Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tony Stephens, 12, kidnapped from Earl Shilton in 1959

[18 August 2011: Lots of people have been reading this post in the past few days. The Tony Stephens case has obviously been written or talked about somewhere, but I can't find where that is. Could someone kindly leave a comment telling me where they heard about this case?]

Earl Shilton is a fairly nondescript village in Leicestershre best known as the nursery of a brace of seam bowlers with two-test international careers - Les Taylor and Jimmy Ormond.

But in 1959 and 1960, suggests this startling film from the British Pathé collection, it was in the headlines for a different reason.

This film - click on the photo above to be taken to the clip on the British Pathé website - shows the return home to Earl Shilton of 12-year-old Tony Stephens after having been kidnapped and kept on the Continent for 15 months.

The commentary says that the boy's father, a milkman, gave up his job and searched Europe for him and the film shows an art master, Kevin Tracey, being taken off to Hinckley to be questioned.

This is the first I have heard of this affair? Was it the talk of the country in 1959 and 1960? A search of the net produces only a posting on an Earl Shilton forum and, from it, a cutting about Kevin Tracey appearing in court.

While writing this, I have also come across a cutting from the Straits Times about Tony being found by his father. (Pathé gives the boy's surname as Stevens, but both newspapers have it as Stephens.) It would take a search of the contemporary national press - or at least the Leicester Mercury - to see how big a story this was.

What is striking about the newsreel now is that Tony's return home is treated as an uncomplicated good news story. There are no experts on hand to talk about trauma, even if the likely motivation for the kidnapping must have been just as apparent then.

Notable too is the lack of privacy for the family and - if this film shows the real return home rather than a reconstruction of it for the cameras - and the lack of journalists outside the house.

Of course, things may not be quite what they seem. I have heard it said that you must assume that all documentary footage from the Second World War is staged for the camera, because in those days a mobile film unit was so large and unwieldy. I do not know how far things had moved on by 1960.


Anonymous said...

Fascinating. I'd really like to know what happened to Kevin Tracey too, is he now dead, or released from prison?

Where did he take Tony on the continent?

Bizzarre and unexplained!

Anonymous said...

Saw a video on YouTube that was featured on the front page and wanted to investigate further!

Jonathan said...

Thanks for that. It explains why I could not find anything through Google News.

Byron said...

I was brought up in Earl Shilton and clearly recall the Tony Stephens case. I have asked my mother (aged 86) whether she can find any more information - she works at the Age Concern shop in the village and may be able to find out more about the case. Are you still interested?

Jonathan said...

Yes please, I'm always interested in the sort of local history you don't read about in books.

I did hear form someone who had been friends with Tony's younger brother, who was born after these events.