On 8 December 1944, a smash-and-grab robbery in the City of London at Frank Wardley Ltd, a jeweller’s, situated at 23 Birchin Lane, had tragic consequences for a have-a-go hero. At 2.30pm a car roared down the street and stopped outside Wardley’s shop. Three men got out and while one smashed the window with an axe, the other two snatched as much jewellery as they could hold. As the car made its getaway from Birchin Lane into Lombard Street retired naval officer, fifty-six-year- old Commander Ralph Binney CBE, RN, stepped out in front of the car to try to bring it to a halt but the driver drove straight at him. Commander Binney was driven over and his clothing became caught on the underside of the vehicle as it sped off dragging him along for a full mile, until he was flung free by London Bridge Station with appalling injuries, as the car turned east into Tooley Street. Taken to Guy’s Hospital, he died later that afternoon. Dr Keith Simpson performed an autopsy that evening:
He had various fractures and lacerations, but the principal cause of death was crushing and penetrating of the lungs by the broken ends of his ribs as the car ran forwards and then backwards over him.
The car was found abandoned near the Elephant and Castle. Police enquiries led them to a gang of young criminals known as the ‘Elephant Boys’ (see ANTIQUIS MURDER, THE). Only two of the gang of jewel thieves were identified by witnesses, the driver, twenty-six-year-old Ronald Hedley and Thomas Jenkins.
At the OLD BAILEY Jenkins was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to eight years. Hedley was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Although his appeal against both his conviction and sentence was dismissed, a few days before his scheduled execution Hedley was reprieved, his sentence being commuted to one of life imprisonment. He was released after serving just nine years. On Sunday April 23 1954, an article appeared in the Sunday Pictorial captioned ‘FREED KILLER GOES BACK TO MURDER CORNER’ and illustrated by a photograph of Hedley standing at the spot where Commander Binney was run down.
Since 1945 an annual award, known as the Binney Medal, has been given for the ‘bravest action in support of law and order’ by a person who is not part of the police force, within the City of a London and Metropolitan Police areas.