Cats in Clerkenwell, central London, had a bad time when 23-year-old Thomas Cooper was around. Cooper was fascinated by firearms and used the local cats for target practice. Cautioned by a police officer, he said prophetically, “I’d like to shoot a policeman one day.”

Cooper was also a small-time street thief and pickpocket. After a string of street robberies in Highbury, north London, in May 1842, he was seen in the neighbourhood carrying a long-barrelled cavalry pistol. Questioned by a constable, he fired at the officer but missed and ran off. The constable gave chase, whereupon Cooper pulled out a long knife.

Very soon a crowd joined in the chase and the fugitive was cornered in Highbury Park South. Constable Timothy Daly, 45, ran up and asked him if he were armed. Someone in the crowd saw Cooper raise his cavalry pistol, and made a desperate lunge to stop him. It was too late – Cooper fired and Constable Daly, shot through the heart at point-blank range, died on the spot.

Other officers arrived to arrest Cooper, who was taken to Islington police station followed by a large mob. He was convicted the following month and hanged on Monday, July 4th, 1842, outside Newgate Prison.

In the death cell Cooper confessed to some 30 street robberies. He had never had any accomplices, he said, and never took his loot to pawnbrokers, who in his view were all police “grasses.”