In August 1885 the news was dominated by the aftermath of the ‘Maiden Tribute’ sensation. The Pall Mall Gazette‘s exposé of child prostitution in London rocked society and eventually helped raise the age of consent in England to 16. But the way it was achieved, with the exploitation of a young girl of 13 ‘bought for £5’ would later lead to a court case and the newspaper’s editor, William Stead, going to prison.
Meanwhile at Greenwich Police Court a much more mundane prosecution was reported in the press. John Warner (a 44 year-old with a criminal record) was seen with another man ‘loitering’ at Blackheath Point at one in the morning, by a police constable on duty. The Point offers spectacular views of London but I don’t think the PC thought Warner and his mate were there to enjoy the scenery.
He watched them for half and hour before moving in to try and catch them. The other man ran off but the constable secured Warner and searched him. He was carrying a bag that contained ‘a jemmy, a chisel, two thin-bladed knives, a candle and some matches’. Warner explained that he had just found work and was on his way to it.
The constable didn’t believe him and took him to the station. In court the magistrate was told that Warner had been previously convicted of burglary and had served seven years in prison for it.Given the fact that he was out and about in the middle of night with a mysterious accomplice that had run away, and sporting a bag of tools that would have got him into most properties, the justice decided to prosecute him under the Prevention of Crimes Act (1871), and sent him back to gaol for 12 months*.
* ‘Under the Prevention of Crimes Act of 1871 any man released on a ticket-of-leave (a kind of parole system) could be brought before a magistrate and have his parole revoked if the police suspected his behaviour’. [from the International Centre for the History of Crime, Policing and Justice, Open University]
[From The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, August 8, 1885]