Way back in February I posted a couple of blogs about Iain Sinclair’s book Hackney, That Rose Red Empire. What I didn’t realise back then, or even earlier when I’d given Sinclair a few pointers as regards research on this book, was that Ray ‘The Cat’ Jones was a long time Hackney character who during the 1990s featured regularly in The Hackney Gazette. Since Ray doesn’t appear in Sinclair’s book, I guess this proves that neither of us read the Hackney press with any diligence….
Ray lived for many years at Flat 9, St Andrews House, Cranwich Road, Stamford Hill, London N16 5JB. His long term press spokesman Michael Morgan has also been based in Hackney for many years, and when I met up with the latter man last week he told me that towards the end of his life Ray had used an otherwise empty flat belonging to a mutual friend in Colvestone Crescent, Dalston. This is why press reports about Ray often said he lived in Dalston, although he also kept his council flat in Stamford Hill until his death in 2001.
Among the press clippings Morgan gave me when I met him was the following headlined “Burglar Ray’s dying wish is in the posters’ from The Hackney Gazette of 20 August 1998:
“A cat burglar who robbed the rich and famous for more than 40 years, has been caught putting up his own ‘Wanted’ posters.
“Ray ‘The Cat’ Jones, who lives in Colvestone Crescent, Dalston, has started sticking up the posters in Hackney, with a photo of him behind bars and details of his life story.
“The 82 year-old who is suffering from lung cancer, says it is his last chance to tell his story. ” ‘For years high-ranking police officers have stopped publishers printing my story because it would expose past corruption and victimisation,’ says Ray.
” ‘They know I’m about to die and they hope the truth will go with me. Well damn them, this story is coming out,’ he adds defiantly.
“Although now a frail old man, the crafty crook stole an estimated career haul of £60 million of jewels and valuables – despite spending 33 years in jail.
” ‘Most of them were for crimes I didn’t do and honest policemen have admitted that,’ says Ray. ‘I’m not looking for forgiveness. I was a criminal. I just want the people around me know what happened.’ ”
Two years before this, in an edition of 25 April 1996, The Hackney Gazette had carried the headline ‘Cat’s Campaign for recognition’ and beneath it the following story:
“The once-athletic burglar Ray ‘The Cat’ Jones has staged a one-man protest claiming that the police have tried to cover up his involvement in a gems burglary from a movie star.
“Standing next to a huge placard cataloguing his alleged part in the theft of jewels from Sophia Loren, 80-year-old Ray distributed 500 leaflets at Ridley Road market, Dalston, last Friday to passers-by.
“Ray who lives in Stamford Hill claims that he and an accomplice paid for information from two senior police officers that helped them steal the Italian actress’s gems when she was staying in London in the 1960s.
” ‘They are afraid of being exposed,’ said Ray, who confessed to the crime four years ago, but has not been arrested for it. He claimed that all attempts to reveal his role in the heist have been suppressed, including deals to publish his life story.”
When I met Michael Morgan in his Hackney flat, he told me that he’d lost many of the papers and press clippings relating to Ray, but he gave me photocopies of everything he still had. Michael spoke passionately about Ray and his decade-long friendship with him. Ray had clearly been a charismatic figure who made a lasting impression on those he met.
After I visited him, Michael Morgan sent me the following statement about Ray Jones:
“For people who read news on Raymond Jones in the Hackney & national newspapers, Raymond for many years wanted his life story published, the news in 1992 about the burglary of Sophia Loren from May 1960, caused a great deal of public interest, of course those unique court trials were the real reason why Raymond’s life story was stopped by the powers that be. If the trials from the 1930s 40s & 50s had come into the public domain, people reading about these trials would have been very shocked to think that things like this could happen in crown courts. In 1994 the Mail on Sunday newspaper promised Raymond if he was arrested for the burglary of Sophia Loren they would do a large news story on him a reporter & photographer came out to Borehamwood Police Station and spent six hours there before Raymond was arrested. The story was shelved, why? The Sun newspaper on another occasion spent a day and a half with Raymond in Wales. The story was shelved, why? How sad they could do this to a very ill man, as Raymond was. Two major book publishers promised to publish Raymond Jones’s life story but shelved the plans, why? One of the editors talked to Raymond one day and said, I am sorry, we can’t publish your story we have been stopped and I can’t say more than that.
“Is this democracy? God help us all.
“A very big thank you to Welsh newspapers, The Western Mail and sister paper Wales on Sunday and The Hackney Gazette in London, for their kindness over a very long time and the very many stories that was published in these papers to get Raymond Jones’s life story into the public domain.
“If Raymond’s life story had been published, I am sure the public would have taken Raymond to their heart and would have looked on Raymond, not as a jewel thief but a martyr.
“Raymond Jones passed away on 4th February 2001.”
Thus while I was able to help Iain Sinclair out with his Hackney research into the Mole Man and other matters, I clearly let the side down by not knowing enough about the colorful life of my distant relative Raymond Jones. When Sinclair was working on his Hackney book, I knew my mother‘s cousin was a jewel thief but I didn’t know he had personal connections to Hackney going back to the 1950s and possibly much earlier… So in as far as Iain Sinclair might be criticised for his lack of local knowledge on this score, I too should bear some of the blame…
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!