At the dawn of the 20th century Whitechapel was London’s sink of iniquity. The area had recently been Jack the Ripper’s hunting ground; now, in December, 1910, it was to become the backcloth for another incredible set of killings.

It began when just before midnight on Friday DECEMBER 16th, the occupant of 120 Houndsditch, off Aldgate High Street, heard mysterious noises coming from the jeweller’s shop next door.

He called the police and five officers arrived. Suddenly two men opened fire from the direction of the jeweller’s and Sergeant Robert Bentley fell dead. Then a number of men stampeded out of the door, gunning down Sergeant Charles Tucker and wounding two more of the officers, one of whom, Police Constable Walter Choat, later died. One of the gang fired a shot that went astray and killed one of his fellow-villains.

In the confusion the gang – they were all terrorist members of a foreign anarchist group – escaped, but a week later three of them had been caught and were in custody.

On January 2nd, 1911, the police heard that two more of them were holed up at No. 100 Sidney Street, off the Mile End Road. One was Fritz Svaars, the other went by the name of Josef. A cordon was thrown around the area: the operation known as the Siege of Sidney Street was about to begin.

The anarchists clearly had automatic weapons, and when they opened fire at 3 a.m. a detective sergeant was hit. A doctor risked a fusillade of bullets to rescue him. The anarchists shot at anything that moved, even killing a cat that came out of a doorway.

At 9 a.m. a detachment of Scots Guards was called in and began firing on the house. Home Secretary Winston Churchill arrived and watched the siege from a distance. At 1 p.m. smoke was seen rising from the house, which was on fire, yet one of the men inside was still raking the street with bullets.

Within the next hour 100 Sidney Street was burned to the ground. In the debris were two bodies – Josef had been shot through the head and Svaars had died from suffocation.

The anarchist plot quickly petered out. Despite the fact that three policemen had been murdered, only one of the gang came to trial. She was Nina Vassileva, who got two years’ hard labour for conspiracy, a sentence which was quashed on appeal on the grounds of misdirection.