Saturday 8th April 1975
Paul Townley was twenty. How he had survived to that age he wasn’t really sure, but it had been a hard struggle. From the age of about six, he and his mother had been subjected to a reign of terror inflicted by his alcoholic father, which culminated in regular weekend beatings after daylong sessions at one of the local pubs in the East End of London. By the time he was eight, it had become the accepted way of life in the Townley household, and regular visits to the doctor, with a range of injuries from broken arms due to ‘falling from walls’, to bruises acquired as a result of ‘fights at school’, were commonplace. His mother, Rose, suffered the worst and, despite regular advice from neighbours to leave the area, she stuck it out. Where would she go? She had no family of her own apart from Paul and his father, and the man would only track her down, doing who knows what damage as a result.
Harold Townley was a bully, and a physically big one at that. As the years passed however, overindulgence in alcohol together with a voracious appetite was slowing him down, and it was becoming easier for Paul and his mother to evade the worst of his violent temper and fists. When they did connect though, the results were alarming, and by the time he had reached his nineteenth birthday the boy decided that enough was enough. It was, nevertheless, twelve months later before he summoned up enough courage to take his father on. Harold had returned home from one of his regular binge sessions to find dinner waiting for him on the table. He turned and locked the front door. Rose could do nothing right it seemed; throwing the steaming plate full of food at the wall, he launched into a tirade of abuse and grabbed her by the hair.
Loosening the broad brown leather belt from underneath his ample stomach, he brandished it like a whip as he bent her across the table in preparation for a particularly brutal thrashing. It was the last time he ever did it. Paul brought the poker down on the back of his head with a sickening thud. Reeling backwards in surprise, Harold turned to face his son with a face full of savage fury. He was just in time to see the weapon descend across the bridge of his nose. Blood and bone sprayed outwards from the middle of his face and, screaming in pain, he released his grip on the now hysterical Rose to launch himself at the boy. If Paul had lost his nerve at this point, the man would surely have killed him. Stepping smartly to one side, he caught Harold a third time on the side of his head as he stumbled past on his way to the floor, followed the fall across the room, and as his father turned once more, rained four more bone-splintering blows onto the man’s face. It was questionable which of those blows it was that killed Harold Townley, but by the time he had ceased to move, his face was a bloody, unrecognisable pulp of flesh and bone.
Paul stood over him, breathing heavily, with the poker poised in case the job was not finished. His attention was only drawn away when he heard the soft, plaintive whimpering coming from the corner of the room where Rose had retreated for cover. She was shaking uncontrollably, eyes wide in horror at what she had just witnessed. As her son approached, she automatically shrank away behind one of the chairs, and he pulled back in surprise.
“Mum, it’s only me. He’s gone now, he can’t hurt us any more and I won’t let anyone do anything like that to you ever again. Come on; don’t be scared, I’m not going to hurt you.”
Slowly, Rose Townley was coaxed out of the corner of the room and into Paul’s arms.
“You have to ring the police, Paul. We’ve got to let them know, they can’t lock us up, it was self-defence.”
“No mum. I killed him, and I meant it. You must tell them the truth. I’ll go to prison.”
This argument swung backwards and forwards for a quarter of an hour, as the body of Harold Townley lay where it had fallen. A total of thirty minutes had elapsed since his fateful entrance.
A banging at the front door brought them both back to the stark reality of the situation. It became frantic and louder when they didn’t answer. Harold was well known locally as a bruiser, and all their neighbours had witnessed the results of his domestic activities on a number of occasions. The door crashed inwards, and two friends accompanied by a uniformed police officer rushed into the room. The sight which greeted them stopped all three in their tracks, and an ambulance was summoned immediately. It was all academic – Harold was pronounced dead at the scene; Paul and Rose were taken to the local police station for questioning.
That Paul was responsible for the death of his father was beyond doubt, and he never tried to deny it - a fact which hung heavily in his favour when the case came to trial. Enough evidence was gathered from the neighbourhood to ensure that there was no likelihood of a custodial sentence, but in his summing up the judge went to great lengths to labour the point that a life had been taken, and that the jury’s only concern should relate to the facts of the case. They were not to make any inference as to the state of Paul’s mind when he committed the act, but should restrict themselves to a question of his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. He was acquitted on the charge of manslaughter, on the grounds of self-defence and the protection of his mother.
He was released to uproarious congratulations from the crowds of friends and neighbours who had thronged the courtroom. Over the course of the next three to four weeks he relived that evening of carnage many times. He had taken the life of another human being, and he had got away with it. People questioned neither his motives nor the intent which had been building inside him for years. He was a free man, and there would now be nothing to prevent him removing from society more of those like Harold Townley – dregs floating on a sea of humanity and riding on the backs of ordinary men and women, sucking the lifeblood from decent living people. He would look forward to that, but in the meantime there was his mother to take care of, and as they walked away from court that day, Rose had no idea that her son’s name was destined to strike fear into the hearts of so many people.
© Copyright 2016 Phil Neale 1952. All rights reserved.