THE Guernsey police force can say with pride that they were a thorn in the side of the German occupiers, as BBC wartime broadcasts had encouraged.
The embarrassed authorities knew that they were responsible for various small acts of resistance and needed to discredit them. They achieved this by means of a ‘show trial’ in 1942, which was manipulated to portray them as common criminals. Sadly, this taint remains today, and their courage is unrecognised. After 78 years, it is time to set the record straight.
Eighteen police officers were arrested in March 1942, and interrogated by the Wehrmacht Field-Police. After days and weeks of physical and mental abuse, they eventually signed ‘confessions’ to stealing from various stores. These confessions were written in German (which they could not understand) and were only translated several weeks later.
By any standard they were worthless. On 24 April 1942, a German military tribunal convicted them of stealing from stores under the direct control of the occupying forces, or receiving the proceeds.
Sixteen were to be deported under sentences ranging from eight months’ to four years six months’ imprisonment with hard labour, ‘subject to confirmation’.
But, for 10 of the policemen a further ordeal was planned.
The German authorities feared the men becoming symbols of resistance. They set up a show trial to convict them of stealing from islander-owned stores: i.e. as common criminals. In fact, all of these stores were necessarily involved on the black market and supplying the Wehrmacht as well. The interrogators had ensured that the military confessions of these 10 men referred to these stores too.
These documents were sent to the Guernsey Solicitor-General with a request for a prosecution for the wider thefts.
Doing their bidding in May 1942, Guernsey detectives questioned the accused, who were still in German military custody, and obtained further confessions.
Overshadowing this process and the trial itself was a threatening letter, which was shown to the men by the detectives.
On 8 May 1942, Dr Biel, the German military tribunal judge, wrote (the ‘Biel letter’) to the Solicitor-General stating that ‘In the event of the accused denying the admissions made by them to the Feldgendarmerie, please advise me immediately, as in this case, the Chief of Tribunal will take up the proceedings, even as regards the thefts committed at the expense of the English traders.’
This threat had dire implications. If these cases were taken over by the military tribunal, the heavy sentences already passed by that tribunal were ‘subject to confirmation’, and could have been increased. They were to involve transportation to German military detention and labour camps, under life threatening conditions, where PC Smith was ultimately murdered. Charges of sabotage could have been brought, for which the sentence was death. The men were deprived of any free choice about their police confessions and their approach to the trial.
On 1 June 1942, Bailiff Victor Carey and eight jurats in the Royal Court convicted nine of these police officers of stealing from islander stores. All except two men, Harper and Burton, pleaded guilty. Burton was acquitted. These two did make efforts to resist the process, despite the threatening Biel letter.
The confessions to the military and to the detectives were the only evidence presented by the prosecution. In common sense, and in law, they were worthless. As the prosecutor accepted, unless proven to have been ‘voluntary’, they were inadmissible and the case would have collapsed. The prosecution pretended, on the basis of the detectives’ false evidence, that they were freely and voluntarily made.
It was grave misconduct for the Solicitor-General, J.E.L. Martel, and the Guernsey detectives to conduct this investigation, under the shadow of the threatening Biel letter. They knew this imposed enormous pressure to confess again and to plead guilty. The use by the Solicitor-General of these resulting confessions at the trial was an abuse of process, and brought the system of justice into disrepute.
The threats in the Biel letter made it pointless for the policemen to be legally represented. Had this been a normal and fair trial, properly conducted by the Bailiff and the prosecution, the ‘voluntariness’ of the confessions and of the guilty pleas would have been examined thoroughly at the outset of the trial.
Despite the intimidating context, the accused during the trial said many things, indicating that they had been physically and mentally abused by the Germans and that they had no choice over their confessions and pleas of guilty. They referred to the Biel letter, but the prosecutor never produced it for the court, and the Bailiff never asked for it. They pretended that it did not exist.
This was a ‘show trial’, set up by the Nazi occupiers, and unique in our recent legal history.
Worse than that, the Bailiff and jurats who tried the case were closely tied to administering that occupation by their roles in passing the required punitive legislation. No objective observer could be confident that, in these circumstances, the Bailiff and jurats acted, or were in any position to act, with effective independence from the occupying military forces.
To cap it all, that lack of independence comes through from the verbatim transcript of the trial. Bailiff Carey behaved disgracefully, making scornful and improper remarks, even intimidating the accused policemen from representing themselves fairly. He slapped down five of the men when they showed signs of referring to mistreatment and the Biel letter.
The men were sentenced to between three months’ and 16 months’ imprisonment with hard labour. They were promptly transported to German prisons and labour camps on continental Europe, under the military tribunal sentences. Smith died after repeated beatings and starvation in Augsburg prison in 1943. The other eight were only released after the end of the war.
After deportation, the policemen were sent to a variety of prisons and camps. Most started their incarceration in the dreadful conditions of Caen prison then Fort de Villeneuve St-Georges in France.
After this, Bailey, Short and Quin were sent to Bernau for forced labour where they dug canals while being beaten and starved. Harper, Friend, Tuck and Smith went to Augsburg prison and its satellite labour camp of Neuoffingen, where they built a railway. For two years, the men were forced to carry heavy rail sleepers while being starved, tormented and beaten by guards.
Bailey was the only one sent to Dachau concentration camp, a place of terrible brutality. Quin went to Kematen forced labour camp in Austria where prisoners hacked a tunnel into the mountainside. Whare stayed in Villeneuve St-Georges until his liberation.
In 1965, British victims of Nazi persecution were eligible, on written application, for small sums of compensation from the West German government. Those written by these policemen show that their prolonged period of hard labour in prisons and camps was marked by injury, disease, vicious cruelty, and ‘brutal pre-meditated torture’. Many were still suffering the physical after-effects of their experiences.
Frank Tuck wrote that ‘I spend my life in some degree of pain (almost unbearable at times) and have spent as long as six months at a time on my back in bed completely helpless due to a spinal injury caused by a blow from a German guard, which appears now to be affecting my head and neck.
'I also have internal trouble… most likely caused by several attacks of dysentery… my fingers are clubbed since Germany, and I suffer from rheumatism. As regards the attack of TB I suffered when I came home, resulting in the removal of part of my lung… What disability and bad health has cost me since the war, it is impossible to estimate. Today I am unemployed and unwanted… the money I have received as compensation for Nazi persecution to date has almost all been swallowed up in debts.’
With the main breadwinner unable to work and in need of care, and with debts accrued through medical and legal costs, families such as Tuck’s struggled financially.
Harper was also in a bad physical condition in the 1960s. He had suspected leukaemia, a disabled right shoulder and arm caused by tuberculosis, and the beatings he received across his back and shoulders with pick-axes, shovels and forks were still troubling him. He had lasting signs of frostbite on his feet and right hand, a scar on his buttock from a bayonet stab by a guard, and residual malnutrition. ‘I was starved and beaten so many times that my mentality became impaired and my health was broken,’ he wrote.
Friend also contracted tuberculosis. He still had problems breathing and struggled with pains in his legs. Bailey was suffering with a duodenal ulcer, rheumatism, and muscular pains in his neck and head due to repeated blows on the head with a rifle butt by German guards.
The majority of the men still exhibited symptoms of PTSD such as flashbacks, bad nerves and nightmares.
In 1955, all eight surviving policemen appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. This was the only appeal available, since there was then no appeal court in Guernsey. With a minor exception, all appeals were rejected. The Guernsey Attorney-General, W.H. Arnold, successfully maintained the fiction that the ‘confessions’ and pleas of guilty were freely made and ‘voluntary’.
However, we can now show how misleading this was. At that time, he was in possession of convincing material to the effect that violence and threats had been used in obtaining the military confessions from these accused and later in the process. At all times the men remained in military custody, and vulnerable to pressure, even during the trial. The whole investigation and trial process was tainted by intimidation and the Biel letter.
Three crucial documents were only uncovered recently by chance in the National Archives by the historian, Professor Paul Sanders. The first was the Cotton report which recorded reliable information from a doctor and others of ill treatment of the accused. The second, to the same effect, was from a prominent Guernsey lawyer. The third was a Home Office memo to the same effect.
The Guernsey Attorney-General, W.H. Arnold, had a duty at least to disclose this material to the men’s legal team. Instead, he deceived them and the court too.
When recently drawn to the attention of the current Guernsey Attorney-General, this has not been denied. Indeed, the prosecution obstructed the ability of the men to present their side of the story by insisting that each witness would have to attend the hearing in London for cross-examination.
This would have been exceedingly difficult: the men were scattered around the country: some were ill: they had very limited financial resources. It would also have been unprecedented for the Privy Council to engage in days or weeks of evidence about this mistreatment.
Yet more material has emerged since 1955. Inspector Lamy was the most senior trial witness, falsely testifying that the confessions were entirely voluntary.
He subsequently wrote Policing During The Occupation, 1940- 1945. He there recorded personally witnessing the use of brutal violence by the German police to extract confessions, and that this was commonplace.
He says that he used a formula of words in his court evidence to conceal the methods used. He was effectively admitting to committing repeated perjury.
A new legal team filed an application to re-open the case with the Privy Council in August 2019, relying on all these issues. Unfortunately, the court refused permission to appeal on paper on 11 March 2020. The court is concerned with legal requirements: not ‘moral’ aspects of this history. There are exceptional procedural difficulties over re-opening an appeal after 65 years. These proved too high a hurdle.
This decision does not at all diminish the multiple injustices suffered by these men. Nor does it stand in the way of other remedies for them. The manifest unfairness of this trial in 1942 and of the 1955 appeal is a stain upon the reputation of the system of justice in Guernsey, which cannot remain unresolved. 78 years is long enough.