PC Harry Leslie Stanton, aged just 22, was found dead on the Great Western Railway Line near the Dudley entrance to the Netherton tunnel shortly after midnight on Tuesday 29th Jan 1929.
He had worked for the Dudley Borough Police for two years and the mystery surrounding his death caused quite a stir in the press, which gained national coverage. He was by all accounts a popular officer who was well liked by his colleagues. It was said that he was a promising officer and engaged to a local West Bromwich girl.
The Birmingham Daily Gazette detailed the inquest in the paper on Friday 1st February 1929:
Stanton had been seen on duty on the 28th January but failed to arrive at 10:00pm when he should have returned to the station from his beat.
Inspector Haynes of the Dudley Borough Police said a systematic search had been undertaken when he failed to appear, with the discovery of the body around 12:30am the following morning. PC Stanton was found with what were described as ‘horrific head injuries’, with the police surgeon stating that every bone in his head had been broken.
He was found lying flat on his back with his truncheon held across his body. The Dundee Evening Telegraph of 29th January suggested that because he had drawn his staff he was ‘engaged in a scuffle with some wrongdoers’. It further reported that a cap was in the entrance to the tunnel and that no engine coach had been found with blood upon it – adding to the mystery. The paper also suggested that he would not have been found in the position he was in, still holding his truncheon, if he had been hit by a train.
His brother James William Stanton identified the body and during the inquest stated tearfully that he felt his brother would have come to him if he had been in any trouble. He said PC Stanton hadn’t a care in the world. This contributed to the Coroner’s decision to rule out suicide as a cause of death.
It was highlighted in the Portsmouth Evening News on the 30th January that PC Stanton had received a letter from a person known to him on Monday 27th January – he is said to have thrown the letter into the fire.
The jury returned an open verdict.
On the 4th February 1929 the Birmingham Daily Gazette reported that PC Stanton’s funeral was an impressive affair – the Deputy Mayor (and Chair of the Watch Committee) Alderman Bradford was present, along with many members of the Dudley force – who also acted as pall bearers. A great many wreathes were present – including one from the Borough force, one from the Dudley Police Football Team and one from the wives and families of officers living in the police buildings.
He will be forever remembered on the West Midlands Police Roll of Honour.
Lest We Forget