999 man:

The mur­der of a vil­lage bobby, born near Down­ham Mar­ket 130 years ago, had a world-wide im­pact and will soon be marked in his na­tive Nor­folk

EDP Norfolk - - INSIDE - WORDS: Rowan Man­tell

Tragic story that led to free emer­gency calls

Ge­orge Gut­teridge was on his way home when a car roared down the vil­lage lane. Ever dili­gent the po­lice­man waved down the speed­ing driver and be­gan tak­ing notes.

Four hours later his body was dis­cov­ered in a pool of blood.

Ge­orge was born in Wim­bot­sham, near Down­ham Mar­ket, in 1889. He worked as brick­layer be­fore join­ing the po­lice and mov­ing to the Es­sex vil­lage which be­came his beat – and the site of his death.

Bernard Mullin, of Hing­ham, was first told the tragic story by his mother – who was a child when Sta­ple­ford Ab­bots was dev­as­tated by the mur­der.

Work­ing with Ge­orge’s de­scen­dants and the Es­sex Po­lice Mu­seum, Bernard dis­cov­ered how the 1927 mur­der led to the launch of free emer­gency calls, and be­came the first con­vic­tion to rely on bal­lis­tics evidence.

The two men in the stolen speed­ing car were Lon­don crim­i­nals Fred­er­ick Browne and Wil­liam Kennedy. They shot the vil­lage po­lice­man twice in the face. Bleeding heav­ily he fell, and the killers shot him again through each eye – be­liev­ing that the eyes held the last im­age be­fore death and could pro­vide damn­ing evidence against them.

How­ever, it was the bul­lets which con­clu­sively linked the killers to the crime.

A de­liv­ery driver dis­cov­ered the body. “Round­ing a slight bend he had no­ticed a dark fig­ure ly­ing in the road with a trail of blood lead­ing to it,” said Bernard. “This was his friend and vil­lage po­lice­man PC Ge­orge Wil­liam Gut­teridge, known lo­cally as Bill.”

He drove to call for help from a Post Of­fice but had no money and it took the in­ter­ven­tion of the post mis­tress to get the call put through. A coroner later crit­i­cised the op­er­a­tors and called for bet­ter telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions for ru­ral po­lice.

Out­rage at the bru­tal­ity and the de­lay in be­gin­ning a mur­der hunt led to a na­tional cam­paign for tele­phones in ru­ral po­lice sta­tions. The RAC and AA agreed to give po­lice keys to road­side call boxes, and tele­phone op­er­a­tors were in­structed to put emer­gency calls through with­out ques­tion or pay­ment.

It was four months be­fore the killers were cap­tured. Within an­other four months they had been con­victed and hanged.

Bernard, a re­tired mo­tor en­gi­neer and teacher, has writ­ten a book, Bills Beat, about the life and death of the po­lice­man, gunned down aged just 38. “A pa­tri­otic man, he was a re­servist with the lo­cal de­tach­ment of the Nor­folk Reg­i­ment. I have also in­cluded much in­for­ma­tion on the hard­ship his widow Rose and their two chil­dren en­dured after the mur­der,” said Bernard, who worked as a teacher in pris­ons, and has four rel­a­tives serv­ing with Nor­folk po­lice. He ar­ranged for a me­mo­rial in Sta­ple­ford Ab­botts parish church and hopes an­other will be in­stalled in Wim­bot­sham vil­lage hall later this year.

Bill’s Beat, by Bernard Mullin, is pub­lished by Brown Dog Books. Avail­able on Ama­zon or by call­ing 01953 852528

ABOVE: The life of Ge­orge Wil­liam Gut­tridge is cel­e­brated in Bill’s Beat by Bernard Mullin

LEFT: Bill’s Beat by Bernard Mullin

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