The murder of PC George Snipe - 120 years on

PC George Snipe

Born in January 1868 to Emma and William Snipe, George was formerly in the British Army.

On the 1871 census he is shown as living in Kings Norton with his parents, two older sisters, one older brother and baby brother Samuel – 10 months.

By 1881, 14 year old George has 4 younger siblings and is still living at home with them, his parents, one now married older sister and older brother.

On February 20th 1890, 22 year old George joined the Birmingham City Police. By March his salary was 24/ a week and by the time he was appointed in April 1891, he had been promoted to the 3rd class and was receiving 26/ a week.

In August 1891 he was transferred to the C Division which saw him based at Kenyon Street police station and living in the single quarters there.

In 1894 he was promoted to second class and eventually made it to first class (at 30/ a week) by May 1897. Officers would be promoted through the classes based on length of service and good character.

According to an article on the Birmingham Mail website from 2010[1]:

On July 19, 1897, PC Snipe was on patrol in Birmingham city centre when he was called to a drunken disorder in Bridge Street West.

‘He and a colleague arrived at the pub at closing time to break up the trouble, arresting a couple of men for being drunk and disorderly. But as the officers tried to walk away, a crowd that had gathered around them turned on them.’

The Star Pub on Bridge Street West where the disorder started – with thanks to the Birmingham History Forum

The officers were pelted with stones, but the drunken mob became increasingly violent – with both officers being punched and kicked.

‘The officers managed to force their way into the entrance of St Mathias Church, possibly in a bid to escape the crowd. Before he could reach sanctuary, PC Snipe was hit on the temple with a brick.’

St Mathias Church - courtesy of the Birmingham History Forum

The 29-year-old married father-of-one, described as an “exemplary officer”, received a fractured skull and died four hours later.

The article states that following the incident, a woman came forward and spoke to a senior officer at the old Kenyon Street Police station to say her boyfriend had thrown the brick. It goes on to say that James Franklin was subsequently arrested and charged in connection with the death of PC Snipe.

He denied the offence and was later acquitted when witnesses came forward to state he did not throw the brick that killed PC Snipe.

Birmingham City Police later arrested George "Cloggy" Williams for the offence. He fled after the disorder and was not seen back in Birmingham for some months until his money ran out.

He was eventually committed for trial in February 1898, convicted of manslaughter and given a life sentence.

George Williams, taken when arrested for house breaking in 1895, two years before PC Snipe was killed

PC Snipe's helmet, damaged during the attack, was used during the trial and has been preserved by the West Midlands Police Museum. It is one of the last of its kind with a sharp spike on the top - these helmets were later replaced with those with a more rounded spike in the early 1900s.

PC Snipe's helmet - from an article on the BBC website [2]

Franklin and Williams were tried at the Birmingham Assize Court (Victoria Law Courts) and would have been held at the Central Lock-up on Steelhouse Lane.

The 120th Anniversary of PC Snipe’s death is remembered this week at West Midlands Police. His great great niece Karen Hancox came to the force’s Headquarters at Lloyd House to see the new digital Roll of Honour, which aims to hold a photographic record of fallen officers from the West Midlands Police and its predecessor forces.

Karen also travelled to Newtown police station on Bridge Street West to lay flowers in memory of PC Snipe.

A sketch of PC Snipe from a book Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths in Birmingham by Nick Billingham has been located by Norman Bartram from Made in Birmingham TV and will be added to the digital Roll of Honour.

The digital Roll of Honour is forever scrolling through the names of over 110 officers who were killed or died whilst on duty, or as a result of an accident that occurred whilst on duty, dating back to 1822, so that we never forget the sacrifice they made.