10 high profile crimes that shook Britain


London: The UK that has been considered as one of the most peaceful and secure place in the world has history of some high profile crimes and assassinations. 

From political assassinations and train robberies to pre-teens who became killers, these are the crimes that dominated the news of their time, British paper Mirror has recently reported.

Their macabre details were pored over by millions and discussed in households and workplaces across the country.

As Crime & Investigation Network prepares to screen Crimes That Shook Britain, starting tomorrow night at 8pm, we look back at some of the most shocking crimes in recent UK history…

1 – The Shepherd’s Bush murders – the Massacre of Braybrook Street







Harry Roberts Victims: Chris Head, David Wombwell and Geoff Fox all policemen Who Were Gunned Down In Braybrook Street In Shepherds
Harry Roberts’ victims: Chris Head, David Wombwell and Geoff Fox were gunned down in Braybrook Street, Shepherds Bush in August 1966





On August 12th 1966, three detectives in an unmarked police ‘Q’ car spotted a battered Standard Vanguard estate car containing three men parked in a side street near Wormwood Scrubs prison in west London.

Suspecting the men might be part of a planned prison break from the jail, and because the car had no tax disc, Detective Constable David Wombwell and Detective Constable Chris Head got out of their car to speak to the occupants.

After a few moments’ conversation one of the men in the car, professional criminal Harry Roberts, produced a hidden Luger pistol and shot DC Wombwell dead.

Detective Sergeant Fox tried to run back to the police car but Roberts chased him and killed him with a bullet to the head.

At the same time another of the car’s occupants, John Duddy, armed with a Webley revolver, ran up to the police car and shot dead Pc Geoffrey Fox as he sat behind the steering wheel.

The police murders sparked huge public outrage with demands that the recently abolished death penalty be re-instated.

 Funeral of 3 shot policeman and service at Scotland Yard. The funeral of the three police officers, Christopher Head, David Wombwell and Geoffrey Fox


Mourning: The funeral of the three police officers






Witney and Duddy were quickly arrested but Roberts stayed on the run, hiding in Epping Forest until he was captured in Hertfordshire three months after the massacre.

All three men were jailed for 30 years. Duddy died in Jail. Witney was released but murdered by another criminal in 1999.

Roberts, now aged 77, is still considered a risk to the public and remains in prison.

 Daily Mirror 1966 08 13th Massacre of Braybrook Street


Front page news: The Daily Mirror of 13th August 1966




2 – The assassination of Airey Neave



Airey Neave Conservative MP Aug 1973, chairman of the Member of Parliament
Victim: Conservative MP Airey Neave




 Airey Neave, a leading Conservative MP and shadow cabinet minister, was assassinated as he drove his car out of the car park under the House of Commons on 30 March 1979.




Airey Neave Tory Spokesman on Northern Ireland who was killed in car bomb as he left the House of Commons underground car park
Destroyed: The shell of Airey Neave’s car



A bomb, activated by a mercury tilt switch, exploded under his Vauxhall as the 63 year old politician drove up the exit ramp.

Neave, who had been appointed shadow Minister for Northern Ireland by Margaret Thatcher, died hours later from terrible injuries.

The Irish National Liberation Army, a break away group from the Provisional IRA, claimed responsibility.

The incident was the only ever murder of a politician inside the Houses of Parliament and caused public outrage.

Years later a debate raged over who actually killed him, with some politicians claiming Neave was murdered by MI6 and the CIA because he was going to expose spies inside Western Intelligence.

No one has ever been convicted of his murder.



Daily Mirror 1979 03 31 assassination of Airey Neave
Assassination: Daily Mirror front page on 31 March 1979



David Cameron’s ‘pain’ at talks with ex-IRA chief Martin McGuinness

3 – The murder of James Bulger



Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, the two boys jailed in 1993 for beating to death of two-year-old toddler James Bulger (pictured)
Toddler: James Bulger was abducted, tortured and murdered in Liverpool in February 1993



James Bulger, who was just short of his third birthday, was murdered in February 1993 by two ten-year-old boys who lured him away from a Liverpool shopping arcade while his mother was distracted.

The boys, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, led the crying toddler on a two and a half mile walk across the city to Walton.






Robert Thompson, 10 years of age, poses for a mugshot for British authorities February 20, 1993
Mugshot: Robert Thompson, 10 years of age, poses for a mugshot







Jon Venables, 10 years of age, poses for a mugshot for British authorities February 20, 1993
Murderer: Jon Venables in his police picture aged 10



 There, on a rarely used piece of railway, they used bricks and sticks to beat and torture him and finally killed him by repeatedly dropping a 22lbs piece of steel railway track on his head.

The killers then placed his body across a rail hoping people would think he had been killed by a train.

When he was found two days later his body had been cut in half by a freight train but police examinations showed he was already dead before he was run over.

CCTV from the shopping centre showed him being led away by the two older boys, who were soon caught.

Thompson and Venables were tried and convicted, becoming the youngest murderers ever in British history.



Daily Mirror 1993 02 17 Jamie Bulger
Haunting: Daily Mirror on 17 February 1993



“They’re sickos”: James Bulger’s mum’s shock as Facebook trolls mock toddler’s death

Fury of James Bulger’s mother as one of his killers sues News International over phone hacking

Kids escape prosecution

4 – Donald Neilson and Lesley Whittle




Undated police handout photo of Donald Neilson who has come in 5th in a top 10 list of arrests by British polic
Notorious: The Black Panther Donald Neilson



Nicknamed The Black Panther, Donald Neilson was a ruthless solo serial killer and kidnapper.

During 1974 Neilson broke into post offices in Harrogate, Accrington and the Midlands in the dead of night and shot dead three post masters while robbing their businesses.

In January 1975 he changed his modus operandi. He broke into a house at Highley, Shropshire, and kidnapped 17-year-old Lesley Whittle, whose wealthy family ran a coach firm.






Lesley Whittle, 17 years old, was kidnapped from her home in Highley, Shropshire, by Donald Neilson, also known as the Black Panther
Kidnapped: Lesley Whittle was later found dead




Neilson kept the terrified teenager hostage in an underground ‘tomb’ – a drainage shaft, in Bathpool Park, Staffordshire – while he tried to negotiate a £50,000 ransom from her family.

Through a series of blunders, the negotiations broke down.

Lesley Whittle’s emaciated body was found hanged by a wire noose in a drainage shaft two months after she had vanished.

Neilson disappeared but later that year he was spotted by chance by police patrolling in Nottinghamshire.

After a struggle inside a patrol car in which Neilson’s sawn off shotgun blew a hole in the roof, he was overpowered.



Donald Neilson Britains notorious Black Panther killer after his arrest for the shotgun murders of 3 subpostmasters and the kidnap and murder of heiress Lesley Whittle
Arrested: Donald Neilson after police caught up with him



Convicted of murder in 1976, he died in jail aged 75 in 2011.



Daily Mirror 1976 07 22 Black Panther
Convicted: The Daily Mirror on 22 July 1976



Donald Neilson dead: Cop who caught Black Panther serial killer says he should have hung

Black Panther serial killer Donald Neilson dies in hospital

5 – Harold Shipman



Dr Harold Shipman, Britain's most prolific serial killer, who murdered 215 of his patients using the drug Diamorphine over a period of 20 years
Serial killer: Dr Harold Shipman murdered more than 200 of his patients



 Family doctor Harold Shipman is known to have murdered 218 of his patients, but many believe the number over his career may have been 355.

Shipman, who was 54 when he was caught, worked in Hyde in Cheshire. He dispatched his victims at their own homes with deadly injections of diamorphine.

Eighty per cent of his victims were elderly women, but his youngest victim was a man aged only 41.

He got away with it for years because he alone signed the death certificates and because of a reluctance by officials to believe a family doctor could be a serial killer.

Concerns were first raised about his activities in 1998 when a local undertaker told police an unusually large number of his patients were dying. But an initial police investigation cleared him.

His undoing came the following year when he altered the will of an elderly patient who died making him the beneficiary of her £386,000 estate.

Shipman was jailed for life in 2000. He hanged himself in Wakefield jail in 2004.




Daily Mirror 2000 02 01 Harold Shipman
Unmasked: The Daily Mirror on 1 February 2000







6 – Mary Bell



Mary Bell, who murdered two small children when she was 11 years old
Schoolgirl: Mary Bell murdered two small children when she was 11 years old



 Mary Bell was only 10 when she murdered the first of her two victims in Newcastle in May 1968.

It was the day before her 11th birthday when she strangled four year old Martin Brown in a derelict house in the Scotswood district.

Two months later she killed again. Three-year-old Brian Howe was battered and strangled and his body mutilated.

Bell was arrested and put on trial, but pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.



Mary Bell, who murdered two small children when she was 11 years old
Killer: Mary Bell



 She was released aged 23 in 1980 and a plea to a court that her identity should not be revealed by the media was accepted by the High Court under what became known as the Mary Bell law.

She now lives under a new name in Britain and is reported to be a grandmother.



Daily Mirror 1977 10 15 Mary Bell
Escape: The Daily Mirror on 15 October 1977




7 – Fred and Rosemary West



Serial killers Fred And Rosemary West November 1995
Depraved: Serial killers Fred and Rosemary West



 The Wests, a sexually depraved and homicidal couple, were unmasked in 1994 after Gloucestershire police began investigating claims the builder had raped a member of his own family at their home at 25 Cromwell Street, Gloucester.

As the investigation continued a number of collections of human bones were found buried under floors and in the garden of the house.

Two of the bodies were those of the couple’s own daughters Charmaine and Heather.

The couple had also killed a number of other young women who they had picked up from the streets.

Although police think the couple killed 13 victims, there was only enough evidence to charge them with 11 killings.

Before killing himself in jail in 1995, Fred told witnesses he had killed 30 people, but police have found no evidence of other murders.

Rosemary West remains in jail.






Daily Mirror 1995 01 02 Fred West
Claims: Daily Mirror on 2 January 1995



Fred West’s former nanny reveals the true story of her survival 20 years on from the investigation

8 – Great Train Robbery



Scene of the Great Train Robbery at Sears Crossing in 1963
Crime scene: The scene of the Great Train Robbery at Sears Crossing



 In August 1963 a gang of robbers held up the Royal Mail’s Travelling Post Office train and stole £2.6 million in cash, equivalent today to £40 million.




The coaches of the train involved in the 2.5 million mail robbery - the "Great Train Robbery" - under police guard at Cheddington Station, Buckinghamshire
Too late: The coaches of the train under police guard after the robbery



No guns were used but when most of the gang were caught, the public outrage over the crime swayed judges to hand out 30 year jail terms.



Undated Thames Valley Police handout of part of the 2.5 million stolen in The Great Train Robbery
Haul: Some of the money stolen



Three of the gang, Buster Edwards, Charlie Wilson and Ronnie Biggs, spent long spells on the run after jail escapes.



Scene of the great train robbery at Sears Crossing in 1963
Money train: The carriages were a target



The robbery has achieved legendary status and been the subject of two cinema films, Robbery  in 1966 and Buster in 1990.

Many of the robbers are still alive but much of the stolen money is still unaccounted for.



Daily Mirror 1963 08 17 Great Train Robbery
Captured: The Daily Mirror on 17 August 1963



Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs told he’s a free man

9 – Lockerbie




December 22, 1988 shows a policeman near the cockpit of the 747 Pan Am airliner that exploded and crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland
Wreckage: The haunting image of the cockpit of the Pan Am airliner



On the night of 21 December 1988 a bomb planted in the hold of a Pan Am Boeing 747, flight 103 from London to New York, exploded as the plane flew over the Scottish market town of Lockerbie.

It had been hidden in the plane at Heathrow airport.

All the 259 passengers and crew on the plane and 11 people in their homes were killed in the worst act of mass murder in British history.

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi was convicted of planting the bomb at a special court in Holland.

It is believed the attack was ordered by the former Libyan leader Colonel Gadaffi.



Daily Mirror 1988 12 23 Lockerbie
Terrorism: The Daily Mirror on 23 December 1988



Lockerbie bomber’s conviction would have been quashed in appeal, claims TV documentary

10 – Fagan and the Queen




Michael Fagan, who broke into the Queen's bedroom at Buckingham Palace in March 1982
Intruder: Michael Fagan broke into the palace



On the night of 9 July 1982, the Queen woke up in her apartments at Buckingham Palace to find a man sitting on the end of her bed.

He was drunken cat burglar Michael Fagan, 31, and he later confessed it was the second time he had breached security to break into the supposedly ‘impregnable’ palace.



Buckingham Palace intruder Michael Fagan sat at the end of the Queens bed, barefoot and bleeding from a self - inflicted wound
Artist’s impression: Michael Fagan sat at the end of the Queens bed, barefoot and bleeding from a self-inflicted wound



At the time, the Royal family were under assassination threat from the IRA.

The crime was an extreme embarrassment to PM Margaret Thatcher and the head of Scotland Yard’s Royal Protection Squad was sacked.

Fagan apologised to the Queen and was sentenced to a short jail term.



Daily Mirror 1982 07 14 Michael Fagan


  1. Airey Neaves car was a Vauxhall cavalier, the wrecked car in the photo is a Ford Granada – may look dramatic but its wrong.
    The balooned out roof of his car remains etched in my memory – just google it.