'I'm dying, missus': Half a century on, the policeman's murder that rocked Wolverhampton

He was the hero police officer who made headlines around the world, whispering the name of his killer with his dying breath.

'I'm dying, missus': Half a century on, the policeman's murder that rocked Wolverhampton

Described by colleagues as 'Gentleman Jim' and a fearless police officer, Detective Sergeant James Stanford was arresting a 19-year-old Borstal absconder when he was stabbed to death in Wolverhampton on August 20, 1965.

As the Wolverhampton Borough Force DS lay bleeding in the doorway of Victoria Wines, Princes Square, he called out: "I'm dying, missus" before naming David Henry Wardley, a known criminal and 'nasty piece of work' as his killer.

DS Stanford was just 40 years old and left behind a wife and three children.

Police experts at work at the scene of the murder

He was the second Wolverhampton police officer to be killed in the line of duty, and the fourth in the West Midlands, with his stabbing triggering the largest manhunt the town had ever seen.

Caught hours later in the Gaumont cinema, Snow Hill, after flashing a knife at a movie-goer in the gent's toilets saying 'I have done a copper with this', Wardley was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

He was the last person in Britain to receive the death sentence as just a week later, in October 1965, the House of Commons gave final approval to a bill abolishing the penalty, with Queen Elizabeth signing it in to law soon after.

Wardley, of Low Hill, was given a reprieve and went on to serve a life sentence.

Killer David Warley

The Wolverhampton stabbing made news throughout the world, with the St Petersburg Times reporting that DS Stanford's colleagues described him as 'first-class and an absolutely fearless police officer'.

Headlined 'British Bobby Whispers Assailant's Name - Dies', the story says: "The woman shopkeeper in whose doorway Stanford died said she caught a glimpse of the young man who stabbed him. 'He whispered a name to me,' said Mrs Emily Phillips, manageress of a wine shop. 'I got a look at the young man'."

One of the officers involved in the manhunt was Brian Archer, a DS at the Red Lion Street station, who went to the wine shop immediately after her heard of his colleague's stabbing.

Mr Archer said: "Jim had made what in legal terms is called a dying declaration, saying that he knew he was dying and he named his killer. That means that evidence can be given without him being present, and it is quite an unusual thing.

"From then on it became a question of mustering as many police officers as we could, but that wasn't a problem - virtually every police officer in Wolverhampton not on duty and those off sick came in. Murder was a very, very big incident and murder of a police officer was even bigger."

Mrs Emily Phillips, licensee of the wine shop in Prince's-square, Wolverhampton, where Detective-sergeant Jim Stanford was stabbed. She phonbed the police
Police from all over the country, who attended the funeral at St Mary's Church, Bushbury, lead the cortege to Bushbury crematorium.
The cortege of Detective Sergeant Stanford passes on its way to St Mary's Church, Bushbury. Picture by Express & Star photographer Ron Weaver

Mr Archer was the senior detective on duty at the time, and with one of their own down and his murderer on the loose, nearby forces rallied to help.

"We always used to say if anything happened in Wolverhampton it would be almost impossible to contain everything, but certainly on that day Staffordshire County Police, which surrounded Wolverhampton Borough, were able to put road blocks up on every road out of town. We had fantastic help from all the neighbouring forces," Mr Archer says.

It wasn't until about 6.30pm they had a break-through.

"We had a person come forward who said they had had a conversation with the suspect who admitted what he had done. They told us he was sitting in Gaumont Cinema, which is now Wilkinson's in Snow Hill. Officers were dispatched to the cinema, where he was arrested by PC Butcher and another crime squad officer from Birmingham. "Then of course it was a question of collating all of the evidence and interviewing him. Myself and Detective Inspector Bradley interviewed Wardley, and he was charged later that night."

When a handcuffed Wardley appeared in the dock at Wolverhampton Town Hall, where he claimed he 'had to stab him to get away', he was flanked by Mr Archer and fellow DS Thomas Turner.

The memories of another, un-named, serving officer on duty at the force's Dunstall Road headquarters are recalled on history site Lost Wolverhampton, saying: "In the incident room at 1.10pm the red light indicating an incoming 999 call flashed. I picked up the phone and a woman's voice said 'get an ambulance quickly'. She sounded quite hysterical.

"I could hear in the background a man's voice saying 'I'm dying missus', and he mentioned a man's name. I sent car 8 to the scene and the message came back that it was DS Jim Stanford who had been stabbed.

"I sent a Pc upstairs to the conviction record office to see if there was a card in the file for the man Jim had called out and indeed there was. He was a local youth so I arranged with a Detective Constable standing by to wait near his home and for the two dog vans to search the area between his home and Broad Street."

On the day of the stabbing DS Stanford had been in court, and was last seen by one of his colleagues walking through Queen Square for his usual lunch in the town.

How the Express & Star reported the killing, and the court case

The National Association of Retired Police Officers, Wolverhampton Branch, website has a special section dedicated to DS Stanford, detailing the events of August 20 and DS Stanford's funeral from newspaper reports at the time.

Hundreds gathered to pay their respects to the town's fallen hero, lining the streets as his funeral procession made its way from his Fordhouses home to St Mary's Church in Bushbury.

During the service, the vicar hailed DS Stanford and told the mourners: "His death was as gallant as any soldier who died in the war, and we should give thanks for his life which was dedicated to duty for his fellow men".

Detective Sergeant James Stanford was posthumously awarded the Queen's Police Medal for Gallantry on November 30, 1965.

The 50th anniversary of his death was marked at Wolverhampton Police Station last week and at the site of the stabbing - now the Pork Joint - with two minutes' silence.

Plans in recent years by the Wolverhampton Civic and Historical Society to create Blue Plaques in memory of DS Stanford and another Wolverhampton officer killed in the line of duty, Pc Albert Willits, stalled after the sponsor for the plaques pulled out - each plaque costs about £500.

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