Preston thief jailed for 15 years after stabbing officer in the chest

Local historian Keith Johnson takes a look at the case a burglary that spiralled into a night of violence...

Wednesday, 22nd January 2020, 10:36 am
Updated Wednesday, 22nd January 2020, 10:49 am
Manchester Assizes where Preston police constables were praised

On the third Tuesday of April 1885 three Preston men, labourers Alfred Blackhouse and John Lord, aged 26, along with printer William Simpson, aged 21, appeared at the Manchester Assizes before Mr Justice Willis.

Lord and Simpson were charged with burglary at house on London Road in early March 1885. Lord pleaded guilty and stated that Simpson had nothing to do with the theft of a gold watch, worth £16, and a pair of clogs. Simpson who was arrested in Blackburn after attempting to pawn the watch claimed he had been asked by an acquaintance to pawn it and was unaware it was stolen.

The jury finding Simpson guilty of receiving the watch knowing it to be stolen. Lord, Simpson and Blackhouse were then placed in the dock accused of breaking into the house of John Billinge, tailor, in Graham Street in late February and stealing an overcoat and other clothing. The court heard that when Simpson was taken into custody over the gold watch he was found to be wearing the stolen overcoat. When charged Simpson had claimed the same man who asked him to pawn the watch gave him the overcoat.

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Elizabeth Hughes testified that she was staying at the same lodging house as Lord and Blackhouse and that she had observed Lord giving another woman a shawl and a pair of boots that were amongst the stolen items. The jury finding Lord and Blackhouse guilty of burglary and once again Simpson was found guilty of receiving stolen property.

Blackhouse was then brought into the dock alone accused of the felonious wounding of P.C. Smirk on the night of the Graham Street burglary. The court heard that the constable had seen the accused running away from the scene wearing neither shoes or socks. He gave chase and the accused turned upon him stabbing him in the left breast with a knife. He then seized his chain and whistle, broke them and ran away.

Despite the stab wound that had penetrated his top coat and gone into his flesh P.C. Smirk continued to give chase. Whenever the constable got close to him Blackhouse turned towards him and slashed out with the knife threatening to do him more harm. Eventually, the accused ran down Syke Hill and ended up in the stables belonging to the Guildhall Tavern.

P.C. Smirk was at this point joined by P.C. Wilkinson and the accused made a desperate attempt to flee by rushing at P.C. Wilkinson slashing his hand and cutting off two finger ends.

A scuffle followed before Blackhouse was handcuffed and taken to the Earl Street police station. P.C. Smirk needed the immediate attention of the police surgeon Dr. Pilkngton his shirt and singlet covered in blood. He spent three weeks undergoing treatment, the puncture wound being close to his heart. P.C. Wilkinson also requiring urgent treatment to his wounded hand.

The jury immediately returned a guilty verdict and praised the courage shown by the constables.

His Lordship then commented upon the gallant behaviour of the policemen awarding P.C. Smirk £20 and P.C. Wilkinson £10 stating they were a credit to the Preston constabulary.

The following afternoon His Lordship addressed all three prisoners. Simpson was informed that he would go to prison with hard labour for 12 months. His Lordship stating that he had never been in trouble before and was the dupe of the older criminals. Lord was then told that he would go to penal servitude for 10 years having been previously convicted of theft and was a career criminal.

Alfred Blackhouse, who had twice previously been jailed, was then informed that his offences were of the highest order and considering he could have fatally wounded P.C. Smirk he was sentenced to 15 years penal servitude.