

Cross-examined, witness said he did not remember seeing other sailors in the crowd. Questioned whether prisoner had a cap or not, witness said he had a cap at this time, but he later saw him without a cap. Witness said he had good cause to remember this man.

Counsel: “Sailors are like Chinamen, rather hard to pick our from another.”

Witness said he was present when blows were struck and was the recipient of one. Capt Loseby: “How far were you from him?” Witness: “Not far when he kicked me.” (laughter)

Charles Robinson, Deputy Chief Special Constable for the Borough of Luton, said prisoner greatly interfered with the police and smashed a window at the Town Hall, afterwards endeavouring to smash the frame. He was apparently using a chair bottom for the purpose. Prisoner was wearing a cap at first, but later it was knocked off.

Capt Loseby (defending) asked how witness knew that, and witness said he saw prisoner's cap knocked off by a police baton.

Re-examined, witness said he had not doubt about Heley, because after the baton charge prisoner came and said he was going to make a complaint, as four or five of the police had been knocking him about. Witness told him that if he had not been in the crowd he would not have been knocked about.

Dr William Archibald said Pc Ellingham complained of a blow on the jaw and another blow affecting the right knee. Pc Gardner had been struck in the face and stomach, the latter making him very sick. Pc Simpkins was in a state of collapse, suffering considerable pain and shock, as he had been kicked in a vital part, and he was off duty between a fortnight and three weeks.



In his defence, Heley said he was in the [Comrades of the Great War] 'Jack Cornwell' tableau in the procession. At night he found a bid crowd at the Town Hall. Something hit him a severe blow on the back of the head. Then everything seemed to get mixed up, and he did not know what happened till about 3am. At 3.30 he went home.

In response to a prosecution question, Heley said that when he came to he was in Wellington Street, leaning up against a shop window. Prisoner said he was at a public house 8 till 10 o'clock and had a “wet or two,” but did not count them.

Prisoner did not remember trying to get up the Town Hall steps, not did he remember striking at a constable. As to rushing with the crowd, he said he did not think he could be rushing about with his head laid open in the way it was. What happened after he was hit he did not know, but before that he did not assault any of the police or go near the Town Hall entrance.

Inspector Fred Janes said Heley was a native of Leighton Buzzard but came to Luton when 13 years of age. He joined the navy in 1913 and was wounded twice during the war. While on leave in June 1917 he was fined for wilful damage and for assaults on two policemen.

His Lordship said he was very sorry to see a man in sailor's uniform in the dock. It was a very rare sight to see a naval man, while serving or after serving, in the dock. Prisoner was there and unfortunately had a bad character for violence.

On this particular evening his conduct was very violent, and but for prisoner's age he would have felt it his duty to send prisoner to penal servitude. Because of his age and his good service he would only sentence him to 12 months imprisonment.