Lancashire Constabulary – Plaque unveiled for war hero detective killed in line of duty

Lancashire Constabulary – Plaque unveiled for war hero detective killed in line of duty

A plaque commemorating a decorated Lancashire Police officer who was killed on duty was erected a few yards from where he was shot.

Detective Inspector James O’Donnell, a decorated war hero, was shot dead just 100 yards from the old Blackburn Police Station in Northgate on December 13, 1958 while responding to reports of a gunman holding his family hostage.

The perpetrator not only fatally shot Mr O’Donnell in the chest, but also killed his own wife and shot a second officer in the leg. He was serving 18 years for manslaughter.

At the outbreak of World War II, Mr. O’Donnell gave up his role as a police officer to join the army. He became a celebrated war hero. He was shot and captured by the Nazis in Holland in May 1940 during Operation Harpoon – a mission to evacuate the Dutch royal family and government from Hook of Holland and bring Dutch gold and currency reserves to England.

After being taken from The Hague to a POW camp in Thorn, Holland, he made nine escape attempts, eventually winning his freedom in April 1945 and rejoining the advancing Allied troops at Bergen.

Mr O’Donnell, who lived in Higher Croft Road, Blackburn, later returned to the police force and joined Blackburn’s CID. He rose to the rank of Detective Inspector in 1955.

During his police career, which saw him becoming head of Blackburn’s CID, he received six awards, earning two in one day.

A special ceremony was held today (December 13) to officially unveil the memorial, funded by the Police Memorial Trust, an independent police charity. This is the first memorial ever erected by the Trust in Lancashire.

Present were representatives of the Trust, Mr O’Donnell’s family, civil servants and detectives, the Mayor of Blackburn with Darwen, Cllr Suleman Khonat and representatives of Blackburn College including its student body.

Chief Constable Chris Rowley, who attended the ceremony, said: “Detective Inspector James O’Donnell made the greatest sacrifice in serving the community in which he lived.

“It is important that his ministry and sacrifice are never forgotten. His story is one that speaks to all of us as police officers and why so many of our officers on duty were keen to attend this memorial service.

“I am delighted that Mr O’Donnell’s plaque will be placed in a public place so that the community and future generations can learn about his story and the sacrifice he made in his service to the people of Blackburn.

“I would like to record my gratitude to the Police Memorial Trust for their work in organizing this event and for funding this lasting memorial to Mr O’Donnell.”

Mrs Geraldine Winner, Chair of the Police Memorial Trust, said: “I am honored to unveil this memorial to the service and bravery of Detective Inspector James O’Donnell here in Blackburn. By any definition of the word, this man was a true hero.”

She added: “It is absolutely appropriate that this memorial be erected here on Blackburn College campus as it reminds the public, particularly the younger generations, of the inherently dangerous work that the police do for us every day .”

Blackburn Mayor with Darwen, Cllr Suleman Khonat, said: “It’s great to see Mr O’Donnell getting the recognition he deserves in his hometown.

“Mr O’Donnell has served the county and his community exceptionally well and what he fought through and won shows that he was a true hero.

“As this is the first memorial the Trust has ever erected in Lancashire, it is a real achievement for Mr O’Donnell’s family and for Blackburn which will leave an inspirational legacy to be passed on to future generations.”

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