It may (or may not) surprise you to learn that the seaside town of Blackpool is not all ‘fresh air and fun’ for beneath its gaudy exterior lies a much darker underbelly. It isn’t the drunken girls nights out I refer to nor the bawdy stag parties, but it’s links with organised crime. This planned criminal behaviour is run on a network spanning the whole of the nation. Blackpool’s Firm has always fostered close links with Glasgow and London.
Perhaps it was through this association a former used car salesman from down south learned of ‘Prestons’ a prestigious Jewelry business situated in The Strand, Queens Square, Blackpool.
Fredrick Sewell was a conniving, womanising, self styled Squire, who enjoyed a lavish champagne lifestyle – which soon earned him the nickname of Fat Freddie. His business acumen was only outshone by his ability to spend money and his eye for the ladies, he was, in his mind, the ultimate gangster.
In the July of 1971 Fat Freddie found himself embarrassingly low on funds. As he was no stranger to law breaking he once again turned to his underworld connections. Possibly because of his desperation he banded together with a rather hapless crew comprising of; Charlie Haynes (a nightclub owner), armed robber Dennis Bond, Tommy Flannigan and Johnny Spry. Together they planned the jewellery heist in Blackpool.
The August of that year found the crooks, along with Sewell’s latest squeeze, travelling to the Fylde Coast in two stolen vehicles, armed with two saw off shotguns, a small hand gun & two service revolvers.
Sewell rented a flat on Cocker Street for himself and his mistress, from where he intended to stake out the jewellers for a few days.
The rest of the gang found lodgings in a boarding house.
Early in the morning of Monday 23rd August, 1971, the gang left their getaway vehicles in position- one situated in Queens Square, the other on Back Warbreck Street, well away from the busy thoroughfare.
Aware urgency and sheer terror were their best weapons the team burst through the door of Prestons (around half an hour after opening time) brandishing their firearms. Fred, wishing to confront the store manager, was immediately wrong footed when he realised he was nowhere in sight. Mr Lammond was in fact watching the gang from the safety of his repair room and was able to activate a silent alarm, alerting the local police. As Sewell menaced the customers Bond grabbed a haul of lesser priced jewels from trays on display.
A uniformed gent (who was actually a fireman) then entered the premises and Sewell, mistaking him for a police officer, knocked him unconscious.
The gang decided their best plan of action was to make a swift escape and ran towards their waiting motors.
First officer on the scene was PC Carl Walker who managed to clip one of the getaway cars with his own vehicle. He gave chase in his Panda and radioed for assistance. Help came in the form of PC Ian Hampson, who joined the pursuit. Forced to break suddenly PC Hampson was a left a sitting duck and Spry jumped from his own car and shot him in the chest.
Just moments before, Hampson had been in radio contact with one of Blackpool’s finest – Superintendent Gerald Irving Richardson.
Born in Blackpool in 1932, the son of a painter & decorator, Gerald Richardson had become a brave and highly commended police officer. Handsome, fearless and charismatic he was an exemplary copper, loving husband and pillar of the community. You never heard a bad word said about Gerry. After serving as a military police officer during his national service he quickly rose through the ranks and by ‘71, aged just 36, was one of the highest ranking police officers in England.
As more officers in panda cars and unmarked vehicles were deployed Superintendent Richardson himself joined the pursuit.
As the net tightened around the robbers and they found themselves backed into a corner the gang emerged all guns blazing. Charlie Haynes aimed his weapon at detective Andy Hills as Fred Sewell shot PC Carl Walker in the groin.
Freddie and his men then commandeered a butcher’s delivery van and made off down Cheltenham Road.
Not willing to sit on the sidelines and just watch as his officers were gunned down, Gerry Richardson chased the van in earnest, watching as it turned the corner of Carshalton Road and smashed straight into a wall as Sewell burst our through the back doors of the wrecked truck.
Ready to prevent any further escape Superintendent Richardson, unarmed yet determined, attempted to restrain Sewell as he dashed up an alley way. Once Fat Freddie realised his only exit was blocked he aimed his weapon at Gerry who was heard to say “Don’t be daft, don’t be silly” – the last words he uttered before being shot in the stomach, at point blank range, twice.
Transported by ambulance to Blackpool Victoria Hospital, Gerry’s only thoughts were for his fellow officers as he inquired after their injuries. Two hours later he was pronounced dead.
Fred Sewell meanwhile had fled back to London and was lying low. He was able to evade capture for 45 days as Lancashire Constabulary and the metropolitan police scoured the country in their search for him.
It was not until the 7th of October the police discovered the odious Sewell, hiding with a Greek family in a terraced house in Holloway.
At Sewell’s subsequent trial, in the February of 1972, he found himself sentenced to 30 years imprisonment for the contemptible murder of Supt Richardson. In court Sewell said of Richardson “I will see him every day of my life. He was too brave. He kept coming.”
Sewell was released from prison in 2001 at 68 years of age. Abominably, it is believed he made a fortune while behind bars and was able to purchase a luxury property, hand-built to his own specifications.
Superintendent Gerald Irving Richardson was buried at Layton Cemetery, Blackpool. More than 100,000 people lined the streets for his funeral. He was posthumously awarded the George Cross on November 13, 1972.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of this brave hero’s death and a new access road leading to the recently built West Division Police Headqaurters in Blackpool has been named after the fallen police superintendent as a permanent reminder of his bravery that day (and of the daily courage all police officers display in order to keep the people of Lancashire safe.)
I was lucky enough to witness part of yesterday’s memorial service.