The Brewery Street Siege (1958)


“Ta-ta. You won’t see me again. Im going to shoot my wife and baby,” – those were the last words spoken by 26-year old, Henry King on Friday 12th December 1958 to an acquaintance named Sheila Whipp at the Dun Horse Hotel in Blackburn.

Her reply to such a statement was simple enough, “don’t be stupid.”

King then handed her a small looking object that she initially believed to have been nothing more than a cigarette lighter.

The object was in fact a bundle of around twenty-five bullet cartridges.

Henry King and Sheila Agnes Bullen were married in January 1957.  Together they had a baby boy by the name of David, but it appears that both Henry and Sheila had always had a turbulent marriage, having separated on many occasions.

King, who was a former cook and stationed with the R.A.F. in Germany in May, 1957, had at one time been labelled as being ’emotionally immature’ by former R.A. F. doctor David Pottinger.

It was during his time in the R.A.F. that King came under the care of Dr. Pottinger on May 29th 1957 and later that month, the doctor wrote a note concerning King to a consultant psychiatrist, saying that he considered at that time that King was in a paranoid state.

Dr. Pottinger knew that King had served three years’ borstal training and in the note to the consultant he mentioned that borstal experience had left a mark on King, and he believed everyone in the camp was pointing him out.

King had also disliked the police, both civil and military, and thought they were “gunning for him.”  He also failed to make any friends.

Dr. Pottinger also stated that during his service at the small station of the R.A.F. in Germany in 1957, King got into trouble of various sorts and his wife had attempted suicide.

He had also discussed King’s domestic issues once or twice a month, but King would never accept any personal blame for his troubles and it was always ‘somebody else’s fault.’

After serving at another station, King returned and his wife, Sheila, informed him saying that she ‘might be pregnant.’  However, he would later tell people he was not the father, despite the fact that he was.

Violence within their home would escalate, with King striking Sheila on more than one occasion, complaining that she could not make tea or even boil an egg.  He would later try to explain his violence by saying he struck his wife to improve her domestic duties.

On another occasion, he would throw her out of the house and tear up her underwear.  He would also say to people that he had only married Sheila because she had proposed to him, and if he had not married her, nobody else would have done.

In December 1957, King again beat his wife.  He also dragged her by the hair and threw her out of the front door when it was well below freezing.  He would also call her a prostitute.

Sheila was a breaking point and soon asked to be sent back home to England.  As for Henry, it was suggested by those in authority that he was not suitable to be in the R.A.F. and was sent to the R.A.F. hospital at Halton, Buckinghamshire.  It was here that he would finally be discharged from the service on medical grounds.

Sheila had tried to cope but it seems she found it almost impossible to break free from Henry. She would leave him, worry, doubtfully return to him, find it yet again impossible to be alone, worry some more and then leave him again, and the cycle would repeat over throughout most of 1958.

But three weeks prior to the events that took place on December 12th, Sheila had once again moved back in with her parents and had taken their son with her.

Just after ten o’clock on Friday, December 12th, King left the Dun Horse Hotel and went to the home of Mr and Mrs Bullen, his wife’s parents, in nearby Brewery Street.

Inside were Robert Bullen and his wife Alice who were both in their bedroom. Their daughters, Pauline and 20-year old, Sheila King, who was holding her six-month old baby son, David, where in the living room.

A young man named Jimmy Betts and his baby, James, were also present as well as a neighbour called Mrs. Blanche Cowell.

After knocking on the front door of Number 8, Sheila went to open it. She was obviously startled by the sight of Henry standing there and holding a shotgun. Having forced his way inside, Sheila ran upstairs taking her son with her. Robert and Alice were woken from their sleep and quickly got dressed and went to see what the commotion was, but as they appeared at the top of the stairs, King looked up at the pair, smiling in a wild, lost sort of way.

“Mrs. Bullen, I’ve come here tonight to kill your daughter.” King proceeded to say.  “I don’t want any argument, Mrs. Bullen.  Sheila is going to die tonight.”

Alice recalled seeing the white of King’s knuckles as he gripped hold of a shotgun he had brought along with him.

Trembling, Alice and Robert as well as Sheila began to make their way down the stairs and into the kitchen where the rest of her family and friends had by now congregated.

It was around eleven o’clock in the evening, and for the next ninety-minutes, Alice and her husband Robert would plead, argue, fight, lie and try to trick Henry King into leaving the house without any harm coming to the occupants.

However, King was having none of it, repeating the same lines over and over; “No one goes out of this house alive tonight.”

After several minutes of shouting and screaming, King began arguing with his wife Sheila and in doing so, he took his eyes away from Alice.

Spotting an opportunity to try and defend her family, Alice began to poke the fire in the kitchen.  She then suddenly whipped around and threw the poker at King. 

She missed.

“Mrs. Bullen, if you try another trick like that I’ll shoot you dead.” warned King.

King then asked Sheila, “Do you still love me, Sheila?” to which she replied, “You have killed all the love I had for you.”

Alice then turned to King, saying, “That gun is not loaded.” 

As a warning, King tilted the gun upwards and fired a shot into the ceiling above them, sending plaster cascading down onto Mrs. Blanche Cowell.

“There’s plenty more, Mr’s Bullen.  Enough for the lot of us.”

King then ordered all of the occupants upstairs and in doing so, Alice rushed to a bedroom window and shouted to a man in the street to bring the police, but he just carried on walking away.

In the bedroom and on the wall was a crucifix which King ordered Sheila to stand under.  He then pulled a cross and chain from his pocket and said to Sheila, “This is your Christmas present.  Put it around your neck.  But you still have to die tonight.”

Meanwhile, another man was walking past the house and when Alice spotted him, she again shouted for help.  But just like the man before him, he also walked past ignoring her plea.

For the next thirty-minutes or so, the family begged for King to let everyone go, but he was having none of it.

“Now we’re going to church.  Just the two of us – to make some fresh vows.” King said to Sheila.

Alice said to King that her daughter was going nowhere with him that night but he then ordered that the pram they had for their baby son David, be brought back into the house.

Bringing everyone back downstairs, Robert Bullen turned to King and told him that he didn’t want to go out with a gun as the police will see it.

At this moment, Alice had already made her way outside of the house and as King ordered everyone back indoors, Alice ran to a neighbours and asked them to get the police.

After doing so, but being extremely fearful, Alice made the brave decision to go back to her home to try and reason with King.

“Now Harry lad, don’t be a fool.” she said to him upon entering the house.

Something inside King seemed to reason with him and he eventually placed the gun over the arm of a settee.

But any flicker of hope they occupants of the house may have had would soon be extinguished, and it wouldn’t be long before events would take a turn for the worse.

Constable John Covill, who was nearby when the call came from the neighbours of Mrs and Mrs Bullen, had arrived at the house, along with two other police constables.

Pauline Bullen looked towards the front door and said, “The police are here.”

King immediately grabbed the gun, saying, “Now we will have some fun.”

King had forced everyone back into the kitchen as Constable Covill made his way into the house.

“Get back: it’s loaded!” King shouted as Covill appeared.

Holding out his left hand, the officer said to him: “Come on, give me the gun.”

King then fired, hitting Covill in the groin.

With everyone now screaming, King turned the gun towards his wife Sheila before pulling the trigger.

“Get out, the lot of you.” he screamed as the rest of family and friends fled into the front room.

Covill was assisted out of the house by the other two officers as the occupants within the house chose this moment to escape.

“The next one who comes into this room gets it.” King then shouted.

Outside and on the street, Alice asked her daughter Pauline what had happened to Sheila and Pauline replied saying she had been shot in the back.

The street would soon become filled with not just the police but with bystanders from nearby houses who had all heard the gunshots coming from the Bullen’s house.

It wouldn’t take long before 47-year old, Inspector James O’Donnell, had arrived at the house where King was now alone with his wife Sheila and they baby, David.

“This is Inspector O’Donnell, Henry. You know me.  Will you let me come in?”

King replied with some unintelligible reply and Inspector O’Donnell said, “All right.  I am coming in.”

King was near the door pointing the gun at the Inspector.  Another officer named Helliwell, also went into the room but was soon ordered back out.

Another Inspector by the name of John Harrison then went into the house.

After a few minutes passed, another shot was heard reverberating from inside the house.  The onlookers whom had all congregate outside were jolted by the loud noise.

As Inspector O’Donnell opened up his small notebook and began to write, Inspector Harrison had said something to King to try and reason with him.

“He is not writing.” King said before levelling the gun at Inspector O’Donnell and pulling the trigger.

The bullet hit Inspector O’Donnell in the abdomen.  Inspector Harrison tried to quickly leave the room, picking up and chair to throw at King.  Inspector O’Donnell himself was trying to crawl out of the room and eventually made his way into the hallway.

At 1 a.m., the police brought King’s brother to the house to talk to him.  King then threw out a letter written by his wife to another man, and demanded it should be read.  However, his brother was too upset and a police officer read it out loud.

The letter was intended for a gentleman named Dennis Hargan.

Part of it read : “Dear Dennis, it was very nice to get to know you .  .  .  Would you send me a photo of you?  I will send one to you later.  My mum bought me a skirt, coat and underwear.  Dennis, can you send me a bit of money as I want to pay my solicitor.  If you can’t, I understand, love  . .  Love, Sheila.”

The “siege” in Brewery Street lasted from around 11.45pm until 2.30am, with most of the neighbours by now following police orders to stay indoors and to turn off the lights.

Chief Constable of Blackburn, Mr. R. R. Bibby made his way to the scene along with the deputy Chief Constable, Mr. J. M. Rodgers, and obtained the assistance of two police dogs from the Lancashire Constabulary.  He would also order the arrival of a supply of tear gas bombs.

And it was around 2.15am when two of these tear gas bombs were thrown through a rear window in the house. 

Shortly afterwards a gunshot echoed from inside the house and King was heard to say he had shot himself.

A police dog was immediately sent in, along with on-rushing police offices. King was found lying on the floor of the kitchen, wounded, but not in a serious condition.

Sheila King was found lying on the floor near to the fireplace but pronounced dead at the scene. She had been shot in the back.  As for their baby son, David – he was sound asleep in his pram, despite all of the noise going on around him.

Number 8 Brewery Street, Blackburn – scene of the siege December 12th 1958

Inspector O’Donnell was taken from the house and transported to Blackburn Royal Infirmary but would sadly pass away shortly before midnight on Saturday, 13th December.

As for King, he was also taken to the Royal Infirmary so his minor wounds could be attended too as well as being detained by the police.

He would later be transported to the police headquarters in Blackburn and after being charged on two counts of murder as well as a further charge of attempted murder of Police Constable Covill, King replied with, “I am very sorry for everybody.”

He would also reply to the first charge, that concerning the murder of his wife Sheila, by simply replying with, “Nothing to say.”

To the second charge, that of murdering Inspector O’Donnell, King said, “He was a good man.”

On Tuesday, 16th December, Henry King was remanded in custody for a week after appearing before Blackburn magistrates. He would state that his address given was that of Wellesley Street, Blackburn, and that he had known the deceased, Sheila King.

Asked if he would need legal help, he replied, saying, “Yes, Sir.” and named John Backhouse are the man he wanted to defend him.

King, who was smartly dressed, had his arm pinned to his chest under his jacket. From all accounts he tried to shoot himself as the tear gas bombs had been thrown inside the house and this is what led to him injurying his arm.

Less than three months after the tragic events that had taken place at number 8 Brewery Street, the trial of Henry King, charged with two counts of murder and one of attempted murder, took place at the Manchester Crown Courts on Monday, 10th March 1959.

He would at first plead guilty on all accounts but after speaking with his barrister, Mr. J. R. Crichton, he soon changed his plea to ‘not guilty.’

His defense was submitted that at the time, he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia which impaired his mental responsibility.

Mr. D. Brabin, Q.C., prosecuting would tell the court that there was premeditation and that King had clearly planned his attack on Sheila King. He would detail how King had purchased a shotgun and 25 cartridges and that the gun had a magazine which would carry four cartridges and if another was carried in the breach it could fire five times in succession.

He would also mention how King had visited the Dun Horse Hotel at 8.15pm and remained there until 10pm and having spoken with Sheila Whipp, he had already drank six or seven shots of whiskey and was in a clear state of drunkeness when he left.

The case would only last for three days, and on Thursday 13th March, Henry King would be jailed for life; not for murder but for the manslaughter of his wife, Sheila and that of Detective Inspector James O’Donnell.

The jury were reminded by Mr. Justice Elwes that if they were not satisfied King was a paranoid schizophrenic, their only verdict was one of capital murder. They would remain locked in talks for just over four hours but when they came back into court, they were unable to agree on a verdict.

The judge told them it would be advisable to try to agree even if their verdict was one of manslaughter.

Upon sentencing, King had gripped of the bars of the dock so hard, his knuckles had turned white. He spoke to the judge, saying, “In my own mind, those two people should have been alive today. In the lower court, I should have been found innocent, not guilty.”

And just like Dr. Pottinger had proclaimed only two years before, King would not take any responsibilty for his actions, yet again blaming others. He would also claim that the police had been persecuting him, and of having been dragged from his house and beaten up.

However, the judge saw through the charade, saying ; “In view of the evidence, and what you have just said, I am convinced that you are not fit to be at large.”

“It was as bad a case of manslaughter as could be imagined. The case was a sequel to a night of terror in the terraced home of the parents of King’s wife in Brewery Street, Blackburn.

“King held his sister-in-law, Pauline, at bay for an hour and a half at the point of an automatic shotgun.

“He had previously drunk seven whiskies, and boasted in a public house; “I am going to shoot my wife and baby.”

Henry King would be jailed for life but ultimately serve just eighteen years.

The funerals of both Sheila King and James O’Donnell took place on Thursday, 18th December. Both interments took place within the grounds of Pleasington Cemetery.

James O’Donnell’s body was taken from his home in Higher Croft Road to Pleasington Cemetery and as the cortage passed through Blackburn, hundreds of people had lined the street to pay their final respects. Over one-hundred CID officers had also come out in tribute to a fallen officer.

O’Donnell was later awarded the posthumous Queen’s Police Medal for gallantry and four other officers who were at the scene that night would also be rewarded for their bravery. Wounded Police Constable Jack Covill, Inspector John Harrison, Police Constable Helliwell and Police Constable Jack Riley all received the Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct.

Now and then images of number 8 Brewery Street

On Tuesday, December 13th 2022, a special ceremony was held to unveil a memorial in the name of James O’Donnell. Funded by the Police Memorial Trust, this is the first memorial the Trust has ever erected in Lancashire.

Attending where family members of James, along with serving officers and detectives and the Mayor of Blackburn with Darwen, Councillor Suleman Khonat.

Chief Constable Chris Rowley said during the unveiling that James O’Donnell had made the ultimate sacrifice whilst serving the community and it was important that his sacrifce and his service to the force was never forgotten.

Sources used in this story;

Halifax Evening Courier – Saturday 13 December 1958

Liverpool Echo – Saturday 13 December 1958

Manchester Evening News – Tuesday 16 December 1958

The People – Sunday 14 December 1958

Sunday Mirror – Sunday 15 March 1959

+ many more courtesy of the British Newspaper and

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