Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The Sheffield Gang Wars

It would seem inconceivable that just after the first world war, that any English city would be plagued by gang warfare more suited to Chicago or New York.  Yet this happened, but not in London, but the Yorkshire city of Sheffield.  The feud was between two gangs, controlled by Sam Garvin and George Mooney.  They used knives and razors on each other and any person who ventured into their path.  This period of terror lasted a couple of years until a brutal murder and the execution of two brothers for the murder.  The year was 1925.

    A veteran world war one soldier, William Plommer, one night, just after the 1925 cup final, went out and faced a gang that was threatening him, his family and home.  Plommer was a very tough family man who would not back down to threats, but ultimately, it cost him his life.  Two brothers, Wilfrid and Lawrence Fowler were convicted of his murder and sentenced to death.  Just before his execution, Wilfrid Fowler made a statement clearing his brother of involvement in the death of Mr. Plommer.  However, this was not accepted by the authorities and the sentences stood.  On 3 September 1925, Wilfrid Fowler was executed, alongside Rotherham steel worker Alfred Bostock at Armley Prison.  Lawrence Fowler was executed the following morning.  The hangman was one of the Pierrepoint Brothers, from Clayton in Bradford.

    Now the authorities were determined to smash the gangs once and for all.  A new Chief Constable was appointed, one Percy Sillitoe.  This new Police Chief decided to fight fire with fire.  He formed a flying squad of the toughest officers he could find and they went out and harassed the gangsters, raided their homes and gave back in spades any violence shown to them.  This extremely tough approach eventually had effect and the gangs disbanded.  Some were still involved in crime for years to come, like George Mooney, but there was no gang mentality.  Sillitoe was then appointed Chief Constable of Glasgow and used the same tactics on the razor gangs there.  Sillitoe was rewarded for his successes by being made head of MI5.

    There has long been a dispute over the guilt of the Fowler Brothers, and indeed, another man has been named on a Sheffield forum as the actual killer.  What is not in dispute is that a gang of men, including the Fowlers, attacked Plommer and his home, so guilt could be shared amongst all, but two were given the ultimate sentence.

    I worked for a time with a lad from Sheffield, and he said his grandfather was involved in the wars.  He said his name was Sam Pearson.  I have not come across this name but it is still possible that he was.