The West Sussex Constabulary

 Report by Stephen Webbe

When Malcolm Barrett arrived to talk to us on August 3rd he came equipped with a veritable museum. There were truncheons and handcuffs, a pair of spurs, several whistles, and an odd shaped torch. What looked like a cutlass was actually a hanger that was etched with the words “West Sussex Constabulary No.3.”

For anybody who couldn’t remember just what the talk was to be about, (well, it was one of Ferring’s hottest summers!) the helmet and helmet badges gave the game away. The subject was the West Sussex Constabulary from 1857 to 1967.As Malcolm Barrett explained, in those 110 years the police went from dressing in serge frocked coats with belts and high beaver hats and walking everywhere to wearing snappy modern uniforms and helmets and driving Ford Lotus Cortinas and using new UHF radios.

And he should know. Barrett joined the West Sussex Constabulary as a Cadet Clerk in 1950 when he was 16. Starting in the Chichester CID, he later transferred to the Photographic and Fingerprint Department. Called up for National Service in the RAF in 1953, he rejoined the West Sussex Constabulary in 1955. By the early 1960s he had begun collecting all sorts of memorabilia associated with the Force including uniforms, photographs, documents and books.

As Barrett noted, the Force’s first few chief constables had military backgrounds. On its creation in 1857, its first holder of the office was Captain Frederick Montgomerie, late of the 99th Regiment of Foot. (The hangers he acquired never seem to have been used so perhaps he never had to confront any serious disturbances.) Following Montgomerie’s untimely death in 1879, another former soldier became the Force’s second chief constable. Captain George Drummond, formerly of the 26th Regiment of Bombay Native Infantry, may have been a strict disciplinarian, but he was extremely popular and highly respected. When he stepped down in 1912 he was awarded the King’s Police Medal.

Another retired army officer, Captain Arthur Williams, took over from Drummond in 1912. He, too, was a strict disciplinarian and woe betide any member of the force, whether superintendent, inspector, sergeant or constable, who entered a pub except on duty. Williams was fanatical about sport and had his men playing football and cricket, performing various feats of athleticism and heaving for dear life in tug-of-war competitions. His successor, Colonel Ronald Shaw-Wilson had fought with the Seaforth Highlanders in the First World War and came to the job in 1935 having studied at the Indian Police College. He had extensive experience of handling increased restiveness in the British Raj.

Barrett spoke briefly about the 1884 riots in Worthing when the “Skeleton Army” took on the Salvation Army and its self-righteous campaign against the demon drink. Worthing’s truncheon-wielding constabulary could barely contain the unrest.

For a moment his reference to the “Shoreham Sub-Division Occurrence Book” for 1904 sounded decidedly unpromising. But when Barrett gave his Ferring audience a taste of its contents, it proved anything but dull. The entry for June 27th concerned Thomas Watson, a farmer of Old Salts Farm in Lancing. For selling a pint of new milk to a police superintendent which was deficient in fat Watson was fined 40 shillings. Then, in May the following year, a charwoman called Annie Breeden of Hove was apprehended for being drunk in charge of a four-year-old child. She was sentenced to one month’s hard labour.

Barrett revealed that the imperturbable West Sussex Constabulary was called upon when industrial unrest flared in the country. In 1921 some 90 men from the Force were drafted in to aid the hard-pressed Glamorgan Constabulary when coal miners in the Pontypridd area of South Wales went on strike. They even took a motorcycle and sidecar with them. It was a harbinger of the Force’s coming mechanisation. During the General Strike of 1926 another detachment of the West Sussex Constabulary was sent to Treorchy in South Wales and yet another dispatched to help quell disturbances in Derbyshire. Barrett told his Ferring listeners that when the West Sussex men left Treochy railway station the strikers and their families joined them and the Glamorgan police in singing “Sussex-by-the-Sea.”

In the years before and after the First World War, the West Sussex Constabulary took a leaf out of the American law enforcement playbook and began to use bloodhounds. On one occasion, after a spate of rick fires lasting 18 months around Westbourne (on the West Sussex-Hampshire border near Emsworth), bloodhounds tracked a labourer back to his cottage. He confessed to arson and got seven years’ penal servitude for his nefarious activities.

Worthing’s very own Gladys Moss featured in Barrett’s Ferring address. She was the West Sussex Constabulary’s first Woman Police Constable who, after joining the Force in 1919, took up her duties at Worthing. She played a key role in the notorious Littlehampton “Poison Pen” case of the early 1920s when “obscene libels” and “vile missives” appeared around the town, and helped bring the miscreant to book.

Gladys Moss specialised in cases that involved women and children and as such helped investigate one of the most horrific crimes ever committed in West Sussex. That, as Barrett explained, was the murder of Vera Hoad, an 11-year-old girl whose body was found on farmland in the grounds of Chichester’s Graylingwell mental hospital. She had been raped and strangled. Her murderer has never been found.By all accounts, Moss was the first policewoman motorcyclist. She was trained in ju-jitsu and was no mean shot with a small-bore rifle. She retired in 1941 at the age of 57 and went to live on South Farm Road in Worthing. She died in 1964 and in 2015 a blue plaque was erected in her memory on the police station in Worthing’s Chatsworth Road.

Barrett observed that during World War II there were several murders in the county involving servicemen. After Canadian forces set up an encampment in the woods near Petworth House, one of the soldiers ran amok with a sten gun in a Nissen hut after an argument and killed 10 of his fellow squaddies. It fell to Petworth Police Constable Len Clausen to make the initial investigation. He said that the interior of the hut resembled “a charnel house.”

Barrett went on to mention the still unsolved case of Joan Woodhouse, the London librarian, who was found dead in the grounds of Arundel Castle in 1948 and that of John Haigh, the notorious acid bath murderer, who disposed of his victim at rented premises in Crawley.

He also touched on the case of Lionel “Buster” Crabb, the retired RNVR diver who secretly examined the hull of the Soviet cruiser Ordzhonikidze in Portsmouth’s Royal Navy dockyard after it delivered Nikolai Bulganin and Nikita Khrushchev to England in 1956. According to Barrett, it was said that Lord Mountbatten, the First Sea Lord, told Crabb that he was needed for a secret mission and that whatever he discovered would be shared with MI6 and the CIA. When a headless (and handless) body was found floating off Pilsey Island in Chichester Harbour the following year, the West Sussex Constabulary believed it might be Crabb’s.

As a police photographer, Barrett had the unenviable task of photographing the remains at St. Richard’s Hospital in Chichester. It’s now though that (exotic theories apart) Crabb, who was neither in the first flush of youth nor in the best of health, died from oxygen poisoning, or possibly carbon dioxide poisoning.

Barrett ended his talk with the tragic case of the Iberian Airlines Caravelle that crashed on the southern slope of Blackdown Hill at Fernhurst in West Sussex on November 4th 1967 while flying from Malaga to Heathrow. Among the 37 dead was the English actress June Thorburn who was five months pregnant with her third child. To this day it’s unclear why the Caravelle was flying so calamitously low. The only explanation seems to be a disastrous misreading of the altimeters. The West Sussex Constabulary had the gruesome task of collecting the body parts from the Blackdown Hill crash site and Barrett and a colleague spent four days photographing the body parts.

It was a pity that Malcolm was not able to show any of the excellent photographs that illustrate the book he wrote on the West Sussex Constabulary in 2008. There’s a graphic story in his book that no talk on the illustrious West Sussex Constabulary should have been without.

That’s the one about a Heinkel 111 that was shot down off Selsey Bill in 1940 and the pilot taken to Chichester Police Station. “Unfortunately for him,” writes Barrett, “he gave a Nazi salute to Superintendent Savage [who] was known as being ‘savage by name and savage by nature.’” Barrett doesn’t mince his words about what happened next: “Superintendent Savage promptly laid him out with a left hook!”