An Unequal Match

September 8, 2014

An Unequal Match

Although replaced in recent years by the baton the wooden truncheon was for a long time one of the iconic images of policing in the UK, and even in the twenty-first century most of our police officers are not routinely armed with firearms.

The question of arming the police is not new and there have been many occasions when there have been calls to give the police greater access to firearms. One event that led to a public outcry on this issue was the murder of a Metropolitan Police officer in September 1881. Police Constable Frederick Atkins was on night duty in the neighbourhood of Kingston Hill, London, when in the early hours of the morning he made a routine call to one of the large houses on his beat. While carrying out a check of the property he was attacked by a gunman who shot him in the abdomen, chest and groin. Constable Atkins did not die immediately and before his tragic death was able to tell colleagues that he neither saw nor heard anything before the shots. A search of the area revealed that an attempt to burgle the property had been made via a ground floor window, beneath which lay a lantern and a chisel.

The murderer was never caught, but the outcry against this cold blooded crime was immense. More than 1,500 officers attended the funeral and newspapers reported on the dangers posed to unarmed constables when pitted against armed burglars. In its October edition the magazine Punch published a cartoon entitled An Unequal Match, the title of which says it all.

In 2014, Alan Cook published a book on the history of decorated truncheons and tipstaves called Truncheons – An Unequal Match. The inspiration for the title was taken from the Punch cartoon, the sentiment of which remains true to this day.

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