The Brewery Street Siege (1958)

“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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