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Cockermouth Post Article October 2012 – The shooting of Police Superintendent Jacob Johnstone

With the relocation of the Cockermouth Police Station, and the uncertain future of the former Police Station on Main Street, we realised that we had relatively little information about the history of police service in the town, so we were very pleased during our exhibition to have a visit from a descendant of Jacob Johnstone, a former Cockermouth Police Superintendent, and to hear some of the details of his police career, in particular an incident in Carlisle that nearly cost him his life.

The account of his retirement in 1907 notes that, during his time as a police officer, he had been severely kicked six times, twice stabbed by potters in Dumfriesshire, and once nearly fatally shot. In 1885 Superintendent Johnstone, then a humble police constable in Kingstown (Carlisle) confronted four armed robbers, who had stolen a quantity of valuable jewellery from Netherby Hall, the home of Sir Frederick Graham. With Jacob was his colleague Sergeant Roche, and in the ensuing struggle Sergeant Roche was shot in the arm:

“P.C. Johnstone at once went to the sergeant’s assistance, helped him up, and together they pursued the men, who had made off towards Carlisle. This was the fine part, for the two officers now knew that the men were armed and desperate, but they did not ‘funk’ their duty to the public. After running about 25 yards P.C. Johnstone got up to one of the four men and was in the act of reaching forward to seize hold of him when the revolver again blazed about four yards in front of him. One of the men had turned round and deliberately shot him and he fell with a three-ounce bullet in his right breast. He was carried into his own police station, and for months lay between life and death …”

The robbers had fled towards Penrith, and at Plumpton a P.C. Byrnes would receive a fatal gunshot wound. By now a major manhunt was under way, and finally the three men were apprehended at Tebay (one had got away). The three (Rudge, Martin, and Baker) were tried and found guilty at Carlisle Assizes after a three day trial in January 1886, and they were hanged shortly afterwards at Carlisle.

P.C. Johnstone made a remarkable recovery, and was presented with the bullet that had been extracted from his liver. P.C. Johnstone’s great act of bravery and determination to do his duty was rewarded with promotion to Merit class Sergeant and service at Alston, followed in 1889 by promotion to Inspector at Penrith. In 1891 he became Superintendent at Cockermouth.

Gloria Edwards

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