• Behind the Blue Lamp


By Peter Kennison

One of the main problems facing the Metropolitan Police was discipline, especially that of drunkenness amongst its officers. However, during war-time the harsh enforcement policy was relaxed simply because they needed to keep the manpower. In the example below, it may surprise you what happens when an officer is deprived of his sleep.

Blackheath Road Constable Leonard Dunn, shown, has an interesting record. He joined the Police Service in January 1920 with warrant number 108747. Born in the East End of London, he was a fitter’s mate who had seen service in the Royal Navy during the war from September 1917 until May 1919. He is wearing the Police Long Service Medal (instituted in 1951), and British War Medal for his service in the Royal Navy during the First World War.

On 1st April 1929 he was posted as PC656 R Division to Blackheath Road, where he remained for the rest of his service. He lived in Plumstead High Street with his wife and three children. The photograph was taken between 1936 and 1938, when the new helmet plate was introduced. He served over 33 years, and retired in 1953 with a Certificate of Service that showed his conduct to have been exemplary.

This is somewhat strange, since Dunn had been disciplined four times during his service. His most serious violation occurred during the Second World War. One morning in May 1942, as he was trying to sleep after coming off night duty, a cat in a neighbouring garden was making a lot of noise, preventing him from sleeping. Dunn took his Police issue revolver, aimed at the cat, fired and killed it – making sure he got his sleep. The neighbour, unsurprisingly, complained at the Police Station. Dunn originally denied shooting the cat to his Sergeant, which got him into even more trouble. He was disciplined by the Divisional Superintendent for the offence of discreditable conduct for killing the cat and reprimanded, whilst lying to the Sergeant cost him one day’s pay. Dishonesty was treated harshly, whilst killing the cat deserved just a telling off!

Dunn retired aged 55, living a further six years, and died in August 1959. In the early days, because of the nature of the job, police officers did not live long in retirement.

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