They Branded it The Battle of Hurst Street – a massed Birmingham brawl between a biker gang and taxi drivers in fancy dress.
The 40-strong biker chapter used knives, chains and clubs in the sickening street violence. Even women, still in fancy dress, were involved.
When the blood-letting outside the Locarno Club had subsided, cabbie Douglas Brunt lay dead and two others were seriously injured.
He had been repeatedly stabbed in the battle that ended in 29 arrests.
As part of a series on past crimes which rocked the Midlands, former police chief superintendent Mike Layton recalls the hunt for the killer.
Cops were searching for the one man in the mob who killed Douglas.
It proved akin to finding a needle in a haystack because most of those arrested wore near identical motorcycle leathers and colours.
Trouble erupted at 1.15am on June 2, 1981, as 300 partygoers spilled out of a taxi drivers’ fancy dress ball organised to raise funds for charity.
Douglas, just 31 and married with two children, attempted to rescue a fellow cabbie who was being bludgeoned with bike chains – and was himself brutally attacked.
He fell dying with stab wounds to his arms and heart, while a colleague was knifed in the back.
His actions that night, in the face of a gang armed to the teeth, were heroic.
“The scene could be likened to a battlefield,” said a senior officer called to the carnage.
“There was blood and wounded in abundance, weapons abandoned and strewn across the roadway, panic-stricken and hysterical witnesses and many prisoners and suspects.”
Eleven motorcycles were seized at the scene and impounded for forensic examination.
Mike Layton, who was a detective sergeant at the time, says: “The fighting occurred when the bikers left a rock concert at the nearby Romeo and Juliet’s club, in Hurst Street, and started to harass women in fancy dress.
“Douglas Brunt was hailed a hero by his family and colleagues as he tried to intervene to stop the violence. It was a chaotic situation that took some time to unravel, made more difficult by the fact that most of those arrested were wearing similar clothing and, in the main, were initially totally uncooperative.
“The killer was among those arrested, but no-one would shed light on who it was.”
More than 160 key witness statements were taken and over 100 exhibits recovered in relation to 20 suspects.
The gang responsible was from the Birmingham chapter of the United Bikers of Great Britain, a grease-and-petrol outfit with a reputation for being armed and dangerous.
“They weren’t nice people,” Mike says matter-of-factly. “In the Midlands, there was the United Bikers of Great Britain and an offshoot called the Cycle Tramps. The latter had a fortified stronghold which police later smashed through with a bulldozer.”
Detectives knew that, with emotions running high, they had to swiftly apprehend the murderer. Within 24 hours, the TOA Taxi Drivers’ Association had raised £500 for the dead man’s family.
Furious cab drivers demanded justice.
PC Howles, who worked on the tangled investigation, recalled: “I was seconded onto the enquiry and remember taking the victim’s clothing to the forensic laboratory in Gooch Street so that they could try to work out what size and type of knife was used. Afterwards, myself and another officer went out and bought a knife from a shop with similar dimensions.”
The blade used in the fatal attack was eventually found in Wrottesley Street.
By midnight on the day of the killing, Mike and a fellow detective had charged two of the arrested men – one of them the “chairman” of the chapter and known by the street tag Ugly – with affray and possessing offensive weapons.
“The second wasn’t very difficult to identify,” says Mike, now 66 and living in Bromsgrove. “He had his right foot in plaster and was on crutches!”
By the next morning, 17 more were charged with affray – nine of them bikers, two taxi drivers and six unrelated to either group. Within days, three more members of the United Bikers of Great Britain were charged and bailed. They may not have been initially forthcoming, but eventually they did talk.
“There was no code of silence,” says Mike. “ They did talk to the police , but, then, it’s quite sobering when you find yourself interviewed in connection with murder. Even for the toughest of people, it’s quite sobering.
“I remained on the investigation for the next three weeks and was given the job of creating a sequence-of-events chart which, although basic, started to plot the movements of those involved as I sifted through the various witness statements and records of interviews.
“I displayed the whole thing on a wall in the incident room so that officers could brief themselves. This was seen as quite an innovative approach because we did not yet have the luxury of crime analysts to do this sort of intelligence and evidence mapping for us.
“For each of the suspects, I mapped their movements, clothing and what potential witnesses had said about them.”
Not surprisingly, the brawler on crutches stood out like a sore thumb.
“Those witnesses described Ugly as 5ft 11ins tall, of slim build, with shoulder length, straggly brown hair,” recalls Mike. “He had a full beard, tattoos on both arms and was wearing black leathers. He was believed to have been in possession of a three-foot length of chain and a chain belt with which he had threatened the arresting officer.”
That description fitted almost every member of the Hell’s Angels. But Mike points out: “Although the group dressed in what was seen as traditional Hell’s Angels clothing, and was referred to in the media as such, a number of them actually came from the United Bikers of Great Britain .
“They had their own hierarchy and structure, and became more visible in their activities as they vied for power with other groups.”
Detectives worked 12-hour days in the hunt for the killer – and hard work paid dividends.
On June 8, a 19-year-old, arrested by detective John Richards, was charged with Douglas Brunt’s murder. He had originally been charged with affray, but the investigation pinpointed him as the killer.
“They went to his home and he was there on his own,” says Mike. “It was really pretty straightforward. He said he’d had a knife on the night, but threw it away before going to the event at Romeo and Juliet’s because he thought there was going to be trouble.
“He took them to the place where he threw the knife and it was the place where the murder weapon was found. He didn’t tell us the whole truth , but he was cooperative.
“At the police station, he admitted it was him and thanked the officers for dealing with him in such a reasonable way.”
The teenager was later sentenced to seven years for the lesser crime of manslaughter. On July 22, 1982, eight individuals were sentenced, following a Birmingham Crown Court trial, for affray.
It was not the last Birmingham had heard of the United Bikers of Great Britain.
On March 5, 1987, the Birmingham Mail reported: “Seven armed men in a hatchback car planned to attack a rival gang of bikers, Birmingham Crown Court heard .
“Police found a loaded, sawn-off double-barrel shotgun with 17 cartridges, eight knives, four metal bars, two wooden staves, a wrench and an axe.
“Mr David Jones, prosecuting, claimed all seven were either apprentices or full members of the United Bikers of Great Britain.
“He said a rival gang, the Motorcycle Tramps, wanted to take over the United Bikers’ Birmingham chapter.”
The piece added that two men from Birmingham had recruited “soldiers” from other nationwide United Bikers chapters for the attack.
“Five members from the Bristol chapter responded and they were with the Birmingham pair when a policeman stopped their car on a routine patrol in Kings Heath.”