Gibson Percy

Percy Gibson

Gibson was a Communist activist in Newcastle upon Tyne who, in 1925, was accused of an unlikely “plot to blow Newscastle Town Hall”, that was seemingly directly “inspired by Bolshevism”. Needless to say this was a load of old baloney!

He had been arrested at Newcastle a few months before, when it was alleged that he was “in possession of explosives in suspicious circumstances”. The prosecution stated that Gibson was the “organiser of the Communist Party at Newcastle, and was responsible for the statement that he wanted to blow up the town hall when the Lord Mayor and others were inside”. If he had said this, the suspicion has to be that this is one of those classic cases where a man has said the equivalent of “I’ll kill you”, when in an emotive situation and been accused of meaning it. The likelihood that a Communist would have seriously planned a murderous outrage is infinitesimal – unless the man was mentally afflicted. But it seems as if the evidence against him on this front was purely that of a police spy.

In the months before Percy Gibson’s arrest, all mainstream newspapers, then almost the only form of public information available, were alive to stories of Communist conspiracy to cause bloody revolution, no matter how threadbare the evidence for this was.  In Maltby, Nottinghamshire, the theft of explosives (a “powder magazine”) from a store in a mine was openly attributed by the Nottingham Post, without the slightest shred of evidence, to “Communists from Sheffield (who) may have raided the store in compliance with the advice of Zinovieff and other Soviet leaders to get hold of such supplies”.  Extraordinarily, the key factor in this supposedly Communist raid was deemed to be that the store was “an isolated building in the colliery yard, always kept securely locked”. Only clever persons, the unvoiced implication suggested, could have found their way around this obstacle!

Such malice came along with the Zinoviev forgery, which had been published only four days before the October 29th General Election, came on the day before. Needless to say, the result was a big shift to the Tories. 

In this atmosphere, Gibson was arrested on December 10th 1924 when he was supposedly carrying a can of cartridges and gunpowder. Much past experience suggests that this is either untrue and the substances were planted on him by the police, or there was a relatively innocent explanation. What little evidence can be gleaned at this distance in time suggests the latter. 

Of course, it was the “quantity of inflammatory Communist literature” discovered in Gibson's house that went against him, some of it had even been printed in Moscow – a terrible thing in the evidence against poor Percy. But where on earth could the explosive substances have come from? The prosecution later explained that Gibson “obtained them from a colliery, and that he had a secret room, where he told friends that he wished to blow up the town hall when the council was sitting, then the power stations. When the city was plunged in darkness the Communists would loot the shops.” Given that this must have been a police spy’s evidence, the desperation of the prosecution can almost be heard almost a century on. Looting of the shops, indeed!?

“Communist literature found in Gibson's room advocated violence for political purposes”. The simple equation of revolution with violence was no doubt propaganda from the prosecutors but a glimmer of the truth emerged when they revealed that Gibson, on being caught at the quay with the explosives, said that he intended to dump them into river. One newspaper wrote of a “powder in a syrup tin”. 

This smacks more of something old left in a garage than a serious terrorist plot. Had someone acquired the stuff for Percy and he just wanted rid of it? Was it a poaching scam gone wrong? The newspapers record nothing on this but Percy was not forgotten. Whatever the truth, seemingly, he got off the main charges. Perhaps a jury found him wrongly in possession of explosives but did not believe the prosecution’s claims against him?

A short while after sentencing, Saklatvala (see separate entry), the Communist MP, formally asked Joynson-Hicks, the Home Secretary, in parliament about Gibson being sentenced to three years' penal servitude at Newcastle Assizes on the 27th February 1925. His point was that Gibson had been charged with a misdemeanour and a felony but found not guilty of that aspect.  This being a case he felt where mitigation of the sentence was appropriate.  Joynson-Hicks noted that an application to the Court of Criminal Appeal was pending, leaving him powerless to intervene.

Sources: The Argus Jan 8th 1925; Nottingham Post 28th October 1924; HC Deb 19 March 1925 vol 181 c2492W; Western Times 9th January 1925


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