During the 1920’s the Edge Hill area of Liverpool was a decent working class area of little crime. It was primarily made up of neat terraced houses and was an area deemed fit by the Watch Committee as an area where Police Officers could be allowed to reside. The residents were serviced by the busy vibrant shopping district that was Wavertree Road.
The Policing of the area fell to “F” Division with Stations at Durning Road and Lawrence Road, the area was also close to the “B” Division border with Stations at Olive Street and Prescot Street.
As the 1920’s progressed it became apparent that a good class shop-breaker had taken a liking to the shops of Wavertree Road and over the years 1922/23 a number of premises suffered what today would be termed Burglaries, but the Theft Act was a long way off and the Larceny Act was the law of the day. The Burglar was no fool and chose his targets and times well. The Police concentrated and increased patrols in the area but the Burglaries continued. The CID enquiries drew a blank.
On the Tuesday morning of the 22nd May, 1923, the staff of the Co-operative Store, on Wavertree Road at its junction with Martensen Street, arrived for work. On entering the premises they discovered that the shop had been broken into and the safe, weighing eight and a half hundredweight, containing the weekends takings of £146.00 had been stolen together with other goods, mainly cigarettes, to a total value of £205.00 ( Probably in region of £4,000 today) The offender/s had climbed over the low front gates and climbed through the fanlight and thereafter came and went via the front door. Some time had been taken in the removal of the safe and so it is believed that the thief or thieves had broken in on the Saturday night knowing that the shop would not be visited until Tuesday morning it being the Whit Bank Holiday weekend.
The CID attended and judged that a trolley or transport of some sort would have to have been used in the removal of the safe. Enquiries in the area drew a blank, the same result came from informants in the criminal fraternity. No one knew anything about the job and the property was still missing. A short time after the break in a trolley was reported missing from premises in Harbord Street near to what is today Wavertree Road Police Station. This trolley was later found in a side street near Gladstone Road.
Time passed and during July the same year, Detective Sergeant Robert McNabb visited a garage come scrap yard in Back Holland Place behind the Weighing Machine Public House and only about two hundred yards from the scene of the Co-op break in. The premises were owned by Francis Dudley and his brother Arthur Dudley, there was also another brother, Cuthbert Dudley, and all three were of disreputable character. The yard was searched and buried therein was found the Co-op safe. The safe had been breached and the contents stolen. Francis and Arthur Dudley were arrested and interviewed. The Dudley Brothers knew that they were looking at some serious prison time and so they mentioned that police Constables had been involved in the offence together with one Charles Alfred Ward. Alfred Dudley said that they were led into the crime by a Constable Reid who they had met through a shop breaking case that his brother and he had committed in 1921. Francis Dudley stated that they had only done the job because they were hungry and thought it would be easy as the Police were involved. The Dudley Brothers admitted being involved in the actual break in with Reid and two other Constables. Reid had been pushed through the fanlight and then opened the door to give access to the others. During the weekend they had endeavoured to remove the safe whilst Police Constable’s Barrett and Shelton had patrolled nearby, on one occasion Barrett had assisted in the removal of a marble counter in order to facilitate the safe’s removal. There was also another man involved who was never named and may have been Cuthbert Dudley or possibly another Constable. The front ornamental gate had been removed and the safe trundled out the front door and along Wavertree Road to the garage. Constable Shelton replaced the gates whilst the others took the safe.
The CID soon traced Charles Ward; he described himself as a chauffeur but was in reality a taxi cab driver. The CID interviewed Ward and he had a tale to tell indeed. According to him the burglars were three Police Constables who patrolled beats on or near to Wavertree Road and it were they that had been breaking into the local shops. On the occasion of the Co-op break in they had enlisted his help in transporting the safe to the scrap yard. It was he who had gone to premises in Harbord Street and stolen the handcart and he had assisted in the removal and burial of the safe. He stated that he had been recruited by a Constable Reid on the Saturday of the break in and at 3am on the Sunday picked up Reid and Constable Barrett, who was in uniform, and directed to the Co-op Wavertree Road and later to Reid’s house where cigarettes were shared out and he got about 300 of them. He was later present when the safe was eventually forced open and he stated that Barrett reached in and took the cash and placing it in his cloak pocket (Cape) took it to Reid’s house where it was divided up, each getting about £14.00
The three Police Officers were quickly identified as Constable George Arthur Barrett and Constable James Shelton and an ex Constable Reid who had been dismissed shortly before the Co-op break in. The CID began to close in upon them but Ex Constable Reid, who is described as the leading light in the affair, got wind of what was going on and escaped to the USA. History is silent as to whether he was ever arrested although he left a wife and family. The other two officers were arrested and together with Ward were charged with shop breaking, stealing a safe, £146:0:0 cash, handcart, cigarettes and a coat. (No doubt the latter was used to cover the safe)
The trial opened in 1925 and was held at Manchester Assizes (Crown Court) where the Dudley Brothers gave evidence for the Prosecution as the Police would have no evidence against the Police officers if the brothers did not testify against them. Ward entered a plea of guilty to the burglary at the Co-op and was sentenced to twelve months penal servitude; he then also gave evidence against his co-accused.
The Defence put up a spirited fight and did its best to foist all the blame upon the missing Reid, “It was Reid who was the mastermind” “It was one of the civilians in Reid’s uniform, that he had kept when dismissed, who had been seen by neighbours hanging around the Co-op and not Barrett or Shelton” The jury were not swayed.
The two former Police Officers were found guilty of the break in at the Co-op and were sentenced to 3 years penal servitude. The jury asked that mercy be shown to the officers because they believed that Reid had been the instigator and brains behind the conspiracy. After the trial and before sentencing Detective Inspector Caine stated that no less than twenty-four cases of shop-breaking had taken place on the accused officer’s beats. Constable Barrett on whose beat the Co-op was had reported finding three or four of the breaks and Shelton had reported finding three, his beat had also been very close to the Co-op.
In passing sentence his Lordship said that the recommendation to mercy would be forwarded to the right quarter, but it must be remembered that these men were members of a body whose duty it was to protect the property of the public.
After the Police strike of 1919 the Liverpool City Police had to replace almost one thousand men as soon as possible, jobs were hard to come by and so recruits came from far and wide to fill the depleted ranks. The sacked strikers of 1919 stated at the time that Liverpool Police rushed into replacing them and took on inferior men. At the time of the trial the strikers voiced the opinion that they had been right and the Police had been infiltrated by criminals.
I have researched the men as best I could on the scant information available;
I can find no trace of Reid but it is known that he had been convicted of receiving stolen goods prior to joining the Liverpool Police.
It is also known that Barrett had been required to resign from the City surveyor’s office due to irregularities in the petty cash, a fact he failed to declare in his application for the Police.
I have found no confirmed details of Barrett, Shelton and Ward but the below fit what information we have and may or may not be our men.
George Arthur BARRETT, born 1898 in Shardlow, Derbyshire. Served in World War One and joined the Liverpool Police circa September 1919. He died 1959 in Chesterfield.
James SHELTON, born 1899 in Shardlow, Derbyshire. Served in World War One and joined the Liverpool Police circa September 1919. He died circa 1965, possibly in Yorkshire.
Charles Alfred WARD, I can find no trace of this mans confirmable date of birth but he was born circa 1892 and I have him as dying in 1950 at Chesterfield.
There is no trace of the Dudley Brothers but interestingly there is record of Francis John Dudley who was born in 1898 at Chesterfield. There does seem to be a link via Shardlow and Chesterfield but it is not enough to be certain.
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