What will the night shift bring?

Preparing to work a night shift as a police officer is exciting, but there is often a sense of trepidation for what the night may bring. Often, an officer’s thoughts may turn to the victims, who at that current time are not at risk of harm, and then to the offenders, who have not yet set out on that path to cause harm. There is no doubt in an officer’s mind that they will be part of some fated incident yet to unfold.

The early hours offer a less congested playing field and a reduced anonymity for the bringers of harm; a real chance for an officer to prevent and detect crime. The night shift offers some respite from the more mundane jobs, an opportunity to catch thieves and burglars, or involvement in a life-changing incident.

PC Somerville near the start of his career
PC Thomas Bryce Somerville

Like many before and after him, P.C. Thomas Somerville was that constable who took to his night beat in early May 1951, with twenty months’ service, not knowing how his life would be changed through events soon to unfold. It is perhaps difficult to understand what the twenty-three year old Kenneth Millington had intended, when he too set out that night, armed with a stiletto knife and revolver. Neither men knew that they would meet each other, although the potential for such an encounter is always in an officer’s mind. Constable Somerville had no idea how that one night shift would change his life forever.

While Constable Somerville lay unconscious and critically ill in Birmingham Accident Hospital, a court remand hearing was told that at 4.35am that day, Friday 4th May 1951, Constable Somerville was on foot patrol in Lichfield Road, Aston. Mr Pugh, prosecuting, explained that there he saw a man who would be later identified as Kenneth Millington, walking ‘in a furtive manner’ towards Birmingham. Constable Somerville had stopped Millington and asked to see his identity card, which had shown an address in Cuckoo Road, Birmingham[1]. Millington, with his cap pulled tightly down over his face, and whitewash stains on his coat sleeve[2], was asked by the diligent young constable what he had within the haversack he was carrying. It was then that Millington reached inside the haversack, withdrew a pistol and fired upon Constable Somerville[3]. Demonstrating Constable Somerville’s bravery, Mr Pugh continued:

‘The officer closed with him. A second shot was fired and the prisoner broke away.’

The second shot had missed Constable Somerville, but not the first. He had been shot in the left side of his abdomen. Despite this, Constable Somerville had engaged with and tried to detain Millington, but he was losing the use of his left leg[4]. Constable Somerville chased after Millington in the direction of Aston Cross while blowing his whistle to summon assistance. Losing sight of Millington in Wainwright Street, the officer returned to the scene of the incident and seized Millington’s identity card. There, he was assisted by an off-duty postal worker, whom he told who had shot him[5].

Mr Pugh explained that an intensive search to find Constable Somerville’s assailant then began. Constables Murray and Lamont, two plain clothes officers searching for Millington were in Rocky Lane, Aston. At that time, they saw a man fitting the clothing description of Millington, although no haversack was in view and the suspect was wearing glasses and smoking a pipe. The officers approached him and explained that they had reason to believe that he was wanted for the shooting of Constable Somerville at which point Millington reached towards the breast pocket of his coat[6]. Mr Pugh continued:

‘The two officers at once tackled him and they found he was wearing the haversack underneath his coat. A stiletto was attached to a cord around his waist and the revolver was in his pocket’[7].

Now arrested and with the stiletto knife and revolver safely in the possession of the officers, Millington was taken to Aston Police Station where he made a statement.