The Tranquil Dale Siege 1966

1966, 28 July: CS Gas used for the first time in the UK at a siege at Tranquil Dale, Betchworth. Bob Bartlett: Tranquil Dale is a small road of council houses off the A25 at Buckland, where for the first time in the history of the British police, tear gas was used.

It was in July 1966 during the World Cup when the incident started innocuously enough as these things often do. PC Palmer complete with shiny boots, new from the training school and on cycle patrol in Station Road at Betchworth, approached a man who was carrying a shotgun and asked him for his certificate. It has to be said this was not a normal thing to do.

The man levelled the weapon at the officer and threatened to blow him in half if he did not get out of his way. The man with his gun then ran off across the fields in the direction of Tranquil Dale whilst PC Palmer summoned assistance.

DC Brian Cane immediately recognised the person responsible from the description. He had recently been miffed when, making his way across a road, a car pulled up into the junction blocking his way. He did no more than hit the driver by punching through the closed side window of the car, smashing the glass and injuring the driver. He was big, strong and unpredictable.

Brian Cane arrived at the house and went straight in and started to go up the stairs. At the top of the stairs the suspect faced him with his shotgun and now a samurai sword. He invited the policeman to leave and encouraged him by firing the gun. The upper part of these houses are wooden and a hole appeared as Brian Cane made a hasty retreat.

The World Cup now becomes critical as Dad was down stairs watching a game on the TV, whilst outside nervous police officers were putting a cordon on the house. There was no such thing as a firearm's team to be called to the scene.

The siege was on and Superintendent Arthur Noel Smith who was already at the scene to take charge. More officers arrived but the numbers available did not seem to be increased as many were in people's houses drinking tea and watching the football. Dad was still watching his TV whilst his son took on the unarmed might of the Surrey Constabulary.

Some time into the incident a blue police Ford Zephyr arrived driven by PC Ginger Sherrin who had just broken all speed records from Guildford with CS gas to subdue the armed and dangerous villain. Negotiations continued, but remember this was some twenty years before the police developed the specialist negotiator role. Someone took the brave decision to use the gas. It was a brave decision when one considers that it had never been used before.

The gas was to be delivered by using a Very pistol, used during the war, and since, to deliver flares, etc. These are handguns with a short stubby barrel into which the gas cartridge is placed. You would not hit a barn door at twenty paces with one of these except by luck. It is probably true to suggest that there had been no training in the deployment of the gas, and no one had discovered how unsuitable the Very pistol was for the purpose.

The plan was set and agreed, and the superintendent in his gas mask was ready to go in to the house when the gas was introduced. The pistol was fired; the canister bounced off the window and landed at the back door where the superintendent whose gas mask leaked stood.

Dad did apparently come out before the gas was fired as the game was over and the man was arrested and sent to a hospital. No one was hurt and England won the World Cup.

The event was serious and probably one of the most dangerous in the area for many a year. Yet there was no national media attention and only a small piece on the front page of the local paper, the Dorking Advertiser, which carried no follow up story in the coming weeks.

It has to be remembered that this was the first time CS was ever used by the Police in the UK and not as frequently claimed in the Metropolitan Police District. A neighbour was quoted in the Dorking Advertiser: "There was an explosion and a great cloud of white dust sprouted through the wall over the chief inspector. He was unhurt but his uniform was covered in dust."


Surrey Constabulary
Dorking Division
4th August 1966

To the Superintendent


Shooting Incident at 13 Tranquil Dale,
Betchworth – 28th July, 1966 – Anthony Ernest SAUNDERS

About 5.10 pm on Thursday 28th July 1966, PC 458 Palmer was on duty near Betchworth Railway Station, when he saw a man, now known to be Anthony Ernest Saunders aged 28 years, of 12 Tranquil Dale, Betchworth, Surrey, walking towards the Railway Station carrying a 12 bore automatic shot gun. The officer said, "Good afternoon, where are you going with that? " Saunders said "Don't bother me boy, I am just walking up here ". The officer asked him if he had a licence for the gun and Saunders took the gun from his shoulder, laid it across his arm pointing away from the officer and he cocked the gun. He asked on two further occasions if the man had a licence and receiving no proper reply and considering there was something wrong with the man and needed assistance, he went to his cycle. Saunders then said, "Get out of the way, or I'll blow your fucking head off. " The officer telephoned for assistance and, together with other officers, I attended the scene. A search then commenced of the area and I then saw P.C. Palmer. I was accompanied by D.C. Cane at the time and from the description given, D.C. Cane suggested that Saunders might be the man responsible. Together we went to No. 12 Tranquil Dale. At this house D.C. Cane knocked on the front door and after some delay a man, I now know to be Mr. Saunders, Senior, came to the door. We asked if his son Tony was in. Mr. Saunders confirmed that his son was in and called up the stairs, "It's the Police, come down. " A male voice replied, "Not now, I am going to bed, come back tomorrow. " I then said to Mr. Saunders, Senior, "Can we come in and see him?" Mr. Saunders replied, "Yes, he's up there." (Pointing upstairs) As we entered the house I heard the same voice from upstairs say, "Tell them I am on Boxhill with a bloody machine gun."

I was in uniform and D.C. Cane was in plain clothes. I went up the stairs to a point where the stairs commence to go straight up. There are three straight steps at the bottom of the stairs and three of the turn left and then five straight steps at the bottom of the stairs and three on the turn left and then five straight steps to the stop of the steps. D.C. Cane was close behind me at the bottom of the stairs. On the landing I saw a man who I know to be Tony Saunders. He was standing just at the top of the stairs with his feet wide apart and staring down. He appeared to be very untidy and angry. Under his right arm he was holding a single barrel repeating 12 bore shot gun, in his left hand was a long sword, the point of which was near his left foot. The rifle (sic) was pointed at an angle down the stairs. He said, "Get out you have no right breaking into my house like this. You have no rights." I said, "Your Father let us in to speak to you put the gun down and come down here." Saunders said, "Get out or "I'll blow your bloody head off now." I went on to say "Now this is … " and before I completed what I intended saying I saw Saunders pull the trigger and a shot passed over my head. The muzzle of the gun was some 5-6 feet away from me and pointing down at me. I later saw a hole in the outside wall of the house and directly behind where I had stood. At the time this was not more than 9 inches above my head as I stood on the stairs. After the shot I said, "That was a silly thing to do". Saunders said, "If you don't get out I will shoot again". He again pointed the gun at me and raised the sword and pointed it at me. I then decided to leave the house.

By this time a number of other officers, including dogs, had arrived at the scene and they were deployed around the house. I saw Saunders walking around the house both upstairs and downstairs and on one occasion he came to the front bedroom window and shouted out, "Go away all of you I can hit you from here; you've no business here, go and do your job in London. Don't set foot in this house again." On one occasion I saw Saunders go back upstairs with an open box of twelve bore cartridges in is hand. At about 5.45 pm I was able to speak to Mr Saunders, Senior. As a result of what he told me and in view of the continued threatening manner of his Son and the potential danger to other persons around; I called for the gas equipment to be sent to this address. At 6.16 pm I discussed the situation with Mr. Post [ACC] on the telephone. At 6.30 pm I again went to the rear of the house where I again saw Tony Saunders, he was standing at an open window and I tried to persuade him to come downstairs and talk to me. He wanted to know what all the trouble was about and I told him. He at first stated that he had been at Kingston that afternoon, but later admitted that he was the man who had threatened the officer at Betchworth Railway Station, and was concerned about what action I was going to take a result of his shooting at me. At first it appeared to be quite rational but then he began to wander and it was quite obvious that he was mentally deranged. I decided that I would require medical assistance in this case and arrangements were made for Dr. Ledger, his National Health Doctor, to attend. Shortly after 7 pm, Dr Ledger attended and a Mrs Oram, Saunders' sister, followed him. Mrs Oram had been informed of the incident by neighbours and attended of her own free will because she had been the only one in the past who Tony Saunders would listen to. At 8.30 pm the gas equipment was returned to Headquarters and a number of men who had been in attendance were returned to normal duties leaving some 10 men on duty at the scene.

During the course of the evening Mrs Oram, Dr Ledger and myself talked to Saunders, both through the back bedroom window and from the bottom of the stairs in an effort to persuade him to come down and go to hospital for treatment. This he refused to do and continually threatened that if anyone attempted to enter his room he would shoot them. About 10 pm Dr Frendenberg, medical superintendent of Netherne Hospital and the mental health officer together with six male nurses arrived at this address. I explained to Dr Frendenberg the situation and together with Dr Ledger discussed the situation. Further attempts were made to talk Saunders into coming downstairs. Dr Frendenberg confirmed that Saunders was very disturbed and both doctors confirmed that in his state of health at that time he was in a dangerous and unpredictable mental state. Both doctors confirmed that some drastic action was justified to bring the situation under control. As a result of this at about 11 pm, I again spoke to Mr Post, who after consultation with Mr Hall, [ DCC] agreed that the gas equipment should again be sent to Dorking and used, if necessary. About 12.15 am, Acting Sergeant Marshall and P.C. 287 Taylor attended with the gas equipment. I had already arranged for, and placed a ladder at the bedroom window occupied by Saunders. This was so that I could enter the bedroom and open the door for the medical attendants to enter as it was believed that Saunders had bolted the door from the inside. Three attempts were made to fire gas cartridges into this bedroom and although a number of pains of glass were broken none of the cartridges were delivered into the room. As only three cartridges had been brought by the crew to the scene and it was not possible to place one of the gas grenades into the room. I asked for further supplies of gas cartridges to be sent. I also arranged for Sergeant Brunt to attend because of his ability to use a pistol and I considered that he may have been more accurate in firing the pistol used in connection with the gas cartridges.

Sergeant Brunt attended at about 1.30 am and a further attempt was made to fire a gas cartridge into this room. On this occasion Sergeant Brunt stood much closer to the window that the other two men had done because Saunders had partially barricaded the window, which reduced the danger of his using the gun from the bedroom window. I was already equipped with a gas mask ready to enter the bedroom when Sergeant Brunt fired the fourth cartridge. This appeared to attach itself to the window frame, about two-thirds of the way up the window, and it hung there for a few seconds and dropped to the ground in front of me; I was partially overcome by the fumes. Sergeant Brunt assisted me to the front of the house where after a few minutes I recovered. At this time P.C. Taylor had been standing in the hallway at the front door. He had been placed there with a gas grenade with instructions to throw it up the stairs should Saunders leave his bedroom, if and when the gas cartridges had entered his room. He was also overcome from the fumes of the 4th cartridge fired by Sergeant Brunt and he was taken to the waiting ambulance and given oxygen.

At about 1.50 am I again spoke to Saunders from the back of the house. He was obviously very frightened with the noise of the explosions and the smell of the gas, which had penetrated his room. He complained of the action taken. I told him that it could be resolved by his coming down stairs or allowing his doctor or me to enter his room. He again asked to speak to Dr Ledger who again attended the back of the house and after a short conversation between the three of us Saunders agreed to let Dr Ledger go up and see him. I pointed out to Dr Ledger the possible dangers of entering the room alone. He said he was prepared to do so under the circumstances. I looked through the window at the bottom of the stairs and I saw Saunders open his bedroom door. I again checked with him and he was still willing to let the doctor enter his room. He did confirm this and Dr Ledger went upstairs. About ten minutes later Dr Ledger returned and handed to me the bolt from the twelve bore shot gun. Dr Frendenberg then went up the stairs with Dr Ledger and about 2.30 am Saunders left the house together with the two doctors when he entered the doctor's car and was taken away under escort to Netherne Hospital on a twenty eight day order made under Section 60 of the Mental Health Act 1959. As Saunders had left the house I entered with D.C. Cane and in the bedroom occupied by Saunders I found twenty two discharged cartridges in a cardboard container, together with the sword, which I had seen in his hand earlier. The twelve bore shot gun was recovered from another bedroom by D.C. Cane. The incident was closed at 2.40 am.

At 1.30 pm on the 2nd August 1966, Mr Le Shirley, mental health officer, telephoned Dorking Police Station and the following message was received as Day Book entry 956/1966: "Saunders admitted to Netherne Hospital today under Section 26 Mental Health Act which provides for his detention up to a year and can be removed if necessary. This afternoon he will be transferred to Broadmoor Criminal Mental Hospital (telephone number Crowthorn Berks 2281, Medical Superintendent P.C. McGrath. Any enquiry should be through to Medical Records Officer at Broadmoor. Transfer arranged for security reasons." This action was taken because Saunders became more violent at the hospital, and because of the lack of security at Netherne. His relatives agreed to his being transferred to Broadmoor and they signed the necessary forms for this action to be taken.

Use of C. S. Anti-riot gas in confined spaces: As mentioned briefly in this report, Acting Sergeant Marshall and P.C. Taylor attended No 12, Tranquil Dale on the 28th July 1966. The bedroom into which they were required to project the gas cartridge was of the normal height of a two-storey dwelling. The panes of glass were ten inches by eight inches set in a wooden frame. At the time the window was not barricaded on the inside and care had to be taken that the officers discharging the cartridge were not clearly visible to Saunders as it was thought he may attempt to shoot at anyone making an attempt to get into the bedroom. Some twenty feet to the rear of the house was a coal shed with a sloping roof and the officers were positioned behind this coal shed as a firing point. The position of the shed was slightly offset to the bedroom window and this caused the cartridge to be fired at an angle of twenty degrees. The first cartridge fired, hit the window and glanced off into the next garden. The second cartridge hit the base of the window frame and again glanced off. The third cartridge again hit the window breaking the glass but failed to enter the room. The fourth cartridge fired by Sergeant Brunt was fired from a distance of about 9 feet from the house, because at this time Saunders had partially barricaded his bedroom window. This cartridge failed to enter the bedroom but appeared to stick for a few seconds on the frame and then drop to the ground. On entering the bedroom occupied by Saunders with Sergeant Brunt, I found that there was a strong concentration of gas in the room and undoubtedly making it uncomfortable for anyone to remain in the room particularly before the bedroom door and window were opened. I believe that a valuable lesson has been learned from the use of this gas:

  1. That it is very difficult to project a cartridge fired from a Very pistol into a house where only small pains of glass are fitted. Probably if the panes of glass were larger, then entry could be affected, but it is quite obvious that to be accurate, it is necessary for the means of projection to be more accurate. This could easily be provided by the gun being mounted on a stock and barrel similar to the twelve bore shot gun, in order that the gun but could be rested against the shoulder, and control of the barrel maintained in the normal way of firing a twelve bore shot gun.
  2. A considerable amount of gas entered this bedroom as a result of the explosions outside the window, but the majority of the gas in the house found its way through when the fourth cartridge dropped from the window and the gas entered by the open back door and percolated along the hallway and up the stairs.
  3. This house in only a normal semi-detached working class house consisting of one lounge, hallway and kitchen on the ground floor and three bedrooms on the first floor. In future incidents of this kind a strong concentration of gas could be procured by discharging a gas grenade within the house, as near as possible to the room in which the person has locked himself, and by closing all the other doors and windows. This probably would not have the effect of causing unconsciousness as quickly as having a cartridge fired into the room, but it would be worthwhile considering when the conditions are similar to those at Tranquil Dale. The weather at the time of this incident was at first dry but windy. Later heavy rain fell and conditions were difficult.

Actions of Dr Ledger: I wish to make special mention of the co-operation and assistance rendered by Dr Ledger. It is admitted that he is the man's National Health Doctor, but within minutes of being requested to attend he arrived and remained at the scene, except for a short period, until the man was removed from his room. At his suggestion Dr Frendenberg was contacted and, as a result attended with his hospital assistants. When all other efforts had failed and after I had again spoken to Saunders and he agreed that Dr Ledger should enter his bedroom knowing full well that the man may still be armed, he still volunteered to go up the stairs and talk to Saunders. As a result of this action he obtained possession of the bolt of the gun and shortly afterwards Saunders did leave his room and he was taken to hospital. I feel that his action called for great moral courage over and above his duty as a doctor. It would appear that any fees we can pay him according to the regulations is very small and I ask that consideration be given to a special fee being allowed for the services rendered to the Police by Dr Ledger. I consider the action of PC Palmer in realising there was something wrong with this man in the first instance and calling for assistance in the manner he did was absolutely correct. I wish to bring to your notice the valuable support rendered to me by the other officers attending the scene of this incident, particularly D.C. Cane who remained with me throughout the whole of the incident. The co-operation of the Dog Section under Sergeant Booker; the action of Acting Sergeant Marshall and P.C. Taylor in their first efforts to place gas cartridges in this bedroom was of the highest devotion to duty because at all times they were liable to be shot by Saunders.

Sergeant Brunt was off duty when he was called and turned out and attended at the shortest notice and again his efforts to fire a cartridge into this bedroom is worthy of comment because again he was liable to be shot at. On two occasions whilst he was preparing to fire this cartridge into the bedroom I saw the muzzle of the gun protrude from the bedroom window. The co-operation of Control in providing an adequate number of men and the quick arrangements and delivery of the gas equipment was very much appreciated. Valuable assistance was rendered by Mr and Mrs Wren of 17, Tranquil Dale, Buckland in that they permitted me to use their home as a headquarters and to use their telephone at all times. Both Mr and Mrs Wren have been thanked by me, but I suggest a letter of thanks be sent by the Chief Constable. Mr Wren is a builder and an order for the repair of the window at number 12, Tranquil Dale has been placed with him and an account will be rendered in due course. A crime complaint has been submitted and is attached, but in view of the action taken by the Medical Authorities and Saunders' relatives in placing him in Broadmoor, I would suggest that no further action is required in respect of the offence committed. The gun, cartridges and sword are still held as exhibits at this Police Station.

Arthur N Smith Chief Inspector: Extract from a report by Superintendent John Irvin "D" Division: 7 August 1966 to the Chief Constable: Finally I must make particular mention of Chief Inspector Smith's role in this affair. He attended the scene immediately and was in charge of the incident from start to finish. Before going to 12, Tranquil Dale he was aware of the type of man Saunders was and that he was in possession of a firearm. In view of what subsequently took place the Chief Inspector is fortunate not to have been killed or seriously injured. There is no doubt in my mind that he was well aware of the possible consequences before he mounted the stairs to confront Saunders and I consider his actions to have shown great courage and devotion to duty which are worthy of your official recognition. Detective Constable Cane was present at this time and his behaviour was also in the best traditions of the service. Chief Inspector Smith's handling of the incident thereafter was efficient and his example undoubtedly resulted in the good teamwork of other Police personnel engaged,

J Irwin Superintendent


Author's note: It is understood from AN Smith that the Chief Constable Herman Rutherford responded to this report by saying they were doing their job and no commendations were awarded.

Colin Skilton: When this incident broke I was on a CID attachment, and I think I was with DC Brian Cane, who took us out to the house where the son was having a turn with a shotgun. We were sent to the rear of the house, which now seems naive. I did not stay too long at the back when I saw the weight lifting equipment in the garden. The son was spoken to from the front door by a senior officer, whilst he was at the top of the stairs, and fired the shotgun at the wall by the door.

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