How the brutal gun murder of a policeman helped spark 999 calls
PUBLISHED: 16:00 16 October 2019 | UPDATED: 18:23 16 October 2019
A memorial to murdered village policeman George William Gutteridge will be unveiled in Wimbotsham on November 16, revealing how his legacy has helped countless millions of people
George Gutteridge was on his way home at the end of a shift 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 and was an Army reservist, joining the police aged 21 and moving to the Essex village which became his beat - and the site of his murder.
Bernard Mullin, of Hingham, was first told the tragic story by his mother - who was seven years old and living in Stapleford Abbots when the village became the scene of the brutal murder.
Working with George's descendants and the Essex Police Museum, Bernard discovered how the 1927 murder led to the launch of our 999 system, and became the first time a conviction relied on ballistics evidence.
"Part of his legacy has made our lives safer through the advent of the 999 emergency call service," said Bernard.
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 backwards into the road, where 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 bullets removed from the road and the body, and a cartridge case in the stolen car, 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 a Post Office but had no money and it took the intervention of the post mistress before the telephone operator put his call through to the police. At the inquest the coroner criticised the operators and called for better telecommunications for rural police.
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Outrage at the brutality of the murder and the delay in beginning a murder hunt led to newspapers and Women's Institutes, campaigning for telephones in rural police stations and police houses. The RAC and AA agreed to provide police with keys to roadside call boxes, and telephone operators were instructed to put all emergency calls through without question or payment.
It was four months before the killers were captured. Within another four months they had been convicted, sentenced to death and, in May 1928, hanged.
However, it was a whole decade after Bill's death, and a tragedy involving five deaths in a house fire, before emergency calls became 999 calls.
Bernard, a retired motor engineer and teacher, tells the story in his book, Bill's 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 has worked as a teacher in prisons, and has four relatives serving with Norfolk police.
His research reveals that George, born to a single mother in domestic service, was just eight when he began working to help his mum. His memory will live on in the village thanks to Bernard's work.
Bernard has had a memorial installed at Stapleford Abbotts parish church, and another in Wimbotsham Village Hall, alongside a board telling the story of a valiant son of the village. It will be unveiled at a ceremony on Saturday November 16 at 11.30am in the presence of members of George Gutteridge's family, and current and retired police officers.
Bill's Beat, by Bernard Mullin, is published by Brown Dog Books. Available on Amazon or by calling 01953 852528.