Remembering the Laughing Policeman

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Police Chaplain Ted Hutchin, Supt Martyn Ball, Tiff Lynch (POLFED), John Barker, Neil Bell and High Sheriff Tim Maxted

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Issued on 1/12/17 at 4:18 p.m.

Leicestershire Police was joined by more than 30 members of the community at Welford Road cemetery earlier today (Friday 1 December) for the dedication of a headstone to mark the final resting place of PC John ‘Tubby’ Stephens.

PC Stephens, who served Leicester Borough Police from 1886 until his death in 1908, is recognised in police history as the heaviest serving policeman in Britain during that time. At 5ft 8inches tall and weighing 24 stones, he was well known to the Leicester community and given the nickname ‘Tubby’.

In 1877, aged 20, Tubby enlisted in the army, and in 1879 he was stationed in Zululand in South Africa, where he fought in the Anglo-Zulu war. He returned to England in 1886 and left the army shortly afterwards to join Leicester Borough Police.

Tubby remained with the force for 22 years, and was regularly seen on duty near Leicester Clock Tower. People would flock to see the larger than life officer, including celebrities who were performing in Leicester, or travelling football supporters, who sought him out just so they could tell others that they had met PC Tubby Stephens.

Tubby passed away of heart disease on Saturday 4 April 1908. His funeral cortege was attended by police colleagues, along with an estimated 20,000 locals, before he was laid to rest in an unmarked grave at Welford Road Cemetery.

Fast forward almost 110 years to January 2017, when Volunteer Police Archivist Neil Bell found out about the unmarked grave and made it his mission to get a headstone to commemorate one of Leicester’s most popular historical officers. Neil was able to trace the descendants of the Barker family, who owned the grave plot and whose family members were buried alongside Tubby. Once permission was granted to mark the spot, Leicestershire Police Federation (LPF), in partnership with the force and Leicestershire Police Federation Trust, commissioned a stonemason to create a headstone to commemorate Tubby and the others buried there.

Neil said “Whatever the reason, I felt it was a travesty that one of our most famous and popular constables did not have a memorial stone. I mentioned this to the Chief Constable who agreed, and asked if I would arrange one. With the tremendous support and assistance from Malcolm Mills of Leicester Police Federation, the Barker family, and the Friends of Welford Road Cemetery, I am extremely happy that we have now rectified this.

“Tubby now has a memorial stone, a sign of the gratitude for his dedicated long service to Leicester Borough police, and the people of Leicester.“

Leicester brewery, Everards, launched a guest beer named after Tubby last month. The beer, available in Everards pubs, has been a big hit, and has sold out across the county.

Malcolm Mills, Leicestershire Police Federation Trust Manager, said: “It was a pleasure to work with the chief constable, the LPF and Everards brewery, and I am pleased that we were able to secure the funding to get him a fitting memorial.”

The service was opened by Chief Superintendent Jason Masters, who said: “On behalf of the Chief Constable, I would like to thank everyone involved in making this happen, with special thanks to Police Chaplain Ted Hutchin for leading the service.

“It was great to see the Barker family and the High Sheriff here, along with LPF, Unison, National Association of Retired Police Officers, Everards and many more people who joined us here today to celebrate a Leicester icon.”

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