A lesson from modern English hstory was Sheffield in the 1920s, which was terrorised by gangsters. They lived in cramped back to back houses in courtyards which sociologists use as an excuse for preying on other poor people, but joining a gang gives power, a sense of importance, of belonging to something, money, possessions, prestige and low women being available.
The Sheffield gangs waited outside factories on pay day and took workers’ wages off them. Bookmakers operated outside factory gates with “runners” inside collecting bets for them and one made £75 to around a £100 each day even though it was illegal.
Percy Sillitoe in 1926 he became Chief Constable of Sheffield. He was credited with authorising “reasonable force” to break the hold of criminal gangs.
He recruited none Police often ex army men into an elite unit these were not part of the Police. I remember a family member telling me how a gangster was shoved up a chimney with fire still on and came down with no ears left.
Sillitoe noted: “There is only one way to deal with the gangster mentality. You must show that you are not afraid.”
His cops fought them like with like, but with batons, not knives. When two gang leaders were hung for murder and several more jailed for life, some with penal servitude, the streets began to quieten and Sillitoe was hailed as a success. But that wasn’t good enough for him.
He set his sites on the Empire, one of the most important cities in the world – Glasgow. So in 1931 he took over the oldest police force in the world the second biggest police force in Britain at a time when it was a world leader.
In his own polite words, Glasgow was “a city being over run by gangsters terrorising other citizens and waging war between themselves in the streets”. It was his job to stop them.
Glasgow was so bad in the Thirties that it was then the classic novel No Mean City was written.
The Bowery Boys, Shamrock, Bingo Boys, Govan Team, Baltic Fleet, The Redskins… on and on went the list of gangs in every part of the city.
Their weapons were hatchets, sharpened bike chains, open razors, lead coshes and razor blades stitched into their caps and lapels.
There was the Irish political problem too with many Glasgow families having emanated from there. A few years before the IRA had a gun battle with cops as they tried to free one of their own. Now they used the city as their supply point.
They were supported by huge gangs like the Norman Conks, but they weren’t alone. The biggest single gang at that time was Loyalist, Protestant, Orange and would end each day by singing God Save the King. They were the Billy Boys, led by Billy Fullerton.
Sillitoe addressed he problem by recruiting the toughest men he could find, telling them to get stuck in. They did this so viciously one wag called Glasgow police “the biggest gang in the world”.
Over the next 10 years, with the courts also dishing out heavy sentences, the gang problem would recede and Silitoe’s approach given much of the credit. He sees it differently.
One day in the late Thirties, the 40 or so Billy Boys were led through the streets by Billy Fullerton.
All drunk, all tooled up, but in Fullerton’s arms was a baby. Sillitoe saw his chance.
With a much smaller crew of cops, hour after hour Sillitoe tried to get into that armed and bloody group to Fullerton. Due to the particular bravery of one man, Sergeant Thomas Morrison – known by the gangs as Big Tommy – they did.
Found guilty of being drunk in charge of a child, Fullerton was jailed for 10 months. Once free he was a changed man. Some thought prison broke him. Others, including Sillitoe, thought that good family man Fullerton was ashamed of his offence.
Fullerton would go on to create a 200-strong band of Mosley’s Black Shirts until the fascist Mosley was interred. Then he signed up for the navy when World War II broke out and served with distinction, as did many other Billy Boys.
The era of gang rule was over.
Sillitoe was called the Hammer of the Gangs but there was more to him than that. One-by-one his men arrested and secured convictions against Glasgow councillors. Not for violence, of course, but for graft.
Glasgow Corporation was an almost entirely corrupt council with backhanders and brown envelopes. So many councillors were convicted that the Home Secretary warned him one more conviction and the government would abandon the council and take over its powers.
Perhaps we have a lesson in history here yet now Police just let Irish travellers rob copper cables from factories and lead of church roofs without doing nothing. We is buying these metals of these thieves?
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