There are lots of great stories amongst our criminal records (recently launched on Ancestry.co.uk) that tell the story of law and order in the former West Riding of Yorkshire.
Few, however, are quite as tragic as the case of PC John William Kew, once of the few police officers to be killed in the line of duty. Thanks to our Police and Prison records, we can piece together more of his background and the circumstances of how he came to be killed.
John Kew joined the West Riding Constabulary only a month before his 24th birthday on the 5th February, 1895. He was 5 feet 9 ½ inches tall, with a ‘fresh’ complexion and dark brown hair and eyes. He was born in Langton, near Horncastle in Lincolnshire and had been working as a farm labourer before joining the Constabulary. He was married and had no children. He was living in Long Sutton (again, in Lincolnshire). A life of policing was obviously attractive to him as he had already completed 2 ½ years of service with the Lincolnshire Constabulary.
Appointed as PC 680, ten days later he was posted to the Upper Osgoldcross division (which covered places such as Wragby, Featherstone and Owston). Just over a year later, he was transferred again, this time to the Rotherham Division. It was to be his last posting.
The Backhouse Brothers – Charles Benjamin and Frederick – lived on Kew’s patch in Swinton, Rotherham. On the 10th July, 1910 reports say the brothers were using a revolver to threaten people in Rotherham.
PC Kew came to the Backhouse residence at 11:30pmand stated he was entitled to search them. At this point Charles Backhouse pulled out a revolver and shot PC Kew. Reports state that, though wounded, Kew attempted to wrestle the revolver from Charles Backhouse. At this point his brother took the revolver and – apparently uttering “Here’s another one for you!” – shot PC Kew again. PC Kew died at home the next day from his injuries, the inquest stating that the shot fired by Charles was the fatal blow.
PC Kew’s personnel notes state that he ‘Died at 2:10pm on the 11th July 1900 the effects of being shot by a revolver at Swinton at 11:30pm on the 10th by two men named Charles Benjamin Backhouse and Frederick Backhouse’. He was 30 years old. His wife – now a widow – was to receive his pension.
The Backhouses were tried swiftly at the West Riding Summer Assizes at Leeds, held just a few weeks later on the 27th July. They were found guilty, and sentenced to be hanged, with Charles found guilty of murder and Frederick found guilty of aiding and abetting.
Their last record comes in the Prison register for Wakefield. These shows that Charles was only aged 19, his brother just 23. Both – rarely, in the prison registers – had no previous convictions. Both could read and write, and both were just over 5 feet tall, much smaller, and younger, than the man they had killed.
Frederick’s sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment, just two days before the date of his execution. Charles was hanged at HMP Leeds in a double execution with a Thomas Mellor on the 16th August 1900.
We are grateful to http://www.murderuk.com/one_off_Charles_Backhouse.html for the extra information in this blog.