Murdered on Duty
By Peter Saul
This article was published in the August 2017 edition of Soul Search, the Journal of The Sole Society
Ed: an article by Peter Saul on his ancestors in the police force appeared in the December 2012 edition of the journal.
Detective Inspector Harry Saul Stables and his colleague Detective Sgt T.W. Dale were murdered while on duty in Rochdale in February 1941. It was a most unusual case, and was reported in newspapers from Aberdeen to Cornwall. Most of the observations below are from the Rochdale Observer of early 1941. The perpetrator, who was 18 at the time of the offence, was caught and sentenced to seven years penal servitude. His counsel attempted to prove that no offence had been committed, but at the Assize trial the perpetrator pleaded guilty to manslaughter to avoid a murder verdict which, given the evidence, must have been very likely in a Jury trial.
I have a number of Sauls in my family tree who were policemen, first in Bacup Borough Police and later in Lancashire Constabulary. I am grateful to Pauline Milosevich, who has been researching family lines close to my own, and sent me this link: www.policememorial.org.uk/index.php?page=greater-manchester-police
Detective Inspector Harry Saul Stables was my first cousin, twice removed, i.e. he was first cousin to my paternal grandfather.
I have a copy of the 1894 photo of Bacup Borough Police, including Sgt. Daniel Saul and, next to him, P.C. John H. Stables. Joseph1, John and Daniel Saul had a sister Jesse Esther Saul who married P.C. Stables. Their first child, Harry Saul Stables, was born in 1898 and they had a daughter Esther in 1899. They were born in Stacksteads, Bacup2. In 1901, the family lived at Rose Street, Stacksteads. By 1911, Jesse was missing from the listing, while John Henry Stables was living at the address of his mother-in-law, Fanny MacNulty, with his wife Cornelia. Jesse Esther Stables had died in 1907 and John Henry had re-married. Oddly, Harry Saul Stables was listed as “son” of householder.
Harry joined the navy in 1916. After training, he was posted to the then newly built HMS Repulse3 as an A.B. number J.64215. Repulse took part in the Second Battle of Heligoland Bight4, 17th November 1917, an action between British and German cruisers; the Germans were protecting minesweepeers. When Repulse joined the battle, the odds were very much in British favour, so the Germans retreated under a smokescreen. One German cruiser, SMS Konigsberg, was badly damaged by a shell from Repulse. Harry was awarded the Victory and Defence Medals.
Harry Saul Stables’ ship HMS Repulse on manoeuvers in the 1920s
Harry Saul Stables joined Rochdale Borough Police Force on October 18th 1919. He transferred to the detective branch in January 1921, and was promoted to Detective Sergeant. In April 1935 he was promoted to Detective Inspector. He had eight commendations for his detective work.
Detective Inspector Harry Saul Stables shortly after joining the police
In February 1941, Detective Sergeant Brighton apprehended Raymond Haworth Bury. He told Bury that he was making enquiries about an explosion in the cellar of a shop. Bury was charged with that explosion and the theft of a Thompson sub-machine gun, 1200 rounds of 0.45in ammunition and 12 hand grenades, value £49.7s.2d, the property of the Government. The theft had occurred in November 1940, and Bury was questioned by Detectives Stables and Dale two days after the theft, but denied all knowledge of it. Bury was taken in for questioning. He denied all knowledge of an explosion and was remanded in custody. Detective Sgt T.W. Dale and Detective Inspector Harry Saul Stables took out a search warrant and investigated the premises at 58 Whitworth Street, in the possession of William Bury, Raymond’s father. Dale opened a box in the cellar, and as he moved a cloth, a booby trapped Mills bomb (possibly two or three) exploded, killing him and seriously wounding Det. Insp. Stables, Detective P.C. Scade and William Bury. Det. Insp. Stables died in hospital, Scale’s wounds were less serious than first thought, and William Bury lost an eye.
Detective Sergeant Dale, who also died in the explosion
Raymond Haworth Bury was charged with two murders and two attempted murders. In the magistrate’s court, it was stated that Bury wanted the weapons in case of an invasion, and his counsel made much of this. However, he had a long record of stealing firearms of many types.
The case at Manchester Assize, before Mr Justice Asquith, was reported in the Rochdale Observer for May 7th, 1941. Bury pleaded guilty to manslaughter, which was accepted, and he was sentenced to seven years penal servitude. His counsel, Mr Jalland, brought the defence that, in his view, no offence had been committed! Until 1861, that would have been so (he maintained), provided that the booby trap was in a dwelling house5, while an act of 1861 made it illegal to have a trap during daylight hours, but legal at night and in a dwelling house. The Judge, Mr Justice Asquith, commented:-
“You say that there was no offence of any kind?” Mr Jalland, for the defence, justified this claim with reference to the act of 1861. The Judge again said “You say that you can keep your mechanism going day and night, and provided it goes off only at night you have got a defence? Mr. Jalland: ‘Yes’.
Mr Jalland maintained that Bury had never thought for one moment that there would be danger to life and limb, but it was of course true that he made a thinner pin for one of the bombs to make it release more easily. The Judge questioned that, “How can anyone in his senses imagine that (i.e. no danger) with a live Mills bomb in a box like this? And this boy is one who knows something about it”. Mr Jalland “I should say “No” for a man, but this boy was then only 18 years of age….the explosion would have been greater had the box been above ground”. The Judge said “It was quite sufficient to kill two men”.
Mr Jalland went on to blame the unhealthy atmosphere of the previous two or three years when invasion seemed imminent. “I present him as a boy who has developed earlier than the ordinary boy in one direction, but less so in another6.
The Judge asked for statements indicating whether Bury had shown any remorse. His mother did so, while his Vicar gave a statement that could be regarded as at least ambiguous.
In summing up, the Judge said to Bury that, “when all is said and done, I think you are extremely lucky – extremely lucky that your plea to manslaughter has been accepted”. He sentenced Bury to seven years penal servitude on each of the manslaughter charges, to run concurrently, with the other charges of attempted murders and firearms offences to remain on the file.
Looking from this distance in time, and relying only on newspaper reports, that seems very lenient, especially so as he would then avoid war service. Had he not pleaded guilty to manslaughter, the case would have proceeded to the Jury. It is unlikely that the “no offence” defence would have been successful, and a guilty verdict was surely inevitable. That would have led to a death sentence.
From today’s perspective we should consider whether he could have been part of a ‘stay behind’ organisation (a group of armed resistance fighters who would be activated if the Germans invaded and lead a resistance movement), which were secret until very recently. It is possible, but his general behaviour suggests not, and those organisations would have been supplied with arms through official channels; possibly even the arms Bury stole. Their storage would have been more secure, in underground headquarters, and probably not booby-trapped, but that must remain speculation. They would surely have come to his defence, unless of course they did so by ensuring a lenient sentence.
In the magistrate’s court, Bury had said that he was not acting against the country’s interests, and was not selling the arms. Other youths, including several of his known associates, were convicted of a range of firearms offences later in the year, and it became clear that Bury had been dealing in firearms for profit.
When under arrest, he did not warn the officers of the booby trap, which he surely could and should have done. Instead he sent two experienced and highly regarded detectives to their deaths. His expressions of remorse only relayed through his counsel (“racked with remorse” etc.) suggest his remorse was primarily in being caught.
The judge was Mr Justice Asquith, Cyril Asquith, fourth son of the WW1 Prime Minister Asquith. The counsel for the prosecution was Mr G.A. Lynskey K.C. and for the defence was Mr. A.E. Jalland, K.C., instructed by Mr. Harold Riches of Oldham.
Detective Inspector Harry Saul Stables just before his death
1 Joseph, my great grandfather, died in 1984 before the photo was taken, of Enteric Fever.
2 Where my parents lived at the time that I was born.
3 Sunk 10th December 1941 by the Japanese.
4 I hadn’t heard of it either!
5 The premises had been last used as a dwelling in the previous August, and was not apparently in use as a shop either.
6A curious reference, possibly indicating that Bury was of low intelligence; but this was not brought as a defence submission.