Obituary: Ethel Bush, Metropolitan Police Sergeant

Ethel Bush
Ethel Bush
Share this article

Born: 10 March 1916, Brixton, London. Died: 18 May 2016, Crawley, West Sussex, aged 100

Ethel Bush was a former Metropolitan police sergeant who acted as a decoy in order to capture a serial sex attacker in 1950s Croydon, for which she and a fellow Pc later became the first women police officers to receive the George Medal for courage. In addition, she also received a Commissioner’s High Commendation and £15 from the Bow Street Police Fund. Since then, the medal has been received by only two other women in the Metropolitan Police’s history.

During the early months of 1955, there were an increasing number of attacks on women on Fairfield Path, a quiet but long alleyway in Croydon, which led to the grounds of a derelict mansion.

As a result, all five women Metropolitan Police officers serving at Croydon station at the time volunteered to act as bait in a bid to apprehend the sexual predator. Police feared that a woman would be murdered as the attacks were becoming more frenzied and violent.

On 7 March 1955, Pc Kathleen Parrott was “ferociously attacked from behind” and “forced to her knees”, but managed to hit her assailant with her torch and rip the mask from his face before he ran off and she lost consciousness. She then spent six weeks recovering.

Seven weeks later, on 23 April, while on uniformed patrol, newly promoted Sergeant Bush spotted a man matching the description of the attacker. She quickly returned to the police station to change into plain clothes before going back to the alley as a decoy, while six CID officers, a dog handler and Pc Parrott hid along the mile-and-a-half route Bush would have to walk.

All now depended on her fellow officers being able to intercept him before serious injury could be ­inflicted.

Composing herself, she bravely walked along the path in the knowledge that the man was behind her. Suddenly, a few yards from where the footpath met a main road, William George Barnett, a 29-year-old labourer, picked up a five-and-a-half pound log and brought it down, hard, on the back of her head.

“To his amazement,” a police report said, “Bush did not crumble to the ground as he intended, and as officers raced towards the couple, Bush turned to face her attacker. With blood gushing over her face and shoulders she grabbed hold of the man’s jacket but he smashed his fist into her face and was able to escape.”

Bush needed 11 stitches to repair the wound to her head and the felt hat she had been wearing probably saved her life.

Barnett was arrested soon afterwards and Pc Parrott and Bush were among nine women who were able to identify him as their attacker. He was subsequently sentenced at the Old Bailey to ten years in prison.

The judge commended the two policewomen for their “most conspicuous gallantry”, adding, “I cannot imagine higher courage than you showed along that footpath with the full knowledge and your eyes open that you might be, and you Sgt Bush were, the victim of a violent attack.”

Bush spent a number of weeks in a convalescent home in Hove near Brighton. After recovering, on 22 November 1955, both women were awarded the George Medal at Buckingham Palace, the first time the honour was given to any women police in Great Britain for outstanding gallantry. The pair kept in touch by telephone into their old age.

Born in Brixton, south London, in 1916, Ethel Violet Bush was one of five children to working class parents. After leaving school at 14, she worked as a seamstress before serving in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in India during the Second World War.

Shortly after being demobbed, in September 1946, Bush joined the Metropolitan Police as a constable and was appointed to H Division, now Tower Hamlets in the East End of London. Two years after joining, the Police Federation, the rank-and-file staff association, let women join. She proved a more than capable Pc and was promoted to sergeant in 1953.

Upon retiring in September 1971, Bush moved to Crawley, West Sussex, to be closer to her family and became a keen gardener. In old age, despite suffering from macular degeneration and being registered blind, she still enjoyed trips to the seaside and visiting gardens.

On her 93rd birthday, Crawley’s district commander Steve Curry turned-up unannounced to present her with a replica of the George Medal, as she had given the original to her niece as a leaving gift before she emigrated to America.

In March this year, she celebrated her 100th birthday at her care home with a visit from Assistant Commissioner Helen King and one of the Met’s youngest police officers, Pc Katie Dennell.

Bush said, “I loved my work with the police force but I don’t think I could do it now, things are very different these days.”

The log that was used against Bush in 1955 is on display in the Crime Museum. Kathleen Parrott died in 2015.
Martin Childs