Police protest against release of double killer

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The Independent Online

Police organisations reacted angrily yesterday to the suggestion that a killer who shot dead two unarmed officers may be released.

Harry Roberts horrified Sixties Britain when he and his accomplices killed three policemen - two as they tried to get away - in front of children playing in the street.

Sentencing him at the Old Bailey in December 1966, Mr Justice Glynnes said: "I think it likely that no Home Secretary, given the enormity of your crimes, will ever think fit to show mercy by releasing you."

Three weeks ago, though, Roberts, now 64, was transferred from Ashwell category C prison in Leicestershire to Sudbury open prison in Derbyshire - a move paving the way for his release.

A spokeswoman for the Prison Service said: "He will undergo interview by the parole board where it will be decided whether he is eligible for release. It could be within a couple of years."

Roberts and the other members of his gang, John Duddy and John Witney, were on their way to an armed robbery when their van was stopped by the plain clothes police officers in Shepherd's Bush, west London.

As Detective Constable David Wombwell, 25, and Sergeant Christopher Head, 30, approached the van, Roberts pulled out a 9mm Luger pistol. He shot DC Wombwell in the head then shot Sgt Head in the back as he tried to flee. When Constable Geoffrey Fox, 41, tried to drive away, Duddy ran over and shot him through the windscreen.

Norman Brennan, head of the police pressure group Protect The Protectors, said that talk of releasing Roberts has outraged officers of all ranks. "It is an utter disgrace that this is even being considered," he said yesterday. "What justification can there be to release a man that has murdered three police officers?

"We are absolutely disgusted because this shows what little value is placed on the life of a police officer. Police morale is at an all-time low as it is, this news is sure to send it even lower."

Relatives of the dead men were appalled by the move. DC Wombwell's mother, Daphne, 78, who lives in Suffolk, said: "I have fought tooth and nail against him ever being released, but I'm not going to win this time.

"I'm horrified. A man like that being released, it's awful.... I was at the trial and sat two feet away from him. He showed no remorse at all."

PC Fox's son, Paul, who lives in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, said: "I think it's disgusting. He is probably going to make millions by selling his story. I am also scared that he will come after me."

Duddy died in prison in 1981 and the getaway driver, Witney, freed in 1991, died at his home in Bristol last August.

The Prison Service said that Roberts, who is reported to have said he is sorry for the slaughter, had "served a long time and the parole board would not be taking these decisions if he was not eligible".