Mervyn Fairweather joined the then Essex Constabulary in August 1967.
He became a Divisional AFO in the early 70's spending time as a Uniform beat officer as Pc and Sgt, CID, Traffic and Training. Then Joining the Force Support Unit. Following the Frinton Incident he continued to be a member of the Tactical Firearms group and held a Firearms permit for the rest of his service.
Mervyn left Essex Police in 1998 having completed 31 + years. During his firearms years he completed both the National Advanced Rifle Officers and the National Protection Officers course.
Frinton – on - Sea incident:
During the afternoon of Wednesday 22nd August 1984 two armed robberies occurred at Post Offices within the Coastal areas of North Essex:
1. At 4.25pm at Walton Post Office, a male wearing a stocking mask produced a sawn off shotgun, threatened staff and made off with about £9,000.
2. At 4.40pm the same individual attempted to rob Frinton on Sea Post Office but left empty handed. On leaving the scene of this robbery he was chased by a 19-year-old travel clerk who wisely gave up the chase when he was threatened with the shotgun.
He left both scenes on a high-powered motorcycle.
Following the report from a member of the public of a motorcyclist depositing what was thought to be rubbish in a wooded area of Central Avenue, Frinton, Essex.
Police discovered a large amount of bank notes in a plastic bag within Pedlars Wood. The cash was substituted with newspaper and an OP set up on the site of the ‘find’ (this was by unarmed CID officers)
About 8.15pm a team of 9-armed officers from the TFG arrived and placed containment each end of Central Avenue and the unarmed OP was withdrawn.
About 8.30pm a motorcycle arrived and parked at the seaward end of Central Avenue close to the plain police car containing 4 of the armed officers (including Bill Bishop and myself). The rider, whom I now know to be Richards, dismounted and removed his helmet. He then made his way along Central Avenue toward the wooded area carrying the plastic bag.
The Police team that were located at the other end of Central Avenue (toward Walton Road) saw the motorcyclist enter, leave the wood and walk around the area over a number of minutes. It would be fair to say that at this time and location radio communication was poor between the two elements of the Police team. It was felt necessary to relocate our vehicle in order to obtain an update on the situation and tighten the containment. In the process of manoeuvring the vehicle we were confronted by the motorcyclist (Richards) returning toward his machine along Central Avenue. At this stage he did not appear to recognise us as Police Officers.
Our driver drove straight past Richards and stopped at an angle to his rear. Bill was getting out of the vehicle as we stopped and immediately began to follow Richards. To the best of my knowledge I was the next person out of the vehicle (I was seated in the rear nearside passenger seat behind Bill).
Bill was, by this time between Richards and me. I moved out and to my left to assist, Bill, who had now drawn his revolver and begun to challenge Richards with words to the effect ‘Stop, armed police.’ Richards ignored the initial challenge and kept on walking toward the motorcycle. Bill repeated his request, Richards then turned, lowered his body into a half crouch and discharged what I now know to be a Sawn off double-barrelled side-by-side shotgun in our direction (from within the plastic bag). I can recall seeing the flash and pieces of the plastic bag fly out from the middle of his body. I felt a violent impact in the area of my groin that spun me to my left. As I righted myself I saw Bill slowly collapsing to the ground and Richards was moving away to my right, apparently operating the mechanism of his firearm. (I can only recall hearing one shot from his weapon). I feared he was in the process of reloading and therefore my life and that of other officers were under immediate grave threat. I therefore fired one shot at Richards from my .38 revolver. Richards ceased his actions with his firearm, straightens up, went forward a few paces and collapsed.
I made my way as fast as I could to a cover position where I joined another officer from our team. We were near to where Richards lay and we challenged him to release his hold on the shotgun.
Within a few seconds another officer gained a superior cover position behind a nearby-parked car and took over the challenge. At his request, which went along the lines of ‘Bills bad Merv, get an ambulance.’ I crawled back to the Police vehicle and radioed for an ambulance and further assistance.
We later gave what first aid we could to Bill. Both he and Richards were evacuated in separate ambulances.
I was not removed from the scene for some time later due to the need for the third ambulance (this was the right decision as I was the least seriously injured). I lay on the road with my feet elevated into the car between attempting to assist with Bill and my collection by ambulance.
All three of us were taken to the Essex County Hospital in Colchester.
Sadly Bill died five days later. I underwent surgery to remove the shot from my groin, but due to the location (close to femoral artery) it remains in place to this day.
I became aware of the following facts whilst awaiting the matter being brought to trial:
- Between the robberies and the murder Richards had been stopped by Police but given an alibi by his mother.
- Richards had apparently fired both barrels of his shotgun.
- Both the other officers with Bill and I had discharged their weapons but I was only aware of Richards shooting and me shooting my weapon. (This is probably down to perceptual distortion, something I feel we sometimes forget when dealing with victims and witnesses).
- I was surprised to learn that it was felt that I had missed with my shot. It was not a ‘reaction’ but a fast aimed shot for the reasons given. I can recall registering that I had a safe ‘backstop’ and as stated above I did not hear or see anyone else’s actions.
- Richards was using ‘large game shot’ in his shotgun. The piece I have lodged in my groin is about the size of a .22.
- Richards was in fact ‘Solo’ the subject sought by us for a number of armed robberies in Essex and the Met.
- Richards had previously discharged a firearm at a Met. Police Motorcyclist following a previous robbery at Lloyds Bank Romford on 1st March 1983.
Richards was convicted the following year at Norwich Crown Court for Bills murder, GBH with intent on me and a number of robberies including those outlined above. He received a life sentence.
My feelings looking back now over all these years are probably best summed up by the fact that that the pain of my injury and subsequent treatment are virtually forgotten within a short period of time, however the pain of losing a colleague and friend under the circumstances described remains today.