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Today in history… climax of ‘Spaghetti House siege’

12:00am | & Lifestyle

One of the most bizarre armed sieges in criminal history came to a largely peaceful end on October 3rd, 1975, after a tense five-day standoff.

The setting was the Spaghetti House Italian restaurant in London’s exclusive Knightsbridge district and the siege dominated daily news reports.

The restaurant was part of a small chain and each week the managers would meet up at the Knightsbridge branch to tally up the week’s takings before depositing it in the night safe at a nearby bank. This happened after the restaurant closed for the night, but several staff were there cleaning up when, around 1-30am, three armed men burst in.

Their leader was Franklin Davies, a 28-year-old Nigerian student who had previously served time for armed robbery. With him were 24-year-old West Indian Wesley Dick and 22-year-old Guyanan Anthony Munroe. All three had previously been involved in black liberation organisations.

Brandishing a sawn-off shotgun and two handguns, the men demanded the week’s takings of around £13,000, which staff had managed to hide under tables in the dimly-lit closed restaurant. The robbers forced the staff down to the basement to contain them in a single, secure place, but one – the managing director – managed to get away through a rear fire escape and immediately alerted police, who were on the scene within minutes.

Outside, the gang’s getaway driver realised the robbery had gone badly wrong and drove off in his stolen car. When police entered the ground floor of the restaurant, the three robbers barricaded themselves and eight restaurant staff into a rear storeroom, measuring just 14ft by 10ft, and threatened to shoot if police tried to force their way in. The Spaghetti House siege had begun.

Police cordoned off the area, with 400 officers involved, including specialist firearms teams. Negotiations began with the robbers, whose identity was soon established and who claimed to be members of the ‘Black Liberation Army’ engaged in a political act, rather than a criminal one. Davies demanded that two named black men be released from prison, but investigations established they already had been.

He also wanted Home Secretary Roy Jenkins to visit the siege and an aircraft put on standby to fly the hostage takers to Jamaica. His only successful demand was for a radio to listen to, but that would backfire on him. Fifteen hours into the siege one of the hostages, a 59-year-old man, was released “as a sign of good faith” and the following day another was let out after he became ill in the hot and cramped storeroom.

Unknown to the robbers, the police fed two small fibre-optic cameras into the storeroom through small holes from a neighbouring building, so they could both see and hear what was going on inside and tailor their negotiations accordingly. A forensic psychologist advised them on the state of the robbers’ minds as the siege progressed.

The police also worked with the media to drive a wedge between Davies and his two accomplices and demoralise the robbers. Radio broadcasts focussed on the criminal nature of the siege, made no mention of any political element and stressed there was no chance of the robbers’ demands being met. A front page report in the Daily Mail (pushed under the storeroom door) pictured Davies and described him as the gang leader. It included background information on the two other men, implying Davies had ‘sold’ it to police as part of the negotiations. In fact, they got it by tracing and arresting other associates of Davies.

It was clear from the surveillance that the robbers’ spirits were low and at 3-40am on October 3rd they communicated to police that they were giving up. After all the hostages were released unharmed, police told the three men to throw their guns out and come out one at a time. Dick and Munroe complied, but Davies remained behind and shot himself in the stomach with one of the revolvers. Rushed by ambulance to a nearby hospital, he was operated on and survived the wound.

There was more drama when the trial began the following June. When asked how they pleaded to the charges they faced, Davies shouted: “We’ve stopped pleading – we’ve been pleading for 500 years. This isn’t a trial – it’s a lynching party!” The three men then turned their backs on the court, refusing to accept its legitimacy, and talked among themselves.

The judge had them returned to their cells and a ‘not guilty’ plea entered on their behalf, but at the end of the three-week trial Davies, Dick and Munroe were convicted and sentenced to 22, 18 and 17 years in prison respectively. The judge refuted claims of any political motive and a co-conspirator (who pleaded guilty) said he planned the robbery to pay off gambling debts.

One of the Italian hostages was excused from giving evidence at the trial because he had developed a bond of friendship with Davies during the siege, even visiting him in hospital afterwards. The restaurant re-opened four days after the siege ended and was booked solid. It remained in business until 2015, when the block housing it was redeveloped.

The Spaghetti House siege was thought to be the inspiration for the first ever episode of popular TV series “Minder”, screened in October 1979. Titled “Gunfight at the OK Launderette”, it saw minder Terry McCann and others taken hostage in a sweltering back room after a bungled robbery at a launderette results in a police siege.

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