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VC/GC Diary

Welcome to the Victoria Cross and George Cross Diaries

 

Here we add daily diary entries on the anniversaries of when the Victoria Crosses and George Crosses were awarded.

GC Diary 2nd Nov

By victoriagreen068, Jan 1 2016 11:09PM

The GC diary for 2nd November contains the story of a policeman who was heavily involved in an infamous incident from 1952 which eventually led to the death of a police officer and miscarriage of justice with regard to the sentence given to the two perpetrators of the crime, which was only resolved in 1998, 45 years after the case.


The son of a policeman Frederick William Fairfax GC was born in Westminster, central London, on 17th June 1917. He attended St Mary’s School, Westminster, where he joined the 1st Westminster Wolf Cubs and later became a Boy Scout. He won a scholarship to Archbishop Temple School in Lambeth. A talented sportsman, Fairfax had hoped to become a teacher. However, his family could not afford to send him to college so he went to work for the then Westminster Bank before following his father into the Metropolitan Police in June 1936, around his 19th birthday.


Three months after joining the force, he became PC 1571 based at Peckham. After volunteering for military service in 1940, he became an instructor in the Royal Corps of Signals. A year later, he married and the couple went on to have a son. Commissioned in 1942 and posted to the Royal Berkshire Regiment, he was demobilised in 1945 with the rank of Captain. He then rejoined the Met, first as a uniformed officer in Brixton, then serving in the CID in Croydon.


On 2nd November 1952, shortly after 9pm, two men were seen climbing over the side gate of a warehouse in Tamworth Road, Croydon. They then climbed a drainpipe on to the flat roof of the building some 22 feet above the ground level. The alarm was raised and Detective Constable Fairfax, PC Norman Harrison and other officers arrived on scene in a police van, while two other officers arrived separately.


When told where the men were last seen, Fairfax scaled the drainpipe onto the roof. He was followed by PC Jamie McDonald, but this officer failed to negotiate the last 6 feet of the pipe and fell back to the ground. Fairfax could see the two men 15 feet away behind a chimney. He walked towards them, challenged them and grabbed one of them. The man, Derek Bentley struggled free and his companion, Christopher Craig fired at Fairfax, wounding him in the right shoulder. Fairfax fell to the ground but after they ran past him he got up, pursued them and knocked Bentley to the ground. A second shot was fired but Fairfax kept hold of Bentley, dragged him behind a skylight and searched him. He found a knuckle duster and dagger, which he removed.


McDonald, his fellow officer, made a second attempt to get to the roof and succeeded after being dragged up by Fairfax. Fairfax called on the gunman (Craig) to drop his weapon, but it was refused and he made further threats. Harrison, the other officer, had by now climbed onto a sloping roof nearby and was edging towards the gunman by slithering across the roof with his heels in the guttering. However, he was spotted by Craig who fired at him and a bullet narrowly missed Harrison’s head. Harrison ducked behind a chimney and dropped to the ground where he rejoined other officers. A group of officers then entered the warehouse building, ran up the fire escape and pushed open the door that led to the flat roof. Fairfax shouted a warning that the gunman was nearby but PC Sidney Miles ignored it and jumped from the doorway to the roof. As he did so, Craig fired and Miles was killed instantly. When Fairfax left cover to try to get to Miles, another shot was fired at him but it missed.


McDonald now crept forward and he and Fairfax managed to drag their dead colleague behind the fire escape exit. Harrison then jumped out and, from his position in the doorway, threw his truncheon and other objects at Craig, who fired at him. PC Robert Jaggs, who had climbed up the drainpipe, then reached the roof. He, too, was fired upon before joining the other officers. After briefly leaving the scene to get a police pistol, Fairfax quickly returned and again told Craig to drop his gun. Craig fired again, but Fairfax advanced firing his own gun. Craig then jumped over the side of the roof to the ground below, where he was arrested.


Fairfax’s George Cross was announced on 6th January 1953 when his lengthy citation ended: “The Police Officers acted in the highest tradition of the Metropolitan Police and gave no thought to their own safety in their efforts to effect the arrest of armed and dangerous criminals. DC Fairfax repeatedly risked death or serious injury and although wounded did not give up until the criminals were safely in the charge of the Police.”

Harrison and McDonald were both awarded the George Medal. Jaggs was awarded the British Empire Medal (Civil Division) and Miles was posthumously awarded the Queen’s Police Medal for Gallantry. The two would-be burglars, Derek Bentley, aged 19, and Christopher Craig, aged 16, were found guilty of the murder of PC Miles in December 1952. Bentley was hanged and Craig, because of his age, was imprisoned but later released, in 1963, after serving 10 years. This was despite Bentley being restrained by Fairfax when Craig fired the fatal shot at Miles.


On 30th July 1998, the Court of Appeal overturned Bentley’s conviction and his case was used to highlight the arguments against the use of capital punishment. The case had prompted numerous debates and newspaper articles, and a film called “Let Him Have It”, which came out in 1991.

Fairfax made a full recovery from his injuries and was promoted to Detective Sergeant on the day that he was awarded the GC. He was transferred to Savile Row, then to Streatham, before ending his police career back in Croydon. He retired in 1962 after 26 years’ service and then ran a tobacco/sweet shop before selling the business to set up his own private investigations agency. Fairfax Investigators Ltd, which proved a success, was sold in 1980. The Fairfaxes retired to Dorset, where he was an active Freemason. He was a keen boxer in his youth, and in retirement became a boxing judge. He died in Yeovil, Somerset aged 80 on 23rd February 1998, 4 months before Bentley’s conviction was overturned at the Court of Appeal. He was buried in the churchyard of St James the Great in Longburton, Dorset. His medals are privately held.

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