James Daly is one of the many curious underworld figures who knew my mother Julia Callan-Thompson. It seems my mother first came across Daly when they were both scoring smack at 75a Cambridge Gardens in the early 1970s. The gear sold at this address was supplied by a former jockey of Australian extraction called Larry Benns. He’s been described to me as a hot tempered man suffering from low self-esteem who excelled at pissing off his girlfriends. The scene at 75a was intense, a number of addicts seem to have overdosed there including, it is said, one of Brenda Grevelle’s boyfriends. Benns apparently went on the run while on bail facing drug charges; he is rumoured to have returned to Australia where he died.
Turning our attention to Jim Daly, he was a blonde-haired small-time thief from an Irish family who’d take stolen goods to 75a Cambridge Gardens and exchange them for drugs. The absurd nature of Daly’s criminal life is evident from an escapade in which he played a peripheral role that garnered coverage in The Times under headings such as ‘Man On Firearm Charge’ (5 February 1973), ‘Escape Plot Alleged’ (6 February 1973), ‘Shotgun Court Breaks Up In Disorder’ (6 April 1973) and ‘Escape Bid Was Based On Black Power Type Plot’ (12 June 1973). The gist of the story is that while on remand in Brixton Prison, Daly then aged 24 met a 38 year-old American consultant engineer called Nathan Greenberg who was facing a fire-arms charge and wanted to make an escape bid. With others they cooked up a plan inspired by the antics of the Black Panthers in California, whereby Greenberg’s 19 year-old German girlfriend Erika Pijanka would smuggle guns into the West London Magistrates’ Court during his next hearing and use them to free him.
Thus on 1 February 1973 Pijanka entered the public gallery of the court, pointed a sawn-off shotgun at the magistrate and screamed: “All right, stay where you are!” As a cop wrestled Pijanka to the ground, a single shot went off. The escape bid was foiled without loss of life or serious injury. Greenberg eventually got a seven year sentence for his fire arms offences, and nine months to run concurrently for contempt of court. William White, the man who Daly had allegedly placed Greenberg and Pijanka in touch with to supply the guns for the escape bid, was found not guilty of furnishing the weapons. Daly got an eighteen month suspended sentence for his role in the plot.
Daly evidently spent a lot of time in jail in the 1970s and my mother visited him at least once while he was banged up. Among her extant papers is a letter dated 23 October 1975 on Blenheim Project headed paper and addressed to the “The Officer on the Gate, H. M. Prison, Wormwood Scrubs, Du Cane Road, W6”:
Re: James Daly.
Miss Julia Callan-Thompson is a bona fide Social Worker at the above named Blenheim Project and is the bearer of this letter.
A visit had been arranged for Miss Druecilla Verney, also of the Blenheim Project, to visit the above named at 4.00 this 23rd day of October, and we hope that it will be possible for Miss Callan-Thompson to accompany Miss Verney on this visit. Miss Callan-Thompson is also a member of the S.C.O.D.A. working team.
The Blenheim Project.
If my mother was ‘a bona fide Social Worker” at the Blenheim Project, this was due to a touch of fraud on her part. I have a copy of a job application she made to the Blehheim Project in the summer of 1975 on which she falsely claimed she attended University College London and gained an upper 2nd philosophy B.A. Hons. in 1963 and an MPhil 1966. In fact, my mother left school at the age of 16 in 1960, and during the period she told the Blenheim Project she’d studied at UCL, she’d been far more gainfully employed as a showgirl and hostess at Murray’s Cabaret Club and Churchill’s in the west end of London. Despite her job as ‘a bona fide Social Worker’ providing my mother with an excellent front when visiting jailed friends, she didn’t like the nine-to-five regime that went with it and soon jacked it in.
As for Jim Daly, I’ve no idea what happened to him. Blog comments from anyone with information about him would be appreciated. I don’t know whether or not William White was a part of the well-known London crime family of that name, it seems possible but is certainly not proven right now; one of Alf White’s sons, known to friends and family as Billy, went by this name.
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!