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The Tragic Story of Percy Dunn
By Matt Jackson

Percy Dunn is far right in this 1929 Newcastle pic
Picture from newcastlespeedwayhistory.co.uk

Fortunately, as Nick Ross used to say at the end of BBC's Crimewatch UK, 'don't have nightmares', telling us that serious crime is rare, despite what they showed us on the programme. In speedway, the occasions of riders losing their lives in circumstances that might warrant a piece on Crimewatch are fortunately few and far between.

Until recently, the only occasion I could recall was the tragic death of the Polish legend Edward Jancarz, who was killed by his wife after a domestic argument back in 1992.

However, trawling through the old newspapers for my work for the Speedway Researcher web site, I came across the story of Percy Dunn, a name that may not be quite as familiar to speedway fans, other than those with a keen interest of racing in the north-east from years gone by.

Percy Dunn was born in Sunderland in February 1913 and was probably the youngest rider in the sport when he rode for Newcastle in 1929. He showed some real promise in a team that included the Creasor brothers, Fred and Walter, and another young Sunderland prospect by the name of Gordon Byers.

When Newcastle pulled out of the league in 1930, some of the team drifted away from the sport but the teenage Percy was undeterred and had outings for Belle Vue, Glasgow and Stamford Bridge over the next couple of years before trying his luck at Wimbledon in 1932.

By this time, the number of teams in the league were dwindling and only a few were lucky enough to hold down a team place which would earn them a living. Percy, despite that early promise, had not been in the top sphere by any means and his name was to disappear from the sport.

However, Percy's love for speedway was clearly undiminished and when the sport returned to Newcastle in 1938, he had another go and appeared for the club in an English Trophy match against West Ham Reserves, scoring a single point in a 57-26 win. The team had the likes of George Pepper, Fred Curtis and Maurice Stobbart, and performed well enough to finish in mid table, although Percy did not appear again in team events.

War was to come the following year and league speedway was suspended, but in 1945 a number of tracks started to reopen and one of these was Newcastle, who staged their comeback meeting on April 2, taking on West Ham in a challenge match. Amongst the team that night was one Percy Dunn, still only 32 years old, and still keen to make a name for himself on the shale. Again, he was not successful and by June he had drifted away from the sport for good.

Just two years later, Percy Dunn died in tragic circumstances.

For years, Percy had been friends with a bookmaker's clerk by the name of Michael Wharton, who was just a year older than Percy and on July 27, 1947, the pair went out drinking with two female companions, ending up at the Wellington Arms in the town of Crook.

Durham Assizes later heard that the group had travelled to the pub in Percy's car and the four had been drinking. Around 10 p.m. an argument developed between Percy and Michael Wharton, leading to the two men going out into the rear yard of the pub to settle their differences.

The exact details of what happened in the yard of the pub is not known, but Wharton had hit Percy and caused him to fall, possibly hitting his head on the floor and suffering a fractured skull. He died in hospital the following day. The court sentenced Wharton to four years in prison for manslaughter.

This was a tragic story of two long time friends on a night out who seemingly exchanged words about whether they should stay the night at the pub or go home. The difference of opinion led to the fisticuffs between two men in the prime of their lives with the resulting consequence of Percy losing his life after a seemingly innocuous incident.

 

This article was first published on 31st May 2020

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  • Arnie Gibbons:

    "Re: "suitable for crimewatch" - Ukrainian Igor Marko who died after a mugging/street robbery in Rivne in 2006. Although over 40 he was still active in the Ukraine. Career highlight was the 1986 European Junior Championship (now called World under 21) which he won from Tony Olsson and Brian Karger. He appeared in Britain in 1990 as part of a USSR touring team."

  • Doug Macfarlane:

    "Re: 'Suitable for crimewatch' - 1933, Lismore, NSW. Well known speedway rider, Arthur Kidd (18) shot at his wife Una Kidd with intent to murder. After an argument Kidd met his wife in the street and fired at her with a sawn off pea rifle

    A sawn off pea rifle, whatever that might be, was also the weapon of choice in 1941, when former speedway rider, Roy Hindle (38) was charged with the murder of William James (22), son of an MP at South Maitland railway works.

    After a series of arguments between the two colleagues, eye witness, Thomas Griffiths, said Hindle fired at point blank range. In s defence Hindle said he only meant to frighten James.

    Not sure of the decision in either case"  

     

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