Plaques To Go Up In City For Two Hero Policemen

Police Headlines
They walked and died on the pavements of Wolverhampton

This article which has recently appeared in the Express & Star brought to mind the stories of two brave policeman who through there tragic deaths in the line of duty left their markers in those  green fields of Wolverhampton and their names on the Citys Roll of honour.

Let me tell you a little about these two old Wulfrunians

The Grave
The grave of P.C. Willetts.

The first of the two  killed in the execution of his duty. which lies near the north entrance of Merridale Cemetery, today.

Cleveland Rd
Setting the scene.

The story began on Saturday 17th January 1925 when three youths escaped from Harpendum Industrial Home for boys at St Albans – whilst on their way to confession at a local church. Someway they managed to “lorry jump” to the West Midlands.

Now this is Cleveland Road notice the tall building in the centre.  At that time in the 1920’s It belonged to Reade Bros Manufacturing Chemists, prior to that it was Forders Carriage Works and of late it has housed Dixons Paint Warehouse.

Well at the time of  the incident to the left of those hoardings, on the corner of Cleveland road and Bilston Road was the Police Sub-Station.

The Royal Hospital 1900
The scene of the crime. Circa 1900.

Now on Sunday morning, Constable Willetts  had left that Bilston Road Police Station on foot patrol at 6.00am, and after turning here at the side of the Hospital into Vicarage Road he spotted the lads acting suspiciously, and rightly suspecting that the three youths had felonious intentions, he followed them.

Opposite the Nurses Home in in 1925 stood The Vicarage to All Saints Church on the corner of Powlett Street, and it was inside the vicarage at 6.40 a.m., three shots were heard to ring out and Constable Willetts lay dying on the pavement as three youths were seen to ran away.

The Constable’s colleagues were called as they carried him to the General Hospital were he died within a few minutes , it was found he had  been shot from behind by a revolver.

After an extensive motor car search (those were early days for motor vehicles ) the three youths were arrested on the same day at 5.15 p.m., on the road to Stafford.

Two of the three were charged with murder, these were Edward Haggarty, aged 17 years of Glasgow and William Crossley, aged 19 years of Carnforth.

The third youth, who was younger, was sent to the workhouse and was to be charged with theft. Haggarty and Crossley were convicted and sentenced to death by hanging.

The funeral.
The Funeral.

Constable Willetts’ funeral was an emotional occasion, over 4,000 people stood around his house when the funeral began, over 500 policemen attended and St Peter’s Church could not accommodate all the mourners. He left a widow and nine month old child.

The final Outcome.

The funeral was recorded as a “most impressive and awe inspiring ceremony throughout and one that will live long in the memory of those who witnessed it.
Constable Willetts actions exemplified the service performed by  the police for which he, amongst others, paid the ultimate price.

On March 11th 1925 (before the execution of the two youths ) it was reported that after a meeting of the Wolverhampton Labour Party, a statement was issued “that whilst deploring the act of the two boys, (the party) protests against their execution and hopes that every effort will be made to secure the repeal of the death sentence owing to their youth”.

And it came to be that on April 4th Home Secretary Sir William Johnson – Hicks, granted a repreive and the pair were sentenced to life imprisonment.

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8 comments

  1. PC Willetts was a relative of mine, the photos of his funeral I’ve known in the family albums since childhood. – I also have a picture of his wedding, and my Grandfather is on pictures taken at the graveside during the funeral. My Grandmother wasn’t present as she was heavily pregnant with my father.

  2. Does anyone have any photographs of PC Willetts that I could look at? I am really interested in this case! Also does anyone have any photographs of the two chapels in the cemetery at Merridale? They were demolished in the 1960’s. Any help would be great! Many thanks.

  3. Does anyone know what is happening with regard to these plaques? Though I no longer live locally my family have told me that the palques have not yet appeared. This was reported over 3 years ago now. In various parts of the country plaques to murdered policeman do exist but many have no tribute. Surely the sacrifices of these men should alos be honoured?

  4. I don’t know anything about new plaques but plaques were put up at the new Police Station in Bilston street when it opened in 1992. There are alongside wooden war memorials of Officers who died in WW1,WW2 and the Boer war.

  5. E&S 26 Aug 2015
    Plans in recent years by the Wolverhampton Civic and Historical Society to create Blue Plaques in memory of DS Stanford and another Wolverhampton officer killed in the line of duty, Pc Albert Willits, stalled after the sponsor for the plaques pulled out – each plaque costs about £500.
    Read more at http://www.expressandstar.com/news/local-news/2015/08/26/im-dying-missus-half-a-century-on-the-policemans-murder-that-rocked-wolverhampton/#ssbOxM9gl5U8yHGM.99

    1. Hi Mike, I contacted the Express and Star the week before the 50th anniversary of Jim Stanford’s death to inform them that the it was approaching and that an article would be appropriate as a reminder given the lack of any permanent memorial at the location of the murder. My father helped provide details for the reporter so that the article could be written and I got in touch with Jim Stanford’s son Andy to let him know that the reporter was trying to get some comments from him. Subsequent to that I understood that West Midlands Police had agreed to fund the plaque (and the one for PC Albert Willitts) but nothing has been done. I think it is shameful when the cost is relatively small,

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