Reprieved – after killing a policeman

Published on: 25 May 2015

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THERE are many moving tales behind the gravestones in Arnos Vale Cemetery. But few are more shocking than the story of the too-brief life of PC Richard Hill.

PC Hill died aged just 31 on April 24, 1869. He was off duty and in plain clothes – his misfortune was to try to impose order on a drunken quarrel  that got quickly out of hand.

The assailant was 19-year-old  William Pullin. PC Hill was in Old Market near the city centre when he came across William Pullin, 19, and his friend. 

The pair were abusing a donkey in the street. Pullin was drunk.

Baker William Curtis saw the pair beating the animal and came out of his shop to remonstrate. Pullin and his friend had set about Curtis when PC Hill arrived and tried to intervene.

But Pullin drew his pocket knife and stabbed the constable behind his knee.

It was single blow but PC Hill lost blood quickly. By the time a hose and cart had been summoned to take him to hospital, he was dead.

Bristol was rocked by the murder. PC Hill’s funeral  at Holy Trinity church attracted thousands of mourners, who also lined the route to the cemetery.

WG Grace, the greatest cricketer of the Victorian era, was playing a match in Clifton the same day – but so many Bristolians chose to attend the funeral instead that the match was almost deserted.

PC Hill’s tombstone in Arnos Vale commemorates his bravery. It remains a fitting tribute thanks to restoration works carried out in 2009 by the only known relative of Pullin, Elaine Rees.

Mrs Rees discovered that Pullin was her great, great, great uncle while researching her family tree. Ironically she was then working as a front desk officer at Trinity Road police station, where there is a memorial plaque to PC Hill.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the strength of feeling in Bristol about the constable’s death, there was also considerable sympathy for his killer.

He might have expected to be hanged for murder. But 7,000 citizens petitioned the court for mercy on the grounds that he was a young man who had been led astray by drink, and he was spared the rope.

 Instead he was sentenced to 20 years hard labour at Portsea prison. When he was released he became a wealthy landlord.

Mrs Rees was able to persuade Avon & Somerset Police, the Police Federation and the National Police History Association to contribute to restoring the grave, at a cost of £1,100. Thanks to her and her sponsors, PC Hill’s sacrifice is still plain to see to visitors to the cemetery.

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