Peaky Blinders: How police officer who brought down gang was given hero’s funeral

Peaky Blinders: How police officer who brought down gang was given hero’s funeral

Far from the BBC’s fictional adaptation, the real-life ‘Peaky Blinders’ gangs were described as “small time thugs and petty criminals” who plagued the backstreets of Birmingham. Unlike the TV show, they were not one but a number of gangs who “victimised the poor they lived among” and conducted a series of brutal attacks. Their bloody reign, from the late 1800s until just before World War 2, went mainly unchallenged by an overwhelmed police force without the numbers to apprehend them. This all changed when Irishman Charles Haughton Rafter was appointed chief constable in 1899. Historian Professor Carl Chinn told about the impact of this police officer and the way the city commemorated him after his death.

The TV show ‘Peaky Blinders’ gained a huge following after it first aired in 2013 and now fans eagerly await the release of series six. 

The fictionalisation of real-life crime stories in Birmingham has starred Cillian Murphy as Thomas ‘Tommy’ Shelby, Helen McCrory, Tom Hardy and many others. 

But according to Professor Chinn the reality behind the small screen portrayals is far more barbaric than anything seen on television. 

He published the 2019 book ‘Peaky Blinders: The Real Story of Birmingham’s Most Notorious Gangs’ and told about one of the main reasons the criminal organisation collapsed.

Peaky Blinders TV Netflix BBC show crime gangs

Peaky Blinders exposed: Police Chief Constable Charles Haughton Rafter who helped to tackle gangs (Image: BBC / WEST MIDLANDS POLICE MUSEUM)

Peaky Blinders TV Netflix BBC show crime gangs

‘Peaky Blinders’ was first aired in 2013, starring Cillian Murphy, Helen McCrory and Tom Hardy (Image: BBC)

Mr Chinn cited a number of factors that contributed to the gangs vanishing – including youth clubs being launched by churches, the horrifying effects of World War 1 and more.

But one of the most notable, he claims, was the influence of chief constable Charles Haughton Rafter who embarked on a “radical recruitment campaign of around 500 fit young men”.

Mr Chinn told “The story from Birmingham police was that they asked three things, ‘Can you read, can you write and can you fight?’

“They needed to have a certain standard of education but also had to be tough lads with lots of physical training.

“Now instead of one police officer alone in a tough area there was a double beat – they needed to be strong because there was literally a battle going-on in the backstreets.”

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Peaky Blinders TV Netflix BBC show crime gangs

Professor Carl Chinn told about the real Peaky Blinders gangs who plagued Birmingham (Image: CARL CHINN)

Peaky Blinders TV Netflix BBC show crime gangs

Only one man was officially named as a Peaky Blinder by authorities – violent thug Henry Lightfoot (Image: WEST MIDLANDS POLICE MUSEUM)

Prior to this time, Mr Chinn claims officers would have been more tempted to turn a blind eye to wrongdoing due to not having enough men to take on the “brutal, violent and vicious” gangs. 

He said: “They fought with their boots, belts wrapped around their wrists ready to slash with buckle buckle, knives, brickends, cobblestones – anything they could find.

“Back then being a police officer was very dangerous – several were killed in Birmingham, some were viciously assaulted and others had to retire because of their injuries. 

“If you’re a copper, on your own, and on the street corner you see 30 or 40 tough kids playing, are you going to turn away or confront them?”

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Peaky Blinders TV Netflix BBC show crime gangs

Henry Lightfoot, the only man to be named a Peaky Blinder after a violent attack (Image: WEST MIDLANDS POLICE MUSEUM)

Peaky Blinders TV Netflix BBC show crime gangs

Real Peaky Blinders gangs reigned terror from the late 1800s until before World War 2 (Image: BBC)

Mr Chinn claimed this resulted in the Peaky Blinders gangs acting with “near impunity”, which discouraged the working class poor from reporting crimes. 

Chief constable Haughton Rafter also worked with prosecutors and magistrates to ensure lengthier prison sentences for those considered to be part of a gang.

This gave the public “more confidence” and courage to turn against the gangs without being as “scared” of repercussions.

The actions of chief constable Haughton Rafter helped to empower locals who eventually went on to “despise” the Peaky Blinders.

He also pioneered legislation to ensure juveniles would not be dealt with in court alongside adults and helped to develop better child safeguarding by the police.

The respect for the police chief was recognised by the Queen in 1927 when he was knighted and later “emphasised” after his death eight years later, at the age of 77. 

Mr Chinn told “He was acclaimed as a great citizen and as one of the finest police officers this country has ever known.

“Thousands upon thousands of people crammed into the Bull Ring to show their respect during a memorial service at St Martin’s Cathedral.”

In addition to that, countless others lined the streets in admiration for his efforts. 

He was praised for helping to clean up the “black spots of Birmingham” and was interred in Harborne, an area just outside of the city centre.

Carl Chinn’s ‘Peaky Blinders: The Real Story of Birmingham’s Most Notorious Gangs’ was published in 2019 by John Blake and is available here.

Published at Sun, 07 Jun 2020 08:55:00 +0000