Ron Spencer - Cerney's Hero Policeman
Ron Spencer - Cerney's Hero Policeman
Alan Gaunt recounts a notorious crime that almost cost a local bobby his life
Police Constable Ron Spencer arrived in South Cerney in July 1958. He went to live, with his wife and two small children, in the police house with its attached office in Station Road, close to the Village Cross.
Almost three years later, on 16th March 1961, he was required to visit a house in Down Ampney seeking information relating to the unexplained death of the occupier's wife in Cirencester Memorial Hospital the previous evening. He called at the property twice during the day but was informed that the occupier was out.
At 6pm he left the Cirencester Police Station in a police van driven by PC David Smeeton in a final attempt to speak to the man. Diverting from their route the two officers stopped at South Cerney Police Station where they learned of an emergency call from the Down Ampney Post Office concerning a shooting incident at the house they were due to visit. Returning to the van, Ron and David drove quickly to Down Ampney.
Arriving at Down Ampney Post Office, they found the son of the occupier saying that his father, Jan Piechowicz, had just shot two people - Mr Jan Biernat and Mrs Rozalia Jandy. Telling the boy to remain where he was, the constables went directly to the house. Ron was leading the way as they approached the front door which opened in response to his knocking, and a hand appeared holding a pistol.
Throwing himself quickly forward to tackle the gunman, Ron was shot in the chest, but carried on, pushing the killer, Piechowicz, back along a short passage into the sitting room. The bullet had narrowly missed Ron's heart, grazed his liver, and passed through his intestines before striking his pelvic bone and travelling back up his left side. Ron's surge forward had knocked Piechowicz over a settee, allowing David to thrust past and grapple the man in an attempt to disarm him.
A violent and desperate struggle followed as the two men fought over the gun, crashing against the furniture and falling to the floor, rolling over the two dead bodies.
David eventually wrenched the gun from Piechowicz's hand and, as it slid across the floor, Piechowicz broke free and bolted through the back door. During the fight, Ron had crawled out of the house where he was found by David after he had pocketed the gun once Piechowicz had fled. Telling the men attending Ron to get him to hospital, David followed Ron's urging to 'Never mind me - get after him' and ran to the rear of the house. There he could see Piechowicz clambering over garden fences and heading towards a gate leading to the road.
Jumping over the same fences, David caught up with Piechowicz as he tried to open a locked gate. Upon his approach, the killer turned and hit him in the face, but David had already drawn his truncheon, and a brief but violent struggle ensued before the killer pushed David aside and turning, kicked the gate with such force that it came off its hinges. In a furious rage, Piechowicz grabbed the gate and hurled it at David who was lucky to evade the hurtling object before he struck back, hitting the killer on the head with his truncheon. This appeared to have little effect on the man who turned and ran into the road.
David was now joined in his chase by a number of local men as the pursuit circled the area. Just along the street from the killer's house were two women who had come out to see what the commotion was all about. They saw Piechowicz run towards them, chased by David who called out 'Stop him!' and, as the killer tried to run past them, one of the women, Mrs Jean Evans, stuck her foot out and pushed him. This caused him to fall heavily to the ground where David pounced on him and, supported by about 6 men, handcuffed and arrested the man before taking and locking him in the back of the police van. David's assistants also climbed into the van to help keep the violently struggling Piechowicz subdued.
Meanwhile Ron had lost a lot of blood and was passing in and out of consciousness, so the neighbours put him in a car to take him to hospital. However he insisted on first stopping at the Post Office to phone for help to be sent from Cirencester because he didn't know whether the killer had been caught.
Upon arrival at Cirencester's Memorial Hospital, he was able to walk in to the casualty department and announce that he had been shot! Ron underwent life-saving surgery from Dr James Schofield of Swindon; and, although his life hung in the balance for days afterwards, he made a good recovery. His survival was later attributed both to the skill of the surgeon and to his being supremely fit. The bullet, however, could not be safely removed and Ron carried it with him for the rest of his life.
Piechowicz (aged 42) had first murdered Mr Biernat (aged 39) because he suspected the man of having an affair with his wife. He had then shot Mrs Jandy (aged 34) because he believed her to be complicit in the affair, having earlier introduced the couple. He was committed for trial at Gloucester Assizes but was found to be suffering from an unsound mind and deemed unfit to plead.
He was sentenced in May 1961 to be 'detained under Her Majesty's pleasure' and admitted indefinitely to Broadmoor Psychiatric Hospital. It was there that he committed suicide in October 1961.
At the hearing shortly after the shooting, the Chairman of the Magistrates Bench, Mr W. Croome personally thanked the men who had helped in the arrest of Piechowicz. Mrs Evans was later presented with an inscribed clock by the Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire in recognition of her actions.
In November, Ron and David were each presented with the George Medal 'for extreme gallantry' by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.
Both men continued their careers in the police and were eventually promoted to sergeant. In 1985, Ron was awarded the OBE in recognition of his welfare work for the Gloucestershire Police.
Sadly Ron passed away on 13th November 2010 in Cheltenham, aged 87. Former Policeman Martyn Hillier described him as 'a true gent' and observed that his funeral was 'standing room only'.
David sadly passed away in January 2020, after continuing to live his life in Cirencester. He became a great-grandfather.
In writing this article I am deeply grateful to Jon Cann who kindly provided me with the transcript of his interviews with Ron and David undertaken in 2010.
I also relied on various contemporary reports published in the Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard. Photos courtesy of Gloucestershire Police Archives.