At about 11-15pm on Sunday 12th November 1893 Constables Gordon and Whalley of the St Helens Borough Police were on duty near the engineering works of Messers John FOSTER and Co, they heard someone in the hen roost on the premises and found that the place had been forcibly entered by smashing the windows. The two officers opened the door and Constable Whalley raised his lamp to provide light and they disturbed two men, John Carney, aged 19yrs and Frank Riley aged,32yrs. Riley knocked the lamp to the ground. Constable Gordon grabbed hold of Riley and Constable Whalley grabbed hold of Carney. A violent struggle then ensued resulting in both Officers dragging their prisoner towards the door and outside. They were then joined by John Leahey, aged 22yrs. Constable Whalley received a blow in the back from a brick thrown by Leahey allowing Carney to escape. He and Leahey then ran up the yard and began to throw stones at the officers. Riley continued to struggle with Constable Gordon. Leahey and Carney came down the yard and attacked Constable Gordon, Leahey striking him with an iron bar allowing Riley to escape. Constable Whalley then noticed that Constable Gordon was bleeding from a wound on the left side of his head, a wound subsequently found to be an inch and a half in length penetrating the bone.
The three men being free commenced to throw stones at the officers. Leahey got over the roof of the boiler works making his escape leaving Carney and Riley with the Constables in the yard. Carney and Riley were chased and Constable Whalley knocked Carney down with his staff and left him in the custody of Constable Gordon and ran after Riley who made good his escape. He returned to Constable Gordon and helped him to take Carney to the police station. On the way Carney struggled violently and kicked Constable Gordon on the right side of his head, inflicting another bad wound which bled profusely. Assistance arrived and Carney was taken to the police station. Constable GORDON made a report on the occurrence, and in that stated that the three men had attacked him. Leahey was arrested a few hours later and Constable Gordon accused him of striking him with the iron bar. Leahey did not deny it. Riley was arrested and denied using violence.
Constable Gordon's head was cut in several places, and after the injuries were dressed by Dr JAMIESON he was taken home. The next morning he was found dead in bed, and the medical evidence was that death was due to shock as a result of the injuries sustained.
Constable Gordon had been in the force for four years and was a single man.
Carney, Riley and Leahy appeared at the police court and were remanded in custody until Thursday 16th November 1893 on the charge of stealing three hens. Riley denied all complicity. All three were later charged with the murder of Constable Gordon.
They appeared before Mr Justice Day at Liverpool Assizes on Friday 16th March 1894 charged with the murder of Constable James Gordon. They were also charged with poultry stealing, wounding with intent to kill and wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm.
Constable Whalley gave evidence as above and added that when they were dragging Carney to the police station, Constable Gordon lost hold of Carney in Barber Street, when he stopped to get a fresh hold. Carney kicked Constable Gordon on the left side of the head and blood began to flow from the wound. Carney also kicked Constable Whalley about the legs and body. They managed to get Carney to M'BRYDE'S time office, where they waited for assistance. Constable Gordon spoke about his wound, and asked for water as he felt sick. When assistance came Constable Whalley went back to the hen cote with his Inspector, there he found two hens with their heads off and Constable Gordon's helmet. Constable Whalley then went to the home of Leahey and arrested him, on his clothes were spots of blood. When Constable Whalley got Leahey to the police station Constable Gordon said, "That's the man who struck me with the iron bar" Leahey only laughed. The next morning Constable Whalley charged all three men. Carney said, "I did not do it" Leahey, "I never done nothing", and Riley, "I never saw the man."
All three denied assaulting either officer and the defence was that Constable Gordon had died of natural causes, failure of the heart. It was also suggested that Constable Whalley when striking out with his staff had in the dark mistakenly struck Constable Gordon.
The jury retired to consider their verdict, and after an hour and a half returned into court, the foreman announced that they found the prisoners guilty, but strongly recommended them to mercy.
The prisoners were asked had they anything to say why sentence of death should not be passed. All three protested their innocence.
Justice Day, then assuming the black cap, said that the jury had found the only verdict possible on the evidence. The jury had recommended the prisoners to mercy, that recommendation would be forwarded to its proper quarter, but advised them not to build much upon it and prepare to meet their God, and take advantage of the time left to repent their crime, make reconciliation with their God, who would be their judge.
Justice Day then pronounced the death sentence.
Mr H. L. Riley, solicitor, St Helens, who had appeared on behalf of the three condemned men at the preliminary police inquiry and at the coroner's inquest consented to do all in his power to have the death sentence removed and a long term of imprisonment implemented. Many people in St Helens and Liverpool signed a petition requesting clemency. This together with the recommendation for mercy by the jury formed strong grounds for a reprieve.
Mr Riley was successful in his plea to the Home Secretary, Herbert Asquith. On 8th May 1894 the Governor of HMP Walton received a letter from the Home Secretary explaining that the reprieve had been granted by Queen Victoria and that all three men would undergo 15 years penal servitude.
Constable Gordon was buried in an unmarked grave in St Helens Cemetery where he lay forgotten for 120 years despite the events of that fateful night being recorded by local historians and his name being entered on the Police Roll of Honour. Whilst doing research with the 'Friends of St Helens Cemetery,' retired police officer, Brenda Neary discovered the unmarked grave. She then contacted the Police Roll of Honour Trust who facilitated the erection of a headstone on this brave officers almost forgotten resting place.
On Wednesday 13th November 2013 this120 year old wrong was put right. A gravestone was finally placed on the grave of Constable Gordon. The headstone was unveiled by the Chair of the Police Memorial Trust, Mrs Geraldine Winner, the widow of film producer Michael Winner, at a ceremony of dedication at St Helens Cemetery. St Helens stonemasons, JT memorials generously donated the simple but effective black headstone, engraved in silver.
The Merseyside Police Chaplin the Reverend Keith Hitchman conducted the service and was assisted by the Reverend Gary McGowan of the St Helens United Reformed Church.
The ceremony was organised by the Police Roll of Honour Trust and guests included the Mayor of St Helens Cllr Andy Bowden, the leader of St Helens Council, Barrie Grunwald. ACC Ian Pilling of the Merseyside Police represented the force, Chairman of the Police Roll of Honour Trust Sid Mackay, NARPO NEC Chairman Ian Potter and representatives from COP’s were also present. Floral tributes where placed on the grave by a number of organisations and individuals including the Head Girl and Head boy from a local school, Cowley International College.
A contingent from the local Police Division, Merseyside Police Training School and St Helens & District NARPO Branch provided a guard of honour. The dignitaries where led into the cemetery through the guard of honour by a lone piper and two mounted police officers.
It was a moving memorial service that replicated in part Constable Gordon’s lavish funeral procession of November of 1893 when large crowds lined the streets of St Helens to pay their last respects and to witness mounted officers from the Liverpool Police Force walking alongside their mounts to the music of the marching Band of the St Helens Engineers.
The Police Roll of Honour Trusts Book of Remembrance reads:
Constable St Helens Borough Police
Fatally bludgeoned and beaten whilst attempting to arrest three thieves at night on November 12th 1893
Complied from records at St Helens Local History Library and with thanks to Jane Campbell, Old Mersey Times
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