Birmingham & Black Country

Harry Street: 1978 West Bromwich killings remembered

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Media captionThe 1978 report shows police cordoned off the victims' homes in Andrew Road and searched the area for spent cartridges

Harry Street killed five people in 1978 in a shooting spree that rocked a quiet West Bromwich neighbourhood. He is now facing further detention after admitting fresh firearms charges.

Street, now a 70-year-old man, on Monday pleaded guilty at Birmingham Crown Court to possessing firearms and making an improvised explosive device.

His latest crime has once again brought back memories of the evening of 26 October 1978 when Street, then known as Barry Williams, shot dead three of his neighbours before killing a petrol station owner and her husband.

Three others were seriously wounded.

'Orgy of violence'

The then 34-year-old fled the scene in his Ford Capri, indiscriminately shooting as he left the Bustleholm estate.

His neighbour George Burkitt and his son, Phillip, were fixing a car on their driveway in Andrew Road when they became his first victims.

He shot them dead before entering their house and killing Iris Burkitt and shooting her daughter Gillian, according to newspaper reports at the time.

Gillian was seriously wounded but recovered, becoming one of only three surviving victims.

The other two were the Burkitts' neighbours, Judith and Joe Chambers, who were shot multiple times as they looked out of the house moments after the first killings.

Image caption Residents living in Andrew Road today still remember the shootings

Pat Dale, who has lived on Andrew Street for 52 years, returned to her house soon after the Birketts were killed.

"I'd been out shopping and when I got back the girl who lived over the road had taken the children inside," she said.

"She said there had been a shooting - I thought she'd gone mad."

Mrs Dale said the next thing she saw was Williams fleeing, "shooting from the car as he left the estate".

A large team of police combed the scene for bullet casings and clues.

Geoff Wright was a photographer for the Express and Star newspaper when Williams launched his attack.

He said he received a call on the evening of 26 October telling him there had been a shooting in Andrew Road.

On his arrival at the scene he found a swarm of police activity and a cordon around the houses where the victims' bodies lay.

Image caption Three people were killed on Andrew Road in 1978 and three others seriously wounded

"I was able to go into a house opposite and have a look at the scene," he said.

"I could see a body lying in the hallway - as it was my job, I got quite a few shots."

His black and white photograph of a body covered in a white sheet was used widely in the press.

Mr Wright, now 78 and retired, said: "It was one of the most dramatic incidents of its kind in the time I worked there."

Once Williams had taken flight from West Bromwich, he headed towards the East Midlands.

In Nuneaton he stopped to fill up his car, where he shot dead petrol station owner Lisa Di Maria and wounded her husband Michel, who later died of his injuries.

The next morning, his Capri was spotted on the Derbyshire Moors, resulting in a 30-mile high-speed chase.

It ended in an arrest in Buxton, where police rammed his car before overpowering him.

Image caption Refuelling at a petrol station in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, Williams shot two more people

Newspaper reports at the time described the killing spree as an "orgy of violence".

In March 1979 Williams appeared at Stafford Crown Court to face five counts of murder, which he denied.

But he admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility after the court heard he had been suffering from mental illness.

His defence counsel reportedly told the court Williams had been driven to kill after becoming obsessed with "noise" emanating from the Birketts' house for several years.

Image caption Barry Williams was arrested in Buxton after a chase than ended in his car being hit by a police car

He was eventually sentenced to indefinite detention in Broadmoor high security psychiatric hospital.

There was an outcry 15 years later when it emerged Williams had been released to a hostel in Birmingham just six miles away from the scene of the first shootings.

Public opposition eventually forced a move to a residential home in Llys Meirchion, North Wales.

In 2003, the Sunday Mercury reported he was believed to be back in the Midlands and surviving victim Judith Chambers was quoted as saying: "Some day, someone will be sorry that Williams was let out.

"If he ever got his hands on another gun, I dread to think what the consequences might be."

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