Schoolmaster on riot charge

[Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph: July 29th, 1919]

This morning [July 29th, 1919] there were three more charges at the Borough Court arising out of the recent rioting. Councillor G. Warren and Alderman H. Arnold were on the Bench.

Wilfred Harry (Henry) Ovenell, 34, schoolmaster, of 73a Ashburnham Road, Luton, was charged with assembling with others on Sunday morning to make riot.

Inspector Janes stated that on Sunday he saw prisoner and told him there were very serious complaints that on the Sunday morning he was throwing missiles at the police and firemen in Upper George Street. He replied: “The rumour is all over town. It had worried me very much.”

He denied the truth of the rumour and then said: “I came in by the last train from town. When I reached George Street I found there was a very large crowd of people. I tried to get into Upper George Street to go home, when I was swilled with water. I sprang into a doorway, and two men assisted me. I stumbled and cut my finger on the broken window. I stood in the doorway until the water deflected, and then went back into the crowd, and found the friend with whom I had been in town. I stood by the chemist's shop and tried to prevent people walking in there.”

He was then asked if he was willing to go to the police station and be put up for identification. To this he replied: “What will it mean if I am identified?” Witness said that proceedings would be taken against him, and he then said: “I will come”.

At the police station the Chief Constable gave him the opportunity of standing where he chose among five other men. A young man was then called in, and without hesitation went up to him and said: “This is the man”. Later prisoner was arrested on a warrant.

He was very much upset, and asked: “What does this mean for me?” Witness replied: “It is up to you to disprove the allegations made against you. If you are guilty of throwing at the police and firemen you deserve punishment.” He replied: “I don't know whether I am guilty or not. I am all nerves through the war.”

Prisoner: “I don't know exactly what was happening on Saturday night. There is a perfect gap in my mind.”

Councillor Warren: “We have no other course but to remand you until tomorrow.”


George Heley, 22, sailor, whose home address was given as 25 Gloucester Road, Luton, was received in custody from the Chatham police. His head was extensively bandaged, and he received medical attention before he was brought into court.

He was charged with assembling with others to make a riot on the Saturday evening, and also with assaulting Pc Ellingham.

Pc 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 Ellingham stated 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.”

Remanded in custody.


Walter Wells, 52, labourer, 15 Mill Street, Luton, was charged with stealing two pairs of boots from the shop of James Neve Brown.

Det-Sgt Bacon stated that in consequence of certain information he obtained a warrant to search prisoner's home. Later he saw prisoner at a local dye works, and asked him where the boots that he took from Brown's shop on the night of the fire were. At first he denied having had any boots, but later said: “I will tell you true. I went there when the Town Hall was on fire. I took a pair of boots from the window, put them in my pocket, and went down the Liberal Club yard.

“I took them out and found one was brown and one was black. I took them back, threw them in the window, and then took another pair of black ones from the doorway. I believe they were size seven. I took them home, put them in the copper, and next morning at 4.30 got up and burned them.”

Prisoner: “I had a little drink. It is the first time I have been up here in my life. If I hadn't had some drink I shouldn't have been there.”

Remanded in custody.