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.

Later. The Needle has posted some of the press coverage of the resultant trial.


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 Calder 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 Calder 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.

Unknown said...

When Tony left his home in Earl Shilton in March, 1959, on his red and white bicycle to cycle to Nuneaton railway station, he would have to cycle around ten miles to get there. Now there was one hell of a determined young boy.

David Rayner.

Anonymous said...

I was at school with Tony.The memory I have is that he was abducted by a young priest who was attached to the church.

Unknown said...

Well, according to newspaper reports, Tony went to a Catholic school in Earl Shilton, where Kevin was the art master. There was also a parish priest there named Father Quain, but Kevin wasn't a priest. However, he wanted to form a boy scouts type Christian group called The Crusaders and wanted Tony to come to Spain with him to start the movement there as head Crusader. Initially, Tony's parents agreed to Kevin taking him to Spain, but when they found a letter in Tony's bedroom that he had written to Kevin, they were so concerned by its contents that they forbade Kevin to have any more contact with their son. He agreed to this, but secretly, he and Tony had already made plans to go to Spain, even to the extent of Kevin obtaining passports for them under false names. On March 28th, 1959, Tony, without telling his parents, cycled all the way from Earl Shilton to Nuneaton railway station, along the way throwing his school blazer into a river and, leaving his red and white bicycle at the railway station, caught a train to Birmingham, where he caught another train to London Euston station, where he had arranged to meet Kevin and from there, they set off for the continent together. I don't know if this could be classed as an abduction or a kidnap, because Tony went off with Kevin quite willingly. If the pair are still alive, Tony would be 69 now and Kevin would be 86.

Anonymous said...

I was at St Joseph's College, Ipswich, where Tracey taught Spanish and Geography in the academic year 1957/58. His contract wasn't renewed. He was considered a religious fanatic, even at this Catholic school, and tried to start his Crusader group there. He said the organisation was strong in Spain. Tracey was an admirer of General Franco, at that time very much in power in Spain and vigorously persecuting former Republican opponents. I think some of his fellow teachers disapproved of Tracey's enthusiasm for corporal punishment.
Many years later I heard a rumour that he had become a priest. How much credence one can place on this, I can't say

Jonathan Calder said...

Many thanks for the recent comments, particularly that last one, Anonymous.

I have found a version of the video that will play and added a link to some contemporary press coverage.

David Rayner said...

Tony obviously thought the world of Kevin to go off with him like that for fifteen months, leaving behind his family, who must have been worried sick about him. I wonder if the pair kept in touch after Kevin was released from prison. If they are still alive, Tony would now be 72 and Kevin 89.

David Rayner, Stoke on Trent.