Whether it’s a case of petty theft or crimes of a more serious nature, stories about the police and the felons they try to apprehend can make the perfect drama, just as the current BBC2 series Peaky Blinders, about a gang a vicious thugs in post-First World War Birmingham, demonstrates (see the feature on Page 5).
The police file on the Peaky Blinders lay hidden for many years, and yet the story still has the power to capture the imagination.
Those who perpetrated that particular wave of criminal activity, and the innocent Brummies who suffered, are now part of history, but dutiful police records of the time have left enough detailed evidence to recreate the story once again.
After recently publishing the article Black Country Copper’s Tales of Pounding the Beat 50 Years Ago, we have received stories and memories from readers that further demonstrate this principle.
Ray Heighway, for instance, has written to us from his home at Craven Arms, Shropshire, with a sobering tale of policing and the following details come from his memories of serving as a police sergeant in Stourbridge.
“Reading the recent article about Trevor Lowbridge’s time as a copper on the beat [see Bugle 1096] has encouraged me to record my own memories,” writes Ray.
“It was in the late ’60s, I think 1969, and one afternoon, after coming on duty at 2pm, I was told a young girl had gone missing from the Wollaston area and that a body had been discovered partly buried on the canal towpath.
“As you can imagine, every available officer was following up enquiries. Through my own enquiries I found out that the last time the young girl had been seen alive was at Stourbridge swimming baths the previous day.
“Because I hadn’t been delegated a specific duty that afternoon I decided to call in at the swimming baths, just around the corner from the station, where I knew the person in charge. He was in his little office as usual overlooking the ring road and told me something very interesting.
The previous day he’d been at work when the young girl had been at the baths. We talked about her going missing and I told him there was a possible connection with a body that had been found. He then told me about a couple of blokes he’d seen at the baths at the same time as the girl.
“I hung around for a bit and then he drew my attention to two men walking up the foot way to the baths, each carrying a towel. He whispered he’d seen them before when the girl was swimming. ‘I’ll introduce you,’ he said, and called the two men over.
“I shook hands and greeted them formally, as I’d never seen them before, but I immediately became suspicious; a policeman’s instinct, I expect. The one chap was tall and big, so as they went into the baths I radioed for assistance, and several minutes later they were taken away for questioning. For several days the tall man denied any involvement, but in the end he confessed to strangling the girl and was charged with murder. He was later convicted and sent down and this case has always reminded me of the old saying, ‘that a murderer often revisits the scene of his crime’.
“Even though my stay at Stourbridge police station was short, it was sadly long enough to be involved in another murder, this time of a young woman at Lye, and I had the misfortune to be the first at the scene.
“My recollections of being in the police force are not all from the darker side, but these stories do hold a vivid place in my memory.”
Are there more ex-policemen and women among our readers with their own tales of crime and policing in the old Black Country? Contact jworkman@blackcountry bugle.co.uk or write to Bugle House, 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL.