Riot case: Harry Miles

Henry William Miles record

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

Henry (Harry) William Miles, aged 38, cinema operator at Gordon Street Electric Pavilion, of 7 Gloucester Road, Luton, was charged on July 24th, 1919, with: “On the 19th July 1919 together with divers other persons to the number of one thousand or more unlawfully and riotously 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.”



The July 24th hearing was told that Miles was arrested by Sgt John Matsell and on the way to the police station said: “I have been expecting this.”

Prisoner said he had nothing to offer against being remanded, but he would very much like to have bail. It was the first time he had been in trouble, and responsible people would stand surety for him. He had a wife and seven children, and also wished to try to get evidence to defend himself.

Chief Constable Griffin strongly opposed bail, and described this prisoner, who is holder of the Military Medal, as one of the principal and most violent leaders of the evening.

Appearing before magistrates on August 1st, when he was committed on bail for trial at the Assizes in October, Miles was said to have got on the parapet at the Town Hall and addressed the crowd on the Saturday afternoon.

Inspector Fred Janes heard prisoner say: “Don't go to Wardown. Our children are there. I am a revolutionist and a Bolshevist,” and asked the crowd if they wished him to lead them into the Town Hall or to London Road, where the Mayor's house was.

A great crowd followed him along George Street towards London Road. Witness went to the Mayor's house with the crowd, and there the police had considerable difficulty in keeping the crowd from climbing over the railings. Some did get over, but Inspector Janes did not see Miles outside the Mayor's house.

Inspector Herbert Hunt corroborated the evidence, with the exception that he did not hear Miles say he was a Bolshevist. He heard prisoner say several times that he was a revolutionist.

Sgt John Matsell said he heard prisoner say he was a “red-hot revolutionist”. Witness knew prisoner as a cinema operator, and a married man with a large family. The police had no record against prisoner.

Pc Albert Sear also corroborated, saying he heard prisoner say he was an out-and-out revolutionist, and would lead the crowd to the Mayor's house.

After Miles was committed for trial, the Town Clerk said that having regard to the fact that this man was a Military Medallist who had been twice wounded, had a wife and seven children and hitherto had not come into conflict with the police, he would agree to bail being given if the Bench thought fit. There would be an understanding that he was bound over to keep the peace until his trial, and made clearly to understand that his actions would have to be of the mildest possible character in the meantime.

Prisoner was of an excitable disposition, but there was something to be said for a man who had earned the Military Medal. He [the Town Clerk] was taking an unusual course, especially as prisoner was one of the men who produced the destruction and damage from which they had suffered. He did not know whether he was doing right or not. It was sometimes exceedingly difficult to know what to do.

Prisoner was accordingly bound over to keep the peace till his trial, and was given bail – himself in £10 and one surety.



In evidence before Justice Greer at the Assizes, Miles, who joined the Army in 1915, agreed there was an angry crowd at the Town Hall. One man asked the crowd to go to Wardown, and prisoner shouted: “For God's sake don't go to Wardown. This is the children's day. For God's sake don't go to Wardown.”

Prisoner did later say “I am a revolutionist. If you wish I will lead you to the Mayor's house.”

“God knows what made me say that,” said Miles. “I am not a revolutionist, and my military service shows that.” His daughter then appealed to him not to say he was a revolutionist, or people would say he was a Bolshevist, or something of that sort.

Prisoner admitted that since he had shell shock he was very excitable, and that sometimes it was a misery for his wife to live with him when he was excited.

In answer to Mr Hollis Walker KC (for the prosecution), Miles said his statement that he was a revolutionist excited the crowd. They cheered his appeal about Wardown but booed him when he said he was a revolutionist. When he said something about going to the Mayor's house they started along George Street with him, but he left the crowd and went home.

In response to the Judge, Miles said he was not a Bolshevist, and did not wish to be. If the country was in danger he would go again to fight.

Mr George Jackson, manager of the Gordon Street Pavilion, said prisoner's character as an employee was “most excellent”.



Sir Ryland Adkins (defending) said Miles was a Military Medallist, a patriot and a victim of the war. His first thought was for the women and children at Wardown. Then came exactly what was described by a medical witness this morning [Ovenell case]. A man suffering from shell shock could completely lose his head in a period of excitement and be incapable of any intention to do any particular thing.

His talk about being a revolutionist from birth was ridiculous in view of his record, and prisoner denied saying he was a Bolshevist, a statement attributed to him by one witness only. After his request about the women and children, his conduct was “all the noise and fury of a man who had completely lost control of himself,” and noise only, without any comprehension of what his words meant.

The Judge said it was an unfortunate series of events that brought prisoner to the Town Hall. As to the term Bolshevist, he thought there were very few people who understood what Bolshevism had meant in that unhappy country, Russia, and very few people, whether Socialists, revolutionists or whatever they called themselves, would ever desire to see anything in the nature of Bolshevism set up in this country.

Personally, he hoped the people in this country who took that view might be counted almost on the fingers of one hand. His Lordship did not suppose that even if prisoner used the word he knew what it meant or had any intention of urging the crowd to become Bolshevists.

The jury found prisoner guilty of rioting, but not guilty on other counts. Mr Hollis Walker said the police had nothing whatever against the prisoner.

His Lordship: “No one could have a higher character than was given prisoner by his employer. His participation was accidental and unintentional, although I quite agree with the jury that there was not sufficient to justify him from being relieved from the natural consequences of his conduct. I am going to bind him over in £10 to be of good behaviour for the future. (Applause in court was instantly checked).

Asked whether he was content to be bound over, prisoner replied with a smile that he was more than content. His Lordship: “Then you may be discharged.”


For more biographical details of Harry Miles click here.

How a tobacco tin saved the life of Harry Miles on a WW1 battlefield click here.