Detectives under fire after giving chase to Preston gunman

The suspect was followed along Deepdale Road
The suspect was followed along Deepdale Road
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Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at a crime from yesteryear...

On the first Saturday evening of October 1911 , two detectives, DS Maguire and DC Rawcliffe, of the Preston Police force were on duty on Church Street and their suspicions were aroused by a young man named John Whittle, aged 22.

Having been informed that he was intent on committing a burglary they followed him at a discreet distance off Church Street, on to Deepdale Road and eventually to Castleton Road.

Whittle went down a back alleyway there and they observed him trying the back gates of houses. He then went onto St. George’s Road, and after knocking at a front door, stood there for several minutes until a man and woman came up the street.

Whittle then walked away and stood round the corner for a short time. Upon seeing the officers, however, he ran down an alleyway, but the officers followed him, and when within 10 yards of him, Whittle turned round and fired twice at them with a revolver whilst on the run.

DC Rawcliffe ran round the houses to catch him at the other end and DS Maguire pursued him along the alleyway. Eventually DS Maguire pounced on the suspect in Kingfisher Street and a violent tussle followed involving both officers. Whittle was eventually grounded and the revolver wrenched from his grasp.

Upon searching the man they found a jemmy in his coat pocket, a box containing cartridges, and a skeleton key in his trouser pocket.

Inspection of the revolver at the Earl Street police station revealed three live cartridges and two spent cases.

When charged with loitering with intent to commit felony and with firing at the policemen with intent to kill, he made no reply. The incident was related at the Preston Borough Police Court on the following Monday and the magistrates committed him to stand trial on a charge of attempted murder.

The trial took place at Liverpool Assizes on the first Thursday of November 1911, before Mr. Justice Avory. Having had time in custody to reflect on his situation he pleaded guilty to a charge of feloniously shooting a loaded pistol at two police officers.

His defence argued that he had fired in their direction, but not directly at the officers only meaning to scare them off. DS Maguire gave details of the chase and capture and the harrowing experience before they disarmed him.

He then told the court of the accused’s bad record which included being bound over after sending a letter to his mother threatening to murder her. He then went on to say he had frequently been before the courts for drunkenness and disorderly conduct, although on this occasion he was sober.

His Lordship then remarked that both officers had acted in a courageous manner and he warmly commended them. His Lordship then addressed Whittle telling him that the only thing likely to make good impression on him was a cat o’ nine tails, but regrettably he had not the power to order it.

His plea of guilty showed that he was perfectly reckless regarding human life and probably incapable of being reformed, and that society must be protected.

He then sentenced him to seven years of penal servitude. As he was being escorted from the dock the prisoner mouthed a threat against the police officers.

Those alleyways in Deepdale along which Whittle was chased are gated nowadays – crime prevention in action a century later.