Francis Robert George Forsyth

When I was a kid, I used to pour over a particular edition of the Guinness Book of Records – 1983, in fact. It had been given to me by a cousin for the simple act of visiting him, a kindness which I’ve always remembered but sadly never replicated myself.

In this edition were a few things I found fascinating – like space, for example, and the death penalty. There is a photo in it of the last public execution in France (1939) and a mention of the youngest man to be executed in Britain in the twentieth century, Francis Robert George “Flossie” Forsyth, hanged at Wandsworth in 1960 at the age of eighteen.

Eighteen.

That, for some reason, has always stayed with me. Over and beyond the same age, I imagined the absolute convergence of youth and death in this story and thought that it seemed impossible. But it was in living memory – still is.

Here’s what he was executed for –

Alan Jee, a young engineer, was walking home after seeing his girlfriend whom he had recently become engaged to. He walked through a lonely alley, and immediately attacked by four local youths: Francis ‘Flossie’ Forsyth (age 18), Norman Harris (age 23), Chrisopher Darby (age 23) and Terrance Lutt (age 17). Lutt struck the first blow, causing Alan Jee to fall to the ground shouting “What do you want me for?”. Lutt, Darby and Harris held him down while Forsyth kicked him repeatedly. While Forsyth continued to kick Jee, Harris when through the young man’s pockets looking for money. Alan Jee never regained consciousness and died two days later in hospital.

Harris boasted about the attack, and word eventually made its way to the police, of Harris’s remarks. All four youths were quickly arrested and interviewed. All four denied being near the alley on the day of the attack, but Forsyth’s shoes still had stains from Alan Jee’s blood. Forsyth also remarked that he had just kicked Jee to shut him up.

All four youths were charged with the capital murder of Alan Jee; murder in the course or furtherance of theft. They were all tried together at the Old Bailey in London during September 1960. Forsyth and Harris were both found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. Darby was found guilty of non-capital murder and sentenced to Life Imprisonment. Lutt was found guilty of capital murder, but due to being under 18 years old, he was sentenced to Detained during Her Majesty’s Pleasure.
Italicised material from: http://www.stephen-stratford.co.uk/forsyth_harris.htm

 

It’s history: the story is brutal and doesn’t end happily for anyone. It reminds us that there has always been violence; that some people act violently without thought for the consequences; that the state used to be far more savage than it is now in its punishments.

All the usual lessons, all the same stuff about history.

Except that thanks to the internet and to time, this story is still happening. People who knew those involved are still thinking about it, remembering, discussing.

And they’re doing it here:

http://eotd.wordpress.com/2008/11/10/10-november-1960-francis-forsyth-and-norman-harris/

This thread is the most extraordinary account of social history. From a footnote to a paragraph in the records books to the living history of ordinary people. Reading the comments, the youngest man to be hanged for murder in nearly 100 years is once more a person, with nicknames, a history of his own, a childhood and a troubled adolescence that didn’t seem to have an easy explanation. As commenter “Fred” writes:

the biggest puzzle of all is why Flossie ever went off the rails in the first place.He was bright and had passed his 11 plus, he liked sports and was good at them,He did not come from a council estate ( as I, and a lot of the local “herberts” of the time did) he lived in a pleasant suburban road.I did not particularly know his parents although my friend who lived three doors from Flossie knew them well and said that they were nice decent people and Mrs Forsyth was certainly not the hard matriarchal type. Yet as I have said earlier Flossie was scared of her reaction to him being out of work.

 

I won’t quote any more because this is a huge thread, with over 300 comments, most of which put the murder and the cultural issues around it – pubs, alcohol, teds, gangs, local culture – into a serious context. You can argue all you like about the reliability of blogs but it provides a valuable perspective on a not-quite-vanished time.

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About Kevin Donnelly

I'm also known as Lawrence George, which is the name I write for Helium under. I think I ought to ditch my pseudonyms before I forget which one is me.
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28 Responses to Francis Robert George Forsyth

  1. Fred says:

    No problem with quoting me,I am 68 now and fortunately have the ability to recall the events of 51 years ago as though they were last week

    • Thanks for popping over, Fred. If you were interested, I’d love you to write a guest post here on the subject of Flossie Forsyth.

      Kevin

      • Fred says:

        Will do when I get a spare few minutes alhough i have put a lot of stuff on the EOTD thread and you are welcome to quote any of it as you think fit

        Fred

    • Allan Osborne says:

      Hi i,m Allan Osborne, I,m 64 and remember Francis Forsyth and Norman Harris. My Grandfather, Alfred Joseph Lyons visited norman Harris inside prison, i believe it was Pentonvile, he also told me, he has saw many people in prison included J ohn Christie, but after seeing mr Harris inside, it was the first time he came away feeling sad. My Grandpa at the time was an acting magerstrate.Well i guess i must of been about 14 or 15., But i still remember it well. Take care A>L >Osborne.

  2. BILL says:

    I grew up with all four involved in this terrible murder and knew them,in fact anybody who was of their age in Hounslow knew them
    There has been a lot of mistakes written about them,but if you visit the site Fred refers to,you will find it good reading.
    Hounslow NEVER recovered after this crime,and became a ghost town!!
    We read in the media everyday about dispicable crimes comitted by feral thugs who do a few years and are then walking the streets again,makes me wonder what sentence Forsyth/Harris/Darby/Lutt would receive today.
    Having said that,as stated before the people who should draw sympathy are the Gee family
    regards
    BILL

  3. Peter Woodbine says:

    They [Harry Allen & Royston Rickard] nearly hanged the chaplain by mistake! As they [the executioners] entered the condemned cell, Harry Allen grabbed the chaplain – intending to pinion his wrists behind him and escort him into the execution chamber. This was immediately corrected…and they got the right man [Forsyth] into the execution chamber and once noosed, he was dropped 7’2″ through the trap doors.

  4. Bill: I appreciate the time you’ve taken to write here. The idea that Hounslow never recovered from the Flossie Forsyth murder is one that makes you change your view – your worldview, I mean. Your view of the whole world. It needs, not a blogpots, but a whole new blog.

    Peter: Thank you for your post. I’m not sure what to say, not at all. It’s as if time has passed me by in a rather poor sense. I don’t know if I am worthy of your material. This is material for a serious film about what we would call the end of “the good old days”. I just think…I don’t know.
    Peter: do you have anyone who can reinforce your account? A “peer reviewed” account?

    Who is Harry Allen?

    Bill, Peter, anyone else- Happy 2012!!!

  5. * a blogpost”

    The triffids approach…..

  6. graham says:

    I have always been interested in this case and feel that no person under the age of 21 should have hanged which would have meant Forsythe going to prison like Darby and Lutt. Harris would surely have been reprieved if this had been the case as he was not the actual killer. In those days you were not allowed to vote until you were 21 as you were not regarded as an adult so how can the law then say you are an adult if you commit a murder.

  7. brian says:

    the hangman who nearly hanged the clergyman was william willis in 1926, he was later sacked for being drunk.

  8. brian says:

    hangmen were allowed 2 pints of beer the night before an execution, no less and certainly no more. phillips was sacked in 1940 for appearing drunk at an execution, authorities thought he might have smuggled spirits into the prison when he arrived at 4pm the previous afternoon.

    • Perhaps he was struggling with the job – like the guy in Pierrepoint who starts with Pierrepoint but is unable to go through with it.

      • brian says:

        a lot of executioners struggled with drink problems when they became assistants they realised they had taken on a job which was to demanding for them and the number of assistant executioners dropping off the list after just one execution became phenominal in the early part of the 1920- 30s. but in the forsyth execution both hangman allen and assistant royston rickard were both publicans and very capable at there jobs. incidentally rickard was the assistant at ruth ellis and james hanrattys executions, and both men hanged gwyn owen evans on 13 august 1964, whilst leslie stewart and assistant harry robinson hanged peter anthony allen at the same time, making it the last execution in england. peter anthony allen was only 3 years older than flossie, and according to bill knight one of the death watch warders litteraly went to pieces during the night messing himself and crying like a baby, but when it was time to go he had pulled himself together, and went with no trouble.

      • I’m not surprised he did – he was only 21. I’m amazed at how many people seemed to go quietly though – as if there were a reason to get it over and done with, something on the other side of doing it – if that makes sense.

      • brian says:

        you are right kevin, steve wade hung about 30 people as no1 and he said there was never a sound from any of them. if you have to go then there is no point in trying to delay the inevitable.

      • Incredible isn’t it. And yet we get really nervous about things like sport!!

      • brian says:

        hello john, some people can handle their bird and lead a normal life afterwards, some get caught so many times they become institusionalised, think it is what sort of criminal you are. agas meter bandit will allways get caught, yet an armed robber on a good run can pay certain people off to make sure he stays out,he has many friends in high places and can be blagging for years before the inevitable bang up, and he is looking at 18-25 years. he just has the bottle and aggression to do the job.

  9. John Crouch says:

    Hi there, I remember Flossie Forsthe as though it were yesterday, and yet I still can’t come to grips about his fate.
    In 1959 I was about to have a government sponsored holiday and this one commenced at Ardale Approved School, near North Stifford in Essex. As you entered the drive there was a large gatehouse with an admin building just past it on the right. The first large house, also on the right, was Livingston House and it was here I would speng the next 18 months. As you looked at the house I was on the top right hand side. Entering the dormitory my bed was at the far end to the right of the fire escape door. Half way down on the right hand side I was introduced to the dormitory leader. He was a smiling man with tousled hair and although his name was Francis everybody called him “Flossie.” It was he, who helped get me through the first difficultt weeks away from home and freedom. I always found him to be helpful, and he was able to give me tips on how to survive in there. Also what not to do, to make him look bad in front of our house master
    I finished up joining the gardening party as Flossie had said this would be the best thing to do, unless it was chucking it down. But then we would sit in the sheds and wait for the rain to ease up.
    The gardener was a real country man named George Rawlings, with a slightly rosy face from years working out doors. What he din’t know about gardening just wasn’t worth knowing. Funny how some people can make such an impact on you all those years ago, and yet those few odd memories still remain the freshest, and to this day I have no idea why.
    I returned back there a few years ago, even though I knew it had changed a lot. Yers agoI remember getting off the bus to return from a weekend pass at the pub, crossing the road, post office and corner shop to the left, and heading down the road to the entrance.
    Now it is an estate, but some parts still remain. The old water tower, as we called it is still there.
    Can still see the ground floor with the 2 floors above it and the master’s room in the centre of it all. My mother came on a visit to see how I was getting on and was so taken back by it all that she enquired if it was possible to get a job there. I didn’t appreciate the chance that I had then, instead I went on to have more sponsored holidays before finally realising the stupidity of further senteces or harder prisons.

  10. Derrick murray says:

    IS CHRIS DARBY STILL ALIVE AND LIVING IN HARLINGTON?

  11. Ned says:

    Seeing the only available photo of Flossie Forsyth makes one aware that he was just a boy; he should not have been killed by the State
    My concern has always been with the involvement of Darby and, more to the point, his fortunate sentence
    Why did he get away so lightly, bearing in mind that his intentions must have been the same as his friends
    Clearly he must have turned QE to save himself
    Despicable
    Mind, he had 53 years to think about that

  12. pierre arteau says:

    all young british criminals of that time were victims of the american movies which praised violence and killings…

  13. I would like to know what Darby thought about it years later. Unless he left a diary or a statement in later life, I suppose we’ll never know. I’m not going to condemn him for his actions all those years ago – I can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same.

    Pierre – I agree and that’s a very interesting idea. The whole “teenager” thing was effectively an American import anyway.

  14. westhamboy says:

    I have read this thread, and also the eotd one that is mentioned within this thread. It is both fascinating and intriguing, as well as horrifying. What really is upsetting for me, is the almost total lack of discussion about Allan Edward J Jee, or his family. All victims. Allen was born in Doncaster, with a twin sister, Barbara, in 1937. They must have moved as a family to Hounslow. Because Barbara was married there in 1959. A fatal move! Let us all, just turn our thoughts to this family, who I have no doubt, will still be suffering as a result of the actions of 4 thugs, yes thugs, more than 50 years ago.

  15. Martyn Mulligan says:

    I have been interested in this case for years. It is a very deep and tragic story. I would love to talk to anybody who really knew him back in the 1950’s.

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