Camberley Safe Blowers

1960s: Ray Harlow: Camberley safe blowers: Sergison, Unwin and Tomkins and Duncan were involved in safe blowing activities in the l960s in Surrey. To my knowledge no nitro was ever made on the Old Dean Estate but the passage of time does dull the memory and can lead to false ones albeit unwittingly.

At the time of the Brookwood Hospital safe blowing I was serving as a DS in Woking. Although there was extensive damage to the administration office, Scenes of Crime Officer (Arthur Massey?), did find plasticine containing fingerprint details.

Later that morning, with others from Guildford division (Ian McGregor) and Frank Trussler, I attended a house in North West Surrey frequented by this gang of safe blowers. A search was made and I found a pen filler containing a colourless liquid in a top pocket of a jacket hanging in the under stairs cupboard. This was found to belong to one of the gang. It was later found that the liquid was nitro-glycerine - more of this later.

The ensuing investigation was a joint divisional one and a number of officers were involved and I cannot now remember the sequence of events. Frank Trussler was in charge. What did evolve was that the nitro-glycerine was 'home made' by a Laurence (Larry) Duncan an ex-Canadian Army bombardier.

I spent three or four days with Frank Trussler visiting chemists in the south London area and eventually found chemists who had supplied Duncan's girlfriend with materials which, with sufficient knowledge, one could make nitro. It was later learned that this girlfriend delivered the nitro to Sergison and co., carrying the liquid in a bag using public transport.

At some stage a visit was made to a flat in South East London, in the Crystal Palace area, which was believed Duncan, lived. I went along with I believe was John Harvey (CB6), Arthur Phelan and one or two others who I don't recall.

We arrived at the front and the Metropolitan Police were in the rear. We didn't reckon on Duncan recognising the standard desert-coloured CID Morris Minor and he legged it out the rear garden passing a Metropolitan Police PC on a "Noddy" bike. (I think it was this incident that decided that Morris Minors should be issued in assorted colours, i.e. sand coloured and blue!

A search of the flat revealed a quantity of plasticine, which later was found to carry fingerprints matching those found at Brookwood. Also found was evidence of nitro manufacture. Major Biddles of New Scotland Yard attended and was involved in gathering the necessary trace evidence and removing plumbing both internally and externally where nitro had been flushed away. We were all safely outside at the time.

To return to the colourless liquid I had found in the Surrey house. As instructed I took the pen filler to Bristol Forensic Laboratory driving there along the M4 in a Hillman Imp. Had I known differently I wouldn't have done this! On arrival at the laboratory I was met by Chief Inspector Raison the lab liaison officer and was introduced to the scientific officer. Raison took me to lunch and I returned to Surrey.

I later learned that the colourless liquid was indeed nitro and it had exploded in the lab, possibly due to being destabilised. The scientific officer had been injured and Raison had died from his injuries.

Duncan was sentenced to seven years imprisonment by Justice Melford Stevenson and the others had varying lengths of custodial sentence.

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