Andrew Dodds - Group Technical Director
Megger’s test instruments are well known for their reliability and versatility – and the many decades of reliable service they’ve provided in the electrical industry can certainly testify to that. However, it is this versatility that has landed a 1950s version of the popular insulation test set … in court!
The test set in question, which is at present exhibited in New Scotland Yard’s Black Museum, is a nicely dovetailed, wooden cased, 1950s Series 1 Megger - a 500V hand cranked insulation test set. Unfortunately, the series of events that landed this instrument in court, and subsequently in a crime museum are quite gruesome – so read on at your own risk!
It all started in the 60s in London, when gangsters like the Krays and the Richardsons ruled the back streets. Murder, extortion, torture and everything in between were everyday activities for these perpetrators.
Charlie and Eddie Richardson, crime gang leaders from Camberwell in South East London, were running a series of unsavoury businesses behind the camouflage of a respectable (and thriving) scrap metal merchant and a fruit machine dealership. In reality, the brothers were involved in racketeering, illegal drugs, extortion, money laundering, robbery, prostitution and when necessary, contract killing.
The Richardson gang were also known as the Torture Gang given their reputation for intimidating their victims with sadistic methods of persuasion. These included but were not limited to severe beatings, nailing feet to the floor, cutting off toes and fingers, extracting teeth and electrocution!
A public turf war and shoot-outs with rival firm the Krays in the 1960’s, along with increasing pressure on the police from the gangsters’ victims led to the Richardsons’ capture. Key evidence was provided by Lawrence “Johnny” Bradbury, who was convicted for the murder of Tom Waldeck, a mineral prospector and business partner of Charlie Richardson in the Perlite Mining Company which controlled a mineral claim in the Ghost Mountains of the Transvaal.
The murder, it later transpired, was the result of misunderstandings and voting rights amongst the mine shareholders. When sentenced to hang, Bradbury offered to turn Queens evidence and informed on the Richardson gang of which he was part, in exchange for a pardon and immunity.
The Richardson brothers were found guilty of fraud, extortion, assault and grievous bodily harm. Charlie Richardson was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison, and Eddie had ten years added to his existing five year sentence for affray. Roy Hall got ten years for his acts of torture with an electrical generator.
The “Torture Trial” convened at the Old Bailey in April 1967 and amongst the evidence and exhibits was a Megger insulation tester – the “electrical generator” – which was operated by gang member Roy Hall to inflict pain on torture victims.
Stories in the press describe the so-called ‘black box of torture’, with claims that the generator came from an army field telephone or from a WWII bomber. A keen electrician however will be able to spot the fact that the item on display at New Scotland Yards Black Museum is not a death box, but rather a 500 V hand cranked insulation test set which was built with the absolute opposite intentions – to make equipment and buildings safe for users!
The history of the Megger insulation testers is interesting and without a doubt exciting to follow. Yet the use of this particular instrument will go down in history for all the wrong reasons!