A new headstone has been unveiled in memory of a police officer who died in the line of duty.
George William McKinlay Russell QGM died in 1965 after confronting an armed suspect at Oxenholme railway station. Yesterday (July 24) a ceremony, attended by Chief Constable Michelle Skeer, was held at Carlisle Cemetery to remember Constable Russell.
In February 1965, a large police search commenced for 23-year-old John Middleton, of Warrington, who had stolen a red Morris 1100 car from Kendal. He was known to have a loaded revolver, which he had fired in order to escape. At 3.15am Inspector Alfred Harrison with Constables Alexander Archibald and George Russell saw a male sleeping in the waiting room of Oxenholme Railway Station, near Kendal. Middleton fatally shot Constable Russell in the chest as he entered the waiting room. Both Inspector Harrison and Constable Archibald were also shot but survived following hospital treatment.
A manhunt by the then Cumberland and Westmorland Constabulary, with assistance from neighbouring forces, took place. Middleton was detained, having shot himself in the head. His injuries meant that he would never stand trial but was detained in custody at the discretion of the Home Office.
Constable Russell’s funeral took place days later at Carlisle Cathedral in the presence of 400 officers who had travelled from various locations across the country to pay their respects. Numerous tributes were paid to his bravery, including the then Chief Constable Frank Williamson. The funeral cortege was led by a piper of the Scots Guards, Constable Russell’s former regiment. He had fought in Malaya and on leaving had been offered a position in the Singapore River Police but had declined it. He was 35 years of age when he died and left a widow and two children.
After the service George was respectfully laid to rest in Carlisle Cemetery, the route lined with thousands of people paying their final respects. Later that year, as part of renovations to Carlisle Cathedral, a decision was made to replace a gargoyle with an effigy of a policeman in tribute to Constable Russell.
The story of Constable Russell’s bravery has been researched by Raymond Greenhow, a retired police inspector. Following yesterday’s headstone unveiling, Mr Greenhow said: “George Russell served as a constable for Carlisle City Police. He died conducting his role as a police officer leaving behind a wife, an 11-year-old daughter and an infant son.
“Further to his policing career, Constable Russell served time with the Scots Guards. Therefore it is vitally important to remember people who have lost their life in their efforts to help others.”
Chief Constable Michelle Skeer, Cumbria Constabulary, said: “It is incredibly important to remember those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in their role as police officers.
“The unveiling of a new headstone is a fitting tribute to Constable Russell and it was a privilege to attend the ceremony. I speak on behalf of the whole Constabulary in saying that our thoughts are with Constable Russell’s family.”
Peter McCall, Cumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “Policing can be a dangerous career and officers across Cumbria and the country put their lives at risk every time they put on their uniform and head out on patrol. It is right and appropriate that we are paying tribute to Constable Russell with this new headstone. This occasion also serves as a reminder that we owe gratitude to all of our officers and PCSOs who potentially put themselves at risk to protect the public, and to recognise and thank them for their service on our behalf.”