Lancashire policeman gunned down in the line of duty
It is 50 years since Supt Gerry Richardson was shot dead in Blackpool
August 23, 1971 was a fair day and with the morning business of the day just awakening, a sea wind from the Promenade was beginning to muster.
But, as the organised armed robbery gang who had arrived the day before took their positions in front of family-owned Preston’s Jewellers, hands firmly on the firearms they had brought for the task, British criminal history was about to add a terrible new chapter.
Fredrick ‘Fat Fred’ Sewell (pictured, inset) was a well-known criminal from South London who had already served a sentence for a £37,000 wages snatch and was a successful car salesman and businessman with a farm and other properties.
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With him were Charles Haynes, a nightclub owner, Dennis Bond, Thomas Flannigan, and John Spry, for what they thought would be an easy heist.
It went wrong from the start. The night before, arriving at a boarding house for the night wearing dark glasses and flashing £20 notes, the men had already caused undue attention.
It was 9.41am when they entered the jewellers with guns pointed at the terrified staff. They hadn’t seen the manager who, suspecting the strangers approaching his shop, had locked himself in a back room where he pressed a silent panic alarm which went straight through to Blackpool police station.
Fleeing the jewellers, precious gems, gold, and watches were strewn on the pavement, and after knocking unconscious a passer-by who tried to intervene, they found the doors to the getaway car locked just as police Panda cars started arriving on the scene.
What transpired next would not only spark one of Britain’s biggest manhunts, see three policemen shot and one murdered, but also set a series of events in chain which would help mould and shape what would be the modern framework for criminal justice and the judiciary in Britain.
The robbers had two service revolvers, a sawn-off shotgun, and a smaller handgun between. Police chased their Triumph at high-speed through winding streets and traffic of Blackpool eventually ramming the car and then taking up the chase on foot.
Two officers had already been shot by two of the robbers as they fled. Spry shot PC Ian Hampson in the chest as he tried to move from his car seat as the raider escaped from the crashed car. Sewell, Spry and Bond then raced down a side street, Sewell shooting PC Carl Walker in the groin.
The robbers then commandeered a butcher’s van, which, after another high-speed chase with shots being fired out the windows as the vehicles sped through traffic, crashed into a wall and was again rammed. This time, as Sewell jumped out of the van and tried to escape he was accosted and held by Supt Gerry Richardson.
A top academic student from a working-class family who had left school at 17 and entered the police force as a cadet, Richardson also worked two years of national service as a military policeman and was destined for success in anything he chose to do.
A people’s man with a host of commendations and strong values, he had once saved a drowning man in a daring sea rescue. Well-liked, Richardson always lead from the front. He rose quickly because of merit and took control of the Blackpool sub-district by the young age of 36.
So as he faced Sewell, although the same age, they hailed from opposite ends of the spectrum. They grappled, Richardson fearlessly intent on arresting Sewell. The police officer said to him: “Don’t be daft, don’t be silly”. It was then Sewell shot him twice in the stomach at close range.
Haynes, who had also jumped free of the vehicle, fired a wild shot and merged into the crowd of onlookers. Spry, who had attempted to shoot another policeman, and Bond were wrestled to the ground by other officers.
Sewell escaped, hijacking a grey van, leaving Richardson fatally wounded. He would lose his battle for life in his wife’s arms a few hours later as Irene Jermain, Sewell’s girlfriend, and Haynes drove the two escaping robbers down the M1 to London.
The story made international headlines and quickly turned into Britain’s biggest manhunt with Sewell and Haynes now Public Enemy No.1.
Haynes was captured first as he watched his daughter compete at the National Pony Championships in Stoneleigh Abbey. The case, mentioned in Prime Minister’s Question Time, would cause a public outcry prompting Richardson’s widow, Maureen to campaign for the return of capital punishment. Sewell would remain at large for 45 days, but the most wanted man in Britain once imprisoned would not rest there.
Just a year into his 30-year life sentence at Gartree Prison – and barely a week before Maureen Richardson was to posthumously collect the George Cross for her husband’s sacrifice – Sewell with the diversion of a riot nearly escaped in an audacious and well-planned operation.
He was stopped at the fence by dog handler Joseph Loney who, with the prison guard beside him knocked unconscious and the two dogs they had crazy with the acid the escaping prisoners had squirted in their eyes, single-handedly thwarted what would have been a major incident.
Gerry Richardson was the highest ranking policeman killed on duty in England. An estimated 100,000 people lined the streets of Blackpool for his funeral and Richardson was buried in Layton Cemetery.
Stephen Gillen is a reformed armed robber and career criminal. His book The Monkey Puzzle Tree about his own life story was short-listed for The Peoples Book Literary Prize.
His next book In Justice, Love and Honour examines the Richardson case. For more details visit www.stephengillen.com