Ronald Marwood – 1959 murder of a police officer.


This is the third in a series of cases examining those hanged under the provisions of the Homicide Act of 1957.  See also Vivian Teed & Dennis Howard.


Many people would associate the name of Marwood with the word hangman rather than with the words hanged man.  Both are correct however.  William Marwood was Britain’s principal hangman from 1874 – 1883 and Ronald Henry Marwood was hanged on the 8th of May 1959.  He was one of 29 men hanged in England and Wales after the passing of the 1957 Homicide Act which differentiated murders into capital and non-capital.  A further three men were executed in Scotland in this period.


Ronald Marwood (photo) was a 25 year old scaffolder who lived in Huntingdon Street, Islington London who had been convicted of the capital murder of 23 year old Police Constable Raymond Henry Summers during a gang fight outside Gray’s dance hall in Seven Sister’s Road in Holloway, North London on the night of Sunday the 14th of December 1958.


It is claimed that Marwood had drunk ten pints of beer on what was his first wedding anniversary, having gone out alone as his wife preferred to stay in and watch television.


The fight had broken out between two groups of Teddy Boys armed with a chopper, knives, knuckle dusters and broken bottles.  Constable Summers happened on the scene and began to intervene to stop the fighting.  He took hold of one of Marwood’s friends, Michael David Bloom and was then attacked by Marwood.  In a statement, Marwood claimed that he had been hit by one of the youths with a chopper and felt dizzy and sick.  He then saw Constable Summers with Bloom and approached them from behind.  He claimed that as he got to them Constable Summers told him to “go away” or clear off” and punched him.  He related that he had his hands in his pockets and that he struck out at the policeman with his hand.  This hand unfortunately held an underwater swimmer’s knife and the blow caused Summers to collapse and die at the scene.  Marwood said he then ran away and threw the knife over a garden wall.  He claimed that he had not intended to use the knife and only intended to push the policeman away from his friend.  He further claimed that he did not realise that he had the knife in his hand. 


Police arrested a number of the youths in connection with the disturbance and eleven came to trial in February 1959.  Nine pleaded guilty to unlawful assembly with intent to disturb the peace and possession of offensive weapons.  One was convicted only on the unlawful assembly charge and one only on the possession charge.  They received prison sentences of between 6 and 15 months.


Ronald Marwood was questioned by police on the Monday morning but released.  It was reported that he had a telephone conversation with Mick Bloom on the Monday evening and told him that he was frightened and wanted to stay out of the way.  To this end he left his wife and went on the run.
On the evening of January the 27th he went to Caledonian Road Police station with his father and under caution, confessed to the murder, telling the detectives “I did stab the copper that night.  I will never know why I did it. I have been puzzling over in my mind during the last few weeks why I did it, but there seems no answer.” He was therefore arrested.


Following committal proceedings at the North London Court Marwood was remanded in custody to stand trial at the Central Criminal Court.  His trial opened at the Old Bailey before Mr. Justice Gorman on Wednesday the 18th of March 1959.  The prosecution was led by Mr. Christmas Humphreys and his defence by Neil Lawson and Mr M Levene.

Marwood was charged with the murder of a police officer in the execution of his duty to which he pleaded not guilty.  This was a capital crime under the 1957 Homicide Act.  In evidence he told the court that he and Mick Bloom had been drinking heavily on the Sunday evening, firstly in Spanish Patriot’s pub and then later at the Double R Club, before going with some others to Gray’s Dancing Academy.  As they arrived there some young men came out and one of them attacked Marwood with the chopper injuring his hand.  He later said he saw the policeman talking to Bloom and went up to them.  He claimed the constable told him to clear off and punched him to which he responded by punching back.  His barrister, Neil Lawson QC asked him if he had anything in his hand when he did so to which Marwood replied “No sir”.  Marwood suggested to the court that the statement he had made at Caledonian Road Police station was made up by the police and that he had signed it without reading it after being there for 10 hours.  This was denied by Det Supt Robert Fenwick.  Evidence was given of Marwood’s previous good character and of his successful two years of National Service.  His Discharge Book was quoted as saying “He is a thoroughly reliable man has undoubted ability  Summing up his barristers told the court that the only evidence linking Marwood to the crime was his alleged confession. The defence invited them to find Marwood guilty of manslaughter if they thought that the Crown had proven that he was indeed the person who had stabbed the constable, if he had done so in a drunken and befuddled state.

The jury deliberated for 2 ½ hours before reaching a verdict of guilty to capital murder.  They would no doubt have found the principal plank of his defence - that he didn’t realise that he had the knife in his hand and had no intention of killing Constable Summers, rather less than credible.  To convict they had to find both the actus rea (guilty act) and mens rea (guilty mind) proven.  To this end they had his confession, alleged phone conversation the night afterwards with Bloom and the fact that he was carrying a knife.  In the Teddy Boy culture of the day that may have seemed quite normal behaviour to London’s youths but it was hardly likely to go down well with a jury because it can be taken to show premeditation to an act of violence.  It is not known what weight, if any, they gave to the amount of alcohol he claimed to have consumed, nor to the effect of the injury he received at the dance hall.  After the guilty verdict had been delivered Mr. Justice Gorman sentenced Marwood “to suffer death in the manner authorised by law.”  These were the words of the death sentence after 1957 and made no reference to hanging.


Marwood was taken to Pentonville prison and his legal team lodged an appeal.  This was heard by the Lord Chief Justice, Hubert Parker, Mr. Justice Donovan sitting with Mr. Justice Salmon on the 20th of April.  The appeal was dismissed.  The execution was then set for Friday the 8th of May.


The Labour MP for Islington South West, Mr Albert Evans had got up a petition for a reprieve signed by 150 MP’s (mostly Labour) which he presented to the Home Secretary.

On the 7th of May the Home Secretary, Richard Austen Butler, announced that there would be no reprieve.  Butler also wrote to Albert Evans telling him that Marwood had had a full trial and that having carefully examined the case he could find no reason to recommend a reprieve.


Thursday morning saw an attempt by Marwood’s family to get the Attorney General to intervene on his behalf. They presented a document requesting his fiat to appeal to the House of Lords but this was ruled to be out of time as it should have been presented within seven days of the Appeal Court decision.  On the Thursday evening there was a noisy demonstration within Pentonville by other prisoners lasting around 30 minutes.  Burning materials were seen being pushed out of cell windows.  Some 500 demonstrators had assembled outside the prison on Thursday evening and this grew to an estimated at 1000 by the Friday morning.  Some had banners inscribed with “Save Marwood” and “hanging is no deterrent”.  Mounted police were used to disperse protestors and several arrests were made.


Inside Pentonville Harry Allen assisted by Harry Robinson carried out the execution at 9am. 


Marwood’s case became a rallying cause for the liberal left.
On Sunday the 10th of May, Cannon Collins gave a sermon in St. Paul’s Cathedral in which he said that the Homicide Act of 1957 should be amended.  He told the congregation that “Surely the offence against Christian principle committed on Friday morning must make us do more than wring our hands in despair.”  “In a democracy we are all guilty.  In our determination to abolish the death penalty we must see that all that can be done is done to safeguard police and prison officers in the exercise of their duty.  It should be the state’s duty to treat generously the dependents of victims of murder.”

The 12th of May saw Sidney Silverman, the left wing MP for Nelson and Colne and a noted abolitionist introduce a motion in the Commons to abolish capital punishment in the wake of Marwood’s hanging and the anomalies of the 1957 Act.  Another MP, Mr. E L Mallalieu drew up a motion to disallow the use at trial of confessions made by a person to the police unless they were made in the presence of a magistrate.


Although not related to her fiancée’s murder, sadly 21 year old Sheila McKenzie who had been engaged to Constable Summers collapsed and died in a night club in September 1959.



Marwood was hanged because he murdered a police officer but had he murdered another youth or a member of the public intervening to stop the gang fight he would only have been guilty of non-capital murder and sentenced to life in prison, unless he had used a gun.  Was this fair and just? 

A month after Marwood’s death, 19 year old Terrence Cooney stabbed Allan Johnson at the Woodward Hall in Barking in the course of a similar gang fight.  Cooney was a member of the “Dagenham Boys” gang and Johnson was a member of “The Canning Town Boys”.  Cooney got a life sentence although did not spend the rest of his life behind bars. 


With special thanks to Monty Dart for her help in researching this article.

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