Josef Jakobs - A Victim of the Treachery Act - Part 4

Wandsworth Prison
Wandsworth Prison

On 24 July 1941, Josef Jakobs was visited by Lt. Col. William Edward Hinchley Cooke. Josef had been transferred to Wandsworth Prison the previous day and the move from Latchmere House boded ill. Hinchley Cooke charged Josef with:

committing a civil offence, that is to say, Treachery, an offence contrary to Section I of the Treachery Act, 1940, in that at Ramsey in the County of Huntingdon on the night of January 31/February 1, 1941, with the intent to help the enemy did an act designed or likely to give assistance to the naval, military or air operations of the enemy, or to impede such operations of the enemy, or to impede such operation of His Majesty’s Forces, namely did descend by parachute in the United Kingdom.

Breaking down the charge, one can see that Josef's offence was the fact that he descended by parachute in the United Kingdom. Josef had done nothing overt - he hadn't set up his radio or written any secret ink letters, so MI5 was left with the one act that he did commit: descending by parachute. Was that an act of espionage? Rudolf Hess had also descended by parachute in May 1941 but was not tried under the Treachery Act. Numerous German Air Force crew parachuted into the United Kingdom... but were not charged. Josef was different because he came with equipment (transmitter, disc code, etc.) that indicated to MI5 that his intention had been to spy for Germany and help the Germans against Britain.

From his first interrogation in Ramsey Police Station, Josef claimed that his intention had been to get out of Germany and go to America where he had an aunt. His story changed over time but he never claimed that his intent had been to spy for the Germans. MI5 thought they knew his intent was to spy... Josef denied that. Who was right?

In the May 1940 discussion of the Treachery Act in the House of Parliament, some MPs had pointed out the difficulty of legally proving "intent" How does one know what is in the head of a person? Intentions and motivations are intensely personal things and perhaps not even fully known to the person themselves. They also change over time. Were Josef's intentions when he boarded the aircraft in Schipol the same as when he left the aircraft? What about when he landed?

The MPs had been reassured that the Treachery Act would only be used for grave acts of sabotage and espionage. Was that the case with Josef? Whatever the case might be, he was charged solely under the Treachery Act - there was no escape from death through a charge under the Defence Regulations. On that 24 July, 1941, Josef's death sentence was essentially guaranteed.


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