“There is only one way to deal with the gangster mentality. You must show that you are not afraid...The element of beast in man whether it comes from an unhappy and impoverished background, or from his own undisciplined lustful appetites, will respond exactly as a wild beast of the jungle responds – to nothing but greater force and greater firmness of purpose.”
Sir Percy Sillitoe
Sillitoe used trials to demonstrate strength. He took his officers to court to show prosecutors that they should no longer be afraid of handing out penal sentences.
When the 6ft 2in police officer Loxley appeared in court next to a much smaller gang member covered in blood and bandages, it was intended to send a message. It was obvious the criminal had been assaulted, either during his arrest or in custody. But the police wanted to show the courts that the prosecutors should be emboldened to hand out more than just fines. In the Loxley case, the defendant was so badly beaten that his solicitor argued his client shouldn’t be charged with police assault, but attempted suicide.
The Sam Garvin gang accused of William Plommer’s murder slept on wooden benches with wooden pillows as they waited for trial. None were given blankets. In all, ten men stood trial accused of murdering or aiding in the murder. They included the Fowler brothers and gang leader, Sam Garvin.
The trial began on Tuesday 28 July 1925. As it unfolded, it exposed a criminal network that effectively ran the Sheffield underworld.
The murder weapon, the bayonet, had never been found but a handful of witnesses said it was wielded by Wilfred Fowler. His brother Lawrence was said to have used a truncheon. There had been 50 witnesses at the scene. A further 30 experts were called.
At the end, Mr Justice Finley sentenced three men George Wills, Amos Stewart and Stanley Harker to 27 years prison for manslaughter. The gang leader Garvin received 20 months for the assault he’d committed in the hope of having an alibi.
The judge sent the two brothers to the gallows. Wilfred’s daughter visited him in his death cell at Armley Prison, Leeds, the day before he was due to die. On Friday 4 Sept 1925, Wilfred was hanged.
Due to new evidence his brother Lawrence appealed. The Home Secretary rejected the appeal. Lawrence joined his brother at the end of a rope.