Dick Kirby’s new book on the Steven Waldorf drama, when police shot the wrong man
Ex-Flying Squad detective Dick Kirby retired more than 20 years ago and settled in quiet Suffolk, but the crimes of the past are never far from his mind.
Anyone around in 1983 will probably remember the disturbing image. A yellow Mini cordoned off on the streets of London. Lit by floodlights. Both doors flung open. Glass shattered. A man had been shot by police, many times, and was fighting for life. The wrong man.
The Metropolitan Police had been after David Martin, a cross-dressing master of disguise who was also a burglar, car thief, fraudster, gunman and worse. He’d shot a policeman during a burglary that went wrong, and then escaped from a London magistrates’ court on Christmas Eve, 1982.
On January 14, 1983, officers in unmarked cars stopped a Mini in Earls Court. They thought passenger Sue Stephens was Martin’s girlfriend and that a man in the car was the fugitive.
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Film editor Steven Waldorf was an innocent man in the wrong place at the wrong time. He had no connection to the criminal being hunted. Police who opened fire hit the 26-year-old five times – in the head, body and liver. He was rushed into intensive care.
Martin was some time later arrested after trying to escape down the tracks between two Tube stations, but hanged himself in jail in 1984, before he was brought to trial.
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Two officers were accused of attempted murder and attempted wounding, but were cleared of all charges the following autumn.
Steven Waldorf made a full recovery and eventually was awarded compensation of £150,000.
The investigation into this near-fatal calamity had fallen to Scotland Yard’s Flying Squad. Dick Kirby – now retired to a village near Bury St Edmunds and the author of more than a dozen books on historic crime and crime-fighters – was a member of “The Sweeney”… and in the past had crossed paths with David Martin. His new book reveals the inside story of the hunt for “the most dangerous man in London”, whose eventual arrest brought to an end one of the most contentious investigations in Met history.
So what prompted him to write about the case, 33 years on?
“Every time a person is shot by police – usually correctly, despite that person’s family and friends angrily stating that ‘he weren’t no gangsta’ and that, had he lived, he intended to be a lawyer, priest, police officer or (in) any similar profession – the case of Steven Waldorf is one routinely trotted out by the media to show how gung-ho and irresponsible the police are, as well as having a ‘shoot to kill’ agenda.
“It was not true in the case of Waldorf and that was why I wanted to write this book, which goes a long way to disprove those assertions.
“The fact that Waldorf was shot was as a result of a series of unfortunate coincidences, including the fact that Waldorf bore a strong resemblance to David Martin, which resulted in horrifying mistakes being made.”
Dick was part of the Flying Squad team given the task of finding Martin in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.
“It took 11 days of following up leads, sifting through every bit of information, until we ambushed Martin – and even then he escaped, down into Hampstead Underground station, which at 183 feet made it the deepest station in London.
“He was chased through the tunnel – with its electrified track connecting the station with Belsize Park Underground station, three-quarters of a mile away – before he was caught.”
It wasn’t the first time Dick had come across him. When he watched the TV news report following the shooting, the name rang a bell.
“I first had dealings with Martin 10 years before the Waldorf incident, when I was a detective constable at Forest Gate police station in East London.
“At the time, Martin was on the run, having escaped from a prison van, and he had attempted to use a stolen credit card in a jeweller’s. I chased him and he got into a stolen XJ-12 Jaguar. He drove off with me half-in and half-out of the car, and when he suddenly braked at a junction I was thrown from the car and Martin escaped.
“I described him in court as being ‘The most dangerous man in London’ and that, I assure you, was not hyperbole…
“Martin was a master of disguise. A prolific criminal, he had escaped from prison, borstal, prison vans and court cells. He was an expert car thief (when police recovered vehicles he had stolen, he stole them back), a burglar with an expert knowledge of keys, locks and security devices, and an armed robber.
“He had no regard whatsoever for human life; he had shot a security guard during a £25,000 robbery and a police officer who confronted him during a burglary.
“In 1982, when he was arrested at his flat, he was dressed as a woman and was in possession of two loaded handguns, part of a haul of 24 stolen from a gunsmith’s, together with almost 1,000 rounds of ammunition. Martin attempted to shoot the arresting officer and was himself shot.
“He escaped from his cell at Marlborough Street Magistrates’ Court on Christmas Eve 1982 and was being sought by the police up until the time of the Waldorf shooting. At the time of his arrest in the underground tunnel he was not armed but refused to raise his hands and walked straight towards the armed Flying Squad officers, hoping they would shoot him. He was later sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment and within a few months was found hanged in his cell.”
What is the legacy of the Steven Waldorf shooting? (And, by the way, Dick insists it’s Steven, and not Stephen – as a wealth of historical reports have it.)
“There was a review of police firearms procedures following the incident – there always is – and training was improved, but what is never considered by the people who are so eager to criticise the police in circumstances such as these is that split-second decisions have to be made by the firearms officer involved. No-one can tell him to shoot; it’s something only he can decide, and it can result in catastrophic consequences.”
Dick clearly has strong views about modern policing. Ever tempted to stand for the office of police and crime commissioner?
“No, not for one second. I have little regard for politicians and that includes PCCs, who are paid a scandalous salary and allowances and who, in the most part, have had no conception of police work and are given enormous and draconian powers.
“We have only to see some of the disgraceful behaviour displayed by some of these individuals to realise that if the police service of the United Kingdom is to be brought to its knees, it should be left to the Home Secretary, who can do it far more professionally.
“Please don’t ask me what actions I would take if I were elected a PCC; like being elevated to the peerage, it’s never going to happen in my case.”
The Wrong Man: The Shooting of Steven Waldorf and the Hunt for David Martin is published by The History Press at £9.99