Bravest of the brave

mon - Supt Gerry Richardson
mon - Supt Gerry Richardson
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Maureen Richardson does not want this to be a mawkish feature. Nor does she want a new picture of her to appear here.

Our picture is of a pretty young woman, flanked by officers, after the George Cross investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, a year after a funeral which brought Blackpool to a standstill, 100,000 lining the route.

The funeral of Superintendent Gerald Richardson at st John's Church, Blackpool.'published EG 26/08/1971

The funeral of Superintendent Gerald Richardson at st John's Church, Blackpool.'published EG 26/08/1971

Maureen is also pictured hugging her late husband’s parents, Mr and Mrs Irving Richardson, all three beaming with pride. That same year, all three also petitioned for a return of capital punishment.

And there is the now iconic image of her husband, the late Superintendent Gerry Richardson, smiling from behind the desk he dashed out from to join officers giving chase to an armed gang in August 1971.

It gives a measure of the man, a police chief who, Maureen admits, would discreetly wink at young bobbies he was ticking off. Or halt, with one word, unprintable, senior officers mid-flow in self justification.

He was a coppers’ copper, caring enough to play footie or cricket with the local kids, do sponsored walks with fellow Rotarians to raise funds for a Lakeland outdoor pursuits centre, the same Rotarians who later set up the Supt Gerald Richardson Memorial Youth Trust which has helped 16,000 young people and distributed £250,000 to good causes.

In 1972 Maureen Richardson, along with her late husband's parents, attended an investiture at Buckingham Palace where Superintendent Gerald Richardson, was posthumously awarded the George Cross.'Published EG 05/12/1972

In 1972 Maureen Richardson, along with her late husband's parents, attended an investiture at Buckingham Palace where Superintendent Gerald Richardson, was posthumously awarded the George Cross.'Published EG 05/12/1972

“It’s a living tribute and he would like that,” says his widow. Gerry stole her heart, sending her postcards, snapped on his beat by seafront photographers, mailed home to his “darling wife” with a “thousand kisses” – even though only hours from dining together.

He led from the front, served in all police departments, won four commendations before being shot at point-blank range twice by a gem robber, after telling him: “Don’t be silly, son.” Gerry was 38 years old.

Joseph Sewell admitted he broke his own mother’s heart with that callous act – she never forgave him. “He was too brave,” said the robber, released in 2001 after serving a 30-year sentence for murder.

Maureen was merely told there been a ‘bit of an accident’. She added: “I thought Gerry had pranged our new car. Then I asked again and was told it had been a shooting. It was unprecedented. Dixon of Dock Green stuff.”

Tomorrow’s 40th anniversary will see a special service at St Paul’s Church, Egerton Road, at 11am, and a commemorative dinner at 7.30pm at Blackpool Football Club (£35 per person, contact Jeffrey Meadows on 01253 765458).

A memorial seat on Gerry’s old turf, Claremont Park, overlooking a football pitch, makes Maureen smile. She says: “He’d like that.”

One organiser, Barbara Thomas, who served as a borough bobby, remembers how the women of the town centre terraces came onto the streets to give chase to the gang, when news broke that an officer was down. “They carried brooms.” It’s the first Maureen has heard of this, and she’s touched.

Officers had been called to a jewellery store on The Strand after a manager pressed the alarm during a raid by five masked men. Supt Richardson and PC Carl Walker chased one on foot, ending up in a dead-end alleyway. PC Walker was shot in the thigh. The gunman shot Supt Richardson twice in the stomach at point blank range as he tried to disarm him.

He died of his injuries later that day, was posthumously awarded the George Cross, and remains the highest-ranking officer killed in the line of duty.

Former police chief Ken Mackay, who would have been shot himself had a firing mechanism not jammed, says: “Gerry was a hero, he had an excess of bravery.”

He and other retired officers will join tomorrow’s commemorations.

Maureen knows it’s her duty to be there. “Part of me would like to run away, hide, be at the back, but this is not about me but Gerry and the trust.”

The former Revoe Primary School teacher remembers how pupils sent her a clock and message “time is the great healer”.

It was a long time, she says, before she stopped feeling defined by her loss.

“For a time I had to escape being Mrs Gerry Richardson and just be me.”

She became an artist, started teaching again, honed her golf handicap, and found a new love. but never remarried.

She treasures a letter sent by a former Revoe pupil, signed simply Katie, who talks of the pupils’ sorrow at their pretty teacher’s loss. “I hope she goes to the service,” says Maureen, “I’d like to say hello.”

Now agonising over what to wear tomorrow, Maureen admits: “I’ve lost the knack of going out, but this is the big one, Gerry is slipping from living memory, and we need to keep the trust alive.”

Blackpool police chief Richard Debicki, three weeks old when Gerry died, says: “His last act says it all, about his attitude, bravery, being there for his men, he’s an example to us all. We will never forget him.”