In all the major cities, there have always Police Officers that have had less than complimentary reputations amongst the general public. In Liverpool, Herbert Balmer was a man who rose from uniform constable to Assistant Chief Constable of Liverpool. Yet his name still provokes revulsion to this day, primarily over two cases that resulted in three men being hanged. One of the three, George Kelly, was given a posthumous pardon in 2003 by the Court of Appeal, but over fifty years too late to save him. These cases were the Cameo Murders in 1949, and the murder of Alice Rimmer in August 1951. Eddie Devlin & Alf Burns were hung for this crime. The huge contention was that, like George Kelly, Devlin & Burns were fitted up all the way to the gallows by Balmer. Both cases have books written about them by George Skelly, the youngest brother of Jimmy Skelly, who was out on the beer with George Kelly whilst Kelly was supposed to have been committing a brutal double murder. In both cases, Balmer is said to have used criminals involved in the crimes to ensure the fit up. So what kind of man was Bert Balmer?
Born in 1902 into a sea going family, he grew up near the docks, and his father tried to instill in him that the best career was that of a sailor. After leaving St Silas`s Church of England school at 16, he took up apprenticeship for shipbuilding at Graysons, who had a dock at Garston. But a couple of years later, the company ceased trading due to lack of orders and a number of strikes by the workforce. Being unable to complete his apprenticeship, Balmer bore resentment to the working classes, despite being part of it himself. He joined the Liverpool City Police in 1926. He was ambitious and hard working, ensuring that by 1930, he was promoted to the CID. When war came, he was involved in security at the docks, and was instrumental in stopping a black market trade in goods, operating from the base at Burtonwood. This was run by the US Air Force. His standing rose significantly - in his own head - when he received a letter of commendation from none other than J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI.
But faults in his character were apparent. He saw his role as ridding the scum from the streets of Liverpool, that he was the Liverpool equivalent of Eliot Ness, was a relentless publicity seeker and to top it off, he had a weakness for women, despite being married with children. Even the wives or girlfriends of villains. This was to rear it`s head in the Cameo Murders. After the execution of Kelly, came the murder of Alice Rimmer and the subsequent hangings of Burns & Devlin. There was a surge in violence against people said to have been used by Balmer in framing them. Two women were given numerous beatings, and a man allegedly shot and wounded. Balmer was said to have been involved in around one hundred murder investigations. By the beginning of the sixties, he said up a squad nicknamed "The Commandos," who met fire with fire. They were as tough as the villains they faced. But despite rising to Assistant Chief Constable, he could not receive the top post because he had not served in another force, a requirement. He retired just after the mid 60`s and died in 1970.
Was Balmer as bad as he was made out to be? People in Liverpool still say so. Former cops looked up to him with admiration. THE criminal lawyer in Liverpool was the legendary Rex Makin, who did not like him at all. He commented that Balmer was a publicity seeker, a bully, unscrupulous, who believed that the ONLY evidence you needed was a "confession" no matter how it was obtained. Balmer was a very intimidating man, stocky and a former boxer. He seemed to do as he pleased, an attribute that made him feared by villains. He seems to have been a copper who was bent for the job. In other words, he would do anything to achieve a conviction. Even if it sent somebody to the gallows. Anybody wishing to read up on these cases should seek out the books by George Skelly.