THE ATTEMPTED ARMED ROBBERY AT THE ABATTOIR
By Steve Barr
The weather on the morning of Thursday the 9th of July 1987 was simply glorious. The sun shone down from an azure sky. By 4.30am it was shirtsleeve weather. As the porters and drivers made their way to the Abattoir for a 5am start on that beautiful morning noone had a care in the world. But within a few hours all that was to change. Unknown to all except the police who were involved in the operation - P.T 17 tactical firearms unit, number 9 Regional Crime Squad (Flying Squad) and the assistant depot manager Mr. Brian Peake who was, very unluckily, in charge that week as the depot manager was on vacation in Spain, there was going to be an armed robbery at the Abattoir that morning.
Mr. Peake had been visited at work late the previous afternoon by members of the Flying Squad and informed that there was more than probably going to be an attempt to rob the Securicor wages van which was to deliver the wages of the Abattoir workers as usual the next morning at around 8.15am. The Abattoir was only one of the wages drops that the van was to make that day and it was estimated that it would be carrying around 50,000 pounds in cash. Mr. Peake was to keep this information a secret, telling none of the other Abattoir employees what was afoot because it was suspected that the gang may have an "inside man" working there.
The police had their whole operation fully planned. Under the codename Operation Kincraig an elaborate ambush was to be set-up in order to thwart the raiders and all possible escape routes would be covered. The main thrust of the ambush was to be launched from a parked rental Luton van with a team of P.T 17 officers and their dogs secreted inside the cargo box. This box had observation holes drilled into it in order to allow the team full surveillance of the area. Thus when the right moment came the team could heave up the roller-shutter and emerge from the back of the vehicle to intercept the raiders. On that fateful Thursday morning the day's work began at 5 am as usual and continued until around 7.55 am when the manager, Mr. Peake, called a halt for breakfast. All the employees made their way to their rest rooms and the office ladies arrived for their 8am-start time. Also at around this time the Luton van containing the P.T 17 team arrived and reversed into the loading bay. The driver and his assistant (two flying squad officers in white butchery coats and hats exited the van's cab and entered the little (manager's) office which adjoined the main office on the loading bay. The police were now fully deployed in their ambush positions ready and waiting for the arrival of the wages van and the armed raiders.
But in the meantime, unfortunately for the P.T 17 team in their van, a Co-op lorry had pulled up and parked in front of the covert police vehicle blocking any possible view of the raiders initial approach which, it was believed, would come from the woods to the front of the loading-bay.
At about 8.10 am the Securicor wages van arrived followed by the gang's getaway car. a silver Ford Granada Ghia, containing only its 24 year-old wheelman (driver). The wages van reversed into the loading bay and parked about 8 or ten feet away from, and parallel with the covert police van.
By this time the Abattoir employees had reached their rest rooms. The porters had gone to the canteen at the back of the building; the office workers were in the main office on the loading bank - the drivers in their small rest room which was directly in line with the action which was about to take place. Little did they suspect that they were to have ringside seats for the tragic spectacle which was shortly to unfold. Only one person remained working on the loading bay - Mr. Peake the assistant manager. During their visit the previous afternoon the flying squad officers had asked him if he would be willing to continue working after he had sent the other workers to breakfast. This, it was hoped, would make it appear that business was going on as usual and the raiders would not be spooked by a deserted loading bank. Bravely he agreed to do so. He was to move boxes of frozen chickens around in an area near to the door to the little (manager's) office and beat a hasty retreat into the office on the raiders approach. He did not have long to wait as events moved very quickly now.
One of the Securicor guard's, fifty-eight year-old James Anker (whom it was later revealed had been the victim of armed robbers fourteen times before) climbed out of the van to gather the wages bag for the Abattoir from a chute in the body of the vehicle. A guard inside would deposit this to him. At this point three armed raiders charged out from the inside edge of the wood that was directly in front of the loading bay and around forty feet distant from it grabbing and threatening the hapless guard. The raiders were wearing dark blue overalls and Balaclavas. They were equipped with awesome firepower. This consisted of a Franchi SPAS (Special-Purpose Automatic Shotgun) which was used by Italian specialist police units; a Browning self-loading shotgun which had been sawn-off and modified with a pistol grip rather than its original rifle stock and a nickel plated Smith and Wesson 686 .357 Magnum revolver. Meanwhile, the P.T 17 team in their covert Luton van glimpsed the raiders as they dashed past one of the spyholes in the side of their vehicle's cargo box. In an instant the rear roller-shutter of the van was thrown up and the team exited out of sight of the raiders. P.C Anthony Long was the first member of the team to exit the vehicle and glance around the corner of their van. He was armed with a 9mm Browning automatic pistol in one hand and carrying a shield in the other. About ten feet away from him he saw the Securicor guard and the three armed raiders. One of the gang was pointing his weapon at the stomach of the guard whilst the other two were hammering on the side of the wages van screaming for the guard inside to "open the f&emdash;&emdash; door and give us the money". At this point it was stated by the police that one of the P.T 17 officers behind P.C Long shouted, "stop armed police" through a loudhailer. Whether or not this warning was given became the subject of much controversy in the days and weeks that followed. What then occurred was that raider number 1 began to turn his head toward Long who then fired two shots in quick succession with his Browning pistol. Both shots hit the raider in the back and he fell mortally wounded. Alerted by the gunfire, raider number 2 started to turn toward the source of the firing but Long quickly loosed two more shots hitting him in the chest and head. He too dropped to the ground dying. Realising that he was caught in an ambush the third raider started to bolt from the scene in order to save himself but as he did so P.C Long fired another two shots. The first shot missed its mark and the second hit him in the side with the bullet lodging against his spine. As he ran around the van he was confronted by two P.T 17 officers armed with pump-action shotguns and he raised his arms in surrender.
Meanwhile the getaway driver, seeing the carnage unfolding in front of him and being unable to help his fellow gang members, sped-off up the Abattoir road bursting through a police cut-off team in Garland Road but was brought to a halt after being rammed by a police car near The Slade. The fugitive then abandoned the car and ran. Pursuing police officers chased him into the back garden of a house in Timbercroft Lane and brought him down with a well-timed rugby tackle. The garden belonged to seventy-five year-old Mary Peckover. Two officers were sitting on the getaway driver and a third was standing guard with a gun. Mrs. Peckover told reporters that 'The police stayed sitting on this chap and asked me for a cup of tea. I didn't know whether he was dead or alive so I said 'do you want three cups or four?' Still sitting on this chap they said 'Just the three please'.
In less than a minute the whole thing was over. Two raiders lay dead on the ground with their blood running down the yard of the loading bay. An ambulance which was on standby for the police operation quickly arrived and took the wounded raider to Greenwich Hospital where he was kept under armed guard. In the immediate aftermath of the incident police officers appeared from everywhere. There were scores of them all doing then- different tasks. Over the next few hours the shell-shocked Abattoir employees were each interviewed by detectives who took their statements regarding what they had seen and/or heard during the attempted robbery. A helicopter brought in Sir Kenneth Newman the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. He was given a guided tour of the scene and inspected the bodies of the dead raiders which still lay where they had fallen. Both had been turned over onto their fronts and their hands had been-tied-up behind their backs. The bodies were finally removed by the Co-op Funeral Department about three hours after the shootings had occurred. Until around midday no one was permitted to enter or leave the Abattoir grounds. Every possible entrance and exit was cordoned-off by the police. Once the cordon was lifted, however, the media besieged the whole area. This was a huge story. The incident had set a new record on mainland Britain for the number of deaths and woundings in a single incident which did not involve terrorism. On the following morning a twenty-nine year-old Abattoir employee, who was the brother-in-law of the wounded raider, was arrested on the premises and taken to Woolwich Police Station where he was quizzed for eight hours by members of the flying squad. He was released that evening without charge.
The tabloid newspapers that Friday morning were hailing P.C. Long a hero. The Sun newspaper carried the front page headline 'The Equaliser' with a photograph of the 9mm Browning automatic pistol used by the marksman to gun down the gang. On Saturday morning the newspapers were reporting that Long had shot a man before. This had occurred at the culmination of a police siege of a house in Northolt, Middlesex in which a man had been holding a little girl hostage with a knife. However, given that P.C. Long had fired six shots during the incident at the Abattoir, killing two and seriously wounding one of the robbers and not a single shot had been fired in return, questions were now being asked, not least by the families of the gang, as to the legitimacy of the shootings. There were cries of police execution and the demand for a public inquiry into the affair. Had P.C. Long broken the rules of engagement with armed criminals?
The police 'Gunlaw' which laid out the rules, as they then stood, for challenging an armed person, officially called the 'Minimum Force Doctrine' ordered that an officer should always shoot to disable rather than kill - an officer could face a murder charge if s/he kills a suspect when it would have been possible to 'stop' him with a wounding shot. Further, guns may only be fired as a last resort to prevent loss or further loss of life. An officer may never fire a weapon simply to detain an offender or prevent a crime only if they are convinced that the criminal is about to shoot someone. Furthermore, an officer must first shout 'Armed police! Stop or I will fire!' - even if it endangers the officer's own life. Only if this order is ignored can the officer fire his weapon at the criminal. Had P.C. Long followed these rules as far as reasonably possible or had he ignored them? The Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, ordered an independent police investigation into the shooting. This was to be carried out by the Essex police force under its Deputy Chief Constable James Dickinson. The Metropolitan Police were to have no part in the investigation. Every Abattoir employee who had been present during the incident was very thoroughly interviewed by the Essex Detectives and statements were taken noting everything that had been seen and heard during the incident. When complete the Essex police investigation into the shooting cleared P.C. Long of any wrongdoing and the result of the eight-day inquest into the deaths of the two robbers returned a unanimous decision on raider 2 and a seven-to-two majority in favour of 'Lawful Killing' on raider 1.
However P C. Long had become a marked man. Amongst the families and friends of the shot raiders and the South London underworld, feelings were running high. It was rumoured that the underworld had put a ten thousand pound price tag on the Policeman's head and that his home had to be given round-the-clock security. It is also interesting to note that during the interviews with the Essex Police conducting the inquiry into the incident each and every Abattoir employee was very directly asked if they had heard the alleged Police loudhailer warning to the robbers but, of some fifteen employees (around ten of whom were within fifteen feet of the shooting) not one single person heard the loudhailer warning or even a shouted one! For their parts in the attempted robbery the wounded raider was later found guilty of armed robbery and sentenced to thirteen years and the getaway driver to eight years imprisonment. Thus ended the saga of the Abattoir robbery. For those Abattoir employees present, and probably for everyone who was involved in whatever capacity on that fateful day, things would never be quite the same again.
this first appeared in the GIHS Newsletter for November 2003