Bravest of the brave

It is the summer of 1971 and a dashing young police superintendent smiles from The Gazette front page – a smile frozen in time.

Today, almost 40 years since his death, Superintendent Gerald Richardson remains a hero to those who remember one of the bloodiest incidents in Blackpool's catalogue of crime.

It's his love for life many remember most. As his widow Maureen, who still lives in the Fylde, said of him: "He filled the room. He was noisy and full of fun."

He was also brave beyond the call of duty – as his killer, London gem crook Joseph ("Fat Fred") Sewell later acknowledged.

Thousands lined the route for Richardson's funeral, 400 officers from the local force joining them, another 300 following the hearse. It brought Blackpool to a standstill, one of the greatest gestures of community solidarity ever seen in peacetime.

Supt Richardson, 38, took two bullets at point-blank range while chasing a gang of London thugs who had robbed a resort jewellers on The Strand, Blackpool. He died the next morning.

Sewell, who also wounded Police Constable Carl Walker, was released from prison in 2001 after serving a 30-year sentence for the murder – and having amassed a fortune through property deals made inside prison.

Sewell said of Richardson at his trial: "I shall see him every day of my life. He just kept coming. He was too brave."

The Norbreck-born bobby, who joined as a police cadet and won rapid promotion, remains the most senior officer to die in the line of duty. He's also one of the most decorated. Posthumously.

Today that chapter of Blackpool's history is reopened by distinguished historian Michael Ashcroft who wants to pay tribute not just to Richardson, but to Walker, the modest hero who lived to tell the tale but more often than not chose not to – avoiding the media spotlight over the years.

Ashcroft met the retired inspector, now 76, and still living in the area (as indeed does Gerry's widow Maureen) in the course of research for his latest book George Cross Heroes, Incredible True Stories of Bravery Beyond the Battlefield, published on November 11 (Headline Review, 20) to coincide with Remembrance Day, and the opening of the 5m Lord Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum. There will be a four part documentary series on the Discovery Channel this autumn.

"He revealed to me how, when he was shot, his right foot had been forced back almost behind his right ear," says the author.

"However, he was so determined to get at the man who shot him that he forced it back on the ground, picked himself up and hobbled towards his attacker who, by then with his accomplices, had commandeered a butcher's van."

The bullet had gone right through Walker's groin but missed the main arteries, bones and nerves. The pain was such it led to his medical discharge from the force in 1982.

Walker recalls how he cursed Sewell. "I told him: 'You have no chance of getting away. The whole town is sealed off.' But they drove off and that was me out of it."

He was taken to hospital in the same ambulance as his mortally wounded chief. "He said to me: 'I had him by the throat but he shot me.' They were his last words. I could see he was dying. The colour went from him completely. He was a real good boss. He addressed everyone as 'officer' and treated them as human beings."

This rare insight into the extraordinary courage of those drawing upon their last reserves in acts of selfless duty comes from Lord Ashcroft, Victoria Cross medal collector, philanthropist, deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, founder and chairman of the trustees of Crimestoppers, and trustee of the Imperial War Museum. It marks the 70th anniversary of this special award, instituted by George VI in 1940 to recognise supreme gallantry behind the frontline and in civilian situations.

Our two local heroes stand shoulder to shoulder with 159 more, from Thomas Alderson, the first recipient, who rescued several people from trapped houses in the Blitz, to Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid who lost his life, while defusing a bomb, in Helmand Province last October.

Supt Richardson, along with other local bobbies, including PC Angela Bradley, 23, PC Gordon Connolly, 24, and PC Colin Morrison, 38, who drowned, in 1983, while attempting a sea rescue, were also remembered at a service earlier this month at St Paul's Cathedral in London held in memory of officers who have died or been killed on duty since modern policing began 175 years ago.