- Assizes record courtesy of Mr John Gillespie, grandson of Insp Fred Janes.
William Dixon, aged 43, boiler maker, of 47 Hartley Road, first appeared before magistrates in Luton on July 24th, 1919, charged with: “On the 19th July 1919, together with divers other persons whose names are unknown to the number of at least one thousand then and there being riotously and tumultuously assembled together to the disturbance of the Public Peace feloniously did unlawfully and with force demolish and destroy a certain building there situate, to wit the Town Hall, belonging to the Mayor Aldermen, and Burgesses of the Borough of Luton, contrary to Section 11 of the Malicious Damage Act, 1861.”
In magistrates court it was said that Dixon was arrested by Police Sgt Arthur Clark, and said: I did not assist in breaking any windows. I was mad drunk, and did not know what I was doing.”
As he was being brought by the ruins of the Town Hall, he said: “When they started to break windows I was mad drunk or I should not have helped.”
Prisoner: “I have my wife here. She will give evidence where I was at the time.”
In court on July 31st, Pc Sidney Gardner said he saw Dixon in the street with others continually throwing stones at the windows of the Town Hall. Dixon then attempted to get into the rooms. He was in a very excited condition, and cried to the crowd: “Come on, boys, we'll give the ------ something.”
Other men attempted to get into the room but were prevented by the police. Dixon. However, got in, and a constable knocked him down. Witness than had charge of Dixon for half an hour and during that time witness attended to a cut on the prisoner's head. Dixon was afterwards taken to the police station.
Pc David Riches, whose hand was bandaged, said that when the police made the first charge on the crowd, people had been hammering on the doors to get into the Town Hall. Prisoner struck him on the eye with a stick, and witness retaliated with his truncheon.
Pc Alfred Ellingham said he saw Dixon inside the Town Hall. Chief Special Constable Charles Robinson hit the man with a staff and knocked him down, but as the Chief Special Constable turned to go through a door, Dixon got up and attempted to attack him. Witness, however, knocked him down.
Dr William Archibald said he attended Pc Riches, who had a black eye, his hands and legs were injured, and there were bruises on his body. Witness was still attending to the injury to the right hand, which had to be dressed daily.
Arresting officer Sgt Clark said Dixon responded: “I didn't assist in breaking any windows, but was mad drunk and didn't know what I did do.” When coming by the Town Hall, Dixon said: “When they started breaking the windows, I was mad drunk or I should not have helped them.” Prisoner was not a discharged soldier.
Cross-examined by Mr H. W. Lathom (defending), Sgt Clark said he did not know prisoner had been at one firm 22 years. The police knew nothing against the prisoner.
When charged, Dixon said: “I reserve my defence.” He was committed for trial at Beds Assizes, bail being allowed – himself in a bond of £20 and Mr H. Cumberland Brown JP standing surety to the extent of £50. Prisoner was also bound over in the sum of £10 to keep the peace.
AT THE ASSIZES
When Dixon appeared at the Assizes, Pc Gardner said he saw prisoner between midnight and 1am throwing stones and other missiles, and breaking the Town Hall windows. The prisoner climbed through one of the windows, and called out: “Come on, boys, we will give them something.” The fire was well on the go at the time.
Mr Hollis Walker (for the prosecution)” “What happened to him when he got into the building?” Witness: “He was knocked down by one of the defenders.”
Cross-examined by Mr Dryedale Woodcock (defending), Pc Gardner said prisoner was very excited, and appeared to have had a lot to drink, but he could not say prisoner was too drunk to know what he was doing.”
Pc Riches, who took part in the first police baton charge, said prisoner struck him over the left eye with a stick. In return, prisoner knocked prisoner down with his truncheon.
Cross-examined, Pc Riches said he only knew the prisoner by sight, and did not see enough of prisoner on that night to judge as to his condition.
Pc Ellingham said prisoner came into one of the rooms in the Town Hall. Special Constable Robinson knocked him down. When he got up, he seemed as though he was going after Robinson, so witness knocked him down.
Asked what happened to Dixon then, Pc Ellingham said he remained unconscious for a time. Dixon's part in the riot had ended then as far as he knew. The officer agreed with Mr Woodcock that he had “finished him pretty thoroughly”.
Dr Archibald said Riches was injured over the left eye, and also on both hands and legs.
Sgt Arthur Clark, who arrested Dixon, said in cross-examination that he had known prisoner as a steady, hard-working man who had on previous occasions assisted the police to recover stolen bicycles. He was surprise to hear that prisoner was mixed up in the riot.
VERDICT AND SENTENCE
Dixon was found guilty on all counts. Said the Judge: “It is with deep regret that I have to pass sentence upon you. Hitherto you have been a man of unblemished reputation so far as I understand the evidence, but it is absolutely essential the police should be protected against conduct such as you were guilty of on this occasion.
“It is not an answer to a crime of this sort to say that drink had taken away your sense of what you were doing. I regret to have to pass upon you a severe sentence, but if it had not been for your previous character it would have been very much more severe.
“The sentence upon you is that you be imprisoned in the second division for nine months.”
William Dixon was born in St Albans on December 22nd, 1877. He married Annie Field in Luton in 1899 and by 1911 the couple were living in Hartley Road with five children (three sons and two daughters). William resided in Hartley Road until his death at Fairfield Hospital on July 18th, 1966.