“Who let ’em in?”
THE CRIME: The early 20th century saw an influx of immigrants from Russia and the Balkans to Britain. The government encouraged the eastern Europeans to come, much to the consternation of the indigenous population.
Crime levels began to rise among the immigrants and a group of Latvian anarchists under the leadership of Peter Piatkow — known as Peter the Painter — attempted a wages snatch at Schnurmarm’s rubber factory on Chestnut Road in London on 23 January 1909, an incident that became known as the Tottenham Outrage. On 16 December 1910 the gang killed three policemen — Sergeant Robert Bentley, 40, PC Walter Choate, 32, and Sergeant Charles Tucker, 46 — in a jewellery robbery.
A large manhunt resulted in several of the gang being arrested and an informant told police on New Year’s Day 1911 that other members of the gang were hiding at 100 Sidney Street. By 2am on 3 January 200 policemen surrounded the house and cordoned off the street. The gang had more and better weapons than the police and a contingent of Scots Guards was called from the Tower of London, the first time armed soldiers had been seen on the streets of the capital since Bloody Sunday in 1887.
When Home Secretary Winston Churchill heard that the military had been summoned, he was in the bath. He quickly dressed himself and hastened along to Sidney Street where he was met by chants from the crowd of “Who let ’em in?” He suggested that the house should be bombarded and then stormed by police and the army. This suggestion was not acted upon, however, as smoke began billowing from the top floor of the house. Churchill refused to let the fire brigade in to extinguish the flames. In a few minutes the upper floors collapsed.
100 Sidney Street, East London,England
2am Tuesday 3 January 1911
When the police entered the building they found the charred remains of Fritz Svaars and William Sokolow. OfPeter the Painter there was no sign. Churchill found himself heavily criticized for his role in the siege. The police later captured five more members of the gang but their prosecution was bungled and they were acquitted.