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Thomas Simmons

Thomas Simmons' grave

Served with Essex County Constabulary from September 11, 1865 and died on January 24, 1885.

Inspector Thomas Simmons joined the Essex County Constabulary on 11 September 1865 when he was 21, and was posted to Chelmsford as police constable 85; he was 5' 9" tall and had previously been employed as a farm labourer in his home village of Weeley. In November 1877 he was promoted to sergeant, after periods of service at Epping, Romford and Brentwood; by then he had a wife and a 4-year-old son named William. In 1881 Sergeant Simmons was made second-class inspector and moved back to Romford where he and his family lived in South Street.

At about 3 p.m. on Tuesday 20 January 1885 he harnessed up his white horse and trap and, accompanied by Police Constable 107 Alfred Marden, set out to tour his section. Inspector Simmons' last official journey had begun. The administrative responsibilities of an inspector's rank had not dimmed Thomas Simmons' feeling for a villain. Out on the Rainham road he saw three men walking towards Hornchurch and recognised one as a well-known criminal named David Dredge, a 51-year-old general dealer formerly of South Weald: he had no doubt that the other two were also of the criminal fraternity.

The Inspector drove some distance past them and dropped off Police Constable Marden with instructions to keep observation; he went on in an unsuccessful attempt to find the other constables in the section. When he returned he found that Police Constable Marden had lost sight of the three men. The two officers got back into the trap and set out on the return journey towards Romford. As the white horse rounded a bend adjoining a sewage farm the Inspector saw someone jump into a ditch: Police Constable Marden leapt out of the trap in pursuit.

The Inspector carried on, and caught up with the two men he believed he had seen earlier. He pulled up about six yards from them and called, "Where are you chaps going to?" "Home'", came the sullen reply. "Come on, let's have a look at you", continued the Inspector. As he walked towards them the taller one turned quickly round with a revolver in his hand and fired, saying, "Take that." Thomas Simmons staggered back clutching the left side of his stomach, but did not fall. The two men jumped over a hedge and ran off. Hearing a shout Police Constable Marden rushed up and found his senior leaning against the trap holding his stomach. Realising what had happened he made off after the two men, gamely followed by the injured Inspector.

Police Constable Marden was a good runner and steadily gained ground, but after crossing two fields the Inspector's weakness suddenly overcame him and he collapsed. By this time the light was failing, and with Police Constable Marden only yards from the two men they suddenly turned and fired on him. One shot would have certainly found its mark had not the panting constable adroitly ducked. He gave up the chase and went back to find Thomas Simmons helpless on the ground with both his trouser legs saturated with blood. "They have done for me", he moaned, and lost consciousness. Several inquisitive farm labourers were soon on the scene and provided stimulants for the injured and unconscious man. A farm cart was filled with hay and in easy stages he was carried back to his home. Two surgeons were called but could do little. The wound was to be a fatal one. At 6.20 p.m. that evening the duty sergeant at Romford was surprised to find his Inspector's well-known white horse and trap being driven by a farm labourer who quickly told of the tragedy. The Divisional Superintendent at Brentwood was telegraphed, and by 9 p.m. had arrived in Romford, consulted with the surgeons and asked the magistrates' clerk to obtain a dying declaration. This had to be deferred until the following morning as the Inspector was too ill to speak.

By lunchtime on 21st January Romford Police Station was thronged with anxious enquirers, concerned about the Inspector's condition and asking whether his assailants had been arrested. All stations in Essex and the Metropolitan Police were alerted by telegraph, but it was feared that the culprits had fled to the East End. On Thursday 22 January Havering Petty Sessions met at Romford with the Chief Constable an unaccustomed observer. Rewards totalling £150 were offered for information leading to the arrest of one or all of the three attackers. Thomas Simmons hovered on the brink of death, while a public outcry deplored violence, led by the 'Essex Weekly News' in its issue of 23 January 1885: "The experiences of policemen amongst the daring and reckless burglars of London have been painfully experienced in Essex. The use of firearms by these desperadoes has been too frequent of late to be at all comfortable to the guardians of the peace, in whose trust the public place the safekeeping of their property, their lives and their homes. It would be well if some severe check could be put upon this lawlessness, and we should not cry 'hold' at a proposal to use the cat against all offenders of this class . . . for armed burglars, for robbers with violence of any kind ... . we believe a little corporal punishment would prove a very wholesome deterrent, for the bravado is ever an arrant coward when punished. We have grown too humane lately in dealing with some of the worst class of offenders . . ."

At 11 o'clock on the night of 23 January Thomas Simmons asked to see Police Constable Marden. The Police Constable stayed with him until 8 a.m. the next day when he took a short break and returned at 10 a.m. to find his senior officer conscious. "Police Constable Marden, are you shot much?" "Not at all sir." "Are you quite sure of that?" "Quite sure sir." Thomas Simmons dozed, then, "Don't I owe you some money?" "No sir." "I know I am going to die shortly and I am quite prepared for it. Bid goodbye to all the men for me and tell them to be kind to poor Willy (his son)." Mrs. Simmons and a priest were then called into the room, and after receiving the sacrament Thomas Simmons died, four days after being shot.

The people of Romford were shocked, and a large crowd lined the route to Romford Cemetery where a huge contingent of police officers saw their murdered colleague laid to rest in plot 2340. There was the usual desire to express sympathy in more tangible form, and the realisation that Mrs. Simmons would only receive £90 from the Police Superannuation Fund led to the following letter being published from a prominent local landowner:

"My object in writing is to evoke a general expression of sympathy for his loss, and the loss his wife and family must sustain . . . and to subscribe to any fund that may be started, to help his family and to show other officers who may have to face similar experiences in the performance of their duties that there are always willing hearts that can appreciate such conduct, and who will endeavour to see that those dependant upon them shall be provided for and placed beyond the pressing needs of poverty . . . " 

A fund committee was formed, and almost immediately encountered a petty dispute over boundaries. The Romford justices felt that the fund had been their idea and ought to remain independent. The county justices felt it didn't matter where the money came from; the local newspaper started its own fund. The Chairman of the County Constabulary Committee addressed a personal letter to all magistrates and Essex parishes, asking for donations - maximum one guinea - in the hope that all classes of people would contribute. Inspector Simmons' former colleagues subscribed £28. The total collection was later to reach more than £1500. While concern for the survivors was being expressed in financial terms, the police continued to track the murderers with enquiries centred upon the East End of London. On 6 February Detective Sergeant Rolfe of the Metropolitan Police went to a criminal haunt in Limehouse where "an exceptionally powerful man" was pointed out to him and he arrested David Dredge on suspicion of threatening to murder Police Constable Alfred Marden.

The prisoner was taken to Romford by train and met on the platform by four officers including Police Constable Marden. The journey to the police station was made on foot, and when Dredge was recognised a crowd of about 200 converged upon the building. Later that day he was remanded in custody to Chelmsford Prison. On 12 February Dredge made a further court appearance. His defence counsel was Philip Stern of Essex Court in the Temple, and the barrister objected to unnecessary remands which, he said, enabled witnesses to patch up and amend their evidence from day to day: "Remands are intended to assist the prosecution to collect materials for their case." Superintendent Dobson then rose to his feet and asked for a further week's remand as the case was now in the hands of the public prosecutor. "Oh the public prosecutor may be a very mighty gentleman", said Mr. Stern scathingly, "but he has no right to delay the course of justice and keep the prisoner in custody longer than is actually necessary." When Police Constable Marden gave his evidence he was cross-examined as to the sort of revolver Dredge had presented at him: - he answered to the best of his ability. "How did you know the time?" continued Stern. "I guessed from the time I passed an inn". "Did you have anything to drink?" "That's my business." At that Mr. Stern appealed to the bench who advised the officer to answer. "A glass of ale", he muttered. "Are you going to guess anything else?" queried Stern, at which the magistrates' clerk protested at the improper insinuations against the witness.

Mr. Batchelor from the Public Prosecutor's Office was in court for Dredge's next court appearance on 19 February. After charging him with the murder of Thomas Simmons the prosecutor said, "I am not saying that Dredge fired the shot which killed the inspector, but if three men go out with common intent I say it does not matter which shot actually killed." All pawnbrokers in London had been circulated with the description of the "taller man" alleged to have fired the fatal shot: they were asked to call the police if he attempted to pawn a revolver. At 8.20 a.m. on Tuesday, 10 March, a tall, well-dressed man entered a pawnshop in Seymour Street, Euston. When he offered a five chamber revolver in pledge the pawnbroker kept him talking while his assistant went for the police. As the two constables entered the shop the man became suspicious and rushed out, knocking them over as he ran across the road. After a short chase he was successfully detained by two passers-by.

The prisoner was not co-operative: he was taken to Somerstown Police Station and identified by Detective Sergeant Rolfe. While sitting beside the charge room fire he threw four cartridges into it and caused a slight explosion. He was at once searched, and ten revolver cartridges and a skeleton key were found on him. Later - with his hands cuffed behind his back - he was taken to Liverpool Street Station en route for Romford. Police Constable Marden and a dense crowd met the train at Romford, and Police Constable Marden at once identified the prisoner as the "taller man." The prisoner was aggressive. He was charged as James Lee alias Adams alias Manson, and gave his age as 45: all other details were refused. He objected most strongly to the way Police Constable Marden had identified him, adding sarcastically that after being dragged through the streets of the town and being seen by half the population neither Police Constable Marden nor anyone else could fail to recognise him. "In fairness", he pleaded, "he ought to pick me out from people who are strangers to us both." Superintendent Dobson thought this a reasonable request, and went to the down-platform at the railway station to ask anyone visiting Romford to go to the police station. "Such people were like angels", he reported later, "few and far between." The few strangers who did alight at Romford refused to help. By 7 p.m. the Superintendent was getting desperate.

One J.P. was tired of waiting to remand the prisoner and had gone home. When a second one arrived the problem was explained and a compromise reached: the prisoner was verbally remanded and no evidence was heard as had hitherto been the custom. Half an hour later he was in a cab en route for Romford railway station and Chelmsford Prison. A large crowd hissed and jeered but he did not appear to be concerned, "if I'd my liberty you'd not do that", he shouted, and as the train moved out of the station he gave a mock bow and placed his fingers to his nose. Prisoner Lee's desired identification parade took place outside the gates of Chelmsford Prison, where nineteen men from the Arc Electric Works were drawn up, several of whom closely resembled him.

The Chief Constable and his deputy were present when the prisoner was brought out of the gaol. He walked up to each man asking, "Are you known to Romford police?" When satisfied at the negative replies he chose a place beside a man who was almost his double. The watchers waited anxiously as Police Constable Marden appeared. Slowly he walked along the line and then straight back to the prisoner. "This is the man: I identify him." "For what do you identify me?" "For pointing a pistol at the late Inspector Simmons." After being identified Lee was taken back to Romford court for a formal remand. He hurled back abuse to the hooting crowd, and showed little regard for the dignity of the court as he rushed up to the Bench and yelled, "Do you call that justice? I say it is nothing but legalised murder." The Court Sergeant ordered him to be quiet. "I will not be quiet. What you want to do is to murder me before I am condemned. Because I cannot be further identified I am walked through the streets in front of everyone. Is that justice? I demanded I should be put in a cab; the Superintendent promised. It was not done and I have a right to speak." The Chairman of the Bench was getting annoyed, "Hold your tongue sir". "The people of Romford are savage beasts", shouted Lee.

After being formally remanded in custody for one week Lee was then charged with being concerned with two others in the murder of Thomas Simmons, Inspector of Police, on 20 January 1885. Mr. Batchelor from the Public Prosecutor's Office was again in attendance. "I am happy to see that you are the same gentlemen who heard the inquiry respecting Dredge . . . as most of the facts will be fresh in your memory. Prisoner is charged with the wilful murder of Inspector Simmons . . ." The prisoner interrupted, "Before the gentleman goes further, I wish to say that I am trying to get legal assistance. I have written to the Home Secretary and have tried to explain my case to him . . . I therefore wish for a remand for a week, and that will simply be in the interests of justice."

"We should prefer you having someone to defend you", stated the Chairman of the Bench. "I never knew he had made an application to the Home Office", observed the prosecutor, "but there will be no injustice done to the prisoner if I take some evidence now, and he reserves his cross-examination till the next occasion." This did not suit Lee, "I want the cross-examination to be taken at the time, provided the Home Secretary allows me legal assistance . . . I am utterly helpless and in the hands of the police . . ." The Chairman said, "Your case is in the hands of the Government now." "I got a visit from my wife on Saturday", explained the prisoner, "and she told me that there had been a letter in the newspapers mystifying the public both at home and abroad. That is due to the police . . . it is full of calumny against me and it is untrue ... The Police went to my wife and they put down a report that my wife's mother went down on her knees and exclaimed, 'Thank God that my daughter will now wear widow's weeds'. That was prejudicing my case..." "My man we cannot go into that here" said the Chairman. "Here is another point", continued the prisoner, "On the 10th of March I was brought into Romford . . . Mr. Rolfe brought in 7 men for me to be placed with, in order that I might be identified by two constables. The police came in when I was the only individual with Mr. Rolfe. Was that fair?" "You can bring that question forward afterwards", said the Chairman. "I don't think we can go into that now. Our object is to do justice." Despite numerous further objections by Lee the rest of the evidence was heard, and he and Dredge were committed for trial on Monday 27 April at the Central Criminal Court.

The two men appeared before Mr. Justice Hawkins on a charge of wilfully murdering Inspector Simmons. Stern continued to defend Dredge, and the Judge asked a barrister called Grain to defend Lee. Mr. Poland, instructed by the DPP, opened the case with a resume of the evidence. Lee was the man who fired the fatal shot, he claimed, and as to Dredge the jury would be asked to decide whether he was jointly engaged with the other two men. Did the three go out on some unlawful expedition; did Dredge know that his companions had revolvers, and that those weapons were to be used to prevent arrest? If so, concluded the prosecutor, then although Dredge was 60 yards away at the time of the fatal shot he was also responsible for the inspector's death.

Evidence identifying Dredge and Lee was called from police officers in the case, the surgeon who had removed the fatal bullet from the inspector's body, and the justices who had taken his dying declaration. Detective Sergeant Rolfe testified to the arrest of Dredge, and the removal of Lee from Somerstown to Romford. He agreed that he had been acquainted with Lee for some years. On the second day of the trial the pawnbroker from Euston gave evidence that he had known Lee by the alias of Manson for about eighteen months; Lee had pawned his five chamber nickel silver revolver on several previous occasions. An eye-glass case found near the scene of the murder was identified by an optician's wife in Seymour Street who said it was the one she had sold to Lee about five months previously. The woman had subsequently gone to Chelmsford Prison and been asked to identify her customer. It transpired in court that she had first picked out the wrong man. "She picked out a man who was as totally distinct from me as I am from a black man", shouted Lee when he heard her evidence identifying him.

When the Judge began to sum up on the second day, he commented that despite complaints from Lee it had been a very fair trial with an excellent defence from Mr. Grain at such short notice: Police Constable Marden's evidence was strongly corroborated by the dying declaration of the murdered inspector. The summing-up took one hundred minutes, and before the jury rose Lee made further allegations about the treatment he had received, from the Romford police, the Bench, the Home Secretary - who had ignored two petitions asking for legal assistance - and the corrupt and perjured evidence of Detective Sergeant Rolph, who had hunted him down for six or seven years. The Judge had heard enough, "I ought not to allow you to go on. I am giving you an indulgence which if a man was charged with a less serious crime I should be obliged to refuse him, and I shall be compelled to tell the jury I cannot take these as absolutely gospel truths because you utter them." The case against Lee was proved: Dredge was found not guilty. "Have you anything to say as to why sentence should not be passed?" asked the Judge..."I am telling you that you cannot now disturb the verdict of the jury...If you like to go on talking I will hear you." "You asked me whether I had anything to say, but what is the good of me saying anything? The formula addressed to me is merely a farce and nothing more."

The Judge then assumed his black cap and addressed Lee, beginning with the observation that in his frame of mind it was idle to speak to him, but he did not believe Lee to be a persecuted man. "The crime you have been found guilty of is that of having wilfully murdered Inspector Simmons..." "I did not do it," shouted the prisoner. "It is not the place in which to advise you how to spend the few remaining days of your life... You will be hanged by the neck until you are dead, and may the Lord have mercy on your soul". "I have had none from the Judge", said the prisoner impertinently, "or justice either, my Lord". The condemned man was removed by six warders armed with swords who escorted him by train back to Chelmsford Prison. Dredge was re-arrested, and remanded to Romford court for attempting to shoot Police Constable Marden.

At 8 a.m. on a Monday morning some two weeks after the trial James Lee was hanged. He had made an unsuccessful appeal for a reprieve, confided in the local Roman Catholic priest, written letters to his wife and been visited by her and her sister; no physical contact had been allowed, not even the shaking of hands on her final visit. Lee continually protested his innocence up to the moment of death, and failed to divulge the identity of the third man who had allegedly accompanied Dredge and himself on the day of the murder. (The third man was subsequently identified and hanged at Carlisle in 1886 for another police murder.) An orderly crowd of more than 300 people assembled outside Chelmsford Prison, and as the black flag was slowly raised a noticeable shudder passed through the crowd. Thomas Simmons was avenged. 

This article was based on the text of 'An Inspector Dies' by Maureen Scollan, published in the Essex Police Magazine 1977.

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