Gunman held police at bay for 17 days
One unstable gunman in an isolated Shropshire farmhouse.
Outside, the police, the Army, and the assembled ranks of the national media.
The scene was set for what was to become the longest peacetime siege in modern British history.
And it was to lead to one of the most dramatic pictures ever published in the Shropshire Star as our chief photographer found himself looking down both barrels of a shotgun.
That picture was labelled Exhibit One in the court case which followed.
The siege began on September 18, 1968, at The Warden House, The Slade, Weston-under-Redcastle, when a man armed with a shotgun held his wife and four young children hostage and kept police at bay, firing several shots.
As so often, it was something relatively minor which rapidly became much more serious.
Constable David Wilkes, a motorcycle patrolman, followed an A30 van on the A49 after noticing it had no current road fund licence. There was a chase to Marchamley and then down a road towards The Rocks, a narrow lane which was blocked by an oncoming tractor.
The man brandished his gun at the police officer and tractor driver. As they dived for cover, he drove off to his home, where he was quickly surrounded.
Loudhailer appeals by police and his relatives were to no avail.
Police were aware the man had a history of mental illness and played a waiting game. The standoff lasted for 17 days.
Chief photographer Johnnie Johnson had been early on the scene to record the drama, training his long lens on the property in which the man was holed up.
The late Johnnie was to recall: “He appeared at the window, pointed his gun and fired at myself and a detective. I couldn’t believe it. I just managed to get one frame and I was off down the lane faster than the bullet came out of that gun.”
His photo, taken moments before the trigger was pulled, went round the world.
Not everyone was as lucky as Johnnie. As the gunman fired a number of times, a 19-year-old firefighter based at Wellington, Peter Wilson from Shrewsbury, was hit, and his arms and legs were riddled with shotgun pellets. Nearly a dozen were removed but over a year later he still had 20 in him.
At one point police with tear gas grenades boarded an Army Saracen armoured personnel carrier and drove up towards the farmhouse, while Superintendent Bob Landers of Wellington police, armed with a revolver and carrying a riot shield, approached from a different direction trying to distract the gunman.
The Saracen retreated after the gunman opened fire, shot off the radio aerial, and left them pinned down and unable to get out.
Superintendent Landers fired his .38 revolver at the roof of the house.
After what was described as a strategic withdrawal of the armoured vehicle, there followed a long waiting game.
There were some bizarre aspects. Post and a telegram arrived for the property – the postmen handed them to police. And the gunman was offered television, film and cabaret engagements by a showbusiness agent if he would end the siege.
When the gunman asked for beer, two drugged bottles were sent in. For whatever reason, they didn't do the trick.
Finally police lost patience and devised a plan to storm the building from two directions, with officers being briefed on the morning of October 4.
Things came to a head later that day when the gun was spotted being thrown from a window. It turned out that when relatives had gone in to see him, the gunman had left the shotgun upstairs. His brother went upstairs and threw it out of the window, after which police moved in.
After it was all over a special siege tie was created and distributed to journalists and police who had been there.
The resulting court case was held at Worcester Assizes on December 10 and lasted barely half an hour. The judge heard that the 28-year-old man, who admitted using a firearm to resist arrest and with intent to endanger life, and unlawful wounding, was suffering from paranoiac schizophrenia.
He was sent to Broadmoor for an indefinite period.
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