CRIME FILES: Shot fired as Liverpool gang's Worcester sorting office raid foiled by police

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CRIME FILES: Shot fired as Liverpool gang's Worcester sorting office raid foiled by police

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ON the evening of Sunday, January 13, 1980, John Badger, a postal worker for 19 years, clocked on the night shift at Worcester sorting office expecting it to be much like any other. He was in for the shock of his life.

At around 10.15pm the doors suddenly burst open and in charged an armed gang from Liverpool, wearing balaclavas and bent on robbery. Within seconds John was on the floor with a pistol pointed at his head.

But then, in a scene straight out of the era’s favourite TV crime series The Sweeney, from behind sorting tables, machinery and other assorted hiding places, emerged the police, who had been tipped off.

A pitched battle ensued around the conveyor belts, bins and mail bags as pick axe handles and iron bars were swung, blows were given and taken and a gun was fired by a police marksman in an observation gallery, hitting one of the gang in the shoulder.

John Badger was later to say: “It was like Dodge City on a bad night.”

The sound of the gun knocked the stuffing out of the violence and four of the six Scousers were arrested inside the sorting office in Sansome Walk. Two managed to flee the building, crashing straight through a glass window and out into the road, but one, who had broken his ankle, was found shortly after by a police dog, which tracked his scent to the nearby Padmore Street Midland Red depot and on to a parked bus. The man must have realised it was not his night as he tried to hide under the vehicle’s back row of seats with a hairy Alsatian barking at him up close and personal.

The sixth member of the gang disappeared and although two years later police arrested another of the Hughes brothers they believed to be him, when 26-year-old David Hughes came before Hereford Crown Court a jury found him not guilty.

The trial of the other five defendants, which began at Worcester Crown Court in February, 1981, involved one of the biggest security operations ever mounted by police in the Midlands. The men were brought to the city under heavy armed escort from Birmingham’s Winson Green prison. Armed officers and dog handlers completely surrounded the Shirehall and every car in the vicinity was stopped and the driver asked to give proof of identity. Other officers searched everyone entering the building, while the entrances and exits to No. 1 Court were guarded by armed detectives.

The precautions were understandable, because following the raid, while the shot intruder was being treated in Worcester Royal Infirmary in Castle Street, police believed an attempt was plotted to free him. Late at night a patrol spotted a BMW car with Liverpool plates and four men inside parked in a nearby side street. When challenged, the driver sped off and the vehicle was never traced. The injured man was immediately taken from his hospital bed to the cells at Worcester city police station.

The holding charge for the gang had been assaulting postal worker John Badger with intent to rob in January, 1980, but by the time the case reached crown court the men had also been accused of conspiring to commit aggravated burglary at post offices in Worcester, Hereford, Warrington and Alton in Hampshire.

Before the court were car dealer John Hughes (aged 27), labourer William Hughes (33), labourer Gerard Canty (27) and unemployed Thomas Smith (34), all from Liverpool, plus unemployed Robert Hughes (33) of no fixed address.

The Hughes were brothers and William and Robert were twins. They were also charged with possessing a loaded Smith and Wesson Highway Patrolman revolver with intent to endanger life and Smith with causing grievous bodily harm to Detective Chief Inspector Roger Morris, who led the police team on the night and had two fingers broken in the fight when he was hit with a wooden stave.

Although the initial stages of the hearing were at Worcester Crown Court before Mr Justice Drake, the case was later switched to Birmingham Crown Court and Mr Justice Mais. Here the court was told the raiders plans were foiled by the vigilance of a Post Office engineer on a routine check, who noticed one of the sorting office windows had been tampered with, so cleverly as to almost avoid detection. It was near an area with a safe containing more than £100,000 in cash and securities. The police were informed and a stakeout was set up.

On the evening of January 12 two men were seen checking the window, but officers decided not to intervene in the hope they would return later with others to attempt the break-in. At 8.20pm the following evening six men were observed climbing on to a flat roof of the sorting office from an adjoining railway embankment. Unknown to them, a police team had been gathered in another part of the city and was swiftly transported to the sorting office hidden in PO vans.

Douglas Draycott QC prosecuting said: “It is believed the defendants originally intended to break in through the window and steal the valuable securities while staff were taking a tea break in the upstairs canteen in the early hours of the Monday morning. But because it was so cold outside they decided to go into the sorting office rather than wait.”

One of the raiders smashed a canteen window, released the catch on the inside and let in his accomplices. The six men then went down a flight of stairs to the sorting area and burst in on a pre-arranged signal. William Hughes, who was carrying the loaded Smith and Wesson, made straight for John Badger, threw him to the ground and pointed the pistol directly at his temple, while other members of the gang tried to overpower the remaining employees.

At this point, the police broke cover and in the melee that followed Thomas Smith was shot in the shoulder when the broom handle he was carrying was mistaken for a shotgun.

The gang all pleaded guilty to aggravated burglary and received jail terms totalling 50 years. In echoes of another crime/comedy series of the time, Porridge, the judge told them : ”You have all got long criminal records and I doubt if a long sentence will deter you from your wicked ways.”

While Thomas Smith came up with the Norman Stanley Fletcher line: “Well, I can hardly say I was going to post a letter, can I?”
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