Today we have a look at that old British Police tradition, the "Fit Up", meaning a frame up. Despite the long held view that British cops never do these kind of criminal activities, they still go on, regardless of the Police & Criminal Evidence Act (PACE). It must have been a very frightening prospect to suddenly find yourself in the Condemned Cell, for a murder you did not commit, and indeed, were never even near. Yet that it was what happened to a small time thief called George Frederick Thatcher. He was a safe blower, and he had managed to blow open three safes at three cinemas, on the same night. What he was not, was an armed robber. But his nightmare was to be found guilty of murdering Dennis Hurden in 1962, during a botched robbery.
Three armed bandits arrived in an Austin Cambridge - certainly had a few of them in my family - at the Royal Arsenal Co-op Society Depot in Mitcham, on November 17th 1962. Two bandits, armed, stormed into the office, whilst a third man, who was also armed, kept watch. Suddenly, employee Dennis Hurden arrived on the scene, and was told by the gunman on watch to stay still. But Mr Hurden did not and kept moving. The robber panicked and shot him in the face, killing him. The other two robbers came out with just over £500 and they sped off. They crossed a bridge where they had parked another car, but this attracted attention and a witness made a note of the number plate, as it drove off with the three men inside. This led Police to Philip Kelly. A Night Watchman witness thought he saw four men in one of the cars. Soon they had arrested John Hinton & Charles Connolly, but pressured Kelly into giving a fourth man. This was achieved by taking him up to the water tank in the attic of Tooting Police Station and repeatedly dunking him until he spluttered out the name of George Thatcher.
Thatcher was arrested but later released. He was then rearrested and charged with Capital Murder. On trial for his life at the Old Bailey in March 1963, he was defended by renowned QC Christmas Humphreys, who despite his reputation, had spent barely 15 minutes talking to his client throughout the trial. As to be expected, Police Officers swore his life away - a claim was made that most of the "evidence" against Thatcher was thrashed out in the station canteen - his three co-defendants naturally chose to stay silent, and that the Judge's summing up was biased against Thatcher. The others received jail, he received the death sentence. At this point, Kelly blurted out that he was the killer. This was ruled inadmissible and Thatcher was taken to the condemned cell, where he remained for four weeks. Kelly confessed to a priest that he was indeed the killer of Dennis Hurden, but again this was ruled inadmissible. Thatcher was reprieved, not for being innocent but because the Judge had made a mistake. Thatcher remained in jail for 18 years. Upon release, he met a woman and they moved to the West of Ireland. George Thatcher died in 2014. Subsequently, the officer in charge of the investigation committed suicide, and over 500 officers ended up leaving the force for corruption and suspected corrupt practices.