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The Tottenham Outrage
ImageA week that began in Tottenham for schoolboy Ralph Joscelyne and  PC William  Tyler exactly one hundred years ago ended with their funerals in Stoke Newington ....
If two young Russian wannabee wage-thieves had not chosen to rob a factory so near a police station, or right next to a busy High Road, they might never have murdered PC William Tyler or 10 year-old Ralph.  But the plan of Paul Hefeld and Jacob Lapidus to grab the wages of the factory workers at gunpoint led to one disaster after another. 

They started by skulking outside the gates of a rubber factory in Tottenham one Saturday morning, waiting for the car to come back from the bank with a bag full of money.  It was one hundred years ago, January 23rd 1909.  There was no Securicor van, no guards or helmets, no  alarms to protect the money in those days.  Every Saturday, the owner of the factory simply sent his chauffeur and Albert the office boy to collect the cash from a bank in Hackney.  But this time, amidst the hustle and bustle of Tottenham High Road,  Paul and Jacob were waiting for them - with guns.

ImageAs soon as the car arrived at the factory, Paul and Jacob reached for their their revolvers, grabbed Albert by the neck and snatched the precious bag of money from his grasp.  At once a huge chase across Tottenham began, with men, women and children all doing their best to stop the trigger-happy thieves. 

Police poured out of the police station to help;  people gave chase in cars, on trams, bicycles and horseback.  Try as they might, using bricks, poles and sticks to try and stop the robbers - one lady even lobbed a potato at them! - the pursuers could not put an end to the shooting spree.   Paul and Jacob were like wild men, firing their guns, hijacking a tram, racing across the River Lea, shooting one after another of the people trying to stop them - and killing two of them.   On and on went the chase: by the end of it, Paul had used his last bullet to kill himself, and Jacob too was fatally wounded.

What nobody knew was that there was something very unusual about these two young men: they may have been rubbish robbers, but they were men with a mission.  Like thousands of other Russians, they had left terrible conditions in their own country to start a new life.  But they still wanted to help people who were struggling to change things in Russia - and the thousands of people who had fled to London, only to find themselves working in the slave-labour style conditions in sweatshop factories. 

Paul and Jacob had joined a political group that was trying to change things, but that needed lots of hard work - meetings and leaflets, demonstrations and strikes - and it all cost money.  So perhaps Peter and Jacob decided to  steal money to help pay for some of those things. When the lawless Latvians snatched the wages and fired their way from Tottenham to Walthamstow, as they tore the hearts out of two families, maybe in their minds they were doing the right thing. In the end, they paid with their lives.

The Wrong Place at the Wrong Time
PC William Tyler, who had run out of the police station to join the chase, without so much as a helmet on, joined the crowd and tried to arrest the robbers.  "Come on", he said to the villains, "Give in, the game's over".  But those were his very last words before he was shot dead.   Just like PC Keith Blakelock, who would be called out on duty to a riot in Tottenham seventy-six years later, William was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And poor Ralph, who had been out helping a baker with his Saturday deliveries, was also in the wrong place at the wrong time.  A bit like 11 year-old Rhys Jones, who was caught in the crossfire between teenage gangs in Liverpool almost a century later in 2007, Ralph was shot dead as the robbers fled down Chestnut Road in a frantic bid to escape.

When William and Ralph were both buried in Abney Park Cemetery a week later, thousands of policemen lined the road from Tottenham to Stoke Newington, and the world came to a stop as people came out onto the streets to pay their respects as the coffins passed by.   

Exactly one hundred years after the shootings, another crowd stood in silence in the pouring rain beside those two graves in Abney Park Cemetery.  Police stood to attention, Reverend Niall Weir from St. Paul's Church in Stoke Newington led the memorial;  children from Earlsmead School, where Ralph was once a pupil, and officers from the Tottenham Police Force laid wreaths of flowers.  If you would like to know what Reverend Weir said, please click here

And if you would like to know loads more about The Tottenham Outrage, please click here.

A big thank you to Inspector Jonathan Clinch for all his help and to David Verry for the brilliant picture of Paul Hefeld, one of the robbers
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