Date: 26 Jul 1989
Donald Kell was shot dead whilst trying to stop a robbery on a security van on 26 July 1989 in Finchley Road, London.
Two masked-men had been trying to rob a Brink’s-Mat security lorry that was outside the Lloyds Bank in Finchley Road, Swiss Cottage, London and had made the two security guards lie down on the ground at gun point.
Donald Kell, who was on his way to a friends with two 30 inch planks of wood to put up some shelves for the friend's daughter, saw them and tackled them with the planks of wood, hitting one of them with a plank quite deliberately, resulting in one of the gunman warning him off, firing a shot into the air to frighten him. However, Donald Kell kept on trying to stop them and so the gunman shot Donald Kell in the chest at close range.
The robbers then made off with a bag of £1 coins said to have totalled about £500. When Donald Kell was attended to, he was heard to murmur, 'What have they done to me?'.
After they fled, they were chased by another member of the public.
A chauffeur that saw the murder said, 'An ordinary guy, who was just walking along, tried to hit them with a wooden plank. The robbers pushed him away on to the ground, but he got up and tried to attack them again. One of the attackers pointed a gun up in the air and fired one shot to warn him. But this bloke kept coming at them with the plank. Then the robber shot him'. The chauffeur said that when the two robbers ran off that he chased them towards a car that they got into and drove off.
The men were described as follows:
The getaway car, a rusty yellow Volkswagen Golf, registration LKM 851P, used in the murder was later abandoned in St John's Wood where it was thought that the robbers had switched cars.
It was determined that the car had previously been parked up along Carfax Road and Cranford Drive in Cranford Park, Hayes for two months, June and July 1989, before the murder, before being moved by an unknown man.
The police gave out a description of the man that was thought to have moved the yellow Volkswagen Golf about prior to the murder, saying that they wanted to question him. He was said to have been about 27 years old, with blond hair, a pale complexion and a thin build.
They also spoke to most of the 9,000 adult residents in the area in an attempt to trace the man.
Two suspects were arrested, but no one was charged with Donald Kell's murder.
Donald Kell's widow was later presented with the Binney Award by the Metropolitan Police to commemorate his bravery.
A newspaper article published on 5 August 1989 in the Newcastle Evening Chronicle criticised the murder blaming society for his death. The article stated that Donald Kell's death should have been on the conscience of every do-gooder in the country and 'hazarded a guess' that if the country still had the ultimate deterrent, hanging, that Donald Kell would not be dead. The article noted that the gunman could have pushed Donald Kell away or beaten him to the ground or struck him with a cosh, but that they didn't and instead they shot him dead, noting that that was their choice to do so, knowing that the difference between a jail sentence for attempted armed robbery and one of murder was negligible. The article stated that society had killed him because it had allowed itself to be convinced that the abolition of the death penalty would have no effect on murder statistics. The article then concluded that it thought that it was time for the Tory Government to come out of hiding and bring back the death penalty which would earn it the gratitude of most of the country and would mean that Donald Kell had not died in vain.
However, a letter in response to the article published on 15 August 1989 stated that the suggestions that the bank robber could have pushed Donald Kell away or beaten him to the ground were inane suggestions, noting that any of those actions could just as well have caused Donald Kell's death, only more prolonged and agonising.
However, at Donald Kell's inquest on Monday 5 February 1990, the coroner warned people not to 'have a go', citing directions from the police.
The coroner noted that Donald Kell died from a gunshot wound to his heart whilst attacking two armed robbers with a plank of wood, describing him as a 'brave' man who had been carrying out his 'civic duty'.
However, a Chief Inspector who was also at the inquest said that it was 'quite clearly inadvisable' for people to tackle armed robbers.
The coroner said, 'I must say it's a very sad thing to conduct an inquest on a man who has shown in an exemplary fashion his civic duty. Everybody will be saddened for his going. He was obviously a very brave man. However, it might have been better for Mr Kell to have watched the robbery rather than trying to stop it'.
Donald Kell's 36-year-old son said, 'I hope this tragedy can be a warning to others who want to have a go in this sort of situation. My advice to them is don't'.
The Chief Inspector noted that the two bank robbers had undoubtedly been professional and experienced robbers.
A verdict of unlawful killing was returned with the note that it was clearly a deliberate murder.
Donald Kell was a retired maintenance engineer having worked at the London regional headquarters of the Open University, which was nearby, retiring the year before. He had lived about 200 yards away from where he was shot in a council flat with his wife.
His wife later said that she saw all the commotion from their balcony after the shooting but didn't know that it was her husband that had been shot. She said she heard the shots from her balcony and added, 'About an hour later I went down to have a look and I heard that someone had been shot dead. But I never dreamed for a minute it was my husband. 'Oh dear', I said to people round about, and then went back home'. She said that she was later sitting in her flat wondering where Donald Kell was, saying, 'I began to get a terrible feeling in my stomach, but I still never really thought he was involved. It was not until the police arrived at my door six hours after the robbery that I learnt the truth'.
see Hayes & Harlington Gazette - Wednesday 09 August 1989
see Reading Evening Post - Thursday 27 July 1989
see Newcastle Evening Chronicle - Saturday 05 August 1989
see Hayes & Harlington Gazette - Wednesday 04 October 1989
see Newcastle Journal - Monday 31 July 1989
see Newcastle Evening Chronicle - Tuesday 15 August 1989
see Hayes & Harlington Gazette - Wednesday 12 December 1990