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Decision to honour cop-killer angers police leaders

PUBLISHED: 14:05 25 September 2008 | UPDATED: 13:39 05 October 2010

Churchill (highlighted) at 1911 Siege of Sidney St and plaque (inset) to Peter the Painter

Churchill (highlighted) at 1911 Siege of Sidney St and plaque (inset) to Peter the Painter

POLICE Federation chiefs are angry after learning that a housing organisation named two tower blocks after the anarchist leader of a gang that killed three cops which led to the 1911 Siege of Sidney Street. The row centres on Whitechapel’s Peter House and Painter House at the southern end of Sidney Street in London’s East End. Two plaques have just been erected to honour anarchist leader Peter the Painter’

EXCLUSIVE by Ted Jeory

POLICE Federation chiefs are angry after learning that a housing organisation named two tower blocks after the anarchist leader of a gang that killed three cops which led to the 1911 Siege of Sidney Street.

The row centres on Whitechapel’s Peter House and Painter House at the southern end of Sidney Street in London’s East End.

Two plaques have just been erected by Tower Hamlets Community Housing to honour Peter Piaktow, anarchist leader Peter the Painter’.

Piaktow led a gang of Russian anarchists who shot dead three policemen in Houndsditch in December, 1910.

The murders sparked the Siege of Sidney Street a month later when the-then Home Secretary Winston Churchill narrowly missed a bullet during a shoot-out involving police and a reinforcement of Scots Guards billeted at the Tower of London who were called in.

SIEGE OF SIDNEY ST-AMAZING STREET BATTLE

The plaques erected on the side of the buildings describe Piaktow, whose body was never found, as an “antihero of the nearby Siege of Sidney Street.”

But the Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, this week compared Piaktow and his gang to modern-day terrorists.

“These people were anarchists who killed police officers,” its vice-chairman Sarah Drury told the East London Advertiser on Tuesday.

“It’s disappointing that the housing association has chosen to honour the anarchists in this manner when once again terrorism is at the forefront of people’s minds.”

The plaques were spotted by Tower Hamlets councillor Peter Golds, who was the first to realise their significance.

He feels the housing organisation should have commemorated the murdered policemen instead.

“It’s extremely unfortunate they’ve chosen a murderer rather than cherish the memories of the three policemen,” he said. “It’s an insult to their families.”

The three policemen were killed after discovering the gang breaking into a jeweller’s shop in Houndsditch.

Police were then tipped off three weeks later that Piaktow and two others were holed up in Martin’s Mansions in Whitechapel’s Sidney Street.

The tip came from a GP nearby who had been called in to treat one of the injured gang members—and realised they were the wanted anarchists.

Guards, Artillery, Armed Police and Firemen Held at Bay-Astounding scenes

The siege began at 2am on January 3, 1911. By 11am Churchill arrived to take control. At one point a bullet passed through his top hat. When a blaze broke out in the block, thought to have been caused by a spark from a bullet hitting a gas pipe, he refused to allow firemen to douse the flames.

The bodies of Fritz Svaars and William Sokolow were later recovered.

But Peter the Painter was never found—some doubt he was actually there.

Tower Hamlets Community Housing this week denied it was glorifying cop killers.

The plaques were part of a project to give residents a link to the history of their area, its chief executive Mike Tyrell insisted.

“There is no evidence that Peter the Painter killed the three policemen,” he said.

“So we knew we were not naming the block after a murderer.

“There is some doubt as to whether he existed, but he is the name East Enders associate with the Siege of Sidney Street.”

He added: “As there is already a Siege House (in Sidney Street), Peter the Painter was the obvious choice for a name for the two parts of the development.

“These names were put to the officer in the council responsible for street naming, who in turn consulted with the police and fire brigade.”

The three policemen killed by Piaktow’s anarchist gang, Sgt Thomas Tucker, 46, Sgt Robert Bentley, 40, and Pc Joseph Choate, 32, were buried with the highest honours at the City of London Cemetery in Manor Park after an historic service at St Paul’s Cathedral attended by representatives of King George V.

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