#ThrowbackThursday – Today we time travel back to Sunday, March 16, 1975. It is the early hours of the morning, around 3.30 a.m.. The air is still, the temperature a cool 14 degrees and damp from the recent showers. Senior Constable Lew Howard of Eltham and Constable Adrian Bennetts of Greensborough are finishing up on overtime duty in the Eltham police station at 23 Pryor Street. Unbeknownst to them, five youths from Diamond Creek who have spent a night of drinking are now in the process of a shooting escapade throughout the district with a shotgun. There have already been several incidents. An unoccupied police car, parked at the Diamond Creek police station, was fired at from the street, 30 metres away. The front passenger side of the car received the full force of the blast. Hurstbridge and Greensborough police stations have also been shot at along with a public telephone box and a private citizen’s car. And now they have turned their attention towards Eltham.
The five youths turn into Pryor Street from Bible Street; the driver puts the car into neutral and they roll down the hill. Two police are visible through the window. Their police car is locked and parked out back and they have just locked up their weapons and shut everything else down after a night of working overtime. Usually they would have knocked off at 2 a.m. but tonight has been busy helping out Greensborough Police with traffic when a car knocked down a street pole and then attending another incident concerning a stolen car. The youths observe the lights are on in the police station. Out of all the other stations they have attacked tonight, Eltham is the only one with lights on. One of the youths leans out of the car window, raises the shotgun and pulls the trigger. Nothing happens; the gun’s safety is on. The youths decide to proceed around the block and return to the top of Pryor Street where again they put car in neutral, cut the lights, and roll down the hill for a second pass. As they slowly coast past the police station the two constables are standing beside each other near the window. They hear and see nothing. The youth leaning out the window takes aim and fires. The quiet of the night is shattered by the blast and sound of breaking glass. They flee the scene.
Senior Constable Lew Howard is hit in the right arm and Constable Adrian Bennetts has suffered facial cuts from flying glass and wood splinters. Unable to respond, they call D24 for help and the full might of the Victoria Police leaps into action to assist them and hunt the men down.
Both Lew Howard and Adrian Bennetts are treated that night at the Austin Hospital and then released to go home. Lew later states that if they had been standing just a few inches to the side, he or Adrian may well have been killed; the wooden window frame between two panes of glass having taken the brunt of the shotgun force, saving him from far greater injuries.
It is the second time this year that the Eltham police station has been hit by gunfire. In January (1975), bullets were fired into three windows at the station. Fortunately that time, nobody was hurt.
Following inquiries, five Diamond Creek youths, from 18 to 21 years are arrested two weeks later by Det. Sen. Const. Bob Traeger and Sgt. Ian Wright. Four are charged on two counts of grievous bodily harm by negligence and on four counts of malicious damage to police stations; scheduled to appear in Eltham Court on May 6, 1975.
At court, three young men, two aged 18 and one 21, admitted shooting at four police stations and injuring two Eltham policemen. Each was fined $1,000. A fourth man, 19, who fired the shots which injured the policemen was sentenced to 12 months in a youth training centre and given 18 months probation.
Judge Wright said the men were seriously affected by alcohol and that Eltham police station was the only one with lights on. The evidence showed that the youth who fired knew someone was inside the police station. All pleaded guilty to having discharged a shotgun at Eltham police station and causing grievous bodily injury to Senior Constable Howard and Constable Bennetts. They also pleaded guilty to having maliciously damaged the windows, flywire screen and woodwork of the Eltham police station and damaged the woodwork at the Hurstbridge police station. Three of the youths also pleaded guilty to having maliciously damaged louvre windows and a police car at Greensborough police station; maliciously damaging a car, porch and wooden fence at Diamond Creek, and damaging a police car at Diamond Creek.
- Whilst the offending youths names are a matter of public record, we, in consultation with Lew Howard, have chosen not to reproduce them here. This incident, whilst it has had a lasting impact upon Lew, was over 43 years ago. The men would all now be in their early to mid 60s, most likely grandfathers.
- Senior Constable Lew Howard served at Eltham police station from 9 August 1972 until his promotion to Sergeant and reassignment to Preston police station, 7 June 1976.
- D24, the Victoria Police Emergency Communications Centre was located on the sixth floor of the Russell Street Headquarters, in Corridor D, Room 24, behind a door marked ‘D24’.
- “Policeman hit in shotgun rampage”, Diamond Valley News, 17 March 1975
- “Police station shooting”, Diamond Valley News, 1 April 1975
- “$1000 fine for 3 on gun rampage”, Diamond Valley News, 7 May 1975
- Sgt. Lew Howard, (Retired), Victoria Police
Eltham District Historical Society gratefully acknowledges the generous loan by Lew Howard of many items for digitising and inclusion in our collection. These include; letters, postcards and photographs of First World War Servicemen of the District sent to Lily Howard; photographs of Howard family members; photograph of the Panton Hill Cricket Club Premiers 1934-35 and 1935-36 Premiers banner; Panton Hill Football League Football Records from the 1970s and a signed photograph of the 1934 Premiers team; various press clippings pertaining to Lew’s police career at Eltham. These items are currently in the process of being digitised and catalogued and will be known as the “Lew Howard Collection”.