Policemen dressed as ladies to catch handbag thief

Constables Ted Smith, Tommy Bevan and George Cook - who swapped bowler hats and wing-collars for shawls, straw hats and handbags.
Constables Ted Smith, Tommy Bevan and George Cook - who swapped bowler hats and wing-collars for shawls, straw hats and handbags.
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The bizarre tale of Wearside policemen who donned dresses to catch a criminal is revealed in a new book.

Sunderland In the Roaring Twenties and Troubled Thirties, by Trevor Thorne, features dozens of stories about town life.

But among the strangest is one about a crime crackdown in 1928 - which involved detectives dressing in drag outfits.

“A spate of handbag thefts from women in Roker late in the evening gave police a detection problem,” said Trevor.

“The answer was for three male officers to dress as women, in costumes provided by the Empire Theatre, and patrol the area.”

Constables Ted Smith, Tommy Bevan and George Cook swapped bowler hats and wing-collars for shawls, straw hats and handbags.

High heels, however, were banned - for fear the officers would not be able to give chase in dainty shoes.

“After a few nights, Bevan caught the culprit - however he managed to struggle free and escape,” said Trevor.

“But he was later identified through his coat, which he left at the scene. After that, the officers went back to trousers.”

Other crime stories unearthed by Trevor include that of James Lowrie - a small-time crook known as The Sunderland Kid.

“He was involved in petty larceny and pick-pocketing, but his nickname glossed over his real underworld status,” said Trevor.

A real Sunderland Kid did, however, give detectives a problem in 1937 - when Fulwell, Seaburn and Whitburn were plagued by burglaries.

“The culprit turned out to be a 14-year-old boy, who was caught by an off-duty policeman at the Havelock Cinema,” said Trevor.

“The officer noticed the lad spending more money on sweets than was reasonable in those depressed times - and solved the case.”

* Read more about the book on Monday. It costs £9.99 from Waterstones and the Museum.