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The Siege of Sidney Street - 1911

The famous incident originated from the murder of three City of London officers on 16th December 1910 when they disturbed a gang of Latvian immigrants breaking into a jeweller's shop in Houndsditch.   The gang escaped, but one of their number, George Gardstein, died from gunshot wounds accidentally inflicted by one of his own side.   A manhunt then ensued for the gang, one of whom was known as Peter the Painter.

 On 2nd January 1911 the Metropolitan Police responded to information that the gang were hiding at 100 Sidney Street, but soon found themselves under gun fire from the premises.   The gunmen, Fritz Svaars and a man called Josef, has Mauser pistols which were far more accurate than the firearms used by the police.

 Reinforcements arrived from many other police officers, the army and indeed the Home Secretary Winston Churchill himself, who took personal charge at the scene.   This was  a reflection of Churchill's enthusiasm and character, as well as a reflection that the army was involved - Other Home Secretaries have tended to be more careful about leaving control at the scene of risky situations to the police, and preserving a less personal accountability to Parliament for police affairs.

In the end, after much gun fire had been exchanged, the premises caught fire.   The fire brigade arrived but were prevented from extinguishing the blaze because of safety fears.   Two bodies were found, one overcome by smoke, and one shot.   A wall collapsed and caused further casualties.   It was never certain how many of the gang had been inside the premises, but members of the gang were later arrested, but there was little formal evidence against them.   One woman was convicted, but even her conviction was allowed on appeal.

This was a good example of a large scale armed siege suddenly presenting itself as a previously unknown type of police operation.  Family traditions often quote ancestors who were involved at the scene, however much on the periphery.

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