At the beginning of the 1970s the Barn Restaurant at Braintree in Essex was a successful entertainment venue under the ownership and management of World War II veteran and former RAF bomber pilot Robert Patience. Life in the restaurant business was pretty uneventful for Robert until the early hours of the 5th November 1972 (at twenty minutes past two in the morning to be precise) when he left the restaurant and walked the fifty yards to his three-bedroomed house nearby. When he arrived home he was surprised and shocked to find that his home had been invaded by two gunmen and that his wife and daughter were cowering with fear on the settee in the living room.
The two men had forced themselves into the house with the intention of acquiring the contents of Robert Patience's safe and demanded that he hand over the keys to the safe. When Robert tried to play for time, claiming that the safe key was back in the restaurant, one of the gunmen shot his wife in the head. Robert then produced the safe key, which had been hidden in the room all along, opened the wall safe and passed them the contents of the safe.
What happened next is best explained by Robert Patience himself, as his statement later recorded;
My wife was bleeding on the carpet and in a terrible state. I told the first gunman to get out with the money. He gave instructions to the other man to tie up both my daughter and myself. Then he shot my daughter through the back while she lay on the floor. I knew it was my turn next. There was a hell of a bang and I thought that was my lot. I felt blood running down me and I was sure that I was dying. The fair-haired man who did all the talking and shooting just held his gun a foot or so from the side of my head and pulled the trigger. Later the surgeons told me that the bullet had entered my ear and by some miracle had hit a bone and bounced out again. The gunman had used two cushions, firing twice through one of them and once through the other, to deaden the sound of the shots.
Despite being shot in the head, Robert Patience remained concious and once the men had left he was able to crawl to the telephone and alert the police. Robert survived the ordeal as did his daughter Beverley Patience, however his wife Muriel Patience died from her wounds three days later.
The total value of the safe's contents which had been the cause of all this bloodshed amounted to a mere ninety pounds.
The police were naturally keen to catch the perpetrators of the crime and were soon in receipt of information that a known armed robber by the name of George Ince was responsible for the crime. Alerted to the fact that the police were anxious to speak to him, George Ince gave himself up to police in London on the 27th November. He was driven to Braintree and appeared in an identification parade where he was identified by both Bob and Beverley Patience as the "fair-haired man who did all the talking and shooting".
Thus in May 1973 George Ince stood trial at Chelmsford Crown Court before Mr Justice Melford Stevenson on the a number of charges including those of murder and attempted murder. From the very beginning George asserted his innocence and regarded the whole trial as simply an attempt to fit him up. Indeed he became so annoyed with the progress of the trial that he sacked his defence council, sent a telegram to the Lord Chancellor demanding that Melford Stevenson be replaced, as he was both biased and rude, and spent much of the remainder of the trial with his back to the judge.
It is quite possible that all these histrionics had some effect on the jury as despite the very positive identification of George by the two victims, they were unable to reach a verdict. The Crown Prosecution Service decided to persevere with the case, and a week later Ince was subjected to a retrial.
As it happens George Ince was indeed innocent of the crime. What is more he could prove it, as he had an alibi, having spent the night of the 4/5th November in the arms of one Dolly Kray. However George was somewhat reluctant to admit to this in public as Dolly's husband was the notorious Charlie Kray, then serving a ten year sentence at Maidstone Prison for his involvement in the murder of Jack "The Hat" McVitie. Charlie was the older brother of the Kray twins, and George simply feared the vengeance of the Kray Gang more than he did the vengeance of the Law.
Much to everyone's suprise Charlie turned out to far more understanding on the matter than anyone could have expected. Informed by his wife of the facts during a prison visit, he apparently urged her to testify in George's defence. Thus Dolly Kray appeared as a defence witness at his retrial and her evidence was regaded as instrumental in securing George's acquittal.
George Ince was naturally overjoyed when the jury delivered its verdict on the 23rd May 1973, at which point he turned to the police and shouted "You are one hundred percent corrupt! It is your turn now!" (Many people were subsequently of the opinion that he had a point.)
As is so often the case the real perpetrators of the crime were not identified as a result of diligent police work but rather by complete chance.
Shortly after the acquittal of Ince, the police in the Lake District arrested a petty crook by the name of Peter Hanson. No doubt anxious to earn the usual credit from the authorities for turning informant, Mr Hanson told police that a certain John Brook had boasted to him of his role in the Barn Restaurant Murder, named his accomplice as one Nicholas Richard James de Clare Johnson, and even knew of the whereabouts of the murder weapon. Peter Hanson was able to direct the Cumbria police to a local guesthouse where they were able to recover an Italian Baretta 38 automatic pistol which had been hidden in a mattress. Forensic tests later confirmed that it was the weapon used in the Braintree shootings.
When arrested on the 15th June Nicholas de Clare Johnson made a full and frank confession of his involvement and also named John Brook as the shooter. It emerged that the two men were convinced that there would be at least ten thousand pounds in the house safe and had both ingested large quantity of alcohol and narcotics in order to steel themselves for the job, a fact which goes a long way to explaining their callous treatment of the Patience family as well as their basic incompetence in executing their captives.
Brook and Johnson were both tried in January 1974. John Brook was convicted of murder and attempted murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Nicholas de Clare Johnson was convicted of manslaughter and got ten years.
- David Cocksedge The Barn Murder Case from the Hua Hin Observer
William Donaldson Brewer's Rogues, Villains and Eccentrics (Phoenix, 2004)