The Murder Of Inspector Bradstock

It is a sad fact of policing that, over the years, numerous police officers have paid the ultimate price for their service by being murdered in the line of duty.

From the perspective of the Whitechapel murders, the murder of Police Constable Ernest Thompson is a tragic example of an officer paying the ultimate price.

But there were many more examples of Victorian officers being murdered, and, in some cases, their deaths were the result of carelessness on the part of other officers.


On the evening of May 7th, 1868, a man named James Smith was taken into custody at King Street Police Station in Westminster. On being asked whether he had any weapons upon his person he handed over a pair of scissors.

However, he was not searched, and, unbeknown to the police officers at the station, he had another pair of scissors secreted about his person.

This oversight was to have fatal consequences for one of the police inspectors that night.

Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, told the story of how events unfolded that night in its edition of Sunday, 7th June, 1868:-

On Thursday evening, Mr Bedford held an inquest, at St. George’s Hospital relative to the death of Inspector Daniel Bradstock, aged forty-six years, who was stabbed by a prisoner while on duty at the King-street police-station.

Inspector Baldwin said that, on the evening of the 7th of May, a man, named James Smith, was brought to the King-street police-station, charged with breaking two drinking glasses at the Mitre and Dove public-house, in King-street.

A photograph of the exterior of King Street Police Station.
King Street Police Station. Courtesy Of Adam Wood Author Of  Swanson: The Life And Times Of A Victorian Detective.


When the charge was entered, the prisoner shouted out, “Murder, murder! They are after me!” He seemed to be quite sober, but the witness thought that he might be suffering from delirium tremens, and sent for the divisional surgeon.

The prisoner was asked whether he had a knife in his possession, and he said that he had not, but gave up a large pair of scissors.

Witness had nothing more to do with him.

The police surgeon came and saw the prisoner, and directed that he should be strictly watched. A man was, therefore, placed in the cell-passage to watch him.


Alexander Brown, 12 A R, deposed that on the morning of the 8th of May, at a quarter-past one o’clock, he was on duty at the King-street police-station, and he went with Inspector Bradstock to visit a prisoner named Smith, who was, locked up in one of the cells.

The prisoner requested that the inspector fetch him some water to drink, and the inspector lifted up a small tin can that was in the cell, and giving it to the witness told him to get some water. Witness went for the water, and gave it to the deceased, who went into the cell and gave it to the prisoner. The latter made a violent rush at the inspector with the scissors produced.

The inspector called out to witness to lay hold of him. Witness rushed into the cell and laid hold of him, and gave him over to another constable.

The prisoner, when making the rush at the inspector, cried out several times, “I will kill you! I will kill you!” stabbing at him as he said so.


The inspector was taken to the hospital immediately after.

It appeared from the medical evidence that the deceased was wounded in two places in his neck, and also on his arm. His wounds were dressed at the hospital and he then went home. He appeared to be going on well, but on the 14th May erysipelas set in, in connection with the wound in the right arm.


He was then removed to St. George’s Hospital, where he died on the 2nd June.

The post-mortem examination showed that death had resulted from erysipelas caused by the wound.

The jury returned a verdict of “Wilful murder” against Joseph James Smith.”


On Wednesday, 9th June, 1868, James Smith appeared at the Central Criminal Court (The Old Bailey) charged with the murder of Inspector Bradstock:-

The Maidstone Telegraph reported on the result of his trial in its edition of Saturday, 13th June, 1868:-

At the Central Criminal Court, on Wednesday, before Mr Justice Blackburn, James Joseph Smith, 32, a diminutive, wild-looking man, was placed at the bar to take his trial for the wilful murder of Joseph Bradstock, an inspector of the metropolitan police. Mr Poland and Mr Beasley were instructed to prosecute on behalf of the Treasury.

When the prisoner was placed at the bar to plead it was intimated that he was at present of unsound mind, and consequently incompetent to plead or to take his trial; and a jury was empanelled to try whether this was the case or not.


Mr Gibson, the surgeon of the gaol of Newgate, was sworn, and stated that the prisoner had teen under his care since Sunday last, and that he was of opinion that he was of unsound mind. He had had several conversations with him, and he appeared to labouring under the delusion that persons were following him to take his life. He said that he had gone into the country for the purpose of escaping from these persons, but it was of no use, as he found that he was still followed by them.

On the day the occurrence took place, he said that he left his residence at Hackney and went into the City, and he found that he was being followed by two men.


He then went to the West-end, but he was still followed by these two men, and he went into a public home and called for a bottle of ginger-beer, thinking that the men would not follow him; but they came in, and he broke a glass, thinking that he should be taken into custody, and that so he should avoid his persecutors.

After he had been placed in the cell, however, he found that he was in a worse position than before, as the men were in the cell with him,  and they threatened to shoot him; and he appeared to have committed the act imputed to him under the impression that he was protecting himself from the violence to which he was exposed.

Mr Justice Blackburn asked Gibson if he had any reason to doubt that the prisoner had really entertained the delusion that he referred to. Mr Gibson replied – Certainly not. He believed that the prisoner really entertained the impression that he referred to. He added that he had, of course, no means of knowing whether the prisoner had been followed about by any persons or not.


Mr Justice Blackburn inquired of the prisoner whether he wished to say anything, or to put any questions to the surgeon of the gaol.

The prisoner, in a calm, collected tone, replied- “For the last, nine months snares have been laid for me, and I have been followed everywhere I went by men who wished to destroy me. I have called witnesses and shown them the men who were following me about, and who had threatened to shoot me, and had warned me that I should come to a bad end. I believe it is through jealously or some cause or other that these persons have been acting in this manner; but their conduct has almost drove me beside myself, and almost to madness.”


Mr Justice Blackburn then explained to the jury the nature of the inquiry, and, after a brief deliberation, they expressed their opinion that the prisoner was of unsound mind and unfit to plead.

The learned judge upon this ordered the prisoner to be detained in safe custody during Her Majesty’s pleasure.”