Like all good gang stories, this one begins with a heist gone wrong, and ends with an epic shootout on a London street.
Exactly 110 years ago, East London was subjected to a night of mayhem that needed the then Home Office secretary, Winston Churchill, to personally resolve.
Just after 12am on January 3, 1911, 200 police officers surrounded the building at 100 Sidney Street in Stepney.
Inside the building were two Latvian men accused of killing three police officers in a botched jewellery heist.
Around 14 hours later the building had been totally destroyed and the two Latvian men were dead.
One month before this carnage took place, a gang of Latvian anarchists attempted to burrow into the back of 119 Houndsditch – a jeweller’s shop owned by Henry Samuel Harris – to steal a safe they believed to contain £30,000 worth of jewels.
When police officers came to inspect the suspicious noises they were abruptly blasted with bullets as the gang escaped.
Three police officers were killed in total, one of them allegedly shot 12 times, making it one of the largest multiple murders of police officers carried out in Britain in peacetime.
A lengthy investigation and a tip off from the public led the police to 100 Sidney Street on that fateful night 110 years ago, where they believed two men involved in the police killings to be inside.
Once officers arrived they told everyone in the building to evacuate but the two Latvian men, known as Fritz Svaars and William Sokoloff, remained inside.
Svaars and Sokoloff were armed with far superior weapons to the police and once they became aware the cops were outside, they opened fire, wounding a sergeant in the chest.
The police then phoned the Home Office and Churchill arrived with the Scots Guards.
The guards began firing at the two men until around 1pm a fire started and Solokoff stuck his head out of the window, only to be shot back into the building.
The fire ripped through 100 Sidney Street until the roof collapsed and killed the two men inside.
The siege was over, believed to have finished at around 2.30pm, 14 hours after it had begun.
If you think this story is the stuff of movies, you would be right.
There is a 1960 motion picture titled The Siege of Sidney Street starring Donald Sinden and it is believed to be the inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock’s final scene of of The Man Who Knew Too Much.
As for 100 Sidney Street, the building no longer exists but there are memorial plaques for the three police officers who were murdered nearby.
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