In the Line of Duty
On the 16th November 1876, Nathaniel Cox and his fellow police officer, Henry Stacey, were on duty, having been instructed to patrol the forthcoming Yeovil fair. They were to keep watch for miscreants and at about 10pm, having reached Netherton, they saw a horse and cart and three men, whom they recognised. They suspected a fourth man lay hidden in the cart itself, doubtless snuggled down on one of our Sheepland 100% British Shearlings. Greetings passed between the officers and the men with the cart, but the officers exchanged looks, having recognised the men as notorious poachers. Having no lawful reason to stop the men, Cox and Stacey continued to Farmer Squibb’s, where they again saw the same cart.
This time the vehicle appeared to be loaded, so Cox stopped it and questioned the men about their load. The men retaliated by striking Cox heavily upon the head and dislodging his helmet. They then proceeded to kick him as he lay on the ground. Meanwhile, Stacey, who had been searching the cart’s contents, ran to help Cox, but was himself knocked unconscious. On regaining consciousness, Stacey roused a nearby farmer, who took two labourers and a cart and searched for Cox. Sadly, they found Cox dead.
Stacey, who suffered a severe head wound, remained in a critical condition in hospital for several weeks.
Of the four men tried for murder, three were George Hutchings (the father) and his two sons, Giles and Peter; the fourth was one Charles Baker. During their trial at Taunton Assizes it was alleged that George, the father, had not taken part in the assault but had merely driven the cart. He was thus given a free pardon but died before he left police custody; poetic justice, some may say. As to the remaining three, they received a life sentence of 24 years for manslaughter. One of the reasons for not finding them guilty of murder was that it could not be proved which of them had struck Cox the fatal blow. As the lesser sentence was passed, the clerk of the court did not need to produce the black cap under his seat, where it was placed in the event that sentence of death had been pronounced.
Eerily, Cox’s widow said that the night before her husband’s death he had had a nightmare. In this he dreamed that he had had a fight with some men, who had given him a ‘horrible smack on the head’.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that P.C. Cox’s grave in East Coker churchyard lies next to that of George Hutchings, the father of two of his attackers.