AN heroic former police inspector who was awarded the George Medal for gallantry after foiling an IRA hit squad has died, aged 84.

Emlyn Watkins, who lived in Worsley, was shot in the stomach when he tackled three men who had pulled a gun in an Indian restaurant in Rusholme in 1975.

When the men were arrested it emerged they were part of an IRA unit sent to assassinate North West VIPs.

Mr Watkins was seriously injured but survived.

However, the severity of his injuries forced him to leave the police, later working as a security officer for a scaffolding firm.

Today, friends and family of Mr Watkins — known as “Big Em” because of his 17 stone frame — were to pay tribute to him at his funeral at Peel Green Crematorium in Eccles.

Mr Watkins, a widower who lived in Windlehurst Drive, Worsley, was awarded the George Cross for his “outstanding bravery and devotion to duty” after the shooting on July 1, 1975.

Chief Constable Peter Fahy said yesterday: “The force has been shocked and saddened by the death of Emlyn Watkins, and we will pass on our condolences to his family.

“His bravery on duty was not only commended with the George Medal, but also inspired Greater Manchester Police itself, and will continue to do so.

“He was a thoroughly professional police officer and his death reminds us of the courage of those who fight terrorism and of all those who have been injured or killed in terrorist attacks in this country.”

After the shooting it emerged that the IRA team was planning to target James Anderton, who became chief constable of Greater Manchester just a few months later.

Three other police officers, who were with Mr Watkins when he was shot, received Queen’s Commendations for bravery.

Five men, part of a Manchester- based IRA terrorist cell, were arrested in the aftermath of the shooting and were jailed in 1976 for a total of 627 years.