Policeman died in `ferocious' knife attack

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A police officer was stabbed to death in a "ferocious" attack by a man he tried to arrest after an attempted robbery at a sub-post office, the Old Bailey was told yesterday.

Sgt Derek Robertson, a father of six, suffered six knife wounds to the neck and body - four of which were serious enough to have caused his death - as he struggled with Robert Eades, the leader of a three-man gang who had taken the postmaster hostage, John Bevan, for the prosecution, said.

Mr Bevan said the wounds were inflicted by a "Black Widow" dagger which was later found discarded near by. A matching sheath was found strapped to Eades' leg when he was captured an hour later.

The court was told that desperate efforts were made to save Sgt Robertson's life in the garden behind the post office in New Addington, Surrey. Paramedics opened his chest in a vain attempt to restart his heart.

Mr Bevan said the policeman died after Eades, 32, Terry Snelling, 32, and his brother Christopher, 39, all from New Addington, broke into the flat above the sub-post office as part of a carefully planned operation to steal £29,000.

They waited overnight in the upstairs room until the postmaster, Albert Britton, 59, arrived at work at 8am.

Wearing balaclavas, they threatened Mr Britton with a knife and ordered him to open the safe. He told them, however, that the safe had a time lock and could not be opened until 8.55am. While they were waiting, Mr Britton's wife telephoned. Alarmed by thetone of his voice, she asked if she should call the police, to which her husband replied "probably".

While the robbers debated whether Mr Britton had given a coded warning, Mrs Britton was dialling 999. Sgt Robertson was one of two officers initially sent to the scene.

Mr Bevan said that while checking the back of the post office, Sgt Robertson was confronted by Eades - holding a knife at Mr Britton's throat - and the Snelling brothers trying to escape. The brothers ran off, but Eades launched himself at Sgt Robertson,and the two men fell to the ground. Mr Britton said he saw Eades on top of the officer, making stabbing movements.

The Snellings were arrested at the front of the post office, and the court was told that when Terence Snelling overheard a radio request for an ambulance, he said: "I told him not to bring the knife."

All three men admit conspiracy to rob and false imprisonment, but plead not guilty to murder. Mr Bevan told the jury that while the Snelling brothers did not actually commit the stabbing, they were responsible for a joint plan and knew that Eades had a knife.

The case continues today.