Harry Roberts, Harry Roberts, Roberts Roberts, Harry Harry

Why they chant the cop killer’s name
Ryan Kisiel
January 9, 2007

AFTER four decades in prison, a human rights group [?!?] is campaigning for the release of infamous cop-killer Harry Roberts.

Jailed for the murder of three police officers, Roberts is a man who would seem unlikely to garner much sympathy – but the Kennington-born prisoner has become a cult figure. RYAN KISIEL investigates.

COP killer Harry Roberts has become a South London cult hero even though he is one of the country’s longest-serving prisoners.

His name is regularly chanted at football grounds, has appeared in pop songs and is used by people to wind up the police.

Now, four decades after he shot dead three cops, campaigners are urging Home Secretary John Reid to release him.

A candlelit vigil was held outside Peckham police station in December to try to have the 70-year-old released before Christmas.

The “Let Harry Out For Christmas Campaign” was set up after the 10th anniversary of the day Roberts’s 30-year tariff expired.

Artist Mark McGowan organised the vigil with a dozen supporters.

He said: “Obviously he got sentenced to a minimum of 30 years and he has served 40. It seems as if it’s a political decision because he hasn’t had a parole hearing in 10 years. Whether or not we sing about it at football matches, there hasn’t been a hearing in 10 years. I grew up going to the terraces at Millwall and I was very familiar with who Harry Roberts was. I think the fact he has become a cult hero and a way that people can get at the police means that they don’t want to release him. Christmas is a time of forgiving and that’s why we decided to hold the vigil as we thought it was a time to let Harry out.”

    Mark McGowan is one of the UK’s most exciting artistes. His many works include ‘strapping a 27lb turkey to his head and walking backwards for eleven miles, circumnavigating south and central London, while using a loud hailer, with one of those walkie talkies attached, through which he asked fat people to eat less crisps, chips, sausages, hamburgers, pizza and coke and to try to eat more salad’; ‘marching through the streets of Camberwell and Peckham with a solo trumpet player playing a sad lament and holding ten foot high bamboo sticks with little cocktail umbrellas on top before petitioning Southwark Council for ‘no sky’ on the grounds that it’s too big’; and ‘lying down on the pavement at the Elephant and Castle, and rolling on his side, down to Borough High Street, over London Bridge, the Monument, down Gracechurch Street, on to Bishopsgate, Liverpool Street, and down to Bethnal Green Road, then all the way to the other end, down a side street, then on to Old Bethnal Green road and the gallery’.

    Genius or madman?

Born in Kennington in 1936, Roberts became infamous as the instigator of the Massacre of Braybrook Street when he shot dead three policemen in 1966.

Roberts and two accomplices were pulled over in East Acton after an armed robbery in Shepherd’s Bush.

PC Geoffrey Fox, Detective Sergeant Christopher Head and Detective Constable David Wombwell were all shot after Roberts feared they would find his handgun.

A huge manhunt followed and Roberts hid out in Epping Forest, Essex, and then headed for Bishop’s Stortford.

He was a soldier during the Malayan Emergency – a guerrilla war conducted by the Malayan National Liberation Army against British, Malayan and Commonwealth [including Australian] forces from 1948 to 1960. Roberts used the military skills he had learnt to avoid capture.

He was familiar with the Bishop’s Stortford area because he had spent part of his time there as a child evacuee during the Second World War.

Roberts eluded police for three months but was finally captured while he was sleeping in a barn at Blounts Farm near Bishop’s Stortford.

Convicted of the three murders, Roberts was sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommended minimum of 30 years.

The murders made him a folk hero to football supporters who clashed with the police in the 1970s. They often chanted his name to antagonise the police, singing: “Harry Roberts he’s our friend, he’s our friend, he’s our friend. Harry Roberts he’s our friend, he kills coppers. He kills the coppers two by two, two by two, two by two. He kills the coppers two by two, HARRY ROBERTS.”

Millwall FC historian Chris Bethell said: “Harry Roberts lived near to the club in Lambeth and some fans chanted his name as a way of winding up coppers. His name has often been chanted and he has some kind of local hero status to some supporters.”

Anarchists also adopted Roberts as a hero for killing policemen. His name features in anarchist band Chumbawamba‘s lyrics in Happiness Is Just A Chant Away.

The character of Billy Porter in the hit book He Kills Coppers [Soho Press, New York, 2001] by Jake Arnott is also based on Roberts.

This sub-culture of folk hero status is thought to have added to parole board and Home Secretary decisions not to release him.

In July 2005, he lost an appeal to the House of Lords over the use of secret evidence during his trial.

Currently in a low-security prison in Devon, he is considering appealing to the European Court of Human Rights to have his case heard.

One of Sgt Head’s surviving sisters, Edna Palmer, 83, said she “felt better” knowing he is being kept behind bars.

She said: “I don’t think anyone should be let out of jail if they have killed someone.”

When asked about the decision not to release Roberts, a Parole Board spokesman said: “With all life-sentence prisoners, the statutory test on whether or not to release them is whether it is necessary for the protection of the public that the prisoner be detained.”

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2021 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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20 Responses to Harry Roberts, Harry Roberts, Roberts Roberts, Harry Harry

  1. Dr. Cam says:

    It’s quite obvious that the decision to deny him parole is completely political and has nothing to do with him having killed three people.

  2. @ndy says:

    Actually, it’s a little more complicated, as the following article, linked above, I hope makes clearer:


    Police killer loses Lords appeal
    July 7, 2005

    Police killer Harry Roberts has lost his appeal to the House of Lords over the use of *secret evidence* to keep him in jail…

    Lord Bingham, Lord Woolf, Lord Steyn, Lord Rodger and Lord Carswell ruled on Roberts’ appeal.

    There was speculation the case, which was heard at the House of Lords in April, *could have implications for the use of special advocates in the future*.

    They have been used in *deportation cases* where secret intelligence has been used, and also in the controversial decisions *whether to keep foreign nationals detained under anti-terrorist legislation*.

    *They* are able to *see* secret material but are *not* able to discuss it with defendants or their legal advisers.

    [There are similar provisions under Australian laws, and harsh penalties for those found to be in breach.]

    **Human rights analysts have complained that detaining someone without telling them the nature of the charge or the evidence against them is against the nature of the UK’s justice system**.

    But last July, the Court of Appeal ruled the use of a special advocate in Roberts’ case was not unfair, even though the case did not involve national security.

    It said the safety of the sources of the secret material was at risk if Roberts or his representatives were able to see the evidence…


    In other words, the basis for the continued denial of Roberts’ parole is, in part, the result of the existence of ‘secret evidence’ — ie, classified information — to which he has no access and to which, therefore, he is in no position to challenge.

    Of course, human rights activists, civil libertarians, et. al., are concerned not just with the Roberts’ case, but the use of such arguments by the state in *other* cases, both present and future. By the same token, the government is not wanting to allow the Roberts’ case to set a legal precedent…

  3. Dr. Cam says:

    That sounds to me like they’ve used evidence from a jailhouse informant to justify denying parole. Is that informant’s right to anonymity (and, it would follow, their right not to be shanked for being a ‘rat’) lesser than Roberts’ right to know who has accused him?

  4. Reyfield says:

    Yeah, the bastards up stairs would love to have this vermin released back into public! Certainly isn’t doing the victims any justice – is it now?

  5. @ndy says:


    Re evidence from anonymous informant: quite possibly, yes, as “The Parole Board had said sources would be at risk if the secret evidence was handed over”.


    As for qs of (ethical and legal) principle… it’s not merely a matter of Roberts — or anyone else for that matter — knowing the ID of someone who may possibly have acted as an informant, but rather, that depriving someone of their liberty without telling them the charge or the evidence against them is supposed to be completely ‘foreign’ to modern notions of ‘justice’…

    Put yourself in Harry’s shoes. You’ve committed a crime. You’ve finished your sentence. Your application for parole is then denied on the basis of an allegation made by someone — but you don’t know who — regarding a matter — but you don’t know what. And so, you remain imprisoned. Or: you are being punished for a crime the alleged committal of which is based on untested evidence from anonymous sources.

    Fair? Just?


    It’s a ‘political’ case precisely in the sense that he’s in jail for murdering three men, *policemen*. When sentenced in ’66, the British Government had only recently abolished capital punishment, and the presiding judge made it quite clear that in imposing the maximum sentence — life — he meant just that: Roberts would remain in prison ’til he died, whatever the legal mechanisms might be that might allow Roberts to serve his sentence (30 years) then possibly be released. Beyond that, the basis for his continued imprisonment has ramifications not just for this case, but all cases under which the state seeks to use similar measures to justify the continued incarceration of inmates, whatever their crime, but with particular reference to issues of ‘national security’.

    That’s my reading anyway.

    (Incidentally, my interest in and awareness of his case was triggered by hearing Chumbawamba’s song many years ago and wondering ‘Who the hell is Harry Roberts?’!)

    Also: http://www.paroleboard.gov.uk/newsPage.asp?id=45


    ‘The bastards upstairs’ are the ones what want Harry to *remain* in jail!

  6. Dr. Cam says:

    But he hasn’t finished his sentence… He was sentenced to life in prison (with a minimum of 30 years) and if an independent judiciary has judged him to still be a danger to the community, he should remain in prison until such time as he is fit to be released.

    I understand your concern about him not knowing the charges against him, but it seems to me he is only unaware of the specifics – the general charge would be that he has not rehabilitated. It’s up to him to prove that he has, though I doubt that’s an endeavour at which he would succeed – from what I’ve read of him, he seems like a real dick.

    Besides the fact that the people he killed were policemen, he still murdered three human beings in cold blood. (I should point out that I don’t make a distinction between cops and people, but some people involved with the campaign to release him seem to)

    Frankly, the quasi-deification of him by some quarters disgusts me. Chumbawumba should be ashamed of themselves (for releasing Tubthumping, though this seems like a dubious cause to support as well)

  7. @ndy says:

    Yeah, Roberts hasn’t ‘finished his sentence’ in the sense that, while having served a minimum term, and therefore being eligible for parole, this has been denied him, for 10 years — an effective extension of his sentence by one third.

    His ability — or that of any other con — to gain access to the evidentiary basis for the denial of his parole is important in the sense that it is *precisely on the basis of this evidence* that he has been deemed a continuing ‘danger to the community’ / ‘not rehabilitated’.

    Whether he’s a dick or not, I’ve no idea. From a legal perspective, being a dick is not a crime mandating incarceration.

    It’s indeed true that Roberts deliberately murdered three *unarmed* men, policemen; from what I can gather, on the basis that, at the time of his interception by the unfortunate trio, he was armed, and faced the prospect of a lengthy sentence (15 yrs?) if arrested and convicted.

    As for Chumbawamba… if you listen to the song / read the lyrics, it’s not about Roberts at all; it’s actually about pop music and religion. The song makes a passing reference to him in the form of a parody of the krishna mantra (see title of post), a reference to Boy George’s then-recent — and passing — adoption of Krishna consciousness… ‘Happiness Is Just A Chant Away’ is taking the piss out of pop *s and fad religion.

    Finally, Roberts’ ‘quasi-deification’ needs to be placed in context: 70s football hooliganism, and resultant tension between police and supporters. As suggested, the chants of hooligans (to the tune of ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’, btw) is intended to be a wind-up. In bad taste, maybe, but that’s hooliganism for you.

  8. Terror says:

    There is something wrong here!!!!

    Jon Venables and Robert Thompson served only ten years for torturing and killing James Bulger.

    Lets go back to Sgt Heads sisters statement.

    She said:

    I do not think anyone should be let out of jail if they have killed someone.

    Therefore the same law should apply to all killers whoever they are. It is necessary for the protection of the public that killers should be detained. The Parole Board said it them self!!

    Its more than obvious that the decision to deny Harry Roberts parole is political, if he would have murdered Joe Bloggs in the street, Harry Roberts would have been released years ago!!!!

  9. @ndy says:

    G’day Terror,

    One obvious difference between the two cases that occurs to me is that Venables and Thompson were 10-year-old minors when they murdered James, whereas Roberts was an adult when he murdered Fox, Head and Wombwell. That said, the fact that Roberts murdered three policemen — as opposed to, say, three plumbers — was obviously a factor in his sentencing, as well as helping to explain his continued incarceration. But then, so are all crimes committed against police; which fact is proclaimed quite openly by the courts too (‘thin blue line’ ‘n’ all that).



  10. lumpnboy says:

    And of course the distinction is legendarily active in the Australian legal system: no-one believes that anyone – certainly no-one not-white – who had killed a cop would be able to use the kind of excuses deployed by Chris Hurley and get away with it. “I fell on him, your honour…he just split in two…sorry…accident…”

    I do make a distinction between cops and people, or people I care about anyway. The categories just don’t overlap.

  11. GLENCOE says:

    Nothing illustrates the pitiful state of British law and order than the decision by Jack Straw to hear Roberts’ parole application. This is what happens when you leave the business of keeping our streets safe to a band of ex social workers, human rights barristers and teachers.

    A point that always seems to be overlooked in this debate is that Roberts is still subject to his original sentence, i.e life imprisonment. The recommendation of serving at least 30 years is just that, a recommendation.

    This was a decision made by the judge at the time. It has been held to the head of successive Home Secretarys by those who are detached from reality ever since.
    (A point underlined by the fuckwit who walks round London with a turkey strapped to his empty head!)

    Don’t forget when Roberts was moved to an open prison he was sighted with the wife of Ronald Kray and others in an East End pub rather than on the farm he was supposed to be working on. Old habits die hard.

    Let’s get real with the situation in our society today, we cannot afford to give an ounce of concession to those who murder people with guns.

    As for a distinction between Police and anyone else in these situations, think of this; Police officers go to work for a similar salary to that of the average plumber. The difference being they go with the intention of keeping our streets safe for us to enjoy. They risk their lives daily in pursuit of this aim and deserve our support in this.

  12. duck monster says:

    As an anarchist, this sort of case gives me a headache.

    On one hand, man… killing 3 people kind of puts you in the really-bad-dude list. On the other hand, 40 years is a lifetime. Longer than my lifetime anyway.

    What’s gotta be remembered here is, that when a judge sentences someone they go something like “OK, here’s a jail sentence, by my reckoning [30 years] is the minimum term to ‘avenge’ the murder (rehabilitate/protect/whatever), and [life] is the maximum permissible”.

    So you have to assume, that at a minimum, the debt is essentially cleared (rule of law here: how long’s a fair sentence is a bit like asking how long’s a piece of string) and anything beyond that is NOT about punishment, but community protection or completing rehabilitation.

    IF the severity of the original crime leads to the parole board denying, then it’s in contempt of the court. Simple as that. That’s not grounds to deny, because it’s making a decision that belongs rightfully to the judge. It should deny purely on the basis that the guy’s planning on shanking people (or whatever) on release, or some other grounds that require dire measures.

    The fucker probably deserves to rot, but he’s done his time, and thus I think morally he should be freed.

    The guy’s a despised old geriatric anyway, he’s got no life ahead of him worth living. Just let the poor old coot out to live his last few years alone.

    He’ll probably wish he was back in the clink anyway.

  13. Well I have nothing to add to the article, I am a real life Harry Roberts.

    But it doesn’t end there. I am actually named after the killer! I’m eighteen but the original HR was at large when my father was at school in the 60s. My dad (Ian Roberts) then got the nickname Harry, which stuck for quite some time. He finally grew out of it but decided to pass it on to me. Nice of him…


  14. J.R says:

    Let him rot in jail.

  15. jaff says:

    I came across Harry Roberts’s story recently. I live in a Welsh speaking village in North Wales, there I was told the story of a boy called Harry Roberts who spent time on a farm nearby in the 40s / 50s. Not sure why, either because his parents died or left him or maybe he was an evacuee. He had relatives in my village which is why he ended up there. He got into trouble when he went back to London and killed three policemen…

    Does anyone else know of this Welsh connection ? Is there anywhere I can learn more about this man’s life before the murders ?

  16. Nicholas Reijerink says:

    He hasn’t served his term, just the minimum. He was sentenced to life.

  17. Kia says:

    Here Is the Evidence:

    Harry Roberts gunned down two unarmed police officers and an accomplice shot dead a third in West London in 1966. He spent 42 years in jail for his crime.

    In 2001, Roberts, who strenulously denies the allegations, gained day release from prison as a prelude to his full release, and asked Joan Cartwright and her family for work on their animal sanctuary, the Daily Mail reports.

    Although the arrangement worked well initially, Roberts allegedly began to terrorise the family, who were unaware they had taken in one of the UK’s most notorious criminals.

    The Cartwrights were soon being visited on a regular basis by hardened jailbirds who saw Roberts as a “folk hero”, the report said.

    The convicted killer repeatedly manipulated and terrorised the family, forcing them to help him buy a car and open a bank account, which he was not allowed to do.

    And when the family’s secret testimony prevented his release from jail, the situation took a nasty turn, the report said.

    Roberts, who realised the Cartwrights were the “secret witnesses” who had prevented his release, began making barely veiled threats during almost daily phone calls to the family.

    At the same time, the Cartwrights alleged, animals on the farm were brutally attacked. In one case, a horse was hacked in the head with an axe.

    Another horse was put down after its leg was broken and the family cat was electrocuted.

    A donkey died after its pelvis was shattered, probably with a baseball bat, and a peacock was strangled.

    “It was the first time in my life that I had really known fear. More than once Harry told us, ‘Everyone who has ever crossed me is dead’,” Mrs Cartwright was quoted as saying.

    Pressure is now being applied to the UK’s justice secretary, Jack Straw, to explain how Roberts was able to orchestrate the alleged terror campaign while still behind bars.

    Roberts may soon be out of jail on parole.

  18. louisrichards says:

    The question is when does punishment finish and vengeance take over harry roberts has already been out of prison on day parole and he’s done 42 years in the slammer it’s enough he’s no longer a danger to society his crime was more out of panic than premeditation i say let him out enough is enough you can’t bring back the three police officers louis montreal canada

  19. mark lord says:

    being an avid reader of real crime and especially crime in london, i’ve read a lot about this case and my view is that harry roberts has done his time and should now be released to end his life on the outside. i also think that he would have been released sooner had his victims not been policemen.

  20. Karl says:

    What’s the biggie? He killed COPPERS. It’s not like killing real human beings anyway.

    Whenever someone puts on the blue pig uniform he becomes an enemy of the people. He can no longer be “murdered”, just “put down”.

    Let him out!

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