IT was September 4, 1893, and Inspector James Allan was patrolling the streets of Bishopbriggs with his colleague Constable John Pirie.

Then it was a small village, not the thriving populous Glasgow suburb of today.

Shortly before 11pm that Monday evening, the two officers were approached by a concerned railway worker who had seen two men robbing a drunk man lying on the ground outside nearby Crow Tavern.

Racing to the scene the officers came across two men matching the description of the suspects.

The police officers arrested the two suspects and took them back to the pub to see if they could find their victim.

Glasgow Times:

However, the man held by Inspector Allan suddenly broke free and bolted.

The police officer caught his suspect almost immediately, but the man then pulled out a knife.

During the ensuing struggle the Inspector collapsed on the ground having been stabbed repeatedly.

His attacker ran off towards Glasgow leaving the bloodied knife behind.

A horrified Pirie asked two passers-by to hold the other man to allow him to chase after the escapee, but both refused.

He then had to drag his prisoner to the nearby police station and lock him in a cell.

Returning to the scene of the stabbing, Pirie found Allan trying to rise to his feet.

As he helped him up, the injured man gasped “I’m dying!” and then collapsed in Pirie’s arms.

With the help of members of the public Allan was carried to the police station where he died a short time later.

Pirie return to the scene of the crime where he found the murder weapon lying on the ground.

Because of Bishopbriggs’s then remoteness, Pirie had no means of summoning back up to find the killer.

He managed however to hail a horse-drawn cab which took him to St Rollox police station in Springburn.

From there Pirie travelled across the city to Rutherglen police station and alerted a Superintendent Smith, the area police chief.

They then returned to Bishopbriggs with another senior officer where a murder investigation was launched.

The three interviewed the prisoner who was a 38-year-old former miner called Robert McGhee.

Their victim had been Daniel Elliot, an engineer from Springburn.

His coat, shoes, tobacco and ten shillings in cash (£85 today) had also been stolen.

Glasgow Times:

Shocked by the death of the officer, and worried about the consequences for himself, McGhee willingly named his accomplice as a William Coubrough, above. 

He said they had been drinking in Glasgow and on their way home had encountered Elliot and decided to rob him.

It emerged that the 29-year-old was a notorious local criminal who had previously threatened to shoot police officers.

He had been earlier sentenced at the High Court in Glasgow to five years for breaking into a nursing home in Kirkintilloch.

He had been released on parole in June 1892, but had breached the conditions of his release by failing to inform the police of his whereabouts.

Though working occasionally as a miner, he survived mainly by poaching and housebreaking.

Gamekeepers were wary of him. Caught poaching in the woods with his gun, Coubrough challenged one gamekeeper to duel.

He then sneered: “I’m loaded. If you’re loaded, raise your gun and we’ll see who’s going to hell first!”

Wisely, the gamekeeper withdrew.

Coubrough was always threatening to shoot policemen, especially when they came too close to him.

He was also cunning. Having stolen some ferrets, he was visited at home one day by the police. He watched as they searched vainly for the missing animals.

A few weeks later, one of the search cops offered the criminal a bottle of whisky to reveal how he had managed to hide the ferrets.

On seeing the police, he had wrapped the ferrets in pieces of flannel and had then placed them in an empty kettle on his fire which was burning low.

As the officers carried out their fruitless search, the ferrets lay undiscovered in the kettle which the police naturally assumed contained simmering water.

Coubrough also had his body heavily tattooed including one on his chest of a nude woman in chains.

A widespread manhunt was now mounted for Coubrough and people were told to be on their guard.

Having killed a police officer and facing the death penalty he was a man with nothing to lose.

Scores of policemen, gamekeepers and shepherds combed the hills and woodlands that were his usual haunts. Officers from Lanarkshire, Glasgow, Stirlingshire and Dunbartonshire joined in the search.

At that stage it looked as though Coubrough had disappeared into thin air.

A public appeal for information was made including posters with a drawing of the suspect and his description.

Meanwhile, a postmortem examination of Allan’s body was held at Bishopbriggs police station two days after his death.

There was no mortuary in the village and the officer’s body had been here since the night of his murder.

A forensic examination revealed two severe stab wounds. Both had involved the use of considerable force.

The little finger of his left hand had almost been severed when Allan had tried to grab the knife from Coubrough.

Inspector Allan’s funeral took place at Cadder Cemetery in Glasgow four days after his murder.

A large contingent of policemen attended along with crowds of local people who wanted to pay their respects.

He was 49 years of age and had been a police officer for 24 years, the last 11 spent at Bishopbriggs.

He was also well regarded in the village and his eldest daughter was a teacher in the local school.

At the time of his murder, he had been living beside the police station in Crowhill Road with his wife and eight children.

As the search for Coubrough intensified, Allan’s colleagues were told he was hiding out in the Campsie Hills in a remote area called Haughhead.

His elderly mother lived in a cottage there and he had suddenly appeared in her home one night, seized some bread and a knife and had run out again.

It was also rumoured that Coubrough had been hiding up in the branches of a large tree, watching the police below search for him.

The day after his funeral on September 8, a party of police officers with dogs arrived at Blairtummock Farm near Haughhead.

They searched the farm buildings and found their man sleeping in a hay shed.

One of the searchers was the policeman who had once offered him whisky to reveal how he had hidden the stolen ferrets.

Coubrough now stared at him and said: “It’s good to see you again – but not on such an occasion as this!”

At the Central Police Office in Glasgow, Coubrough was locked into a cell known as The Cage, used to contain difficult prisoners.

He appeared at the High Court in Glasgow the following year charged with Allan’s murder.

Coubrough pleaded not guilty but admitted the lesser charge of culpable homicide, which did not carry the death sentence.

His KC claimed that he had never intended to kill Allan and was carrying the knife to cut tobacco, which the officer had tried to take from him. In the ensuing struggle Coubrough accidentally stabbed the policeman.

To the anger of the victim’s family, police colleagues and local people, the prosecution accepted the plea to culpable homicide and he was sentenced to 10 years.

They could not understand why there had been no trial, given there were two eyewitnesses to the murder and the severity of the victim’s injuries.

After only seven years Coubrough was released and spent his remaining years living in the area around the Campsie Hills.

In his later years he was admitted to a poorhouse in Stirling where he died in 1923 at the age of 59.

Allan’s widow was given a pension of £47 per annum (£8000 today) by the local council and spent the rest of her life raising her family.

Glasgow Times:

The people of Bishopbriggs had a fundraiser and erected a granite memorial to Inspector Allan in Cadder Cemetery.

Located just inside the main gate it is one of only two in Scotland dedicated to police officers killed in the line of duty.

The memorial has two bronze panels, one of which has a carving of James Allan, while the other is simply inscribed: “The legal system may have undervalued his life and death: but at least the community he had served faithfully for many years honoured his devotion to duty in this tangible, public way.”