Sunday, 30 August 2015

“If I had two guns I would defy the lot of you!”: The Killing of DC Alfred Young

A hundred years ago, on 14 July 1915 around 10am, Hampstead police received a warrant for the arrest of Captain Richard Gorges. The duty of executing the warrant was given to Detective Sergeant Arthur Askew who took along Detective Constable Alfred Young as backup. Gorges was living at 1 Mount Vernon, renting two rooms from Henry and Elizabeth Caraher. Gorges was out when the policemen arrived and they decided to search his room. Askew felt Young was apprehensive, having been told by local resident Charles Thoroughgood that Gorges intended shooting dead the first officer who laid hands on him. On searching Gorges’ room, the policemen found good evidence for this threat when they unearthed and confiscated a service revolver and 197 cartridges. Elizabeth Caraher was concerned and asked what she should tell Gorges when he came home. ‘Nothing,’ said Young, ‘say you know nothing about it.

Number 1 Mount Vernon today
Alfred Young
Alfred Young was a West Country man. Born in Burnham, Somerset, he was living there with his parents in 1901, and working as a bricklayer. Soon after, he left for London where he joined the Metropolitan Police in 1902. On 2 November 1907 he married Bessie Agnes, the daughter of Police Constable George Lang. By 1915, Lang, Askew and Alfred Young were all based at the first Hampstead police station on Rosslyn Hill, roughly where Mulberry Close stands today. Co-incidentally, Henry Caraher had also been a policeman, but was now retired and letting rooms.

Alfred gains distinction in the Police Force
Alfred was on patrol during the early evening of 15th December 1908 near Swiss Cottage when he decided to follow two men. Their names were Lucas Garcia and Dennis White, both seamen born in Australia and of no fixed abode. They walked in a large circle: up Fitzjohn’s Avenue, across to Belsize Lane and then back along Daleham Gardens and Netherhall Gardens – where he lost them. Young decided to get his bicycle and resumed his search. It didn’t take long before he found White and Garcia on opposite sides of Belsize Lane. He rode by them but hearing a shout of ‘Hold ‘em up!’ he looked back and saw three men, one of whom ran away towards Swiss Cottage. Young recognised the others as the men he’d been following, when they walked past him as he pretended to mend his bike. Letting them get some way down the road, he remounted and was lucky to meet a fellow police officer. Together they challenged White and Garcia, who protested they’d done nothing. Suddenly White drew a revolver with the clear intent of firing; Young managed to grab his wrist and pointed the gun at the ground before disarming him. Searched at the station, the police found the arrested men were carrying two masks made out of cut up gloves. These came from a house that they’d burgled in Acton, as did the revolver.

The third man Young had seen running away was coachman Thomas Wood. In court, he said he’d been held up by two masked men, one of them holding what he believed to be a revolver and yelling ‘I mean it, I mean it. Hold ‘em up, hold ‘em up!’ He was so frightened he turned and fled. Because of a previous conviction, White was sentenced to five years and Garcia to three years in prison for the burglary, attempted robbery and attempted grievous bodily harm. Alfred Young’s courage was recognised when he was awarded the King’s Police Medal for Bravery in 1909. There was a very different outcome the next time Young came face to face with an armed man.

DC Alfred Young

Married life
Alfred and Bessie moved into what Alfred described to the 1911 census as, ‘a cottage, 3 rooms’. Their home at 6 Benham’s Place Hampstead, was one of nine terraced properties built in 1813 and forming a short cul de sac that still leads off Holly Place. Their daughter Lilian was born there on 7 April 1911.

Sadly Bessie died a few weeks later, on 13 June, in Hampstead’s Mount Vernon Hospital, suffering from endocarditis, a rare heart infection. She was buried in Hampstead Cemetery, Fortune Green Road. This left Alfred a widower, with a baby daughter, Lilian who was sent to live with Alfred’s parents in Somerset.

Richard Gorges
Richard Gorges was born in Boyle Ireland in 1874, the son of a prominent Anglo-Irish family. Like his father, he went into the Army and fought bravely in the Boer war.

Mount Vernon – the confrontation
Captain Gorges had been living in Hampstead for around six weeks when the arrest warrant was issued. In the evening, about 10pm on the 14 July, Young and Askew again climbed the steep hill to Mount Vernon. Young had taken the precaution of arming himself with a stout stick in case of trouble. They discussed tactics on the way and decided not to attempt an arrest indoors. When they arrived Gorges was in the basement kitchen. The landlady said, ‘Don’t go down, I will call him up, he has a revolver.’ Given this dramatic news and in view of what they’d agreed earlier, Askew was surprised when Young went into the hall. He had no choice but to follow and the two men started down the unlit stairs.

Gorges had returned around 8pm in the company of a young man, Alfred Muncer, a shop assistant whose parents lived in nearby New End. They had spent the day together, in upwards of twenty different public houses. Alfred who’d been drinking a mixture of stout, sloe gin and port, described himself as ‘almost drunk’, saying Gorges was ‘very drunk’ on stout and beer. He could walk but only with help. When the landlady told Gorges the police had visited the house, Muncer suggested that he pack a bag and leave, and decide later if he should come back to face any charges.
It was then the Captain discovered his gun and cartridges had gone. He was furious and loaded another small Smith and Weston revolver he was carrying, telling Muncer he’d ‘go down and frighten the life out of them (the Carahers).’

Gorges interrogated his nervous landlady and following DC Young’s advice, she said she’d no idea what had happened. He accused Henry Caraher of taking the gun but he said he’d been out all day. Gorges behaved like a madman, waving the loaded revolver above their heads: ‘He’d had plenty to drink. He even had three bottles of stout while he was talking in the kitchen.’

When the police started down the stairs, seemingly Gorges climbed up a few steps and waited in the shadows. Young didn’t see him and went past, towards the kitchen. Gorges was then between the two police men. Young turned and seeing a man close by him on the stairs, asked,
‘Are you Captain Gorges?’
‘Yes; who are you and what do you want?’
‘We are police officers, the other is my senior officer. He will explain.’

Gorges suggested they go to his room to talk, ‘we do not want these people to hear.’ Young agreed, saying ‘you go first.’ Gorges asked if he was under arrest and was told yes, he was. When Askew saw him fumbling behind his back he attempted to pin Gorges to the wall, grabbing his left hand. Gorges drew the loaded revolver from behind him and shot Young in the chest from about a foot away. ‘Young appeared for a fraction of a second as though attempting to clasp his assailant, and then reeled and fell headlong downstairs.’ He was dead almost as soon as he hit the ground. No more than a minute and a half had passed between Young and Agnew entering the house and the fatal gun shot.

The arrest
Askew jumped on Gorges forcing him facedown on the stairs, but he was still holding the revolver, yelling ‘Let me go you ….! I will give you something!’ Another lodger hearing the commotion came to help restrain the Captain, who finally stopped struggling and said; ‘I will go quietly; let me get up.

On the way down the hill to the police station, Gorges appeared contrite. ‘I hope I have not killed him. I do not care a damn about myself. I’m sorry if I have. I did not intend to kill him.’ In his statement he continued, ‘he tried to take the revolver from me, and he is dead. I had no intention of shooting him.

But he told another constable, ‘I don’t give a damn for the whole of the police force, and if I had two guns I would defy the lot of you.’ The next morning he repeated his threat, ‘How many police are there at this station? Fifty? Well I had enough rounds for them.

The inquest
Young’s mother Hannah had to travel from Somerset to formally identify the body of her son. Dr Spilsbury, the Home Office pathologist who had become famous from the Crippen case, confirmed death must have been very rapid.’ When Askew gave evidence of the attack at the inquest he broke down and wept. Charles Thoroughgood, who had warned Young about Gorge’s threats to shoot a policeman, said he’d only known the Captain a few weeks. Charles was another of Gorges’ drinking companions: ‘when men resembling detectives had entered public-houses in which they were, Gorges had remarked, ‘I’ll bet that is a detective. If they were to arrest me I would shoot them dead’. During the tea interval at the inquest, Charles claimed Gorges had reproached him, saying: ‘you might have cut out about threatening to shoot detectives.’ Gorges denied this, saying Thoroughgood (a professional boxer) was lying because Gorges had refused to back him in a fight.

The funeral
Alfred Young’s funeral procession started from the police station on Rosslyn Hill. It travelled a short distance to the Wesleyan Church at the corner of Prince Arthur Road (now demolished) for the funeral service. Alfred and Bessie had been married here. Alfred was described as ‘one of the best known and most popular officers in the Hampstead Division. His execution of his duties was always characterised by alertness and daring.’ There were many floral tributes and the streets were lined with people as the cortege started on its final journey to Hampstead Cemetery, where Alfred Young was buried alongside his wife.

Alfred Young's grave in Hampstead Cemetery
His headstone records the death of Bessie and bears the further inscription:
Alfred Young
Detective S Division Metropolitan Police
Who Was Shot Whilst In The
Execution Of His Duty.
 14th July 1915. Aged 35 Years.

The trial
Richard Gorges was committed for trial on 17 September at the Old Bailey, accused of the murder of Detective Constable Alfred Young. Neatly dressed in a grey lounge suit, he entered a plea of ‘not guilty.’ His counsel set out to convince the jury that on the night of the 14th Gorges was drunk and not responsible for his actions, while the Captain maintained his claim that the gun had gone off by accident.

The trial was delayed to allow time for a key witness, Major Ritchie DSO, to return to England. Ritchie testified that when he knew Gorges as a volunteer in the Matabele War, ‘he was normal’. When they subsequently met during Boer War, ‘he noticed a marked change in his condition.’ It was said that while in South Africa, Gorges suffered a severe case of sunstroke that had affected him ever since with headaches and the inability to hold liquor, particularly spirits. Gorges told the court, ‘when I drink spirits I am very bad as a rule. Spirits practically send me mad.’ He agreed with what Alfred Muncer had said, he’d been drinking heavily all day, and in addition to beer and stout, his tipples had included whisky and brandy. A Hampstead doctor gave evidence that he had treated Gorges for chronic alcoholism.

Gorges described the confrontation on the stairs. ‘The production of the revolver was the signal for a general assault on me. I would not let it go, and was very much enraged at such an unprovoked assault, as nothing was said about a warrant or arrest.’ (This directly contradicted Askew’s evidence). Gorges continued, ‘What happened in the struggle was that the revolver went off.’ When asked if he had intended to harm Young, Gorges emphatically denied this was the case.

It took the jury forty five minutes to bring in a verdict of manslaughter. In passing sentence, the Judge commented, ‘the jury had taken a merciful view of the facts. Murder was a crime of infinite variety, and the variety the prisoner had committed was near akin to murder.’ Gorges got 12 years: ‘The prisoner showed no sign of emotion, and when sentence was passed walked calmly down the stairs.’

A few weeks later Mr Justice Darling allowed Gorges to appeal against the conviction but told his barrister, ‘I have much sympathy with constables who have to arrest drunken men with revolvers.’ In the event, the appeal was dismissed. Gorges was released from Parkhurst on 13 March 1925. He died in London in 1944 and was buried in a public grave at St Pancras Cemetery, described as age 69, of no fixed abode.

A hundred years later
In July 2015 family and police representatives held a commemoration ceremony at Detective Constable Alfred Young’s grave, to mark the 100th anniversary of his death. In 2000, Marianne Colloms and Dick Weindling included Young’s tragic death in their ‘The Good Grave Guide of Hampstead Cemetery, Fortune Green Road’, which prompted a plaque to be made in his memory. This was discovered when Hampstead Police Station closed and hopefully it will be found a new home.

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