First Met Officer Killed on Duty
Less than a year after the Metropolitan Police Force began its work (on September 29 1829) it had to mourn the loss of one of its officers killed in the course of his duty. Police Constable Joseph Grantham, warrant number 3170, was intervening in a disturbance in the Somers Town area of Euston. The 31 year old officer was kicked in the head by a drunk, and suffered a fatal brain haemorrhage.
Disgracefully, but very much in keeping with the at best ambivalent attitude to the police at the time, his attacker got away with the killing, a jury ruling that it was justifiable homicide: they commented that ‘over-exertion in the discharge of his duty’ by PC Grantham had been a contributory factor in the affair. And this at a time when shoplifting, sacrilege and letter-stealing among a host of other minor crimes still carried a potential death penalty.
To put this verdict in context: the new police force established by Sir Robert Peel had been decried by those who said it threatened civil liberties (plus ca change), and had been given a variety of unpleasant nicknames by opponents: they were the Blue Devils and the Raw Lobsters, insults related to the colour of their uniforms; alternatively the Peelers, a name that on rare occasions is still to be heard, or more fully and insultingly Peel’s Bloody Gang. In mitigation of such an attitude more than 50 per cent of the first 3000 officers were dismissed (many to be reinstated) for drunkenness and other disciplinary problems.
Sadly of course PC Grantham’s death in service is one of many such, perhaps the most familiar to modern readers WPC Yvonne Fletcher shot outside the Libyan embassy in 1984, WPC Jane Arbuthnot killed in the Harrod’s bombing in 1983, and PC Keith Blakelock, hacked to death during the Broadwater Farm Riot in 1985.
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