“We are not going to have Babbacombe turned into a hooligan’s preserve!”
On 4 February 1931 the Torquay Directory reported on a “gang” that had “terrorised the neighbourhood” of Babbacombe.
Without any sense of irony the same issue of the newspaper described the nefarious activities of another gangster who was, by the Directory’s account, also “terrorising” the community. This criminal was called Al Capone and his victims were the citizens of Chicago.
Al Capone, of course, ruled an empire of crime in the Windy City. He utilised gambling, prostitution, bootlegging, bribery, narcotics trafficking, robbery, protection rackets, and murder.
The Babbacombe Gang, on the other hand, seem to have specialised in throwing stones and playing football in the street. Regardless, something needed to be done before the threat to law and order escalated.
The Torquay newspaper wasn’t that clear what the villainous band had actually been up to. However, they did relate an incident where, “One resident fell a victim of this malign gang, was subjected to an outrageous attack in the dead of night, while he was in bed, his house was ‘stoned’, and his front door badly damaged”.
Whatever other atrocities had been committed were presumably too disturbing to describe in any detail. These incidents were then grouped under the term “evil activities”.
In response, “The Police had already been called in and from time to time have captured some of the members”.
Needless to say the authorities wanted to prevent the situation from deteriorating further. They then took the unusual step of sending in a plain clothes police officer to scour the streets in search of the evil-doers. The officer selected for this hazardous undercover mission was the superbly named PC Gammon.
(Incidentally, the name of this particular officer may have caused some amusement amongst juvenile readers of the Torquay Directory even way back in 1931. The derogatory porcine term for policemen was commonly used during the 19th century. Though it did fade from use during the 20th century, it came back into fashion in the 1960s.)
On Sunday 25 January the efficient PC Gammon tracked the gang down to Victoria Park Road.
“He saw the entire gang playing football in the roadway. As he went towards them, one of them suspected his identity and shouted to his comrades ‘Look out. Policeman!’ It was too late, however, the entire gang, seven in number, were caught red-handed. One of their number was inclined at first to be defiant and he exclaimed ‘Me! All right, we’ll see about that’.”
“Those Babbacombe Lads”, as the Directory called them, were appropriately punished. At Torquay Police Court the miscreants pleaded guilty to playing football in the roadway. The seven young men, who were described as being “employed as caddies and errand boys”, were fined heavily at around a week’s wages each.
The Magistrate warned them that they would not get off as lightly next time and promised them that, “We are not going to have Babbacombe turned into a hooligan’s preserve.”
Torquay Police were delighted at their gang-busting operation: “From the Police point of view, it was undoubtedly the most successful round-up since the gang have been in existence.”
Indeed, in comparison, it took over 10 years for the Chicago Police to convict Al Capone.
However, the authorities’ joy was short-lived.
It was quickly revealed that there wasn’t a single ‘Babbacombe Gang’ which had been causing mayhem! There were two rival gangs. These were the ‘Babbacombe Gang’ and the ‘Plainmoor Gang’. While the police had successfully smashed the Plainmoor Gang, this left their Babbacombe opponents “laughing”.
Whether the now rival-free Plainmoor Gang took up the mantle of juvenile delinquency to commit further street-football outrages isn’t known.
‘Torquay: A Social History’ by local author Kevin Dixon is available for £10 from Artizan Gallery, Lucius Street, Torquay, or: