Thinking allowed — 12 January 2018

On the evening of Wednesday 27th November 1912, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Edward Henry was arriving at his house at 19 Sheffield Terrace.

He had stopped riding his horse to work at Scotland Yard and when, occasionally he didn’t walk home, he was driven the 5 miles in the official car by his chauffeur, one Albert English.

AT ABOUT 7 o’clock dismissing his chauffeur for the night, he got out of the car, watched by his 11-year-old daughter, Hermione from her bedroom above the front door porch.

From the shadows, a young man approached and said he had something he wanted to speak about. “Can’t speak to you now. I’m busy. Call my office”, responded Sir Edward. Drawing a Remington Colt self-loading pistol three shots rang out. Two missed, but a third penetrated Sir Edward’s abdomen.

At this point, the gunman was tackled and wrestled to the ground by the Commissioner’s chauffeur, a porter and a decorator working opposite.

“Let me go”, cried the gunman, “This man has done me a great wrong. Let me go”.

It transpired that the would-be assassin was a man by the name of Alfred (some accounts also give his name as ‘Albert’) George Bowes from Acton. A disgruntled would-be taxi driver whose application for a cab driver’s licence had been turned down, understandably as he had failed his driving test.

In those days the Metropolitan Police regulated London’s cabs. Today this task is done ineptly by a bunch of civil servants.

Fortunately, the bullet had missed Henry’s vital organs, although the damage proved long-lasting and Sir Edward would suffer recurrent pain from the resultant wound for the rest of his life.

Edward-Richard-Henry

Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Edward Henry

But, when Bowes appeared in court, Sir Edward appeared and pleaded for leniency for his attacker stating that he had only wanted to improve his station in life to enable him to earn a decent enough living to provide for his widowed mother.

As a direct result of the Commissioner’s intervention, the life-sentence that Bowes was facing was reduced to 15 years in prison.

Sir Edward, unknown to anyone, would periodically visit Mrs Bowes giving her enough money to keep her comfortable and warm. Enough to satisfy her needs. He would then return home by public transport.

More remarkable still, or it could be ensuring Alfred didn’t get another chance at killing him, the Commissioner continued to take an interest in the fate of his would-be murderer and, when Bowes was released from prison in 1922, after serving 10 years of his sentence, Sir Edward paid for his passage to Canada to enable him to make a fresh start and begin a new life.

In his 17 years tenure, first as Assistant and then Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Edward Henry was one of the most innovative.

He introduced police dogs to the force; the use of typewriters at New Scotland Yard; fingerprinting as a valid means of crime investigation; he was instrumental in the introduction of telephones to all divisional police stations; the standardisation of the use of the iconic police boxes (now only seen in BBC’s Dr. Who); and the introduction of proper training for all new recruits. He also would have been responsible for maintaining the standards of The Knowledge, introduced 50 years previously. Something that the young Alfred Bowes wasn’t going to have to learn.

Featured image: 19 Sheffield Terrace by Simon Harriyott (CC BY 2.0)

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