How a Victorian Romford inspector was murdered while doing his duty

Crow Lane Cemetery, Romford. Pic: John Hercock

Crow Lane Cemetery, Romford. Pic: John Hercock - Credit: Archant

Did you know about the 19th-century murder of a Romford police officer? 

Thomas Simmons worked with Essex County Constabulary from September 1865 until his death on January 24 in 1885.  

According to Essex Police, which has published information about the killing based on an 1977 Essex Police Magazine article by Maureen Scollan, Thomas joined the force aged 21 and was initially posted to Chelmsford as a PC.  

After periods of service at Epping, Romford and Brentwood, he was promoted to sergeant in 1877 and, by this time, had a wife and four-year-old son named William.  

In 1881 he was made second-class inspector and moved back to Romford, where he lived with his family in South Street.  

But it was in January, 1885, that Insp Simmons and PC Alfred Marden set out exploring their patch.  

On the Rainham Road, Thomas saw three men walking towards Hornchurch, one of which he recognised - it was a well-known criminal named David Dredge.  

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The sighting had raised his suspicions, and later in the day, Insp Simmons caught up with them and asked both men to turn around while walking towards them.

The taller of the two turned around with a revolver in his hand and fired, saying "take that".  

Insp Simmons reportedly staggered back, clutching the left side of his stomach, and the two men fled.  

PC Marden began to chase the culprits, followed by the injured Insp Simmons before he collapsed in a field.  

The criminals shot at Marden but he managed to dodge their fire. 

Rewards totalling £150 were offered to arrest the culprits.  

Four days after being shot, Insp Simmons passed away.

He was laid to rest in Romford Cemetery in plot 2340, with a large crowd gathering in tribute.  

A prominent local landowner wrote, at the time: "My object in writing is to evoke a general expression of sympathy for his loss, and the loss his wife and family must sustain...and to subscribe to any fund that may be started to help his family."

The taller man who fired the shot turned out to be 45-year-old James Lee. He was sentenced to hang but pleaded his innocence until his death.  

David Dredge was arrested on suspicion of the murder but found not guilty at trial, although he was then rearrested for attempting to shoot Marden.  

The third man was later identified and hanged at Carlisle in 1886 for murder of another officer.