Recalling the capture of a cop killer

PUBLISHED: 10:44 23 November 2006 | UPDATED: 11:14 06 May 2010

Sgt Peter Smith

Sgt Peter Smith

Comet reporter DAMION ROBERTS looks back at the arrest of notorious police murderer Harry Roberts ON a cold wintry morning 40 years ago 33-year-old Stevenage traffic policeman Sergeant Peter Smith set off from his home unaware that before the day ended h

Harry Roberts

Comet reporter DAMION ROBERTS looks back at the arrest of notorious police murderer Harry Roberts

ON a cold wintry morning 40 years ago 33-year-old Stevenage traffic policeman Sergeant Peter Smith set off from his home unaware that before the day ended he would become the most famous officer in England.

That was because on November 15, 1966, Sgt Smith brought to justice the infamous cop killer Harry Roberts after a manhunt which lasted 96 days and involved thousands of police officers countrywide.

Det Con David Wombwell

Roberts had instigated what became known as The Massacre of Braybrook Street in East Acton, London, in which three officers, Pc Geoffrey Fox, 41, Sgt Christopher Head, 30, and Det Con David Wombwell, 25, were shot dead by Roberts and an accomplice.

Sgt Smith, who is now 73 and still lives in North Hertfordshire, spoke at the time of how he found Roberts in a disused hangar near Sawbridgeworth.

He said: "This morning at six o'clock I left Stevenage with Pc John Allen, of Datchworth.

"We went searching Mathams Wood, and I was on the outside of the wood, about 500 yards from it, as part of an armed police cordon.

Sgt Christopher Head

"I was standing by an old disused hangar filled with bales of straw. I took out my revolver for my own safety. Nobody was with me.

"I began to search the hangar and as I walked through the bales of straw I noticed a bottle of methylated spirits. The time was 11.50am.

"I pulled a bale of straw down and then saw a little Primus stove, a torch and a Luger gun or pistol, and a few other odds and ends.

"Obviously someone was either sleeping there or had been sleeping there. I pulled another bale away - and below it was Roberts.

Pc Geoffrey Fox

"He was inside his sleeping bag. He made no response at all. As far as I was concerned he was just a sleeping bag, lying in the straw."

Sgt Smith poked Roberts and his head, complete with a gingery beard, stuck out.

"He came out and that was it, I took him away," Sgt Smith said.

Roberts was given a life sentence for the murders of three policemen in London and since his arrest has become something of a cult figure - inspiring numerous football chants and songs as well as being the inspiration for the character of Billy Porter in Jake Arnott's book He Kills Coppers.

Although his 30-year tariff expired in 1996, recommendations to release him have all been rejected though in September this year the Parole Board said that it hoped to have a decision on Roberts' possible release by the end of the year.

Sgt Smith's reward for catching Roberts? A nice steak supper, prepared by his wife.

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