Policeman's family find out truth about his death

Birmingham woman uncovers tragic story of police officer killed in the line of duty. A recently unveiled memorial to police officers who died while on duty, has led to the relatives of one of the first officers to be killed in Birmingham discovering the tragic story behind his death and finding out how the tragedy changed the design of police helmets.

Police constable George Snipe was fatally injured while on duty in Birmingham City Centre after he was hit by a brick while responding to a disturbance. His death over 100 years ago, illustrates how officers have put their lives on the line since policing in the region began.

His great-great niece, Karen Hancox, from Quinton, was researching her family tree, when she discovered she was related to PC Snipe, who features as one of the first officers named on the force's role of honour, which commemorates police officers who died while on duty.

Karen contacted the West Midlands Police museum, which is based at Sparkhill police station and was invited in by the museum's curator, Dave Cross, to discover the history of how her great uncle died.

She discovered that George Snipe was one of the first of a number of officers who have died while policing the streets of the West Midlands over the last century.

Karen was given access to the original police records relating to PC Snipe, as well as having the unique chance to see the helmet he was wearing on the night of his death, which still bears the marks and dried bloodstains from the attack on him.

Constable Snipe, aged 29, who belonged to 'C' Division of the then Birmingham City Police, died on July 19, 1897, after responding to a pub closing time disturbance in Bridge Street West.

He and a colleague arrived at the pub to break up the trouble, arresting a couple of men at the scene for being drunk and disorderly. As the officers walked away, a crowd that had gathered around turned on them.

At first the officers faced a barrage of stones, but the drunken mob became more violent. Punching and kicking the constables in an attempt to free their friends.

According to reports from the time, there was a 'murderous attack on the constable,' whereby he was hit on the temple with a brick and knocked unconscious. The stricken officer was taken to the General Hospital, where he died four hours later from a fractured skull.

Police later arrested George "Cloggy" Williams who was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to penal servitude for the rest of his natural life.

Amazingly, PC Snipe's helmet, which was used as evidence through the trial, has been kept at the museum and is one of the last police helmets of its kind with a sharp spike on top.

This is because following the death of constable Snipe, his colleagues, at first, wrongly believed that the brick, which hit his head, caused the spike to be knocked through to his skull, causing his fatal injury. Although this wasn't true, his fellow officers refused to wear the spiked helmets and as a direct result, the spikes were replaced by rounded ones. 

For his great-great niece Karen, the visit to the museum proved to be unexpectedly rewarding, as she had always believed that George Snipe had been a single man. However the official police records show he was in fact married with a young daughter when he died, which means there could be more family members for Karen to now trace.

She said: "It was fascinating to visit the police museum and find out the true story behind George's life and death. We have heard various tales from family members, but it is amazing that we can now get to read the original police and press reports and see the exhibits."

Dave Cross, the museum's curator, said: "The police museum opened in 1995 and we currently have over 3,000 exhibits on show and a similar amount in storage. We have many visitors who come to the museum; a lot of them want to trace relatives who served as police officers."

The roll of honour memorial was officially unveiled last month at Lloyd House olice headquarters as a lasting tribute to police officers who have lost their lives while on duty.