Ben Fenton – The Telegraph April 25, 2006
The full extent of the crime wave that the “overpaid, oversexed and over here” American forces brought to wartime Britain is disclosed today.
Home Office files kept secret for 60 years show that GIs committed 26 murders, 31 manslaughters, 22 attempted murders and more than 400 sexual offences, including 126 rapes, in the three years between their arrival and the end of the war.
They also show that American commanders allowed Herbert Morrison, the home secretary, to mislead Parliament by assuring MPs that no race discrimination was practised by US courts martial over executions for rape.
Rape was not a capital offence in Britain but under emergency legislation allowing American and other allied armies to use their own system, GIs could be sentenced to death for rape in this country.
Labour MPs who opposed the death penalty challenged Mr Morrison about its use in rape cases and put down parliamentary questions to find out whether black and white soldiers were treated equally.
Home Office officials sensed serious trouble and consulted the American judge advocate general’s office in London, according to files released at the National Archives in Kew, south-west London.
A senior US official reassured them there was no prejudice and said the Americans would be happy if the home secretary told the Commons that three white GIs had been sentenced to death for rape in America a year before.
Mr Morrison duly told the Commons and chided party colleagues for seeking to raise divisions on racial lines.
But only black Americans were facing execution for rape at the time he spoke.
Figures show that, of the 122 rapes committed by Americans between 1943 and 1945, six perpetrators were executed. Five were black and the sixth was a Mexican-American who raped a 75-year-old widow at her Staffordshire home.
The most senior mandarins did not want American executions on British soil. Sir Frank Newsam, the deputy head of the Home Office, wrote: “We should take up with the Americans the question of the desirability of carrying out these sentences in America.”
But the documents show that Col Edward Betts, the judge advocate general, “did not think that the US authorities would wish to do this, because if a man was taken away to be executed his fellow soldiers would not believe the sentence had been carried out and the deterrent effect would be lessened”.
The Americans arrived in Britain without a scaffold and because their main method of execution – hanging with a coiled noose – was considered cruel by British authorities, they had to borrow “a set of apparatus from Wandsworth” and a British hangman.
Consequently, all of the 16 GIs hanged at the American “discipline base” at Shepton Mallet, Somerset, were put to death by Thomas Pierrepoint, Britain’s chief executioner, or his nephew, Albert.
Two soldiers, who killed fellow GIs, were put to death as the US army’s manual quaintly put it, “by musketry”: a firing squad.
The first to die was a private, David Cobb, a black man who had killed his platoon commander in late 1942.
Other murders included that of a taxi driver in Colchester, a 35-year-old widow in Henley-on-Thames and a pimp in Belfast.