by Simon Fowler
In July 1921 the national press reported that a:
Search is being made for a large open touring car, the occupants which last night are said to have fired at a police officer at Kew Green. The car, believed to contain three men, was proceeding towards Kew Green from the direction of Richmond when, at the crossroad it swerved to the right and passed rapidly along the Mortlake Road. Shots were fired by the occupants at a constable who was on patrol duty near the corner of Mortlake Road. The car is believed to have been occupied by Sinn Feiners, who, probably fearing that they had run into a police barrier, determined to run through it. A short distance further on a barrier had been put up. The officer who was shot at, but fortunately not hit, held a warning hand to the driver of the car, who, instead of slowing down, put on speed when the car swerved and the shots were fired.
The barrier may have been part of a search conducted by the police across London as they tried to track down a specific motor car, for reasons that remain uncertain. On the night of the incident barriers had been erected on Petersham Road near Richmond
Bridge, where drivers were stopped and asked to show their licences. Local papers reported that there was considerable grumbling by delayed motorists.
It is unlikely that the vehicle was driven by Irish terrorists as there were few at large in England. More likely the car belonged to a criminal gang, driving to or from a race track
where they operated protection rackets.
The real Peaky Blinders gang was one such organisation who operated in this way across the Midlands and the South East.
It was not unknown for gang-members to attack the police. Indeed, there had been an outbreak of violence in Salisbury earlier in July, which may have made the police determined to track down the gang members.
Fast touring cars gave villains the edge. With few, mainly elderly and slow, cars at their disposal, the Met found it hard to give chase.
In September 1920, William Horwood, the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police, promised a greater use of motor vehicles to bring gangs to justice: ‘…great developments are at hand, and the police cannot afford to be left behind in the race.’ But almost a year later few fast cars had been delivered. Instead, they had to resort to ineffectual road blocks as the criminals sped away in their touring autos.
Fortunately, no gun shots appeared to have been fired on Kew Green. The Richmond Herald, reported that: ‘the rumour is said to have had its origin in the back-firing of a motor cycle.’
This article was originally published in Twickenham and Richmond Tribune on 3 September 2022.