Billy Hughes


Wednesday 12 January 1977

Billy Hughes is being taken from Leicester Prison to Chesterfield Magistrates Court escorted by two prison officers in a minicab.  He is charged with stabbing a man in the face and raping his girlfriend at knifepoint.   He asks to use the toilet at Trowell service area.  Billy Hughes stabs  wounds both prison officers.  Hughes  handcuffs them together in the back of the minicab.

There is a snowstorm… the worst for 15 years.  The taxi driver and the prison officers are dumped  at Spitewell and Billy drives on the B5057 He crashes the taxi near Beeley  not far from Chatsworth House.  Billy heads north across Beeley Moors…  he walks and jogs for three hours in freezing snow until he comes to Pottery Cottage.

Pottery Cottage is an 18th century pottery  converted into three dwellings.  The middle cottage is empty.  At  one end live the Morans and at the other live two teachers, the Newmans.

The Moran family consists of 5 people, Arthur Minton,  72, a retired grocer and his wife Amy, 68,  their daughter Gill Moran, 38,  her husband Richard Moran, 36,  and the adopted daughter Sarah aged 10.  Richard Moran is  from Ireland and has a  successful career as a sales director. They are a well to do family living in a lovely cottage.  The unimaginable is about to happen.

Hughes arrives at Pottery Cottage.  He is exhausted and freezing.  He notices two axes outside the cottage, used for chopping wood.  With an axe in each hand he bursts in.  Amy is preparing vegetables.  With Amy and Arthur under control he makes a quick tour of the cottage.  Richard and Gill are at work and Sarah is at school.  Billy takes  a  5 inch boning knife from the kitchen drawer and pockets it.

Gill arrives  just after 3.00 pm in her Hillman Imp from Chesterfield where she works as a secretary.  Her mother lets  her in: “There’s a man here on the run from the police.  He’s got a knife but he’s promised not to harm us. ”

Hughes:  “I have stabbed two prison officers, but I did not kill them.  But I do know how to kill.”

About 3.30 the school bus drops Sarah.  Gill tells her that Hughes – is a motorist whose car has broken down and tells her to play in her room.

Richard comes home after 5.00pm to find Billy holding a knife to his wife’s throat.  Hughes cuts flex from a lamp, a vacuum cleaner and washing line and ties up his victim’s hands and feet with their hands behind their backs and their feet tied together.  Arthur resists and tells Hughes to leave the home. Hughes pushes Arthur to the floor.  Arthur has an artificial leg and struggles to stand.    Hughes gags all the victims.

Hughes slings 12 stone Richard over his shoulder and carries him  upstairs.  He does the same with the two women.  Then he carries up Sarah.  The four are all in different rooms.  Amy manages to free herself.  Hughes binds her more tightly and she cries out in pain.  He gags her.

Arthur, tied up in an armchair,  is the only person downstairs.

The next morning, Thursday,  a van visits the cottage to empty the septic tank.  Gill believes that the only way to survive is to obey Hughes and she signs the sanitation worker’s docket to confirm that the work has been done.

She glimpses her father covered by a coat through a glass kitchen door.  Hughes tells her that he is asleep.

Hughes tells her to ring her office and Sarah’s school to say they are both ill.  Hughes orders Gill to drive to Chesterfield to buy cigarettes and a newspaper: “I know you won’t do anything silly because I’ve got your family here.”

When Gill returns he says that Sarah is well but that Gill cannot see her.  At 9.30 Hughes carries Richard downstairs and orders him to phone his office to report sick.

gm and husband

Richard and Gill Moran

hen Hughes unties Richard and Amy.  Gill makes soup and toast.  Hughes takes toast and soup for Sarah and Arthur.  Incredibly Hughes and his captives read the papers and play cards.  Hughes says he wants to test drive Richard’s Chrysler 180 and Richard and Gill accompany him for a short drive.  He plans to use the Chrysler to escape and to take Gill as hostage.  He says he has a friend in Sutton in Ashfield with whom he has committed a robbery.  He wants to see his friend to take his share of the proceeds.  He packs a suitcase and  ties up Mrs Minton and Richard.  He gets in the Chrysler and sets off with Gill.  Hughes says he has forgotten instructions he has written down to get to his friend’s place and briefly returns.  They set off again and at Sutton in Ashfield they stop at a truck stop called Roy’s Cafe.  Hughes takes the ignition keys disappears and then returns.

Hughes says he has been disturbed by a policeman and shows a truncheon.  They return to Pottery Cottage.  They arrive at 2am on Friday.  Hughes says that he, Richard, Gill and Amy will all sleep in the same room so that he “can keep a proper eye on them. ”

In the morning they all wake up.  Hughes orders Gill to make tea and toast.  Then he tells her he wants to go shopping for supplies.  He wants tins of soup, stew, camping gas stove, gas cylinders, cigarettes, sweets, steak and lamb chops.  He gives Gill £25 that he has stolen from his search of the house:  “While you are out buy a nice present for Sarah.”  He tells Richard to drive his wife to Chesterfield to get the supplies.  Hughes clears snow from the drive.  Richard and Gill go to the supermarket to get the supplies.  They fill the car with petrol and buy an Enid Blyton from a book-store for Sarah.

They buy a copy of the paper where they see a photo of Hughes on the front page.  When they arrive back Hughes is with Amy Minton who has a job cleaning the cottage at the other end of the row.  Mrs Minton cleans for them every week.

Gill cooks a meal for them.  Richard, Gill and Amy hardly eat but Hughes wolfs down his meal.

Hughes says that he needs money to escape and asks Richard if there is any money at his office.  Richard tells him that there is.  “Right we’ll go and get it.”

At 6pm Gill and Richard and Hughes get into the Chrysler and drive to Brett Plastics at Chesterfield.  The night shift has started.  Richard goes in alone and tells a colleague he is working late.  He brings in Gill and Hughes from the car.  Hughes searches the safe and drawers.  He finds about £210 in wages and a cash float.    They go back to the car.  They return to Pottery Cottage.

He ties up Richard and puts supplies in the Chrysler.  He says he is leaving drives off with Gill.  At the roundabout he says he has forgotten a road atlas and they drive back for it.  He tells Gill to wait outside.  He says: “I am just going to check on Sarah and your dad.”

When he returns the car will not start.  Furious Hughes tells her to get help from the neighbours.  Gill, unsupervised whispers to  them that Richard is tied up.  The neighbours do not know about the prison escape.   Hughes is still trying to start the car.  Gill gets into the car.   Amy Minton, her throat cut,  appears at the driver’s windscreen and then falls dead in the drive.  Then a car starts next door.  The neighbours, the Newmans, who do not have a phone, race off to tell the Police.

Hughes says that they will have to make a run for it .  They come to a cottage belonging to mechanic Ron Frost and ask him to give them a tow with his pick-up to get the car started.  Gill manages to mouth to Ron’s wife, Madge, what is happening.  Ron starts the car.  Hughes drives towards Baslow.  By the time Ron gets home his wife has alerted the Police.

At 8.19 pm Hughes is driving the Richard’s  car with Gill as his hostage.   Gill’s state of mind is beyond  imagination.  She has seen her mother appear at the windscreen of the car and then fall dead in front of her eyes.  She has spent days with a terrifying stranger.  She has not seen her father or her daughter for two days.

The Police assume that Hughes, who had escaped three days before,  was out of the area but now they have  two phone calls from Madge Frost and from the other Pottery Cottage residents, the Newmans, who bravely drove off and contacted the Police from a neighbouring home.

Officers arrive at Pottery Cottage but Hughes has already driven off with Gill.  They find four murdered people.  Richard, Sarah, Amy and Arthur.

The blue Chrysler is moving at dangerous speed along the A619 shadowed by an unmarked Police car.  The shadowing car moves in front.  The Chrysler crashes into a wall.  Two officers run towards the car but halt when Hughes holds an axe above her head: “Back off or I’ll kill her.”

Hughes drags Gill out and demands the officers hand over their car.  He speeds away in the hijacked Marina.  He is heading towards Cheshire and police marksmen are  flood into the area.

At Rainow on the A5002 between Whaley Bridge and Macclesfield police block the road with a bus.  At 10.00 pm Hughes tries to swerve round the bus but crashes into a wall.  Armed officers surround the car but dare not shoot because of  Gill.  Hughes demands another car and safe passage.  For half and hour they negotiate.   Hughes screams: “Your time’s up.”  He raises the axe.  A shot.   Hughes is shot  in the head but continues to move.  Another officer shoots Hughes two times through the body.  A third officer shoots Hughes through the heart.

It is Friday night.  Hughes has been at Pottery Cottage since Wednesday.  There are four murdered people:  Richard, Sarah, Arthur and Amy.

Gill is injured from the axe and from flying glass.  But then she is told that her mother, her father, her daughter and her husband are dead.   Arthur, Gill’s father was killed on the first evening.  Gill had glimpsed his body through a glass kitchen door and Hughes had told her that he was sleeping.  Sarah was killed while Gill drove to Chesterfield for newspapers and cigarettes for Hughes.

When Hughes returned for a map and goes into the house: “to look after Sarah and your dad” he cuts Richard’s throat and Gill’s mother Amy’s throat.  Amy had fallen through a window and survived for a time and bravely, mortally injured attempted a warning.

Let’s pause for thought.  The mystery of other people.   I long to be told that Hughes is insane.  That Billy Hughes, a father, would kill a ten year old girl.   He acted with cunning… making a charade taking soup to Sarah and Arthur who were already dead.  I want to think that Billy Hughes was insane: the alternative is unbearable.


A psychiatrist said that he was: “An explosive psychopath.” Billy Hughes had not lived a blameless life until the time that he was shot four times by armed officers.

When he escaped he had been classified as a low escape risk and not a danger.  This would be surprising except that it was based  on what Billy Hughes had told prison officers.  He had four convictions for violence two of them involving police officers and had been sentenced to a total of fifteen years.  He was on remand for stabbing and a knife-point rape.  While in the prison kitchen he had stolen a knife.  He was suspected of the theft but a search failed to find it and he concealed it when he was searched before the mini-cab journey to court when he escaped.

So who was Billy Hughes…  I want to say how did he get to be like that? But I think that is unanswerable.

Billy Hughes was born in Preston.  He appeared in court at the age of 14, his first of twenty one appearances.  His main crime was theft but he became more and more violent.  He regularly resisted arrest and once killed two police dogs with his hands.


Billy Hughes was living  in Grasmere Road, Blackpool, and working as a property repairer.  When Hughes escaped Blackpool Police, who had vivid memories of Billy Hughes,  moved to protect his separated wife Jean who lived in Loftos Road, Blackpool.

BH wedding


Richard and Jean Hughes

Jean had interesting things to say about Billy Hughes.

After Billy’s death she said: “He was very violent to me and the children but on the other hand he had some pleasant ways about him at times.”

Jean praised the kindness of Blackpool Police who had taken her to a secret location while Billy Hughes  escaped.  The Police had taken Jean’s two children to Revoe Infant School while Jean was in hiding.  Nicola kept asking where her daddy was: neighbours told her: “He’s been hurt… and gone to Baby Jesus.”

According to Jean Hughes, Nicola wrote letters to Billy asking him to come home quickly and she’ll give him medicine to make him better.  Nicola: “loved Billy with her whole heart. ”  So Billy Hughes was loved by Nicola and Jean Hughes: “I used to love Billy.  I don’t now.  I shall never forgive him for what he did but I believe he was ill and needed mental treatment.”

The couple had met in 1972 when Billy had come out of prison and he proposed when she visited him when he was imprisoned again.  She recalled that for the first eighteen months he had been: “Not too bad.”  But he became  violent.  Especially when he drank.  Did Billy Hughes make an effort when he married Jean?

Blackpool Police remembered  Billy Hughes.

He regularly resisted arrest.  In 1972 his car was stopped in Grange Park  and drugs were found in the boot of his car.  There followed a fifteen minute battle which sent two police officers to hospital.  Billy Hughes managed to wreck the back of a police vehicle and there was another struggle.  In the cells he wrecked his cell, wrecked the toilet and headbutted another officer.  He was called: “Mad Billy.”  He was sentenced to three and a half years and been free for less than six months when he was remanded at Chesterfield for rape and Nicola.  Jean said touchingly that Nicola keeps asking where her daddy is.

Billy painstakingly made models out of matchsticks and careful landscape drawings for Nicola.



Billy Hughes…  so much trouble in his lifetime continued to cause problems dead.  First of all his wife Jean wanted him to be buried in Blackpool.  Jean was a practising  Catholic and wanted a service at St Cuthberts on Lytham Road in Blackpool.  The priest agreed to a service.  When he was criticised the priest said that if Billy Hughes was mentally ill he was not responsible for his actions.

Jean prayed every night for Gill Moran.

Billy was to be buried by the state.   Jean found that this would not cover the transport of the body from Chesterfield.  Billy Hughes was to be buried at Boythorpe Cemetery.  There were local protests, the cemetery gate was locked, the grave was filled in. A pub landlord said: “I was disgusted that that they planned to bury the carcass of that animal Hughes alongside the alongside the good living citizens we have here.”

As a result of the protests Billy Hughes was cremated at the same crematorium as the family he had murdered.


bh blackpool mass

Billy Hughes’ ashes were transported to Blackpool.  We do not know what happened next.  My guess is that in keeping with her  intention there was a discreet service at St Cuthberts  for family and friends who hadn’t been able to attend the funeral. If Jean followed her original plan:  the ashes were scattered at St Cuthberts.

Billy Hughes was possessed by rage.  He was not successful as a criminal.  He was impulsive and  strong.  My sense is of somebody not at home in the world.  Other people were there to do what Billy Hughes wanted and if they didn’t agree he could use his strength and menace to enforce his way.  With his  hours in the gym and his powerful physique there is  hyper-masculinity and entitlement.  He was awaiting trial for stabbing a man in the face and raping his girlfriend at knife-point.  What Billy Hughes wants Billy Hughes gets.

Linked to strength and entitlement Billy Hughes was… I don’t know what the pc term is nowadays…  he was  thick.  Or  given his power and capacity to intimidate he hadn’t had to think much…   His hopes of escaping were  hopeless… he couldn’t keep out of prison.  When the car wouldn’t start at Pottery Cottage he said to Gill that they should make a run for it.

Strong, thick,  menacing and in a world  beyond his comprehension Billy Hughes was like a wild creature unsuited to the world around him.  Something would have to go.  Can you feel sad for Billy Hughes?  I think you can feel sorry for Billy Hughes and also for his victims.  Maybe as Jean Hughes said he was let down by the Prison Services.  Jean Hughes attributed Billy Hughes’ crimes to his mental health.

Jean Hughes seems to me  noble.

My guess is that Billy Hughes’ actions were a response to a world which he didn’t understand.  What is the state of mind of a father who cuts the throat of a ten year old girl.

Other minds: how can somebody look and sound like us and be so different?


Of all the people I have ever read about none captures  attention like Gill Moran.  There are people who have suffered worse losses but not many  In two days she lost her husband, her father, her mother and her daughter.  There is a difference in tone in those days.  People don’t suffer from stress or have counselling.  People were stoical, didn’t dwell on things… carry on.

Gill Moran remarried.  Two years after the events she married Jim Mulqueen who was a cousin of her husband and looked  slightly like him.  In 1980 they had a daughter.  Things did not all go well… her husband took to drink.  Possibly tension and grief had an impact.  Eleven years after the events at Pottery Cottage he was jailed for two years for threatening a  publican with a shotgun.

gm and child

Some people say that suffering makes you better but they are mostly wrong.

When Gill came home on Wednesday  12 January, 1977 her world changed forever by circumstances beyond her control…

For a time Billy Hughes actions became a figure of speech:ill do a

Thanks as usual to Blackpool Local History Centre and also to Robert Wright who suggested Billy Hughes as a subject.