- Assizes record courtesy of Mr John Gillespie, grandson of Insp Fred Janes.
Frederick Plater, 27, labourer, of 69 Chase Street, Luton, was charged on July 23rd, 1919, with “On the 19th July 1919, together with other divers other persons to the number of at least one thousand whose names are unknown then and there being riotously and tumultuously assembled together to the disturbance of the public peace, feloniously did unlawfully and with force begin to demolish and destroy a certain building, to wit a Boot Shop belonging to J. M. Brown & Co, contrary to Section 11 of the Malicious Damage Act, 1881”.
At the July 23rd hearing, Det-Sgt Arthur Bacon said he searched Plater's house and found the boots in a bedroom. He was later told at the police station that the boots had been identified as stolen and traced to his possession. Asked to account for this, he said he found them in Manchester Street.
The prisoner, said the witness, was seen among the crowd on Saturday night wearing clerical attire, which was produced in court and which had since been found at his house. When shown these clothes he said: “Yes, I was wearing them on Saturday night last, when the fire was on at the Town Hall.”
Prisoner: “I was helping to put the fire out and got hurt for it. I found these boots.”
Giving evidence against Plater in court on August 1, Chief Officer Alexander Andrew described the arrival of the fire engine, with himself and two men, at the Food Office, via Williamson Street. The engine, he said, was immediately attacked by the crowd, among whom he saw Plater, dressed in clerical attire. There was a bright fire, and prisoner, standing between the building and engine, was easily recognisable.
Witness heard Plater say to the crowd: “Come on! Get hold of the engine! Don't let them get away with it!” He was very conspicuous, partly by reason of his attire, and with two other men clambered on to the engine. Witness drew his axe and said to Plater: “If you or any others get hold of my engine, I shall use this – and I shan't use the flat end.”
The Town Clerk: “Did they get off?” Witness: “They did.”
The Chief Officer added that when he got the motor in gear again, he went astern, instead of (as the mob expected) ahead. A rush was made for the engine, and that was when the motor horn and lamps were badly damaged. Finally he got the engine back to the station through the crowd.
The Town Clerk: “All the crowd was not hostile, was it?” Witness (dryly): “Well, there was a fair amount hostile.”
Further evidence was given by Pc Roberts and two civilian witnesses. One of the latter described the loan of the clerical clothes to the prisoner, who, he said, had borrowed them before, and came to his house on Saturday evening, about six o'clock, to ask for them again. Witness said he lent the whole outfit – coat, hat, collar and stick.
The Town Clerk: “I did not know before this that there was a distinctive stick which clergymen carried.”
The owner identified the clothes, which were very muddy and damaged, and said they were not in that condition when he lent them to prisoner.
The second civilian said he was in the crowd in Manchester Street, and saw prisoner and other men attack the firemen, and especially Fireman Plummer. Prisoner had in his hand what looked like a police truncheon, and he ran towards Plummer with this weapon uplifted, as though to strike him. Almost immediately afterwards, witness saw the fireman go down.
Further details of the attack led by prisoner were given by Fireman Plummer, who said he was severely mauled and knocked over backwards.
Dr Archibald described the last witness's injuries, and said he was still receiving treatment and unfit for duty. He was one of the most seriously injured of the firemen.
A retired straw hat manufacturer mentioned that he was standing outside the Horse and Jockey [public house in Manchester Street] at about 1am. He saw “dozens of people” gather round the hose and cut it. Prisoner, in clerical attire, smashed the window of Messrs Brown's boot shop with a stick, and several people covered him while he did so. Then one of the others kicked the window, and it all went in. There followed a raid on the boots by the crowd, and witness saw prisoner come out of the crowd with two boots, which he handed to someone standing in a gateway farther along the street.
The Town Clerk: “It looks as though it was planned. He has the honour of having the largest number of charges, and they can all be proved.”
Witness later saw prisoner with some brown leggings. The Town Clerk: “Like Oliver Twist,he wanted some more.”
The witness was complimented on his observation of what happened, and it was said that if there a few more like him it would be possible to find out all about the trouble.
Prisoner was said to have brandished his stick, and offered to take on three people, whom he would lay out, as he had “the three cops round the corner”.
Mr C. H. Osborne (to witness): “Did you take him on?” Witness: “I should have tackled him if I had been alone.”
To Warrant-Sgt Speight prisoner denied having any stolen boots, but some were found at a bedroom at his house, and these were identified by Messrs Brown's manager, who said the boots missing on Monday were valued in total at £128 9s 9d, apart from other damage.
Mr Barber (for the defendant) asked for prisoner to be given bail, as he has a wife and three children, but it was refused. He was committed for trial at the Beds Assizes in October.
AT THE ASSIZES
At the Assizes, Chief Fire Officer Andrew, of the Fire Brigade, said prisoner was in clerical attire, and when the fire engine arrived he [Plater] clambered on the machine and said: “Come on, don't let them get away with the engine.” Witness threatened him with an axe, and said he would use it it on anybody who got on the engine, and that he would not use the flat end. “He got off,” said witness.
Then prisoner urged the crowd to take charge of the engine. Witness managed to get away with the engine, after finding it impossible, in the face of the hostile crowd, to get to work on the fire with the engine. The engine and lamps were damaged by blows, and four 100ft lengths of hose were lost at that time.
Witness said he recognised prisoner by the clerical attire. His Lordship: “You didn't see many clergymen there?” Witness: “No”.
Pc Robert Roberts said he saw prisoner at the top of Bute Street as early as 7pm dressed in clerical attire in company with another man.
Prisoner: “Who was the other man?” Witness: “I couldn't say. He was dressed as a woman.” (laughter).
Pc Horace Frost produced the clerical attire found at prisoner's home after the riot.
William Walker, an engineer employed by Messrs Hayward Tyler Ltd, said prisoner had borrowed the 'parson's uniform' on Armistice Day and other occasions, and on Peace Day borrowed them again.
The Judge: “What were you doing with the parson's clothes? Private theatricals?” Witness: “No.”
Witness said four of them were going to dress up for the Peace procession, but two did not turn up, so their scheme fell through.”
Det-Sgt Bacon said prisoner was told about the clothes and said: “Yes, I was wearing them at the Town Hall when the rioting was on.”
Witness, questioned by prisoner, denied that he suggested prisoner could help him by disclosing the name of the man who was with him.
Horace Albert Wilson, a hairdresser, said Plater ran out of the crowd and attempted to strike Second Officer Plummer, of the Fire Brigade, with what appeared to be a truncheon. Witness could not say whether he hit Plummer, but Plummer fell down in the road.
Jesse William Plummer said that after he got to work with the hose he was 'knocked out' by a blow in the face, which knocked out several teeth. While he was down he received other blows.
Dr Archibald said Plummer was brought to the police station, dazed from a wound in the face from a blunt instrument. His under-lip was split, and all the front teeth loosened. They subsequently had to be extracted. Both eyes were extensively bruised, there was a wound on the back of the head, and he was in a state of collapse. He was still not quite fit for duty, and had had to be fitted with artificial teeth.
Thomas Breadsell, a retired straw hat manufacturer, said he saw Plummer come with the hose, which was at once cut by the crowd. A second line was brought and the witness and a few others assisted in stopping damage to this.
Plater was there in clerical attire, and used a stick like a truncheon to smash Brown's window. Then someone near Plater come away from the shop with boots and hand them to someone in the gateway by the side of the Liberal Club. Then he came back, and witness next saw him rolling up some brown leggings, which he took to the same gateway.
Someone in the crowd hissed, and told him to leave the things alone. He turned round and challenged any three to come forward, saying he would “soon lay them out as he had the three cops round the corner”.
Warrant-Sgt Speight produced two odd boots found in a bedroom at prisoner's house after he had denied having any stolen property.
John Dunning Reid, manager for Messrs Brown, said the shop was considerably damaged in the riot, and a lot of goods taken. He identified the boots produced as taken from the shop.
DEFENCE AND SENTENCE
Plater, who pleaded not guilty, presented his own defence, although Judge Mr Justice Greer advised the jury this was one of the most serious charges they would have to consider.
Prisoner said he put on the clerical clothes, and visited two public houses. Then he want at 9.30 to his mother's house at 2 Chase Street and changed, leaving the clerical garments there. Afterwards he went to Wardown, left there at 10.40, got home about 4 o'clock, and, said prisoner: “That's all.”
His Lordship said there was a long interval between 11 o'clock and 4am. Prisoner said he only stood in the crowd, and that was all he remembered.
Cross-examined, prisoner said he was not wearing the clerical clothes during the disturbances at the Town Hall. The boots found at his home were some he picked up in Manchester Street, but he did not know at the time the boot shop had been broken open.
The statement that he got on the fire engine was false. Prisoner denied striking a fireman or anyone else, or touching the boot shop window with a stick and taking some boots. Everything said against him was absolutely false and he denied it all, as he was just an innocent onlooker.
Frederick Plater was found guilty of rioting, of malicious damage to the shop of Messrs J. N. Brown & Co Ltd, of stealing boots, and of assaulting Second Officer Plummer, of the Fire Brigade; not guilty of demolition of the Town Hall.
Inspector Janes said Plater served in the war from 1914 to 1918, when he was discharged owing to wounds. He served in France and Salonika for nearly four years. There were three minor convictions against him, the last in 1909.
Prisoner asked his Lordship to take into consideration his Army service of seven years, the fact that he had a wife and three children, and also the fact that he had been in custody 13 weeks.
His Lordship: “Yours is the most serious case I have yet had to deal with. You took advantage of this serious rioting for a series of very serious offences. I cannot think it right in the interests of the public, whom the Court of Justice have to protect, to give you a lesser sentence than three years penal servitude.