In Blackpool, England, 1971, a gang of armed men raided a jewellery shop which resulted in a police officer being shot dead and a 45-day manhunt ensuing.
Police officers face danger every day as they go about their ordinary duties, but in August 1971, Superintendent Gerald Richardson paid the ultimate price as he faced, unarmed, a desperate thief with a loaded shotgun.
Bank Holiday Monday, August 23, 1971, promised to be a scorcher and inside hotels and guest houses along Blackpool's sea-front holidaymakers were finishing their breakfasts and planning the day ahead. It was the height of the season and business was good all along the Golden Mile as folk from all corners of the country flocked to catch the sun at their favourite holiday spot.
Also in Blackpool, but for a very different reason, were five men who by lunchtime had turned a quiet corner of the town into something resembling a scene from a gangster movie.
Preston's Jeweller's shop on the Strand, a narrow one-way street a mere pebble throw from the promenade at the North Shore had just opened for business when four masked men burst in. While one held the staff at gunpoint, forcing them to lie face down on the carpet, the others quickly, and with ruthless efficiency, stripped the window displays of rings, watches, and expensive jewels.
Unbeknown to the gang, Joseph Lammond, the shop manager, was in the stockroom when the raid began, and he wasted no time in pushing the alarm button. The raid was over in less than two minutes, the alarm sending the men rushing into the street, where they dived into a getaway car.
As the last of the raiders left the shop he was intercepted by Ronald Gale, a passing fire brigade officer, one of a number of people who had been attracted by the commotion. Mr Gale bravely tried to detain the raider but was knocked to the ground, receiving a blow to the head from the butt of the man's gun.
A dark green two-litre Triumph estate car roared into life and sped from the shop, scattering the crowd of holidaymakers as a police patrol car turned into the street. Onlookers stared in horror as the rear window of the Triumph opened and the barrel of a gun was thrust out. A hail of gunfire was aimed at the persuing panda car as the Triumph raced up Queen Street and turned into Dixon Road, near the North Station.
Other patrol cars converged on the getaway car and half a mile down the road one of them was able to ram the Triumph as it turned into Clifford Road. Unable to restart the car, the gang was forced to abandon the vehicle, and with guns blazing they made off on foot as officers closed in. One of the gang ran down an ally where he found himself confronted by Superintendent Gerald Richardson and Inspector Eddie Gray. He pointed the Gun at Richardson who blocked his path.
"Don't be silly, son," the Superintendent said, taking a step closer. Two shots rang out, and the officer slumped to the ground mortally wounded.
The gunman ran back up the alley, rejoining the gang, who now fled into Cheltenham Road where they were commandeered a butcher's van, shooting and wounding another officer, PC Walker, before driving off at high speed. Panda cars chased the van into Carshalton Road where they forced it to crash into a wall. Two of the gang climbed into a grey Morris 1000 van and this time they were able to escape from the ensuing chase.
Officers arrested three of the robbers and as the news of the shooting quickly spread, detectives from Blackpool CID realised they had a major incident on their hands. One officer lay dead, and another two patrolmen had suffered gunshot injuries. The gang had also stolen over £100,000 worth of jewellery, although much of this was recovered from the abandoned Triumph getaway car. They did have three men under arrest, but the killer of Superintendent Richardson was still at large.
Road blocks were set up around the town - a large police presence causing traffic to crawl through the maze of cones and questioning officers - but the two men still managed to slip the net.
On the following morning, three of the raiders appeared in court at Blackpool: 43-year-old Dennis George Bond of Clapham stood alongside John Patrick Spry, 37, of Streatham Hill, and Glasgow-born Thomas Flannigan, 43, living in Hackney. They were each charged with robbing Joseph Lammond of an unknown number of watches and rings and remanded in custody for a week.
Descriptions of the two wanted men were issued. One was described as aged between 34 and 36 years old, 5 foot 10 inches tall, with short dark hair and a southern accent. The other was said to be aged around 30 years old, 5 foot 9 inches, and stocky, with a moustache and Scottish accent. A press conference called on Tuesday afternoon named the two: one was Frederick Joseph Sewell, aged 30 of Brixton, the other they only knew as "Doug", who was described as having a Mexican "Pancho" style moustache.
It was rumoured amongst the underworld that the men had gone to ground in south London and 200 detectives, from both the Flying Squad and Regional Crime Squad, scoured nightclubs, hotels, and flats in pursuit. Officers were issued with firearms and members of the public were warned not to approach the wanted men.
A search of Blackpool uncovered a stolen Ford Capri with false number plates. It had been abandoned outside a flat on Cocker Street, which was later found to have been rented by Sewell and a woman a few days before the murder. Inside the car were shotgun cartridges, a loaded revolver, a leather case, and a first aid kit. The villains were obviously prepared for any eventuality.
A watch was kept on any known associates of Sewell, who police believed to be the leader of the gang. He was formally a pig breeder on a large farm at Orpington, Kent, but had latterly concentrated on buying and selling motor cars from a showroom in Brixton. Acting on a tip-off, detectives raided a farmhouse after a reported sighting of Sewell, and spoke to Mrs Irene Jermain, who lived with Sewell and their children in a large house at Redhill, Surrey. Mrs Jermain denied seeing him since before the Bank Holiday.
On Thursday, August 26, while enquiries went on down south, the funeral of the murdered officer took place in Blackpool. Described as an officer who led from the front, 38-year-old Superintendent Gerald Irving Richardson was married but had no children. With over 20 years of service in the force, he had three commendations for bravery, and at the time of the murder was the highest-ranking police officer to be killed on duty.
So respected was he that the whole town came to a standstill. Over 100,000 people lined the route as the cortege slowly passed within yards of the spot where he was gunned down. Over 400 officers lined the route, while 300 more joined the procession, which was led by eleven mounted policemen and the police band. The flag on Blackpool tower flew at half-mast and shop assistants were given time off to watch the procession, standing in the crowds which at some places were as much as 20 deep.
At almost the same time Superintendent Richardson was being laid to rest at the town's Layton Cemetary, one of the two wanted men was being taken into custody. Charles Haynes, "Doug", was arrested near Leamington Spa and returned to Blackpool to help with enquiries.
Police reasoned that the men must have had help to slip through the road block on the day of the incident, and within a week they had three people in custody charged with "intent to impede the apprehension and prosecution" of the wanted men. Mrs Irene Jermain was charged with driving the men out of Blackpool; it had been found that it was she (and Sewell) who had rented the flat in Blackpool and it was to here the men had returned after the murder, and from where the journey home began. Mrs Barbara Palmer, the mother of one of Sewell's children, and Eugene Kerrigan, an employee of Sewell's at the Brixton garage, were both charged with supplying him with a change of clothes and driving him around London in search of a "safe house". Kerrigan was arrested carrying a large sum of money - destined for Sewell - but despite police pressure, he refused to reveal the whereabouts of his employer.
When the two women were remanded in custody at a special sitting of the Blackpool court a week after the murder, police learned how Sewell had outsmarted them in making his getaway. While efforts had been concentrated on the main southbound roads out of town, the getaway car had in fact gone north, taking a number of secondary roads through the Fylde countryside, up as far as the Lakes where it then headed east through Tebay, joining the A1 in Yorkshire, where the journey south commenced.
Teams of detectives with metal detectors combed the roadsides along the supposed route, in search of any discarded weapons or Jewellery while the Daily Mirror put up a reward of £10,000 for any information that would lead to Sewell's arrest.
Reported sightings of Sewell, who had become "Public Enemy Number One", were a daily occurrence and more than one innocent man was the subject of a police ambush after a tip-off; but despite intensive police work, which included infiltrating the underworld, they were still no nearer to finding Sewell. Detective Superintendent Mounsey was convinced that Sewell had slipped the net and was probably on the Continent, possibly Scandinavia, but reports of supposed sightings in England still continued to flood in.
On September 30, a fundraiser for the murdered officer closed after collecting over £14,000, money which was to be split between Superintendent Richardson's widow and the police benevolent fund.
It was another tip-off that was to lead Mounsey to the wanted man. Word reached him that Sewell was hiding in a north London flat and at first light on the morning of October 7, a team of 40 detectives waited outside a house on Birnam Road, Holloway, for the signal to move in. The street was shrouded in fog and visibility was down to less than 20 yards, as Mounsey entered the terraced house and made for the first floor flat.
On the signal from Mounsey, the door was broken down and Sewell was found lying in bed. He made a vain attempt to reach a shotgun lying in a box under the mattress before being placed under arrest. Two others were also arrested, Panayiotis Panayiotou, a 25 year old Cypriot, and Nistra Stravrou; both charged with harbouring a wanted man. Later that morning a convoy of speeding police cars set off for Blackpool where Sewell joined the other members of the gang. The 45-day manhunt had come to an end.
Sewell was hissed and jeered at as he was bundled through the back door of Blackpool police station later that afternoon. It transpired that he had been hiding at the flat since returning to London, immediately after the shooting, telling the other tenants he was called Dave and worked for the Evening News. At one point he had even helped his neighbours decorate their flat while news bulletins of the police hunt appeared on television.
The trial was convened for the next sitting of the Manchester Crown Court and on February 1, 1972, the defendants stood before Mr Justice Kilmer-Brown on a vast array of charges. The five gang members were each charged on seven counts: the murder of Superintendent Richardson; four counts of attempted murder of police officers; a conspiracy that between January 1, and August 23, 1971, any one of them would use a firearm to prevent the arrest of any of their number; and that on August 23, they stole a quantity of jewellery from Joseph Lammond.
Sewell, Spry, Bond, and Haynes all pleaded not guilty to the first six charges, but admitted robbery. Flannigan denied all the charges. It was learned that the gang had visited Blackpool on the previous weekend when they made a reconnaissance of the area and selected the best roads to use in the event of a chase. Witnesses testified how shortly before the murder they had seen the gang transfer from the gold Ford Capri to the green Triumph. All were carrying holdalls, and one witness claimed he thought one of them had placed a gun in the boot before slamming it shut.
On the second day of the trial PC Walker, one of the wounded officers gave evidence and identified Spry as the man who had shot at him while he sat behind the wheel of his panda car. When arrested, Spry was alleged to have claimed that he had lost his memory and held his head in his hands denying any knowledge of the two who escaped.
Another officer, PC Jackson, told the court that it was Sewell who had pointed a gun at him as he sat in the panda car and threatened him with, "get out and you're dead."
When the defendants themselves took the stand, Flannigan claimed he was an innocent bystander who had been bundled into the car during the robbery and had in fact been kidnapped! "I don't care how many died," he was alleged to have said. "It's got... all to do with me,"
When Sewell stood in the dock he claimed that he had shot Superintendent Richard by accident and that the gun had gone off during a struggle. This was refuted by a ballistics expert, called as a prosecution witness, who claimed that the pull on the trigger was such that it would take significant pressure to fire and that the gun was unlikely to go off accidentally.
Sewell's counsel made an attempt to discredit the expert, who was appearing at his first murder trial, but with little success. They also claimed that police had doctored some of the statements, which they had bullied out of several of the witnesses. The various defence counsels offered pleas of manslaughter and unlawful wounding, alleging that most of the gang had no idea that guns were to be used.
The trial lasted 45 days - the same length of time as the manhunt - and ended with the jury taking just four and a half hours to find all the defendants guilty. The judge passed sentences totalling 193 years.
Sewell was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, with a recommendation that he serves 30 years. He also received 15 years for robbery, 20 years for attempted murder, and 15 years for conspiracy to use firearms, all sentences to run concurrently. Spry received sentences totalling 75 years: 20 for manslaughter, 25 for attempted murder, and 15 years for conspiracy. Again, all were to run concurrently. Bond received 15 years for the robbery, as did Flannigan, while Haynes who had driven the getaway car, was sentenced to 10 years.
The exact content of their haul was later revealed in court: the men had stolen 684 rings, 117 watches, 38 bracelets, 104 charms or pendants, 53 pairs of earrings, and 71 pairs of cufflinks. The value was put at £106,033.
Sewell was sent to Gartree maximum security prison at Leicester, while the others were spread around various provincial jails. In mid-1974, Sewell was the ringleader in a breakout from the jail but was arrested in a field beside the A6 and returned to the prison. He was later transferred to another high-security prison.
Superintendent Gerald Irving Richardson was posthumously awarded the George Cross - the highest civil award for bravery. The Queen presented the award to his widow, Maureen, at Buckingham Palace in December. The other officers involved on that fateful day were also awarded for their bravery.
Superintendent Richardson was later awarded a "Medal of Honor" by the American Police Federation and his name was recorded in the United States Police Hall of Fame - "so that his sacrifice and his dedication to humanity and justice will always be remembered by generations to come."
Now you have read about the tragic death of Superintendent Richardson, take the time to read about The Harrowing Murder Of Beatrice Rimmer In 1951: Widow Beaten To Death In Her Home In Liverpool.