Penyberth – New Research on Old Bailey Switch

New research reveals that the controversial transfer of the Penyberth Bombing School trial from Wales to London was engineered by a local police chief rather than the Westminster government.

Three of the Plaid Cymru’s leading members, Saunders Lewis, Lewis Valentine and DJ Williams were imprisoned following the burning of the bombing school under construction at Penyberth near Pwllheli in September 1936.

The move of the trial to the Old Bailey came after a jury in Caernarfon had failed to find the Three guilty of committing the damage and caused a major furore in Wales.  Former Prime Minster David Lloyd George was one of many who blamed the government of the day – “They crumple when tackled by Mussolini and Hitler, but they take it out on the smallest country in the realm,” he said, “This is the First Government that has tried Wales at the Old Bailey.”

Now freshly published research by law expert Keith Bush finds that pressure for the move originated with the then Chief Constable of Caernarfonshire Police, Edward Williams rather than London government ministers.

Mr Bush, Senior Fellow in Welsh Law at the Wales Governance Centre,  shows that just twelve days after the first trial in Caernarfon, the Chief Constable wrote to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions urging them to move the case out of Wales

To demonstrate his concern, he sent a copy of the panel of he had marked to show which jurors had been prepared to find the Three guilty and which were not – seven for guilty and five against.  This evidence of the deep division in the jury, together with the atmosphere outside and inside the court during the trial, made it necessary in his view to shift the trial out of Wales to the Old Bailey: the outcome of the case had given “a great stimulus to the Party and it is said by them that a similar result will happen again if the defendants appear before a Welsh jury”.

However, such was the strength of objections that the Attorney General looked for another option, admitting that he had not anticipated that the idea of moving a case from Wales to England could be so controversial.  Prosecution lawyers offered the Lord Chief Justice an alternative, that of holding a second trial somewhere else in Wales, with Cardiff suggested; but by then it was too late, as the only application before the Court was for the case to be moved from Wales to London.

The research was revealed in a lecture delivered by Mr Bush at the National Eisteddfod at Boduan near Pwllheli, organised by the Plaid Cymru History Society.  It also examines other legal aspects of the Penyberth case, including treatment of the Welsh language by the judge at the first trial,

It is now published in Welsh and English on the website of the Plaid Cymru History Society,

Picture:  Painting of the Penyberth Three by Ifor Davies, exhibited in the National Eisteddfod main arts centre Y Lle Celf this year