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Early undercover work

Birmingham became a city in 1889. In the February of that year, 23 year old William Suckling joined Birmingham Borough Police. He was married with one child, and a former porter.

William started on the D division as a fourth class constable. After 10 months, he received a promotion to second class constable. Normally, constables could only apply for a promotion one class at a time, and only after several years’ good service.

This shows just how well William’s work was received by the force. He’d become well known for his undercover work, normally going into illegal betting premises and pubs to catch criminals.

At the time, newspapers reported how those he caught betting were annoyed at being kept of court when he gave evidence. This is so they could not identify him. Apparently, he kept his identity a secret. He never went to police premises, meeting superintendents at various points.

According to the papers, William helped police in Walsall with some undercover work on illegal gambling. In one incident, the paper states that when the police raid occurred, the bookie realised something was up and ran into a pub. William followed him, and the pair found themselves in an outhouse with other members of the gang. Locked inside, they mumbled their threats against the police for an hour.

June 1891 saw William promoted to first class constable. This was an incredible achievement after two years, when it normally took over five years. He then moved to the Detectives Department, likely based out of Corporation Street. He arrested people for:

  • thefts
  • coining
  • forgery
  • burglaries

In 1894, William became Convict and Supervisee Clerk.

It’s highly likely that William came across members of the Peaky Blinders. They were active in illegal gambling activities and other criminal exploits in the 1890s.

William resigned on medical grounds on 18 June 1899, cutting short what was an incredible career. We’re grateful for his service and commend his bravery in what must, at times, have been a terrifying role.

His legacy continues on though, as William’s granddaughter is a police staff investigator for us.

You can learn more about undercover policing at the West Midlands Police Museum. Book your tickets now on the website.